Wednesday, April 10, 2013

IPhone 5 v windows phone 7

I have used every generation of iPhone since the iPhone 3. This comes after being an "early adopter" of various PDA platforms/devices (starting with the Casio devices in the late 1990s). I've used Blackberrys, Windows CE devices, Palms, Sony and other devices that began blending phone/PDA capabilities. And with all this, the iPhone was a revelation. The UI, the intuitiveness, the versatility and the apps - oh the apps! But due to a recent short- to mid-term job assignment that has me traveling to areas where my reliable AT&T service is, truly, non-existent, I opted to pick up a second device on Verizon. Rather than duplicating my AT&T iPhone 5, I chose to use this as an opportunity to explore another smartphone platform. The Samsung Galaxy S4 was a bit too expensive and far away for my purposes - and the Samsung Galaxy S3 seems a bit too dated - so I bypassed Android. I would have liked to try the new Blackberry Z10, but, like the S4, I couldn't wait for it. And as I was an early user (and fan in many ways) of Microsoft's early ventures into mobile device ecosystems, I ended up choosing the HTC Windows Phone 8X. After a few weeks of use, below are my summary thoughts on the distinctives of the iPhone 5 and the WP 8X.

iPhone 5 wins
  • Siri and voice recognition integration is a huge feature that iOS does extremely well. While windows has voice recognition the functionality is much poorer than iOS and the integration much more limited.
  • Keyboard function on the windows phone is noticeably poorer than that of the iPhone - thus may be the biggest reason I would be reluctant to make a full conversion to a windows phone as my primary, sole device. That said, some of this may be a slight orientation difference between the iPhone and WP8X that I just haven't adjusted to yet. For example, when I type on the iPhone, I tend to "aim" my taps at the upper right corner of the keys for a more reliable selection. It seems the WP8X is almost the opposite - favoring instead an "aim" toward the lower left to middle of the key. If this mental shift works, my frustrating with WP8X typing might abate some.  But the predictive text features are another shortfall for WP8X that I don't think is operator dependent.
  • Cut-and-paste, text selection and cursor movement/placement (for in-line editing) on the WP8X is less intuitive and clumsier than the iPhone.
  • Apps - Good for corporate email and Toodledo for task management are critical absences on the windows platform. The absence of Instagram and Vine are crucial in social media. And the poor functionality of Yelp! app is unacceptable.
  • Camera - the iPhone 5 camera is better hardware, better UI and better integration with other apps. The difference really is minor and I think too much has been made of this particular distinction compared to some of the ones listed above.
Windows Phone wins
  • Hardware - the hardware design of the HTC Windows Phone 8X is a marvel - the screen, the size, the "heft" in the hand, the speed & smoothness of the operation - superior to the iPhone 5
  • Look and feel - this phone is a pleasure to hold - it feels slimmer in the hand than the iPhone 5, but stronger at the same time - I don't feel the need to "baby" it as I do the iPhone 5; the "feel" of it is superior as well
  • Interface and menuing - the Live Tile technology and the "pin to start" options are a great time savor and easier to navigate than the now-dated iOS iconography
The lack of a small number of critical apps combined with the Siri superiority makes me believe I'll stick with the iPhone 5 as my primary device. But the choice is not an easy one. As I write this, I am in the "Verizon zone" and as such have been using the WP8X for several days. I'm already a little depressed about returning to AT&T land with the iPhone UI - it feels bleak and confined and limiting. I will be glad to get Siri and Instagram and ToodleDo back - along with the ability to check in on Yelp! But while my capabilities will expand somewhat, I won't enjoy using them quite as much as if they were in the WP ecosystem.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Reflections on Epiphany

A prayer:

Bright Morning Star,
You are both guidance and mystery,
Visit our rest with disturbing dreams,
and our journeys with strange companions.
Grace us with the hospitality
to open our hearts and homes
to visitors filled with unfamiliar wisdom
bearing profound and unusual gifts.

Your light has come,
and the birth of Jesus
has overwhelmed us with joy.
Like the magi of long ago,
may we be drawn to you
and offer you such gifts as we are able.

