The Enchanted Hour

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 3.44.49 PMDo I Need To Renew My Mind, And If So How?

In her 2019 book, The Enchanted Hour, Wall Street Journal columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon shares the power of reading (particularly reading aloud) on our brain development vs. the hours spent on an iPad or iPhone which provides little to no brain stimulation—particularly on young children.

When it comes to “Understanding Our Vulnerability to Media,” (a topic I cover in Chapter 2 of In Whose Image?) Gurdon cites multiple studies that document the importance of reading vs. the negative impact screen time has on our brains—particularly in our formative years. As Gurdon states, “The evidence has become so overwhelming that social scientists now consider read-aloud time one of the most important indicators of a child’s prospects in life.”

Along these lines, Gurdon demonstrates how “too much screen time is a setup for atrophy, or underdevelopment of…higher order brain networks [such as language, imagination, and attention].”  As a matter of fact, she declares that “If what we know about brain plasticity is true, it will be harder for kids who grow up with underdeveloped networks to learn, to come up with their own ideas, to imagine what is going on in stories and connect it with their own lives, and they’ll be much more dependent on stuff being fed to them.”

Yikes!  So if a teen was not read to growing up, and he is now spending hours on screens every day, how does he renew his mind?

For starters, activate your teen’s iPhone “Screen Time” and limit their screen time to less than two hours a day.  As San Diego State Professor Jean Twenge discovered, “Teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services [church, youth group, Bible study, and/or devotion/prayer time with God], reading or even doing homework were happier.”

While this may sound like common sense, I think your child/teen will be pleasantly surprised by the power of honoring God through the renewing of their mind—emotionally, academically, and spiritually—when they put down their devices, turn off the TV and computer, and engage the world around them—especially the Creator whose image they bear.

Gurdon does not spurn technology, but instead encouragers parents and educators to heed the warnings of groups such as The American Academy of Pediatrics, which provide healthy parameters around screen time—beginning with no screen time from the ages of 0-2 years old—to allow for proper brain development.

As Gurdon shares, “The Enchanted Hour is for anyone who loves books, stories, art, and language. It is for everyone who wants to give babies and toddlers the best possible start in life, everyone who cares about the tenderhearted middle-schooler and the vulnerable, inquisitive teenager…[T]his book is for everyone who has felt the dulling of emotional connection and the muddying of once-clear ideas and priorities in an era of noisy ephemera, technological enthrallment, and an overbearing news cycle.”

Pick up a copy of Gurdon’s The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction today!

A Clarion Call for Christian Schools

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Are middle and high school students being prepared to engage an increasingly diverse population and culture in the U.S.?

Given a few of the recent national headlines, it does not appear so.

  • USA Today’s front-page article giving U.S. schools an “F” for teaching slavery: “Schools sanitize it or shy away from it.”
  • A 2019 Pew Research Poll finding almost half of white Americans saying “the USA becoming a majority nonwhite nation would weaken American customs and values.”

In an attempt to better equip Gen Z students to engage their peers on challenging issues such as media discernment, faith, and race, the Imago Dei Leadership Forum commissioned The Barna Group to ask a series of questions to 979 diverse teens (ages 13-17) from around the country in November 2018. (This research will be featured in Part 3 of In Whose Image?)

The results were both insightful and telling.

First, when Gen Z teens were asked whether or not “There is a lot of anger and hostility between the different ethnic and racial groups in American today,” they overwhelmingly agreed—with African American students strongly agreeing by a 20-percentage point difference.

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However, when asked whether or not they agreed or disagreed that “Racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present,” the disparities began to grow more—especially among African American and white Gen Z teens.

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The divide became even more apparent among Gen Z teens when asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “People of color are often put at a social disadvantage because of their race.”

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When it came to historical questions, the polls were equally telling—especially the variance in Gen Z teens’ beliefs on the cause of slavery in America and whether or not statues of Confederate soldiers should remain in place.

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The most disconcerting of all the polls, however, was how few Gen Z teens (particularly white students) could explain the hard lessons of U.S. history to someone not familiar with them—particularly the mistreatment of minority groups in America, whether it be Asian Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, or women.

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When I sat down to review the polling data, it confirmed what I had witnessed firsthand over the past five years teaching a racially diverse leadership group of Gen Z teens in St. Louis.

