Friday, November 25, 2011

Our Twofold Purpose

With an almost tangible sensation that every person in the Western World is on a "search" for purpose in their lives, I can't help but ruminate on purpose.

Before the search for our specific purpose begins we must understand what God's objectives for our lives are. These are twofold: 1) The Great Commandment, and 2) The Great Commission.

1) The Great Commandment: 

Matthew 22:36-40

New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

2) The Great Commission:

Matthew 28:16-20

New International Version (NIV)
  16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

When we look at these two very powerful pieces of scripture we must realize a couple of things. 1) The Commandment happened before the Commission. Sure, we don't have to follow the whole Bible chronologically but these passages happen in the same book of the bible and are chronological in the way Jesus instructed the disciples. 2) The commandment is very much that...a command! We aren't commanded to do the commission but we are commanded to love.

God seems to be telling us that before you can speak into the masses you must get love down pat. does this mean we won't be affective when trying to be open to let God work through us, of course not...besides, it is God who is working through us, not us on our own. God can do many things through us, whether we are equipped or not, if we just simply let him. One of the best ways to let him work is to get the love thing down down pat.

Once we have love, an honest love for Jesus, ourselves and our neighbor, we must go and make disciples...he commissions us to do just that.

Now what does this have to do with our purpose? We have to realize that everything God calls us to do in life is measured against these two verses. If we feel called to something and it lacks either a sense of love or a sense of connecting with might not be his highest call for our lives. Look at this, when we do measure our actions and our call against the great commandment and great commission, we will find that we are empowered for this call. When our purposes, desires, and wants are aligned with His purposes, desires and wants for our lives, we will not only succeed, but we will also be fulfilled!

How exciting to think that our purpose is going to be fulfilling, exciting and replenishing to our soul. and spirit.

Let me give you an example from my own life. God gave me a vision about 5 years ago that he is revealing and defining little by little and piece by piece. He said to me, "I want you to do two things, Derek, my loving, emotional, occasionally disobedient but passionate son!" "One, I want you to educate Christians on the possibilities of art...I want you to tell them about the nature and purpose of the arts and how I want the church to reclaim them in my name!" "Two, I want you to then show them what this art, MY art, really looks like. Show them by example!!! Create the best art there is using all that I have given and taught you." God wants me to be influential on having the church be the major cultural force in the world once again and he wants me to do this through arts education and production. This purpose...directly aligned with the Great Commandment and Great Commission nearly knocked me to the floor. "How am I going to do this, God? It's so...big." I asked. He said, "I will tell you...but not all at once...I need to work some junk out of your life before you are ready to hear the full vision. I need to get rid of pride and self-sufficiency and you need to work on love...not just loving others, but accepting me as a loving God who you can trust."

This was my and is my vision and ongoing conversation involving my distinct purpose. I wish I could tell you the "how," but I'm not sure what it is yet...I believe the best is yet to come.

This is an example of the large plans God has for you if you let him. Get connected to His purposes for your life first, He will then reveal the rest. It will be bigger than you can possibly imagine and too big for you to do by yourself but remember Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

Embrace the fullness of your twofold purposes!

Monday, September 5, 2011


Story. It is in essence who we are. We are characters in a greater story, Shakespeare made this thought famous in one of his most well-known speeches, "All the world's a stage..." We know, as Christians, we are part of a greater story and we each have a special part to play. Jesus used story to communicate through metaphor to the world. John Eldredge at the beginning of his book EPIC, reminds us that every day is a story and the hours and even minutes unfold as in scenes.

Why is story so fundamental and so important? It seems as if we were hard-wired for story. God is a God of relationship and story is at the heart of relationship. We understand each other through story. We love to hear about each others lives through stories. These help us feel a) Not alone and b) connected to and actively participating in the world. We read comic books and other fantastical stories to give us a look at the possibilities available in our own lives. Christians know by reading the bible, we will get closer to God and understand God and this world better because we understand God's story which is ultimately our story.

Story has other amazing attributes. In Madeleine L'Engle's book WALKING ON WATER, she tells of a lecturer named Helen Mullen. She says "One day she told us about visiting the pediactric wards of hospitals and telling stories to the children, many of whom were in severe pain. But while the children were listening to stories, they did not feel the pain." HOW???? What is it about story that can heal or refocus the way the body behaves?