On the Feast of the Epiphany. From James Joyce's "The Dead":
"His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Joyce believed that the meaning of "epiphany," is the moment when "the soul of the commonest object [...] seems to us radiant."

Radiance and light - drawing and following; finding and worshipping. The human condition is caught up in these things and the tension between them, within them, and with the forces and events that oppose them.

Yeats' "The Second Coming":

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Birthday Reflections

So yesterday was my birthday. 45 years old already. Where has the time gone? Hard to imagine I'm a middle-aged husband and father of two teenage daughters. What was the Universe thinking when that was allowed to happen? Just wait until Management finds out...
It was a wonderful birthday - a beautiful, warm ( sunshine-filled day. I woke up in the morning with the best person I've ever known; with a brilliant, witty, funny, beautiful daughter asleep upstairs and a funny, beautiful, brilliant, creative daughter sending me Happy Birthday texts/Tweest/Instagrams from the beach. I heard from all of my family wishing me a great day and confirming they still acknowledge our familial bond - at least in private. I got to have lunch with as great a group of men as you could find anywhere - all friends who each inspire and challenge me in their own ways. I spent an afternoon run out in the heat and wind and enjoyed a lovely dinner with two beautiful women!
The well-wishes on Facebook number in the dozens - along with texts, messages, emails, phone calls. Gifts included books and wine and gadgets - going to be hard to top that list, people. Some sent special notes or shared hopes or remembrances of how our lives intersected. And as I pause to reflect on the wonderful group who each paused perhaps only seconds, others minutes or hours, to let me know they'd thought of me on this day, I am amazed at how blessed I have been to know all these people. Some are friends I have had since before high school. Some are friends I've only known a few months. Some are much older than I; others are still teenagers. Some are Republican; some Democrat. Some are devout Christians; some are wanderers and searchers; some are not religious at all. Some I see everyday - others I haven't "seen" in years. But it reminds me that even when we think we are all alone, we are still connected. Our friendships and partnerships and relationships are like an invisible network - a web - woven beneath us and around us and through us, that may go unnoticed for long stretches, but that can suddenly bound into our awareness when life jostles us loose or causes us to stumble. Now I'm just thinking here, since right now things are very pleasant for me, thank you very much, but I'm hoping that this means throughout our lives we are weaving together a safety net that stands ready to catch us when we fall.
It was a fantastic day, and I'm glad I've had a moment to pause and reflect on the deep blessing of other people.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Into the Woods

Into the Woods - EP

The new EP from Of Monsters and Men. I have a thing for Icelandic bands, I guess. OMaM is like Neill Finn meeting Arcade Fire:

Cover Art

Into the Woods - EP

Of Monsters and Men


Released: 2011

912 Ratings     

Friday, March 23, 2012

A thought occurred to me on my run...

...that we spend much of our energy trying to make life easy,
Usually by making it complicated.
When we are finally grown, if we are finally grown,
We find that instead, life is simple,
But very hard.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tools I Use: Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

I'm almost completely paperless. But when I write, I love the Lamy Safari!

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

Most fountain pens are appealing for their authoritative weight and the prestige of pushing an antique technology around the page. However, the Lamy Safari pen (designed by Wolfgang Fabian) re-thinks the fountain pen with comfort and accuracy in mind. It comes with a sturdy ergonomic grip similar too, but not as comfy as, the Dr. Grip. The pen is also made out of plastic making the weight (and cost) much less than a traditional fountain pen.
The Lamy weighs in at a meager $30 with ink costing about $2 to $5 dollars a bottle. The Safari is also frugal on ink; it runs a much smaller and tighter line than many pens meaning that the ink dries faster on the page, but do beware using ink from a different pen in the Lamy can clog it. You can see the ink cartridge at all times because a small part of the casing has been hollowed out.
Finally, the refillable cartridge snaps into place in the pen and is refillable through the pen's stylus hence you don't have to take everything apart when you want to refill (you do have to unscrew the top of the pen to get to the cart's screw, but not the bottom) and also eliminating that first air bubble you get when placing traditional carts back in the pen. The plunger is operated by a screw action on the top making it easy to hold the pen in place while you refill it. It is also available as a left handed version.
Lamy also sells other pens with a similar design and grip if you're looking for a more expensive or stylish pen, but despite the Safari's minor flaws (I had major problems the first day getting it to write consistently until I watered down my ink) it's quickly replaced my old Picasso pen for everyday scribbling. I now own two Lamys, using one for correcting tests and the other for everyday writing. The over-sized clip is also a bonus as it's less likely to get bent out of shape by clinging to pockets, belts, etc.
-- Andrew Jones