  • First, Gen Z teens are clearly aware of the growing hostility in America. Therefore, they should be encouraged to be in community and conversation with peers of different races, so they can better understand how racism is still alive and well in America today and the ways people of color continue to face disadvantages.  Students especially must be taught how to listen to one another—considering different views from their own and hearing the hearts and perspectives of others.
  • Second, if Gen Z teens are not in a diverse classroom setting, they will not understand why there are differing views on the cause of slavery in America and why statues of Confederate soldiers (particularly those erected during the Jim Crow era) are painful reminders of the evil institution of slavery and the discrimination and persecution African Americans faced for the next 100 years after the Civil War (leading up to the Civil Rights era). In addition, teachers in non-diverse settings must be equipped to show the differing worldviews to their students.
  • Third, if Gen Z teens are not educated with a balanced view of history—showing both the successes and sins of our nation—they will not have the proper perspective and empathy necessary to treat all people as equals and speak into our past and present injustices.

Given the above findings, if they haven’t already, schools have about five years to prepare their teachers for the current 2nd graders (the most-diverse class of students in U.S. history) to enter 8th grade. Studies show that 8th grade students are emotionally and intellectually prepared to learn and discuss the challenges in America (past and present) at a much deeper level.  More importantly, to do this effectively, schools must ensure that the proper approach and training is in place for teachers to lead these diverse classes of students well.

A More Diverse Nation

While these statistics should be no surprise to most U.S. educators, the greatest clarion call is needed among non-diverse Protestant and Catholic schools.  It is important that these schools prepare for and/or seek racial diversity so they will remain relevant and prepare their students to thoughtfully engage the culture—especially as their admissions pools become more and more dependent upon justice-minded, Millennial parents who are seeking diverse, culturally engaging, Gospel-centered environments for their children.

With the continued polarization and racial divide in America, coupled with the coming of the 2020 Presidential election season, we need the biblical teaching that played a major role in righting wrongs throughout history to address the moral issues of our day—that we are all created in the imago Dei (the image of God).

Consider St. Paul’s challenge to the Church of Ephesus and the Church of Galatia: To Ephesus, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  To Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Followers of Jesus should be leading the charge when it comes to speaking into today’s issues—centered upon the idea of being an image-bearer of God.

For when students understand what it means to bear God’s image, they are free to view themselves not as the world defines them but as God created them—pursuing their place and purpose in society, all the while growing and solidifying their faith in Jesus and loving and treating others as equals.

As we approach the Easter season, I want to share an excerpt from U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black’s powerful keynote address at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. (Chaplain Black speaks to our Leadership Forum students each year in D.C.!) Discussing his mother’s challenge for him to memorize Scripture as a young boy, Chaplain Black shared about a verse that changed his life.

“One day I memorized 1 Peter 1:18-19.  I was only 10 years of age. It says, ‘We are redeemed not with corruptible things such as silver and gold but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.’ Even at 10, I had sufficient analytical skills to know that the value of an object is based upon the price someone is willing to pay.  And when it dawned on me, a little guy in the inner city, that God sent what John 3 calls in the Greek the monogenesʹ—the only one of its kind—His only begotten Son to die for me, no one was ever able to make me feel inferior again.”

The power of the Gospel never ceases to amaze me.

As both a Christian educator and parent, my vision and prayer for my students (and my own four children!) has been for them to engage the diverse culture around them—particularly as they navigate issues of faith—while treating others with dignity and respect­. For by equipping them with an others-centered framework to see people as fellow image-bearers of God, they will better develop a genuine concern for the poor and disenfranchised—bringing a much-needed Gospel-centered message to today’s hyper-polarized culture.

John A. Murray is the President of Imago Dei Leadership Forum in St. Louis, MO, and author of the forthcoming e-book In Whose Image? Image-bearers of God vs. The Image-makers of Our Time

 

 

 

 

Black History Month and God’s Word

This past summer, our Leadership Forum students had the opportunity to tour the newly opened Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.  One of the exhibits in “The Impact of the Bible in America” gallery included a book known as “The Slave Bible.”

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I had learned from a friend several years ago that many slaveowners would rip out certain sections of the Bible used by their slaves. Nevertheless, I had no idea that a deliberate publication had been produced that “omit all entries that express[ed] themes of freedom…[as a] part of an inhumane process to make slaves docile and subservient, to break their spirits.”

As the exhibit above notes, “This volume [of the Bible] is called ‘Holy’ but it is deeply manipulative”–and anything but holy.

Because this artifact “attracted greater attention than perhaps any other artifact on display” since the Museum of the Bible’s opening in November 2017, the Museum decided to “dig deeper into the mysteries surrounding this rare and disturbing book.”

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In cooperation with Fisk University and the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Museum of the Bible created a new spotlight exhibition entitled, “The Slave Bible: Let the Story Be Told.”

