Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday, October 30, 2008

4000 Miles of Hope

Hope is a wonderful thing. In actual practice, it can range from a joyous certainty to a mere figment barely visible from the depths of despair. How do the 4000 miles fit in? I'm glad you asked ...

My son is riding in the
PUSH America 2009 Journey of Hope this summer. I hope you will follow that link and read all about it. The bottom line is that he and 80 or so of his Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers are riding their bikes across the country this summer after they graduate. They are raising awareness (and money) for programs to help special-needs children experience hope in a new and more positive way.

My hope is that you will join him in this effort ... perhaps through prayer, perhaps through financial support, or maybe even by sponsoring the bike he will need to make the ride.

I have long been a supporter of cancer research programs such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure ... a race I have run each of the past five years. I am pleased to see my son take a similar path to helping others.

Monday, March 24, 2008

God, The God of History

I have had two requests recently for a timeline I put together as a background for the study of Ezra/Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah & Esther, so I thought I would go ahead and post it here. My sources include The New Geneva Study Bible (NGSB), The Anchor History of the World, Vol. I, Herodotus, The Histories, John Calvin, Commentary on Haggai, and Rich Lusk, Lectures on Esther. Since putting this material together, I have also become aware of James Jordan's extensive work on Biblical Chronology, which evidently influenced me via Rich Lusk. While this may be a helpful overview, the careful student will want to do additional research to correct any errors that remain.

~1100BC Assyria under Tilgathpileser I conquers Babylon. Together with Egypt, these two powers dominate the international scene in Palestine for the next 500 years.

~1010BC David anointed King in Israel.

930BC Divided Kingdom; Northern Kingdom (Israel) under Jeroboam I, Judah under Rehoboam.

~840/830 Medes repel Assyrian invasion, limiting Assyrian expansion eastward..

~750-722 Hosea warns Israel against apostasy and compromise with Assyria..

722BC Assyria conquers Israel (Northern Kingdom); followed typical pattern of taking native population captive, distributing them throughout empire, and resettling captives from other areas in the conquered territory..

701BC Assyria under Senacharib invades Judah as part of its war with Egypt. (2 Kings 19).

672BC Assyria conquers Egypt, which is a vassal state until 663 when it reasserts its independence..

648BC Babylon rebels against Assyria and asserts its independence..

~700/650 Growing power center in Media-Persia farther east contributes to weakening of Assyria..

~614-608 Persia under Cyaxares conquers Assyria; western portions of empire break off and Persia absorbs eastern and northern portions..

~609BC Judah begins paying tribute to Egypt (2 Kings 23:31-34).

605BC Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar defeats Egypt at Carchemish, making Judah a Babylonian client state.

~604-598 Judah rebels under Jehoiakim; Nebuchadnezzar puts down the rebellion (2 Kings 24).

~595 Judah rebels again under Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:20).

586BC Nebuchadnezzar completely defeats Judah, sacking and destroying Jerusalem and taking the people captive to Babylon. There is no attempt to resettle the area. (2 Kings 25)

~580-563 Nebuchadnezzar rules in Babylon. He spends part of this time in extended trips to the wilderness of Arabia – partly due to insanity (Daniel 1-4); Belshazzar, his son, rules in his place. When Nebchudnezzar dies, Belshazzar inherits the throne and rules until 539.

559BC Cyrus becomes the first “Great King” of a combined Media-Persian empire.

Note that the Persian terms “Xerxes” (King) and “Artaxerxes” (Great King) along with the Greek transliteration of the latter (Ahasuerus) are often used in place of the king’s name. Complicating this further, some Persian kings are known only by such honorific names, perhaps in an attempt to borrow glory from a predecessor. Failure to take these into account can lead to some tortuous interpretations of Ezra, Esther and others; see in particular the suspect timeline on page 659 of the NGSB.

539BC Belshazzar holds a great feast in his impregnable city of Babylon, mocking the recently-departed Persian besiegers, and sees “the hand writing on the wall” (Daniel 5). Unbeknownst to Belshazzar, Cyrus had left a small force behind at the gates of the city. The main body had moved ~30 miles upstream and had diverted the Euphrates river. The small Persian force forded the river and entered the city under the river gates, capturing the city and putting Belshazzar to death.