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen


Available from Jet Pens

Lamy Safari Refillable Ink Converter Z24


Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Lamy

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Welcoming the day...

Breath and see and hear and feel. Pause in each moment. Feel the air moving into your nose and throat and lungs. Grip the earth with your toes.  Flex your fingers in space. Look deeply into the eyes of your friend and your child and your lover. Let the sunrise press itself into your eyes. Let the water's lapping work its way into your skull. Let the ground strike your foot and shake your bones as you run upon the earth. 

  • Whole lifetimes are wasted worrying about the opinions of people who aren't even on the right wavelength.
  • People laugh at your unwholesome talk at the moment but think less of you afterwards.
  • Living in regret of the past, or fear of the future are two ways of not living at all.
  • A phone call to say, "I'm thinking of you," yields benefits all out of proportion to the time investment.
  • Be known as faithful. If you say, "Let's do lunch," do lunch.
  • Practice one command of God earnestly rather than a hundred sloppily.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Welcome to Our World

This Chris Rice song is so powerful. The emphasized lyrics below always move me to tears:

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You've been promised, we've been waiting

Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home
Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven's silence

Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born
So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy

Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tony Woodlief - Dreaming God

Tony Woodlief - Dreaming God

We are god-obsessed because we have lost God or we are running from God or we are hopelessly seeking Him, and maybe all of these at once.

We are god-obsessed the way a child snatched from his mother will always have his heart and flesh tuned to her, even after he forgets her face. Cover the earth with orphans and you will find grown men fashioning images of mothers and worshipping strong women and crafting myths about mothers who have left or were taken or whose spirits dwell in the trees.

And at the edges of their tribal fires will stand the anthropologist and the philosopher, reasoning that all this mother-talk is simply proof that men are prone to invent stories about mothers, which is itself proof that no single story about a mother could be true, which is proof that the brain just evolved to work that way.

It's the only narrative that fits the facts while affirming the skeptic's presupposition that all this mother business is just leftover hokum from the dark ages.

Except that in a century, when the most famous of the skeptics is long forgotten, broken men will still be telling stories about what we have lost, and what we pray is still out there, coming even now to set all things right.

Tony Woodlief, "Dreaming God" in Image Journal.

Monday, August 22, 2011


The afternoon drizzles by
Biting and cool breeze reminds us
Of winters dying breath
Nearly gone but not yet it insists

Like the release and abnegation
Of you over her
How hard we wrestle
How firm our grasp
For fear and compassion
To protect and perhaps
If we are honest to try
To make things right
This time
In her time
Instead of our time

Our time?
Why is it so?
Have we given over already?
I had not thought so
I will that it not be so
Years stretch before us
With that same tumescent uncertainty
And possibility
That wakes us in the night
And calls us into the day

The struggle is real and its
Weight is hard to bear
We long to make their lives
Or even just as much so
As our own
I would find that enough

Some aboriginal drive to control
Possesses us still though
They were our creation were they not?
Called forth as if from Zeus's forehead
At our bequest
We merely exercise our right
Our claim upon them is just and fair

Just and fair?
Two greater lies are not to be found
In human thought
Why would we wish such a fate
On those we carry into the world?

Keep justice; fairness
Give me joy and mercy and freedom
Whatever their manner
Whatever their kin
More so, give it to them
Could there be a better inheritance?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thoughts from Beck: Religion as Biography

Richard Beck again with great insight captures a profound reality (in my experience, anyway) of the challenge of living an authentic life in community with others of varying experiences. Our insecure, possessive instincts to grasp, control and dominate the truths of others - of disregarding their unique conflation of personality, biology, culture, sociology and experience - so often create unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding. As opposed to this reality is the truth Jesus brought us of our rightful dominions; of the ultimate respect for the individual and her choices.