This past December, while speaking at a Bible conference in D.C., I had the opportunity to visit this thought-provoking exhibit and take the accompanying pictures in this blog.

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As you can read above, The Slave Bible was first published in London in 1807 and again in 1808.

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The Slave Bible was published on behalf of the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves (SCNS)–deliberately omitting Scriptures that condemned slavery, promoted freedom, and more importantly, shared the hope of the Gospel for all.  One such omission was Galatians 3:28, which declares all humans as God’s image-bearers: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (King James Version)

Thus, as the exhibit notes, missionaries were allowed to “’save’ the souls of enslaved Africans even as they condemned their bodies to servitude.”

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The amount of Scripture left out of “The Slave Bible” was shocking.

As Dr. Jessie Carney Smith, Dean of the Library at Fisk University notes, “The Slave Bible is evidence of an attempt to keep the enslaved enslaved, to deny them access to the true biblical view of what freedom means to all people. Freedom was never designed solely for the privileged but for all humankind.”

Given the above exhibit and its implications, it is amazing that slaves would even consider the Christian faith.  That the LORD was able to use such brokenness to bring men and women to faith in Christ is a testimony to His faithfulness and sovereignty.

Along those lines, many of the truths from the stories and Scriptural passages omitted from the Slave Bible made their way to the slaves through “Negro Spirituals.” God’s Word prevailed despite men’s attempts to distort and remove certain truths.

As human beings made in God’s image, we respond to redemptive songs such as Negro spirituals–songs of former slaves that helped them endure harsh lives and conditions with the powerful, transforming hope of Jesus and eternal life.  In these horrific circumstances, they “rejoiced not because their circumstances were good, but because God is good!”

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On November 16, 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers—”all but two former slaves and many still in their teens — arrived at Oberlin College in Ohio to perform before a national convention of ministers. After a few standard ballads the chorus sang spirituals and other songs associated with slavery. It was one of the first public performances of the secret music African Americans sang in the fields and behind closed doors for generations.”

The Fisk Jubilee Singers came on to the scene at a time when the University was struggling financially to keep the doors open.  God’s faithfulness was evident, as the engagements that arose for the Singers around the country and world enabled them to raise over $20,000 for the University.

Watch this inspiring video to learn more about the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the faith, hope, and love they brought so many in the name of Jesus—demonstrating that we all are image-bearers of God.

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Resources for Further Study:

https://www.museumofthebible.org

http://fiskjubileesingers.org/the-music/

 

 

Treating Others as Image-Bearers

When I was recently asked by The Center for Spiritual and Ethical Engagement (CSEE) Executive Director Bob Mattingly to share the ways independent schools (religious and secular) can grow in their understanding and acceptance of conservative Christian parents present in their communities, I was both excited and nervous.

Excited to share my experiences both as an independent school educator (8 years) and Head (17 years), as well as a parent (20 years), I nevertheless realized the formidable task.

Published in CSEE’s Winter Quarterly in December 2018, the below article will reach over  200+ CSEE independent schools (religious and secular) around the country.

Read more

A Life-Changing Journey

This summer, I had the opportunity to lead my fourth class of rising ninth graders—the Class of 2018—on an eight-day leadership trip to Gettysburg and Washington, D.C.  This racially diverse group of 24 students represented 7 different schools and 14 different churches here in St. Louis.

The amazing journey for our students was a culmination of what is now called the Imago Dei Leadership Forum (IDLF).  The class began meeting in February with 12 two-hour weekly sessions on what it means to be an image-bearer of God in how we view ourselves, others, and the world around us.

I would love to share with you our time in Gettysburg and D.C. in a diary format. I pray that you will be encouraged as I was by what the LORD did in the lives of these young people.

Day 1 (Saturday)

Bus

We spent 18 hours on the bus ride from St. Louis to Gettysburg, PA. It was a ideal time for the students to bond and get to know one another—as we did trivia with prizes every hour on the hour! As a matter of fact, we watched The Greatest Showman—which interestingly set the tone of what it means to value others different than ourselves—treating them as image-bearers of God.

Day 2 (Sunday)

We started the day with a worship service at Middle Creek Lodge (located 10 minutes from Gettysburg).   We enjoyed a time of singing, individual (private) prayers of confession, and Scripture study. We read from Acts 20:17-38, as we looked at Paul’s leadership and his charge to the elders in the church of Ephesus.  We observed how leadership discussions should always include the importance of character (v.19), courage (v.20), conviction (v.21), crucible (v.22-23), course (v.24), and a charge (v.25-28).  For application, we watched two scenes from the film 42, and had some great discussions on the ways Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, and Pee Wee Reese emulated the above traits.  These leadership traits served as a key reference point, as we reflected on them with the various leaders we learned about and met throughout the trip.