538BC In his first year (of reign over Babylon), Cyrus issues a decree that the captives should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). The foundations are laid, but opposition (and maybe self-interest by the people) stops the work for 18 years.

~536-530 Persia is engaged in an extended war with the Scythians, in which Cyrus eventually is killed.

530 - 522 Cyrus’ son Cambyses rules Persian Empire as “Great King”. Having entrusted the day-to-day governing to some Magi under Patizeithes, he led the army to complete victory over Egypt, extending Persian power to modern Libya and Ethiopia. He was also apparently paranoid (Herodotus and John Calvin agree on this point). He was known as an oppressor of the Jews, and is apparently the “Great King” to whom Ezra’s opponents appeal (in about 530-529) and who orders a halt to the building of the temple (Ezra 4:6-24). Note that the basis of the appeal, a rebellious history, is both based in truth (see above) and designed to appeal to Cambyses’ character.

~523BC Cambyses had his brother Smerdis killed after learning in a dream that Smerdis would rebel against him and that he would die in Agbatana, apparently the Medean city where his treasure was kept. Meanwhile, Patizeithes placed his own brother, also named Smerdis, on the Persian throne. When Cambyses heard this news, he was on his deathbed as a result of a gangrenous wound. At the same time, he learned where he was and realized that he had misunderstood the oracle. He confessed all before he died – in Agbatana, Syria.

522BC Darius I Hystaspes (also Darius the Great) led a small group of Persians who assassinated Smerdis the Magus and assumed the throne of Persia. Thanks to Cambyses’ victories in the west, Persia now contained 127 Satrapies (or royal provinces). One of these, “The Region Beyond the River”, included all of Palestine and was ruled over by Tattenai (cf. Ezra 5:3). Zerubbabel (Ezra 5:2; Haggai 1:1) was apparently the Governor of Judah, a sub-province.

522-520 Babylon rebels against Darius’ rule as several leaders in the former administration desert. Darius makes use of a “double-agent” (Zopyrus) to once again conquer the invincible citadel. This time he takes care to destroy it completely. One of Darius’ key advisors and Satraps was Daniel, and Daniel’s faith when thrown into the lion’s den apparently led Darius to confess the name of the God of Heaven (Daniel 6:24-28). Sometime during this period Mordecai apparently revealed a plot by two of Darius’ servants (Esther 6:2).

520BC Haggai brings his four messages of exhortation to Zerubbabel, Jeshua (the High Priest) and the people of Jerusalem, and Zechariah brings the first of his visions (Haggai 1:1, 2:1, 2:10, 2:20; Zechariah 1:1, 1:7; Ezra 5:1). Tattenai responds to the rebuilding efforts by appealing to Darius (now at Babylon) to see whether Cyrus had actually ordered the work (Ezra 5:3-17). Darius’ response (Ezra 6:1-11) underscores his faith and willingness to support the work with local taxes that would otherwise come to him.

519BC Darius returns to Susa after destroying Babylon and holds a great feast for his officials and servants to celebrate his now-secure hold on the kingdom; Queen Vashti displeases him by refusing to be on display (Esther 1:1-4).

518BC Zechariah brings the second series of visions to the people of Jerusalem, who are now fully engaged in rebuilding the temple (Zechariah 7:1).

516BC The new temple is dedicated and Passover is celebrated (Ezra 6:13-22). This came exactly 70 years after the people had been led away captive, fulfilling prophecy (Jeremiah 25:8-14).

~516/515 Esther becomes Darius’ new queen and exposes a plot by Haman against Mordecai and against all the Jews. Darius turns the tables on Haman and declares a day during which the Jews may avenge themselves on their oppressors throughout the kingdom (Esther 8:1 – 9:17). Shortly thereafter, Darius issued a further decree that the remaining Jews might return to Jerusalem, complete with “silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel”, which Ezra was commissioned to deliver personally (Ezra 7:1-28). This treasure evidently included both some of the original temple furnishings and additional treasure gathered in the aftermath of Haman’s plot.