I'm a big Walden and Thoreau fan to begin with so that's a good start, but Beck's application here of the radical inseparability of our individual biographical narrative from our own epistemological make-up is crucial to my own understanding of human volition, prevenient grace, universal reconciliation, atonement and communal life.

Excerpts of the full article below.

"Immediately, Thoreau goes on to offer an apology for the first-person, autobiographical nature of the book {CJR: Walden):
'...Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.'

"I've heard it said, "There is no theology; only biography." This idea, it seems, is a variant of something Ralph Waldo Emerson, friend of Thoreau, had said: "There is properly no history; only biography"

"Some people, it seems, have no experience of God. At least no experience they trust. Thus, they feel no need to "make sense" of an experience they lack. These persons are agnostics and atheists. And to be clear, I don't fault my skeptical friends for "making sense" of their experience in this particular way. Their experience is their experience. I can't argue them out of what they feel to be true in their bones."

"In a related way, there are those of us who have (and continue to have) experiences that we can only "make sense" of by labeling them as holy, sacred, transcendent, divine, or spiritual. William James called these experiences "ontological emotions," a feeling of thereness. And in light of these experiences people often "make sense" of their lives in ways that we might label "religious.""

"I think this is why Jesus often said, "Those who have ears, let them hear." You can either hear me, or you can't. And if you can't, I'm not sure what we can say to each other. At some deep level we are ships passing in the night. I think this is the same idea behind the Parable of the Sower. You are either good soil, or not. And the same goes for how we live with each other. You are either open to me, and I to you, or we're not."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Triathlon Training Weekly Routine Calendar

Anyone ever seriously trained for triathlons? I'm working myself up to it and trying to figure out how to make it work. The weekly schedule below is my attempt at working in 4 runs, 3 swims and 3 bikes each week - while trying to live out the rest of my life!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Fourfold Franciscan Blessing

H/T to Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology.

The Fourfold Franciscan Blessing

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palms Before My Feet

Palms Before My Feet

The Donkey
G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Make it Tso!

Corny, yes, but I do love STTNG, #1's face-palm - and General Tso's chicken!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Man's Lenten Diet: 'Liquid Bread,' Also Known As Beer

I just wish I'd thought of this...


via NPR Topics: Religion on 4/4/11

Since Ash Wednesday, J. Wilson of Iowa has consumed only water and beer — a specially brewed, high-calorie Doppelbock. German monks practiced a similar fast centuries ago known as a "liquid bread" diet. Wilson has finished two kegs so far — and lost 15 pounds. He said his aim is not to get drunk during his beer fast, but added, "If you walk in the rain, you get wet."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Beauty, Goodness and Home

"As we struggle through life, we seem compelled to acknowledge, sooner or later, that our human good, our flourishing and fulfilment, depends on orienting ourselves towards values that we did not create. Love, compassion, mercy, truth, justice, courage, endurance, fidelity - all belong to a core of key virtues that all the world's great religions (and the secular cultures that have emerged from them) recognise, and which command our allegiance whether we like it or not. We may try to go against them, to live our lives without reference to them, but such attempts are always, in the end, self-defeating and productive of misery and frustration rather than human flourishing.

These facts are already, if we think about them, very striking and important ones. We are dependent and vulnerable creatures, who need, for our fulfilment, to orient ourselves toward certain enduring values. If we reflect on this, and couple it with an awareness of the obvious fact of our human weakness, and the notorious difficulty humans experience in steadfastly pursuing the good they aspire to, then one is struck by the extent to which religious belief offers a home for our aspirations. Theism, in its traditional form found in the three great Abrahamic faiths, involves the idea of a match between our aspirations and our ultimate destiny. On this picture, the creative power that ultimately shaped us is itself the source of the values we find ourselves constrained to acknowledge, and has made our nature such that we can find true fulfilment only in seeking those values. In the much-quoted words of St. Augustine, "You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it finds repose in you." The natural response to this - to acknowledge that creative source of goodness with joy, and to turn towards it for strength in our struggle - is so basic that it presents itself to the believer as a fundamental and necessary way of going through life. It is not a matter of scientific hypothesis about the precise macro- or micro-mechanisms that formed our planet or our species, but rather a necessary impulse of trust, something that, as William Wordsworth conveyed in his poetry, stems from moments of vivid awareness of the beauty and goodness of the world and our place within it. It is an impulse so deep that we feel that neither abstract intellectual speculation, nor the drudgery or pain of our routine experience,

Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.

Few have been more eloquent advocates of the benefits of faith: the uplifting sense of openness to beauty and goodness, and the trust that our best and deepest aspirations in life are not arbitrary flailings around in the dark, but part of the quest for 'God, who is our home'2. To describe God as our 'home' is to conceive of him as the ultimate source from which we come and the point of return to which our restlessness drives us - the final end where our true peace lies."

- John Cottingham

  1. William Wordsworth, "Line Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey" (1798), lines 135-6. 
  2. Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollection of Early Childhood" (1807), lines 64-5. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Religious Reflection & Conversation in a Church Setting

Discussion Group in Atrium02.jpg

I really enjoy leading group discussions on philosophy, religion, theology, culture, technology and world views. I've taught classes like these and more traditional "Bible classes" for over 25 years to groups ranging from a dozen to over several hundred. The topics have varied from the mundane to the fantastic to the downright odd. And undoubtedly I've learned more from the preparation and conduct of these sessions than I've been able to pass on to others. I've found it entertaining, challenging and rewarding. And on more than a few occasions, I've been told that these discussion have been meaningful and rewarding to others, too.

My techniques and style have evolved - and, I hope, improved - over time. But there are a few things that seem to be consistent. First, I always start with my own questions. I am not interested in leading a discussion on matters that are comfortably "in my rear-view mirror". I have little enough time as it is to merely pass on information that someone can read for themselves. So my conversations always begin at the edge of my own understanding and knowledge. They begin where my certainty and comfort end. This ensures that I will be engaged in the preparation of the content because I am excited about the learning and the growth I am experiencing. And a large part of this excitement comes from honestly not knowing what I will find.

While I do generally have an "endpoint" in mind when I begin a discussion, that endpoint is definitely not (a) a class outline, or, (b) an "answer". The endpoint is something much more ephemeral. For example, I recently led a 3 month long, once-per-week discussion class with about 80-100 folks on the topics of the soul & neuroscience and life-after-life. When I started that discussion (my 10-point font, 1" margin notes ended up at well over 100 pages), I honestly had little idea how the class would "flow" - what the specific topics of conversation would be week after week. Looking back on it now, I can trace a very coherent, logical thread of dialogue, discussion and debate. But I had no idea what that would look like as I began. That uncertainty and exploration made the class interesting and engaging for me as I prepared it - and, according to the feedback I've received, intriguing and meaningful to the participants as well.

In addition to this "uncertainty" and "open-endedness", or, more correctly perhaps, because of it, the second feature of my discussion is that I have no hard allegiance to outline or an outcome which allows me to "chase rabbits". This may seem counterproductive. But only if you are assuming I'm starting toward a fixed outcome that much be reached along a specified path. By removing those "anchors", the class is, with adequate guidance, allowed to seek, search and explore "for itself" as the topic is developed and unfolds. Clearly you don't want to advocate this kind of approach if you, as a leader, aren't comfortable with a fairly wide range of material around your primary subject.

And you have to actively manage and facilitate the process itself or you can diffuse your focus to the point that you've lost your audience. This is a matter of "feel" in the group - you have to be sensitive to what the group is telling you: "Am I getting my point across?" "Are there folks who are resisting the conversation?" "Are there people who simply don't understand what's happening in the dialogue?" This sensitivity is something I really focus on in my classes - lots of eye contact, moving around the space, calling people by name, looking for body language, seeking questions and feedback. But while this takes real energy to do, I think it results in ensuring that the largest possible group of people in the discussion are engaged and "along for the ride".

