An uncommon defense of common core: We need a standard

IMG_1559The news and my social media feed, not to mention various conversations, filled up with discussion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Discussion, particularly from a ‘conservative’ perspective go against CCSS. The viewpoint declares CCSS is a Federal take over of education. Given our fractured society, CCSS became a figurehead for fear of Federal intrusion. Where do I stand?

I support CCSS for three key reasons. First, I believe national standards are a prudent measure in an increasingly mobile society. Second, I believe that such standards should put local districts and teachers in control of curriculum decisions. Third, I believe that the main problem in education is a lack of parental engagement, understanding, and effective support. If opponents are successful in stopping CCSS, the three issues are still in play. I often ask my proverbial question: You get rid of CCSS, then what do you do? This post will deal with the need to national standards.

I drive therefore I can build a car…
In researching this issue as well as becoming a cheerleader for my local school district, one thing became clear: As a society we are woefully uninformed about education. I hope in reading this more grace and understanding is offered to our educator neighbors. For those who are parents reading this: we hold the trump card to radically improving education. We must not consider ourselves consumers of schools, but rather as engaged participants. Too many think they understand how education should work by virtue of being a student. This would be like saying we know how to design and build a car after driving it and doing standard maintenance.

National Standards are prudent
The first question to think through is: should there be national standards? An entire discussion could start and end right there. Our society is increasingly mobile. People growing up and staying in a certain geographical region is dropping. Society is becoming increasingly more urban. A key demographic in mobility is our military community. Having a national set of standards for education makes sense. If I move from one part of the country to another, it would be nice to have consistency. Also, a national set of standards helps benchmark our educational system to that of other countries.

Who should make the decision in developing national standards is a difficult one. My preference would be for states to collaborate together as well as with private enterprise. CCSS fits this model. While there is concern with some involved, such as Bill Gates, I prefer a state & private enterprise approach than a Federally controlled or mandated one. If Federal government started CCSS, I would not favor CCSS even though I do favor national standards.

We’ve been here before
The discussion is not new. An educator friend handed me the report of the Council of Ten, dated July 9th, 1892. The report deals with the matter of uniformity in education. It details standards for certain areas, and delegates others, such as the arts. A criticism often leveled at educational standards is that it diminishes the arts. Given this, there has always been a tension in education over should and what should be uniformed in education. Page 48 under the heading “Explanation of the Sample Programmes” it states this:

“The omission of music, drawing, and elocution from the programmes offered by the committee was not intended to imply that these subjects ought to receive no systemic attention. It was merely thought best to leave it to local school authorities to determine, without suggestions from the committee, how these subjects should be introduced into the programmes in addition to the subjects reported on by the Conferences.”

Standards vs Standardization
Things such as the arts have often taken the back seat in education. The highly viewed TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson attest to this fact. The challenge with any semblance of uniforimity is standards vs. standardization. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Mary E. Dietz discuss this danger of CCSS. They explicitly state that the standards are not the issue, but that “the initiative conflate standards with standardization.” (Educational Leadership Dec ’12/Jan ’13, p.65) Much criticism of CCSS seems more an issue of assumed standardization vs the standards themselves.

For example:
There are standards for english literature. News reports came out that “CCSS” are forcing students to read a book some disagreed with. While the book might be on a list of examples, we should note that “the only reading explicitly required in the CCSS is the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a Shakespeare play and one play by an American dramatist.” (CCSS Introduction, Aspen Institute) Timothy Shanahan illustrates how people took recommendations as standardization in his article “The CC Ate My Baby. (Educational leadership, Dec’12/Jan’13)

Curriculum choice is the real issue
Common Core is to education what HTML5 is to Web browsers. HTML5 is a web standard. There are multiple web browsers that interface with HTML5. Some do not interact well with HTML5- Internet Explorer. Some do a suburb job, like Safari. (I’m a mac.) Some curriculum and districts will interact well with the CCSS and some will not. Many of the criticisms of CCSS seem to be curriculum decisions, not necessarily the standards themselves. CCSS is not a curriculum. It is a set of standards.