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Gettysburg Visitors Center

We began our tour of Gettysburg by spending time at the Visitors Center (http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/10).  We watched A New Birth of Freedom (a film narrated by Morgan Freeman) before experiencing the Cyclorama, the nation’s largest oil painting. The students were amazed not only by the battlefield stories but by the painting itself. We then heard from a park ranger who spoke on what it was like to be a Civil War soldier and the challenges soldiers faced in this time period.  We finished up at the Civil War Museum—walking through the history of the Civil War—as we prepared for our time on the battlefields tomorrow.

Back at the Lodge

After dinner, we gathered for our first group session on the importance of leading with a biblical worldview.  We then watched Part 1 of the film Gettysburg to prepare for our Monday morning and afternoon tours. We focused on the leadership of four individuals—Generals James Longstreet and Robert E. Lee for the Confederate army and Colonels Joshua Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union Army.

Day 3 (Monday)

 

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The Battlefields of Gettysburg

We had another full morning and afternoon exploring Gettysburg.  Today was our “outside” day—exploring the battlefields representing Day 1, 2, and 3 (July 1-3, 1863) of the Battle of Gettysburg.  We envisioned what it was like to be a soldier in the exact surroundings, as we examined the strategies that helped the Union defeat the Confederates.  We especially spent time on Little Round Top, exploring the courage and amazing leadership of Col. Joshua Chamberlain, and walking “The Long Mile” of Pickett’s Charge.

Back at the Lodge

Similar to last night, after dinner we had another Group Session where we continued exploring how leadership often calls for courage in the face of adversity.  We studied Joshua’s commission by God (Joshua 1) and the challenges and encouragement the LORD gave him to lead His people into the Promised Land.  We applied this to the courage of Joshua Chamberlain, as well as a scene from The Blind Side showing the courage, character, and faith of Michael Oher and the Tuohy family.  The students were active participants in the discussion — as we compared these challenges to ones they will face in high school and the importance of having a firm foundation in Christ.

We ended our evening by watching Part 2 of the film Gettysburg, and the powerful scene of the Battle of Little Round Top—led by Col. Joshua Chamberlain.  The students were captivated by the fact they walked the same ground where the battle was fought (and filmed!).

Day 4 (Tuesday)

Cemetary

We had a meaningful day, which I hope the students will remember for a long, long time. After a devotional on the Apostle Peter and his courage and leadership, we viewed Part 3 of Gettysburg.  I was so encouraged by the students’ reaction to this film, especially how they were moved by the sacrifice that was made in this final day of battle—particularly the tragic Pickett’s Charge.  As an aside, Director Ron Maxwell did a great job developing the characters of the film so you care when they die.  He did not bombard viewers with blood and gore—which makes it not only more watchable, but moving too.  Furthermore, these movie scenes were filmed on the exact ground we walked yesterday.

Gettysburg National Cemetery

We then visited Gettysburg National Cemetery and read numerous tombstones of those who gave their lives. We were also impacted by the markers that showed other veterans who have died over the years up to the Vietnam War.  Lincoln’s idea of a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” assumed a new meaning to the students as they stood in the Gettysburg Cemetery, surrounded by markers of hundreds of soldiers, and took turns reciting lines from Lincoln’s 272-word speech.   To this point, we had a great reflection time that evening and a number of students shared how they were inspired/impressed by our time here—especially how many soldiers were willing to give their lives so others could be free.

Arrival in DC

After leaving the Gettysburg Cemetery, it was time to head to D.C. to examine the powerful influences of media and government and the importance of moral leadership and Christian principles in these fields.  Arriving at the National Mall, our students were able to walk around and enjoy views of the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial.

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Bob Woodson

Our next stop was the Woodson Center.  Founder and President Bob Woodson—a MacArthur Genius Fellowship and Presidential Citizens Medal recipientmet with our students for over an hour! (http://woodsoncenter.org)  Mr. Woodson is a man of great faith in Christ.  He exudes humility even though he has advised various U.S. Presidents and currently advises Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. The students had a wonderful dialogue with Mr. Woodson and did a great job engaging him and asking thoughtful questions!  He is doing amazing work in some of the most difficult schools and communities across the country that many view as hopeless.

We wrapped up our day at a Food Network’s own Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace, and then debriefed about our time at the Gettysburg National Cemetery and with Bob Woodson.