~510BC Mordecai becomes “2nd to the King” under Darius, apparently serving for the rest of his reign.

~502/501 Nehemiah, serving as Darius’ cupbearer, hears of the continued problems in Jerusalem and appeals to the King to be allowed to go and assist in the rebuilding of the city walls. Darius (with Esther possibly in attendance Neh. 2:6) not only allowed him to go, but sent an armed escort (Nehemiah 1:1 – 2:10), showing his continued willingness to favor the Jews and serve “the God of Israel”. Nehemiah served as governor of Judah until 490 when he was recalled (at least temporarily) to Darius’ court (Neh. 5:14, 13:6).

490BC Darius led an invasion of Greece that eventually ended in defeat at the battle of Marathon on the plains outside of Athens.

486BC Darius dies and is succeeded by a ruler known only as Xerxes (“King”). It was not uncommon in the ancient world to use a word like “king” in a name, but it may also be that there was a self-conscious humility that contrasted the unnamed “king” with Darius, the “Great King”. Xerxes also invaded Greece and was defeated (480-479) and ruled until 465.

~465-424 Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes begins his 41-year reign. Again, the name “Great King” may have been an honorific, or it may have actually been his name. In any case, it seems very unlikely that references to “Artaxerxes” and “Ahasuerus” in Esther and Ezra refer to this person, and far less likely that references in Ezra 6 refer to his son, Darius II, who reigned from 423-404.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Hard Thanksgiving

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.

In everything give thanks.

As I mentioned here, my youngest sister was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. She passed away in September. Her absence colored our family reunion Thanksgiving in many ways, not the least because we have different perspectives on death. Praise be to God that He has given us the victory in Christ ... a victory that my sister claimed for her own before she left this life.

It isn't supposed to be this way ... pain and death are both universal (since the fall) and also "unnatural". And yet, God enables us to praise and thank him even in the midst of pain.

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Shameless Plug

Once again I have been away from the blog for a long time, but I have written a few things that are "on topic". Here is a link to an article on project management that "gets to the heart of the matter". It is an abbreviated version of a 12-page original that addresses the importance of communication in successful project management.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Folly Revealed

I have not posted much here lately, but I had to comment on this historical insight from The Wittenberg Door. As a teaser:

"[He] recommend[s] setting this to memory for use next time you encounter someone denying the law of non-contradiction—or for use next time you want to recite flowery, Islamic prose."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Studying History

It has been said that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. It has also been said that the "problem" with a classical, liberal arts education is that it doesn't prepare students for modern careers. I give you this quote (lifted from here):

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing. And a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress whilst producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.”

The author? Gaius Petronius in 66 AD. You decide

No News is Bad News

I've been too busy to post recently, but I ran across this article on Leadership Under Fire that I had to comment on. I've also added the blog, From Where I Sit, to my Frequent Flyer list. Mike Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson) shares wisdom from the trenches and the corner office well worth pondering.

The specific point that caught my attention was his quote from General Moore that "When there's nothing wrong, there's nothing wrong ... except there's nothing wrong!". His point is that there is always something wrong, and if you don't know what it is, you had better find out. Quickly. This leads to my philosophy about status reporting:

Good news is no news (it's what we all expect of each other).

Bad news is good news (it gives us a chance to address a problem while it is still "new").

No news is bad news (when nobody is worried, everyone should worry).

Monday, December 18, 2006

Henry VIII as Project Sponsor?

Timothy at Carpe Factum has a great piece on project sponsorship. I've also added a link to his site which consistently brings high-brow humor to bear on difficult down-to-earth situations. Perhaps the latin for "Git 'er done" is the tip off.

Anyway, he cites five qualifications for a project sponsor, including the ability to clearly articulate the point of the project and the likelihood that he will be around as long as the project. But you really should read the whole post ... including a brief architectural history of Hampton Court.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Politeness and Project Management

I think Mark at Vertabase has some good things to say about communications as the key to why projects fail. He suggests that "Politeness can kill a project". And although I have been accused sometimes of saving my tact for a more important future display, I’m not sure that “politeness” per se is the problem. I believe that as a project manager, it is essential to be polite, but it is also essential to be direct and specific (and to require your team members to be direct and specific). Vague answers do not help … unless you count “helping to avoid blame”. Ditto for letting “consensus” determine due dates.