The bottom line:
I believe we need national standards. Such is helpful to educating our children. These standards should be established by states, educators and private enterprise- the world which most will work. Common Core does this. There are things that can and need to be improved upon, as the issue of standards vs standardization illustrates. However, media punditry is making that needed interaction difficult. Rather than attacking CCSS, partner with your educator neighbors to do what’s best for kids. Why? The standards are not as much an issue as the curriculum choices are. Part two will deal with curriculum.

Why a hard copy Bible is best

I tried the tech thing for a few years. It’s not working. I do not think this is an issue of generational shifting. I got scolded in elementary school for handing in a printed essay, I grew up techy when it was know as being a nerd. Some things are not replaceable. A tech Bible is such a thing. We need a hard copy Bible.

1) A hard copy has the benefit of legacy. It is much harder to toss a meaningful book away than digital notes.
2) Tech is often distracting when there is pressure against being still and knowing He is God. Stillness with the word is huge for sermon prep.
3) You can make the Bible digitally accessible and even preach from a tablet while still having a hard copy as your main Bible.
4) Hard copy Bibles don’t crash and are instantly available when the power is out or a recharge station is no where to be found.
5) A hard copy Bible inspires beyond your earthly life. Think beyond conscience and thing longer term.>

End times: Why it matters & Why I’m a ‘dispensationalist

Our view of death determines our view of life. Biblical teachings on end times, known as eschatology, is essentially a Christian view of death. The recent trends to avoid or downplay this teaching is unhealthy. Over emphasizing the doctrine is also unhealthy. In the push away from end times I’m often asked why I am a Dispensationalist. My reply is I’m a little ‘d’ not a big ‘D’ because I don’t emphasize the doctrine or focus on the current possible details. The short answer: in studying scripture, it’s what I see it teaching. I submit we should not shy away from end times.

It’s taught in scripture
Avoiding the end times parts of the Bible is to miss significant teachings of Scripture. In Matthew 16, Jesus chides the religious leaders for being able to determine the weather but were clueless on “the signs of the times.” Paul taught on the rapture, whatever view you take on it, to a baby church plant. He then wrote twice to that baby church to clarify end times teaching. The book of a Revelation is all about end times. The Bible does give us a framework and does teach on the end times. It does not give us a specific time table and tells us to not worry about timing (Acts 1:7).

It’s a matter of encouragement and perspective
The rapture and Revelation give us both encouragement and perspective. These essentials are lost if we avoid the end times. The rapture is meant to encourage us when a saint dies. (A strong argument for pre-tribulational rapture.) We don’t mourn as others do because death is a temporary state. The end times give us the needed perspective so we can practice blessing people instead of returning evil for evil. A HUGE part of end times is God balancing the scales of justice of a world filled with injustice. How can I bless those who persecute me when a I’m faced with injustice? The end times gives us the perspective of why.

It’s a matter of God’s character
I’m a Dispensationalist because I think Israel means Israel in the Bible. As Hosea illustrates, God will go after and redeem national Israel as Hosea redeemed his wife from prostitution. I’d submit that spiritualizing Israel in the New Testament makes the Bible ludicrous. Why? What assurance of salvation do we have if God wrote off Israel? This is the issue Romans 9-11 addresses. Further, Paul makes a clear distinction between national Israel and Gentiles in Romans 11. God’s treatment of Israel gives confidence in His treatment of us and the church. God is the God of second chances, of grace, and He keeps His Word.

It’s a matter of our character
Paul’s states in Romans 11 that we should be careful as God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare us. Much rejection of Dispensationalsim is arrogance of the grafted in branches. End times keeps us humble before God. For sure humans tend toward arrogance. Churches often become arrogant as well. In Acts 1:7 Jesus didn’t say there is no kingdoms of Israel, he said the timeline was none of our business. In Revelation Israel is specifically mentioned as well as mentions of various nations. End times is a check on our character.