Day 5 (Wednesday)

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Capitol Hill

Our day began early on Capitol Hill, as we met with Congressman Robert Aderholt from Alabama.  Robert took us down to the House floor (!) and allowed us to sit in the seats typically occupied by congressmen while voting or listening to the State of the Union Address. It was amazing!  When our students arrived on the floor, they were surprised to see the national motto “In God We Trust” in gold letters above the Speaker’s chair (not something you see during the State of the Union Address). Furthermore, they viewed a marble relief of Moses hanging directly opposite the Speaker’s chair—the only full-face portrait of historical lawgivers found on the walls of the House chamber. Finally, our students learned that the House and Senate have chaplains—both of whom open each session in prayer.

Members of Congressman Aderholt’s staff then led us on a tour of the Rotunda, Statuary Hall and some other parts of the Capitol afterward before it was open to the public.  It was here that our students encountered six magnificent paintings—three of which captured significant religious events—the prayer service following Columbus landing in the West, the baptism of Pocahontas at Jamestown, and the Pilgrims (with an open Bible) praying before their departure from Holland to America.

Blunt

We then moved to the Russell Senate Office Building to participate in “Missouri Mornings” with Senator Roy Blunt. In addition to meeting the senator, we spoke at length with several of his interns.  One of the interns took us on the underground Senate subway to the Capitol Visitor’s Center, where we viewed beautiful statues of famous Americans—from the early 1700s to the present.  One of the highlights of this tour was watching Congress in action—debating current events of the day

Chaplain

After a wonderful lunch at the Capitol, we joined our next speaker—U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black.  He was a highlight for many of the students, for he was engaging, funny, deep, concise, and relevant.  Chaplain Black shared his amazing personal testimony of being born in the poorest neighborhood in Baltimore to rising to his current position today.  He is a man of great wisdom and very motivational.  Attributing his Christian education to changing his life and preparing him for his future roles in the Navy and D.C., he encouraged all of us to grow in wisdom, pray for the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, and be willing to go the extra mile.

Cal Thomas and the Newseum

Our final speaker of the day was Cal Thomas—a syndicated columnist who appears in hundreds of newspapers, Fox News, and other media outlets regularly.  Cal was an engaging, humorous, and insightful, speaker.  When asked what makes a good journalist, he emphasized the importance of reading good writers, knowing history, pursuing wisdom through reading the Scriptures, and getting advice from older people.

After our time with Cal, we toured the Newseum. It is such a fascinating venue!  We spent time at the 9/11 exhibit, the Berlin Wall exhibit, the Broadcast Journalism Arena, the Civil Rights area, and much much more.

In the evening, we processed the day’s conversations with the leaders and how they are seeking to honor God with their gifts and talents.

Day 6 (Thursday)

USC

Our morning began at Starbucks(!) at the historic Union Station.  After filling up on caffeine and pastries, we walked to the U.S. Supreme Court—where we had a wonderful behind the scenes tour with Eric Tung—a clerk for Justice Neil Gorsuch.  Eric—a brilliant lawyer in his own right—gave a fascinating explanation of the clerks’ work and support for the Justices they work with.  We visited his office and met several of his colleagues—one who graduated first in his class from Harvard Law School.  We discussed the philosophical difference between viewing the Constitution from an “originalist” perspective vs. a “living document.”   We also reflected on numerous important decisions that had just been released the week before we arrived—particularly landmark cases on religious liberty.  Speaking of Courts, one of the major highlights of Eric’s tour was getting to play on the basketball gym located directly above the Court chamber—known as the “Highest Court in the Land!”

National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)

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It was a huge answer to prayer that we were able to get tickets to this incredibly moving museum!  A big thank you goes out to our parents who got up at 5:30am St. Louis time to go online and help us get the 28 tickets we needed!  Words don’t express the powerful story and history that is captured here—a number of students (boys and girls) were in tears.  (As a matter of fact, it was the D.C. place many of them selected as the most meaningful in their trip reflections!)  We had a interesting debriefing that night about our time with evening speaker, Dede Winkfield, who made what they experienced at the NMAAHC very real and personal.

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Dede Winkfield

Dede, a teacher at the National Presbyterian School in D.C. worked with me for 6 years at Fourth Presbyterian School in Potomac, MD.  Dede’s family was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King’s family, for her mom was Dr. King’s assistant and oversaw his press relations for a number of years.  (As an aside, her uncle was a Tuskegee Airman!)  Dede spoke for over an hour about growing up during the Civil Rights Movement–being the first African American to integrate her private Catholic school in Albany, GA–and reflected on her personal memories of Uncle Martin and Aunt Coretta.  Our time with her was invaluable, and we were so grateful for her honesty and vulnerability.