Jim Collins wrote a great article for Harvard Business Review a few years ago entitled “The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve”. He was addressing executive leadership, but I think the title could easily become the motto of a successful project manager. Even a polite one.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Winter Baseball

"The Perfessor" from the comic strip Shoe once remarked that football plays an important role in American society ... it keeps the brain warm between the World Series and Spring Training. This came to mind when a friend recently reminded me a response Rogers Hornsby once gave to the question of how he spent his winters:

"People ask me what I do in the winter, when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do: I stare out the window and wait for spring."

All of this brought to mind my disappointment at this year's near miss by the Astros and my elation at last year's NL championship. And so, having only recently launched my blogging voyage, I decided to dredge up a short piece I emailed several friends after last year's success. While the triggering event is dated, the insight is as valid (or not) as it was the night it struck me.

I was dozing in and out the night after the game that sent the Astros to the World Series. It was that time of day when the most convoluted and obscure philosophical problems seem to suddenly become crystal clear, and it suddenly occured to me that team sports, and baseball in particular, are a wonderful confirmation of the principles of federalism. After 43 years of waiting, we were going to the World Series. We had suffered from several near misses though the years (as well as extended period of genuine mediocrity), but now we were about to be ushered into the promised land. How is it that the we includes people like me? he of the .037 little league batting average? he whose slow-pitch softball career came to an end two decades ago? How is that possible?

Clearly, the principles of federalism are at work. The current crop of Astros represent me and my aspirations for victory in battle and the attendant glory. I cringe with them when things go wrong; I share their despair when victory is wrenched from their expectant grasp by a 9th inning homerun; and I somehow actually participate in the glory of ultimate victory; taking to myself some reflection (at least) of the praises that they have earned on my behalf. I didn't elect them to be my federal representatives, and they certainly did not invite me to the party in any formal sense; somehow it was just part of the natural order of things. Ordered, that is, by the One who orders all things.

When I try to capture these thoughts in the light of day, they seem somewhat less profound; less helpful as an insight into the meaning of life. But that night, it seemed that I had hit on an essential truth: we want to be included; we want to share in the glory. And that is what God invites us to do through Jesus Christ, our federal representative, who has earned eternal glory and invites us to join with Him in the eternal celebration of that victory.

Maybe its just baseball. Maybe its just entertainment. But for a moment that night, it seemed to me to be life's ultimate metaphor.


The whole idea that you can't manage what you don't measure is absurd. Among the faulty assumptions is the notion that anything important is precisely quantifiable. Furthermore, managing people as if they were mere multidimensional vectors of quantifiably measurable attributes is not likely to build trust and loyalty ... key components of long-term success. As Meg Ryan points out in You've Got Mail, "Whatever else anything is, it ought to start by being personal.

I stumbled across
this article at Slow Leadership which expands upon these ideas. It also makes the point, very consistent with theory of constraints, that measuring everything is not the most effective way to improve anything. This looks like an interesting site.

"Heaven save us from the audit mentality that measures everything and knows the value of nothing. And from those who no longer believe in the power of rational argument and proof to convince others to do what is in the best interests of all."


Even the liberals seem to mourn the dumbing down of American education. Who is this guy Aristophanes, anyway?

One and Many

One of the commenters on an earlier post suggested that I separate out my project management comments into a separate blog. This actually raises a broader issue, one which can be viewed from a number of angles. So here is my attempt to explain the eclecticity (sic) of my postings.

Some of you may have come here, perhaps even on purpose, expecting to find some stuff about project management. You may be wondering, "Why can't he just stick to the topic and leave all this religious stuff out of it?" Others may have come looking for insights on Christian worldview and are wondering why I waste space on anything as mundane as project management. My response to both groups is that there really is no neutrality. It is not possible for me (or you) to put up partitions in our lives such that we manage projects without regard to what we believe to be good, true, beautiful, significant, etc. Neither is it possible to maintain any sort of sacred/secular dichotomy; somehow excluding our vocations from our calling as Christians. [As an aside, notice that 'vocation' is just latin for 'calling'; we apparently use the foreign word to distance ourselves grammatically from the caller.] Ultimately, everything that is is both 'one' and 'many'; both connected to everything else in relationship and individually significant in its distinctive diversity.