If you can accomplish these things in the practice of the conversation, then "chasing rabbits" is an incredibly powerful way to let the class not only "hear", but participate and even direct the class with you - thereby driving up their engagement with the conversation and, ostensibly, their acquisition of the content. There are risks in this and it eats up a fairly sizeable portion of time - which, again, is primarily only important if you'd mapped out where you wanted to go before hand and have a limited amount of time to "get there".

An important and subtle subtext to this approach is that when a discussion is open to new paths of conversation - new streams of thought - it is empowering to the participants. It also communicates respect to the participants. One of the things I find frustrating with so many "classes" is that innate assumption that the leader/speaker has all the information/opinions/facts that matter and the class is there entirely to receive these pearls of wisdom. Fine for freshman English; no thanks otherwise.

The third point is related to that question I mentioned above, "Are there people who simply don't understand what's happening in the dialogue?" With this kind of discussion style, it can be very frustrating for folks who join the dialogue late, who haven't been in this kind of discussion before, or who miss one or more sessions. Because the discussion is somewhat "free-flowing", folks (especially those in churches used to traditional "Bible classes" that follow a specific text verse-by-verse or that are based on pre-prepared material from a book or outline) need to be "reminded" of where you've been. So another feature of my classes is that I usually spend 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each "recapping" what we've said and "agreed on" in the series of conversations up to that point.

Now, this can be very off-putting to folks schooled in traditional practices. I was once teaching a six month long weekly session on the New Testament letter to the Romans to a group of about sixty people. Each week, as is my practice, I spent that 5-10 minutes summarizing what we'd said and concluded so far. Clearly, several months in, this becomes a pretty "high level" summary and at times it may have stretched into a 15 discussion if we were grappling with a particularly difficult or troublesome concept (Romans 7, anyone?). I had one of the participants - a highly educated leader (PhD college instructor) in that church "coach" me on how much time I was "wasting" in those minutes of summary at the beginning of each class. Here was a man who'd taught at the collegiate level, was highly educated, familiar with the material we were discussing giving advice. I take such advice seriously. But I have to say that I never once reconsidered the value of those moments of recapitulation. I have no doubt that it is this small practice that adds incredibly clarity, engagement and acquisition to the discussions for a majority of the participants: summarizing, clarifying, solidifying.

This "free form" style should not be interpreted as any kind of lack of preparation. Quite the opposite, in fact. For each class has to be built on where you left off before and you have to prepare yourself to lead a discussion not only on the specific topic, but all the potential "rabbit trails" the class may choose to run down. Because I spend time preparing this way, I am able to treat the majority of questions (and questioners) with respect and take the time to provide real responses. And this kind of preparation results in a pretty voluminous set of discussion notes. Each of my multi-month discussion series has a set of teaching notes (and, usually, in-class presentation material and/or handouts) that runs north of 80 pages (again, 10-point-font, 1" margins).

Two of the downsides to this approach to teaching (if you think of them as a downsides - which I don't) are that I don't teach the same topic/material twice (see my first point above - not that each series ends with all my questions answered, but I'm usually just "done" with that topic by that time) and that I essentially next start with pre-prepared material (DVD series, etc.). Regarding the latter, I do occasionally teach on the topic of a book (e.g., I led a four month series on The Shack), but I'm not "teaching" the book. Rather, I'm critiquing, deconstructing or expounding on it - not using it as a source of material per se. I simply don't use material with an outline, agenda or plan - I find it too boring, too confining.

I remember moments before speaking to a large college group, a dear friend pulled me aside and asked, "What are you going to tell them?" And I replied honestly, "I don't know. We'll see where it goes." A look of panic and shock lit his face, "What? You can't do that! You've got to figure it out fast!" His concern was legitimate being as it was "baked" in the traditional model where speakers, teachers and preachers are supposed to present with certainty, authority and clarity what it is they want their audience to know, believe, do or accept. This open-ended, dialogical approach is disconcerting to the Modernist. But in my own life and experience, it much more rewarding, authentic and conducive of personal growth.