Day 7 (Friday)

MLK

After breakfast at the Starbucks near American University, we headed to the MLK, Jr. Memorial to kick-off our last day in D.C.  Sadly, when the students visited the site honoring the great civil rights leader, they discovered no mention of his faith.  In fact, none of the 14 quotations of Dr. King referenced God (see my August 14, 2013 USA Today article entitled, “Where’s God in Celebration of MLK?” for more details).  Nevertheless, we focused on the importance of Dr. King’s work and the milestone that he is the only non-President to have a national monument built for him in D.C.

We then traveled to the Heritage Foundation, a D.C. think tank that works to promote traditional values.  Focus on the Family’s Tim Goeglein (another student favorite!) spoke with our students.   Tim, the chief lobbyist for Focus on the Family, wonderfully engaged them on how to live as a Christian in today’s tough political climate and the importance of godly character—which we demonstrated from stories of Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency.

Steps

The Lincoln Memorial

Speaking of Lincoln, we transitioned to the Lincoln Memorial after our time at Heritage–standing in the footsteps where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” To me, this was the most meaningful and moving part of the trip, as we brought racially diverse students and chaperones together to read Dr. King’s speech.  Our vision for Imago Dei Leadership Forum is to train up a generation that treats one another as image-bearers of God—fulfilling Dr. King’s dream and God’s command to love others as we love ourselves.  My favorite reader was Carla Bailey.  She passionately read the conclusion of Dr. King’s speech—bringing many of us to tears and drawing applause from many of the tourists who listened to our presentation.

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Congressman Lacy Clay

Afterwards, we made our way to Congressman Lacy Clay’s office who represents several areas of the St. Louis region. He was warm and candid, and we were grateful for his hospitality.  He was very open and passionate about his beliefs, presenting a very different perspective from many of us in the room.  He discussed the toxic political environment in D.C. and the importance of being able to treat others respectfully and trying to find common ground with those who share different political views.  As an aside, he let one of our students sit in his desk chair and was excited to learn he knew several of our students’ parents!

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The National Gallery

The next stop of the day was the National Gallery, the art museum which is part of the Smithsonian network.  My friend Susan Scola (a former docent at the Gallery and superb history teacher at Christ Episcopal School) gave us a thought-provoking Race & History Tour—concluding with the Shaw Memorial, which memorializes the 54th Massachusetts (the all-black regiment featured in the movie Glory!)  We were all encouraged at how engaged and interested the students were!

Fox News

Fox News

Our last stop of the trip was Fox News Studios.  Our students were able to get a private tour, as well as read from the teleprompter and see themselves on TV.  More importantly, they were able to hear from anchor Shannon Bream, who discussed the powerful influence of media.  She helped explain the difference between shows that do hard news vs. those who center around the opinion of the host.  As a hard news anchor, Shannon shared the importance of her show’s role to try and present a balanced view of the news and provide voices for both sides of an issue when applicable.  She is a very godly, talented woman—using her gifts and talents to be a great witness to Christ to hundreds of thousands of nightly viewers.

Day 8 (Saturday)

We boarded the bus and made the long journey home to St. Louis a fully bonded group.  What a blessing to see our students come together so well! I pray that the Class of 2018 will long remember the deep faith, courage, and leadership they witnessed—both past and present—on this journey.  My prayer is that God will continue to use the moments and revelations from this trip—reinforcing St. Paul’s challenge to the church of Galatia, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For as they apply this truth as image-bearers of God, they will be equipped to engage their generation for Jesus Christ.

Memorial

Longing for a Savior

This Advent season, I have greatly enjoyed reading Pastor Timothy Keller’s book Hidden Christmas, which is based upon his Christmas sermons at the various churches he has led during his ministry.

While I have taught on the subject of how fantasy stories and heroes/heroines point to the one true Savior over the years in Sunday school, Central Leadership Forum, and most recently our December Christmas chapel at Central Christian School, I love how Keller portrays the Christmas story and our longing and need for Jesus.

I decided to expand on my chapel talk and Keller’s thoughts for an op-ed that ran in today’s USA Today:

https://usat.ly/2C1bBdn

I hope it will be a blessing to you.  Merry Christmas!

 

Veterans Day

How do you define peace?

That was the question I asked our 3K -6th grade students in our Veterans Day Chapel this Friday.

Calm…Patience…Loving…Kindness…were just some of the many answers I received. While these words may not accurately define peace, I noted how treating others calmly, patiently, lovingly, and kindly as God’s image-bearers would definitely lead to peace.

Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines peace as, “freedom from war…from fear, terror, anger, anxiety.”  The context sentence Webster used for the definition was straight from Scripture (a common practice in his original dictionary)—“Great peace have they that love thy law.”—Psalm 119:165

Reflecting on Veterans Day and the desire for peace in our world reminded me of attending my older brother’s graduation from the Army War College in Carlisle, PA.  The college was founded in 1901 and has produced distinguished alums such as Generals John J. Pershing (1905), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1927), and Omar Bradley (1934).

What I found most intriguing was that the college was conceived, “Not to promote war but to preserve peace by intelligent and adequate preparation to repel aggression.”

After asking for a show of hands from students, faculty, and parents whose family members had served or are currently serving in the military, I affirmed how our troops need our prayers—not only to keep the peace in the many volatile areas they are stationed—but for peace in their souls as well.

A Barna Poll on the U.S. military recently reported the number one reason why our troops turn to Scripture: “Service men and women who read the Bible…say they might read the Bible for many reasons, but the most common is for comfort (37%), and understandably so, given the peace or security its pages may bring to those taking great risks for their fellow Americans.”

I shared with my students how I had never before associated peace with training at a war college.  But the Army War College’s mission statement gave me a renewed outlook on the important role our military has played over the years in seeking to keep peace around the world in places like Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.

Along these lines, my brother—now a Brigadier General in the Army Reserves—serves as the Director of Operations for all “U.S. Forces Korea during wartime actions to support the Commander by analyzing complex situations, assisting in making and implementing decisions, controlling operational direction for ground, naval, air, and special operations forces assigned to, or under the operational control of Commander.”

His Commander—General Vincent Brooks–is the Commander of the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command, and the U.S. Forces Korea. A graduate of West Point, General Brooks was the “First Captain of the U.S. Corps of Cadets–the top military leadership position a cadet at West Point can hold.  He is the first African American to be selected for this position in West Point’s history.”

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Having led a brilliant and distinguished career over his 36 years as a commissioned officer, General Brooks is now commanding one of the hottest spots in the world—the border between North and South Korea.

The preparation of men such as General Brooks and my brother was a good segue to challenge our students on how they can be prepared for the spiritual battles they face each day from not only the evil one–the devil–but our own brokenness and sin as well.

The Apostle Paul used the imagery of a Roman soldier when he challenged the Church of Ephesus on how to stand up to sin and the devil by equipping ourselves with the armor of God.

Put on the full armor of God…so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

Having God’s Word, we can know truth from falsehood, be right with God, and experience the peace that the Gospel of Christ brings.  And with our faith in Christ, we can block the devil’s temptations and snares, resting assured in our salvation—praying at all times and being on the alert.

For when we clothe ourselves in the spiritual armor of God, we can resist the anxiety and fear that can so easily overwhelm us and claim “His peace that passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:6-8)

That is my prayer for all of us—but particularly our soldiers on this Veterans Day.

Tips for Talking to Students About Tragedy and Loss

While our country continues to pray and mourn for the grieving families and their unspeakable loss in the Las Vegas shooting, I encourage you to consider how best to share this tragedy with your children (if age appropriate). Numerous resources are available online that discuss ways to help your child cope with tragedy—from the National Association of School Psychologists to the American Psychological Association:

Your child may also have questions about why God would allow something like this to happen. I highly recommend the blog post below which contains excerpts from Pastors Tim Keller and John Piper’s responses to the 9/11 tragedy.

While we face evil in this world, we can take comfort that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I pray our Central students — and students around the country — will take this promise to heart as we prepare them to be lights in their world—pointing to the One True Light:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

 

My “New” Title

St. Louis native and Nobel Prize winning author T.S. Eliot once stated, “It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done.” I, too, can say that the LORD is using St. Louis and its people to affect and change me more than any community I have ever experienced.

When I accepted this position over two years ago, I was thrilled to lead this amazing school. Even before visiting, Central’s reputation as an academically strong and culturally diverse school made it an exciting opportunity for my family and me. Having lived all over the country, I could confidently say that I enjoyed and appreciated diversity.

I arrived in the city one month before the Ferguson conflict erupted in 2014 to lead this community. It was then that I began to realize how much I still had to learn about the impact that racial differences have had, and continue to have on our culture. The unrest in our city opened the opportunity for conversations that I’d never had before, and realizations that I’d never experienced. I was so grateful to God for opening my eyes through these encounters.