It’s a matter of faith
Hebrews 11 has an end times perspective. It is true that the big issue in theology is a matter of interpretation, but not all views are valid. I believe in the plain interpretation of the Bible, meaning what the author intends to communicate is the meaning. All other viewpoints have no true bearing in how to interpret Scripture. There is a pattern of literal fulfillment of prophecy throughout Scripture. Spiritualizing prophecy yet unfulfilled is to play hermeneutical voodoo. While God is mysterious and did not give us all the answers, He is predictable in that he keeps His word with an uncanny literalness.

The bottom line:
Avoiding the end times is to lose much needed perspective and clarity for godly living. While I do not major on a time line of future events, there is a framework given to us for the purpose of encouragement and perspective. Key to all this is that God is not done with national Israel, just like he’s not done with you or me. His grace, mercy and justice are evident in end times teachings of Scripture. Be carefully balanced, but do not avoid this essential doctrine of Scripture.

Side note:
Much of the antagonism towards dispensational thought started with Augustine who was anti-chiliasm (premailinalsim). While Calvin moderated (somewhat) on the matter, the antagonism towards pre-millennial viewpoints endured. As people act based in what they believe, much anti-semitism came from a non-dispensational viewpoint.

Civil rights may not mean what you think…

In reading comments about Arizona law issue it seems people have forgotten that religion is a part of our civil rights. Violating civil rights in the name of civil rights, discriminating to stop discrimination, bullying to stop bullying should cause us all to pause, rethink and refresh our civic interaction.

To say the bullying is justified because of intolerance merely fights “intolerance” with intolerance. There are many things that are lawful, but not everyone participates. We then come to who trumps who. The elephant in the room is our civil rights are being trampled on for another’s civil rights. Meaning, we all lose.

The ACA violates the civil rights of those who hold all life as precious. Given the recent news of abortion statistics, namely the massive slaughter Americans with African ethnicity, the violation of our civil rights, which includes religion, should give pause. The issue of homosexual marriage isn’t the only violation of religious conscience in recent history.

The news heralds the triumph of civil rights with the veto of the Arizona law. Truthfully, civil rights lost. For in the fear of discrimination a law was vetoed that would also protect homosexuals deeply held religious beliefs. And in law, there is now method or process of determining truly held religious belief or mere bigotry. All our civil rights lost.

We can do better, and we must. Perhaps in seeking to be understood we should seek to understand. With the rancor of the Arizona law it shows we’ve all lost. Bigotry isn’t dead, it’s target is merely changed.

Thoughts on the creation debate

DSC_0059The debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye went as many perceived it would. Both sides made their points in a civil way, rallied their base and demonstrated clearly the issues. Sadly, I think both tended to speak past each other. Ken did a solid job presenting the Christian worldview, though more scientific evidence to support that would view would have mad his case stronger. He did clearly show that one can be a creationist and make significant contributions to science. I fear that point may be missed.

Bill Nye was either ill prepared or he really didn’t care to debate the issue. Either way, what came across to me was tolerating something he disdained to push a naturalistic viewpoint. Did he argue well? Yes, and I’d submit in terms of performance he edged out Ken. However, it came across clearly that he had no concept of the worldview Ken was coming from. A reasonable man would seek to understand and then be understood. Bill operated from a caricature of a creationist not from an understanding of a creationist worldview.

Bill and Ken were even on: failing to prove their thesis, being civil and rallying their base. Nye edged out and beat Ken on performance. In terms of being prepared, Ken was clearly more ready. Over all, I think Ken won the debate as he did show the viability of creationism, though he failed to prove his thesis. I think Ken over reached with his thesis.

The reasonable man
A reasonable man is one who uses analytical thought and understands a system before critiquing it. Bill failed in this. He clearly did not have any understanding of the Bible from Ken’s perspective. His case could be more clear had he more knowledge. A reasonable man would be more attentive to his question being raised. Frequently, Bill stated that if one could offer one proof it would change the world. Ken’s evidence of the tree encased in basalt was blown off. Ken’s rebuttal answered Bill’s question, but was ignored.

No evidence
Evidence’s chances of changing Bill’s viewpoint was small at best. Given his lack of preparedness, I don’t think Bill much cared. While he did conduct himself in a civil manner, he blew off two major points Ken was making: 1) the viability of creationists 2) historical vs observational science. Bill obviously disagreed, but his point came across as trite and pigeon holed creationists as anti-science. Ken’s case clearly demonstrated the opposite. I agree Ken should have offered more scientific evidence, but I also don’t think it would matter.