When Jesus asks us to believe in him, he is asking us to trust him. Trust is having faith that someone else knows your story better than you. Instead of a "choose your own adventure" you are submitting your life to the mystery. You are laying your control down and saying "I am not sure what the next page will bring but I know it will be far more interesting than what I was going to write." It is courageous and worthwhile because God is the master storyteller and we are his pen. He will write his greatest story with us. Trust the story.

I think that the reason story is like medicine is because it is so connected to the being of God. The first action God made was creation through the act of speaking. He spoke the world into existence. God is the Master Artist and the greatest storyteller. When we connect with God through story, we are one step closer to him. When we allow God to write our stories with us, we are allowing him to work fully and thus we will receive his benefits; forgiveness, healing, redemption, goodness, satisfaction and renewal as it says in Psalm 103. Let us be storytellers by getting out of the way. Let us let God write our masterpiece. Creation is hard work but through God all things are possible because we aren't doing it all, he is. Let's let go and let God and see what mysterious creation will happen. Who knows, maybe our story will help to heal the world.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Measurement Systems and the Decline of Higher Ed

For those of you who are academics or work in higher ed, the title might make you gasp, I know. For those of you who aren't you might see a rather boring title to a blog article. Either way I think the future of higher education is getting to a tipping point and it needs to be addressed. I think that we need to look at how higher education is using measurement systems because how they perceive these metrics could potentially affect the growth or decline of a college or university in the future.

First, let me say I am not against measures being used in higher education. Measurement systems offer the faculty and the institution a way to get a pulse on the classroom, teaching methods, student's learning, teacher's relative effectiveness and a host of other great things to aid the institution in offering quality and consistency in its classes. It also benefits the student teacher relationship. The rubric becomes a more effective way of grading and thus, if a grade is disputed it provides both teacher and student a more clarified perspective on how the grade given came about. Peer review, student evaluations, and outside reviews offer unique perspectives that a rubric cannot always offer. With measurements, you get more of a complete picture of what is happening in the training and how the development of programs will continue to move forward with consistency and quality.

The problem some institutions are facing right now is how they apply these standards of measures and there are varying philosophies on this. Some institutions and even accreditation bodies use metrics and measures as the main way one can determine teaching effectiveness, learning, and consistency. Other institutions hardly use metrics at all, and resort to an apprentice/rabbinical model. In this model, the teacher is considered master and the student's grades and quality of teaching is assessed only by the master teacher without any system of measurement besides life experience. On a personal note, I prefer the apprentice model simply because I work in the arts and at the end of the day, even if a student has shown excellence in all their rubric based criteria, they still might not be an effective artist. The arts are subjective and often take other artists to comment on quality of student work. This is my bias...but there is a bigger concept that the former institutions should take into account when it comes to measures.

Institutions that are wrapped up in systems of measures are often more concerned with how they are measuring the quality of the programs than they are with the quality of the programs. This means that teachers  and instructors are spending less time teaching and instructing and more time measuring the way in which they are teaching. It also means that the institution has a greater control over the way a teacher teaches, because they can look at the measures and make determinations or suggestions for changes in curricula or approach. This can potentially begin to infringe on a professor's academic freedom.

I do not believe there is a single institution out there that would ever purposefully invade a professors academic freedom and I believe that most if not all institutions who are strict when it comes to metrics think that they are creating the highest level of education possible. But it is true that metrics only tell a part of the story. They can not assess, rapport, creativity, connection to material, teaching style, learning style, artistry, thought structure, and the list goes on and on.

Let me also be clear that although I prefer the apprenticeship/rabbinical model, it has been used for literally thousands of years with great success, I don't believe that we should abandon all measurement for that model. I believe there needs to be a balance between methods. Institutions need to higher good teachers and then trust them to teach good students. The teachers should be interested in keeping their teaching and the students  learning accountable to some level of measurement. We need to know how one comes to an A or a B- and at the same time we need to know if somebody is ready to move on from the Fundamental classes to the higher level classes. Only an apprentice style can truly show the latter, especially if the material is subjective. However, now in most institutions it is the grade, anything above a C- in most places that should get a student passed on to the next level. No one ever really asks the professor "Even though Billy got a B- in class, is he really ready for section 2 of this course?". That never happens. I wonder why? what are we really trying to do in Higher ed? Teach or just push bodies through the system?