Then, in an unexpected conversation this summer, a good friend of mine revealed to me how the title “Headmaster” might be a stumbling block to our African American families. The word “master” could bring a flood of negative connotations with the cruelties of slavery.

 

That was humbling to learn.

I have used the title “Headmaster” for fifteen years, and this had never crossed my mind. As a matter of fact, when I was introduced to the Central Christian School community two years ago, I discussed how the title came from the British school system with the idea of a “master teacher” serving over a group of highly qualified teachers. Thus, Headmaster.

No title is worth being unnecessarily hurtful or divisive. So this year, I shared with our faculty, staff, families, and Board why I would no longer be using this title, but instead “Head of School.”

The most important concept I shared with our school community, however, was not the changing of my title. The important message of my story was that if I were not in a loving, diverse community where friends with different perspectives could gently challenge me, I would still be using a title that could impede unity in our school.

Given the headlines over the past two years—from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston to Dallas to the events this week, I have experienced and observed emotions ranging from hopelessness and despair, anger and frustration, sadness and grief, confusion and defensiveness, apathy and avoidance. And while this is not my first encounter with pain or controversy, something about my proximity to Jesus-followers with different perspectives and experiences than my own has made this time different. The clarity of Scripture as the foundation of a diverse, just community has never been clearer to me.

I am convinced, more than ever before, that the grace of Jesus Christ should compel the Body of Believers to pursue justice for and unity with our neighbors.

Speaking of unity, our chapel theme this year is based on the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 4. Why unity?

First of all, we believe this theme aligns well with our previous two years’ themes on Courageous Conversations in 2014-15 and what it means to be true Peacemakers in 2015-16.

Secondly, with the most recent turbulent events in our nation, we believe the body of Christian believers needs to be unified now more than ever to present the only hope that matters—Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, this election year has found the U.S. greatly divided. Consider these statistics and analysis released this summer by the Associated Press entitled “Unity Not Seen As Likely”: “Some 85% of people regard the nation as more politically divided than in the past; 80% view Americans as being greatly divided on the most important values…The time is so unstable, its impossible to see the future.”

Given the current state of our country, we chose Ephesians 4:15-16 to be our annual school verses: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  

My prayer is that the LORD will use our school to impact the hearts and minds of our students, faculty, staff, and families in unanticipated and palpable ways as we seek unity in the name of Jesus.  Please join us.

Student Guidelines for Texting and Social Media

Several years ago, when my oldest son Andrew turned 13, I made the decision to purchase him a cell phone.  Wanting to provide some guidelines for navigating this new world, I came across a wonderful article by Toronto Pastor Tim Challies entitled, “Solomon on Social Media.”  Building upon Tim’s (and King Solomon’s!) wisdom and insight, I put together a list that has become a guide not only for my son, but my three daughters too, as they each received their phone in 7th grade (my most recent daughter being this summer!).

As I have shared with my four children over the years, when we rely on God’s wisdom, not our own, our choices will be much more responsible. But if and when those difficult lessons come and we fail to heed Scripture’s guidelines, we must learn to accept the consequences and allow them to be equally instructive.

For that is when God’s wisdom and grace are most needed.

I hope that you will find the below list helpful, as you discuss these issues with your children as well!

Top 10 Rules to Guide your Texts, Emails and Social Media Posts

1.  Always think through what you write before you send a text/email and make a social media post.  Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).

Corollaries to #1 (a.k.a. “The Murray Rule”):  

  • Do not email/text/post embarrassing pictures or videos of yourself or our family to other people without our permission. Once it is out there, you can never retrieve it. It may even make it to YouTube!
  • Do not forward email/text conversations with Mom or Dad without our     permission. Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what we write!  “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise”            (Ephesians 6:2).                        

 

2.  Build others up—do not cut them down. Not only is that biblical, but you must realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)

 

3.  Avoid gossipers and gossiping about others. Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 29:22).

 

4.  Avoid spreading rumors. Don’t always believe what you read!

“Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool” (Proverbs 26:8).

 

5. If someone writes something you disagree with, sometimes it is best not to respond. Don’t be afraid to seek our advice!

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (Proverbs 26:4).

 

6.  However, if someone is spreading lies/rumors and hurting others, sometimes we need to prayerfully respond. Don’t be afraid to seek our advice!

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:5)

 

7.  Avoid creating problems.

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling” (Proverbs 26:27).

 “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:21).

 

8.  Avoid other people’s problems.

“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17).

 

9.  Don’t brag about yourself! People like humility 🙂

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

 “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

 

10.  Protect yourself.   Don’t give your number/information to people you don’t know!

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 5:17).

 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)