Jesus first
This debate demonstrated a key point of belief for me: It’s Jesus first, then creation. I am a creationist because of Jesus. Theologically, that is true of all creationists. I’ll write on that later. A key point that is this: How do you scientifically prove a supernatural creation? Is there any proof of that? Yes, his name is Jesus. The feeding of 5,000 plus and 4,000 plus demonstrates instant control over creation & matter. It was observed, recorded and in an environment that was antagonistic to Jesus. (The crowds loved the food, but also yelled crucify him later.) There is no way to pull off those feedings as a con. Also, Jesus rose from the dead as he said he would and when he said he would. This is a recent, verifiable and proven occurrence.

Given the authenticity of Jesus, the probability that Genesis 1-11 is correct carries weight. Jesus took those accounts as literal, and given his assertions as being one with the father, he was there. It is more reasonable to trust Genesis because of Jesus than evolution with billions of years and chance. While I’ve met people who came to Jesus because of a reasoned explanation of creationism, the main thing is Jesus. The biggest weakness of creationism is they don’t focus on Jesus enough when he is verifiably the best evidence that creationism is true.

Worldview is an issue
The debate demonstrated the need for Jesus. It is important for Christians to give a reasoned defense of Scripture and to treat the Bible as a legitimate source. Ken did that very well. At the same time, we must realize we are speaking a different ‘language’ than those who are not in Christ. The Gospel will and does come across as foolishness. This is where I think Ken was more prepared than Bill. Ken understood Bill’s worldview, but Bill did not understand Ken’s. Had Bill taken the time to understand Ken’s worldview, he could have made is point better. Whether from arrogance, disdain or plain lack of being prepared I do not know, but Bill failed at a key point. For Christians, it should demonstrate that a reasoned case for something is not enough. We don’t save anyone, only God does.

Creationism is viable
Ken answered the question that creationism is viable. He gave clear examples of creationists contributing positively to science and engineering- something Bill is pleading for. Ken and Bill agree there is a need for children to pursue science and engineering. That Bill did not make this point is sad. Ken demonstrated the reasonableness of creationism based on a Christian worldview, that creationists have and are contributing positively to science and that there are significant issues with evolution. While Bill made a case and argued well, he did not show that creationism isn’t viable. His lack of understanding a Christian worldview greatly undercut his point.

The bottom line:
First, seeks to understand and then be understood is a key rule of thumb when entering a debate. Second, you cannot argue people into heaven, but we should have a clear and reasonable defense for the hope that is within us. Third, evidence rarely matters when the issue is worldview. Finally, seek to make a difference and not a point. Even if you win the debate that evolution is wrong, if one doesn’t accept the message we received, the debate doesn’t matter. Jesus died and rose again on the third day. The key to passing on that message is a submissive spirit that does good works (1 Peter).

Our job isn’t to reach America, it’s to reach americans. ~Rick Warren

Life matters

IMG_0105This past Sunday was Right to Life Sunday. This is a hotly debated issue. It is also a theological issue, not just a political one. Often the rights for an abortion are argued through the lens of single percentage issues. Navigating the importance of life while also being gracious to those faced with the issue is challenging. Ultimately, abortion is a human rights issue. Is life precious or is it not?

First, life is inconvenient. It is disruptive. I’d argue there is no convenient time to have a baby. Child bearing alone is a challenging process. Given the fall of man there is a cycle of life: birth, growth, adulthood, decline and death. At the return of Jesus the cycle ends as his resurrection conquered death. At the start God told mankind to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the Earth. This process is highly disruptive, but it is a joy. We are all here because of it.

Second, life is a gift. It is to be treasured. The fall of mankind places the majority of humans in difficult if not out right tyrannical situations. What enrages many is how unrighteous people prosper while innocent ones do not. One of the disruptive forces that often change this dynamic is children. Children growing up in challenging situations grow to make a difference or continue the problem. Children inflame the passions and virtues of parents or are ignored. Ecclesiastes talks about how life is a gift. Psalms 139 talks about life as planned by God. We simply do not nor cannot know the outcome of life. We can know that it is a gift.