In our current economy (and with a potential of the economy not returning to what it was but perhaps changing to something altogether different), people start scrutinizing higher education because it costs a lot of money to become a student and, in many professions, the payback for the degree is not that substantial. Incoming students are going to want to be able to get their degree in as little time as it takes...more bang for the buck.

Students are more interested in being employable than in having a well-rounded education. I promise that most students and parents would agree this is true and in fact I will go a step further and say that most students and parents think employable and well-rounded education go hand in hand. Unfortunately, many institutions do not think this. Academics value academia and education for education's sake. I am not saying this is bad. Being well-educated does help with many facets of life. But in our current climate the student wants to be employable and our aim as teachers should be to make them highly employable by teaching them to be excellent in their skill or craft. Measures can bog this down and create an academic process out of something that should be as simple as training someone well. Students will stop putting up with this in time...if time is money and they feel like a professor or an institution is wasting their time then they will go somewhere else.

What does all this mean and how does it relate to the decline of higher ed? I am not proposing higher ed will go away completely, but it might have to have serious reform. Let's take theatre. I could see students demanding an education that is practical and makes them good actors who are capable and proficient at getting hired. There might be non-accredited schools or conglomerates of teaching studios that just train the students and if they do it well, they might get a really great reputation. This reputation could, in the future, be worth more than a standard education from an accredited college or institution. In fact we have a history in theatre of seeing studios and master teachers working at non-accredited bodies pumping out some of our nation's greatest actors. Sometimes we have seen far more success in this style than could ever be contributed to a single University or College. What is to stop this from happening to all studies and majors across all of higher-education.

We who are the keepers of higher ed have to get with the times. We need a wake-up call and we have to realize the needs of the students and meet those needs with excellence...and some panache. Then we will really be doing our jobs! I believe that a teacher or professor's first job should be just that, to teach. Measures should be put in place in order to aid the teaching and that is all. We need to balance our teaching methods so that we put the students first and THAT will make higher education very attractive. Truly it was why us teachers got into teaching in the first we would have most of our time spent doing the thing we love...teaching.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Welcome to my Blog

Hi everyone and welcome to the Curious and the Creative.

The title of the blog sums up a bit of my focus on life. My wife, Jennifer always comments that I have an indelibly curious mind and most of what goes on inside my mind  is mostly focused on the creative side of life. I hope this blog will cover  both curiosity and creativity and I love feedback so please feel free to comment.

First thought:
In most good books about Christian Aesthetics (aside from Madeline L'engle's Walking on Water, which is a good book about Christian Aesthetics but contains none of the following) the authors almost always start by framing the current issues that exist in culture and the arts, both Christian and Non-Christian (though many of these authors deal more with the Christians because it seems they perceive the issues in arts and Christianity to be perpetuated by Christians). This makes perfect sense because when one is trying to defend a point of view, one very often tries to frame the issue and offer their unique point of view on the issue.

However, I believe that framing the "problem" - or issue - sometimes closes the door on conversation. If someone is passionate about the "problem" and sits on the other side of that debate than you are, there won't be mush conversing taking place.

I would like to suggest an option. I would like to suggest that an author should present the solution rather than the problem. This does a couple wonderful things. 1) It opens doors to conversation, it invites people into the process with you instead of setting up an adversarial interaction. 2) It STILL frames the "problem". By framing the solution, you get your point of view across on the issue even more clearly because of your spin on how the problem can be fixed. 3) It is incredibly optimistic. People dig solutions, they like them because they speak of action, excitement and mission. 4) It is a segue to a life mission. A solution on how Christianity can be the hope of the future in the arts and therefore culture, for instance, is a springboard where major ideation and futurist thinking can happen. 5) It gets people involved. A solution is ACTION. An action is a plan. A plan speaks to specific ministries and gifts being used for something greater, for God's greater good.

This is a thought to ponder. It isn't specific to arts and faith either, it can be adapted to many situations in life. Problems take life, solutions give life!