Third, Jesus gives life. This gift is grace. Abortion is murder, and Jesus died and rose again conquering ALL sin. for those of us passionate about the issue of life, we should act as Jesus does, showing compassion and grace for those in challenging circumstances. The greatest gift of life isn’t being born, it is being born again to a living hope. This new life changes things, and ultimately it is what increases the value of life. In Jesus we see how valuable life is because Jesus died for us.

Abortion is plainly murder and the cessation of life. We can argue the nuances of single percentage issues, but the larger issue is how much we value life. The cost of playing god is millions of lives. What is worst is it damages our own souls as well. There is no such thing as a convenient baby. Even Mary, the Mother of Jesus could attest to that. But, the profound gift of life isn’t to be ignored. The best gifts are often the unplanned ones. We don’t know the outcome of such gifts, but if rejected, the outcome is loss for us all. The theif comes to destroy. Jesus came that we might have life. The answer to the abortion issue is found in Jesus.

Thoughts on Ducks and A&E

People need to seriously relax. The Duck Dynasty thing on all fronts is absurd. I’ve seen & heard few reasoned responses to this. Here are the key thoughts:

1) The comments that are creating the storm are woefully taken out of context. People are zeroing in on one part and ignoring the rest. Given who Phil is, his response to the question is consistent. That people are shocked is what is shocking. This can’t be stated enough: Phil consider’s himself a deviant because of his lifestyle prior to meeting Jesus. A&E’s response to this just polarizes the issue father. Expecting someone to be what they’re not is crazy. This whole thing shouldn’t be a crisis at all.

2) There hasn’t been a reasoned and/or civil discussion on the LGBT issue. Many states had the issue forced upon them by a court overturning a democratic vote. This is highly problematic and creates polarization rather than a calm and civil response. The LGBT could learn much from MLK, Ghandi and Jesus. Christians and other opponents playing on rigorous defense could also do the same. In polarization there is little listening and no peacemaking. How the story with Chickfil-A ended is a model BOTH sides need to move towards.

3) Ad hominem attacks are in poor taste. automatically labeling those who disagree with LGBT as anti-gay, homophobic, haters and/or ignorant doesn’t help their cause. Calling someone a hater when they’re not will destroy your credibility in the long run. You may vehemently disagree with another’s position, but doing what you can to silence and denigrate them will also lose you credibility in the long run. This also holds true for Christians who label LGBT community as anti-God with a one way ticket to hell. Bible makes clear all have sinned, it’s a matter of what sin, not if.

4)  The need for biblical clarity is huge, especially in peacemaking. The Bible describes all sex acts outside of a heterosexual marriage as sin. There are some who try gimmicks to work around that, but the Bible is clear on the matter. The biggest frustration I see in this crisis is many professing Christians who are really clueless on handling the Bible and communicate it in ways that unbiblical.

5) I can’t say this enough: boycotts are really lame. Be a peacemaker, stop adding to the conflict. Also, intolerance doesn’t solve intolerance. Hate doesn’t solve hate.

6) Stop shouting and start listening. GLAAD’s response to the situation and the response to those supporting Phil are both part of the problem. Could Phil’s answer be more gracious? Yes. Could GLAAD’s response been more gracious? Yes. Could people’s response today be more gracious? Yes.

7) The first amendment is an issue. I’ve heard a few times that “It’s ok for him to hold and discuss such views in private but it has no place in the public square.” That sentiment is expressly against the first amendment. I disagree with gay-marriage, but I’d fight tooth and nail for their right to discuss their belief in the public square. The reverse should also be true.

Let both sides of this issue take the harder road of listening and peacemaking. It’s easy to shout at one another. But, in the end we all lose. Let’s call this for what it is, as a society we all dropped the ball and could do better. Rather than fire Phil, have him sit down with those in the LGBT community and listen to each other and both learn from each other. We may disagree strongly, but we can still love, serve and live together as one community.