If this sounds weird and you have not already abandoned this site as hopeless, I would encourage the following:
  • For those non-Christians who want their project management without the accompanying dose of Christian worldview, please purchase a copy of Trinity and Reality and read the introduction and first chapter. The least you can expect from this meager investment ($16 and 17 pages) is that you will understand Christians better. I hope, of course, that you will finish the whole book and begin to consult the source as well.

  • For those Christians who would prefer to avoid offense by leaving their Christianity out of their "work life", please purchase a copy of Against Christianity and read the whole thing. (Yes ... to whom more has been given, more is required, but it is a short book.) The least you can expect from this is that you will understand why "the world" tends to dismiss us so often as irrelevant.

For advanced students in either camp, feel free to begin the other group's assignment.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gaining Buy-In

One of the key aspects of "Project Rescue Operations" is that of gaining buy-in from all the stakeholders on what must be done. Theory of Constraints offers a six-step process that is quite useful:

(1) Obtain agreement on the problem.

(2) Obtain agreement on the direction of the solution.

(3) Obtain agreement that the solution will yield the desired results.

(4) Obtain agreement that no disastrous side effects will occur.

(5) Obtain agreement on the implementation requirements and plan.

(6) Obtain agreement from all key collaborators that they can move forward with confidence.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that permission to lead the charge is not the same thing as having obtained “buy-in” … it is most likely an invitation to get far enough out in front so that when someone shoots you in the back there will be many potential (and possibly even eager) shooters. That's why #5 and (especially) #6 are so important! (These are sometimes collapsed and represented as "Obtain agreement on overcoming obstacles.", which helps clarify that point.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Story and the Theory of Constraints

Carl Pritchard makes some interesting comments about communicating risk in some of his presentations, although (in my limited exposure to him) I fear that he may be overestimating our ability to eliminate uncertainty in our mitigation efforts. One of his best insights, I think, is that risk needs to be presented as "story". If we limit ourselves to a formulaic presentation we not only obscure all of the uncertainty, but we also discourage the kinds of 'common sense' approaches to risk mitigation that are most effective. After all, forwarned is forarmed.

The basic problem is people, as Pawel Brodzinski points out is typical with all sorts of project problems. People do not think about "risk" in mathematical terms. In fact, people tend to think about things in "stories". (As an aside, I believe that this is why use cases, when done well, are so helpful in system design ... the "story" bridges the gap between technical and business jargon sets). If we can effectively describe a potential risk in a way that includes story and context, then we probably understand it better ourselves and we have definitely expanded the universe of potential "risk mitigators". Some might even interpet this as the "Tom Sawyer" approach to project management ... other people will end up volunteering to "do the work".

Eli Goldratt, the most prominent and original proponent of Theory of Constraints certainly understood the power of story. His seminal works on the subject are presented almost as novels! His site (linked above) is a good resource. Most of the stuff is for sale (and he is … probably justifiably … proud of his efforts), but if you poke around some you can get some free excerpts of his insights. It is scary how much of those insights line up with some of the stuff I have put together in my Project Rescue Operations consulting practice, especially with respect to the importance of addressing uncertainty. As often happens to me, I persist in attending the school of hard knocks, finally slog through to the other side of the swamp with some reasonable perspective on the problems encountered, and then am presented with a nice, tidy theoretical framework that explains how I could have gotten through without all the mud and mosquitos. It's sort of a Project Manager's version of Pilgrim's Progress (albeit with lower stakes).

Enemy Theology?

In a previous post I discussed the habit of some to form camps of opposition that can barely bear the repetition of an "enemy's" name. One who has been the target of such, Douglas Wilson, has recently posted one of his typically cogent responses, reminding us of the dangers of blindly accepting charges, whether general or specific. With respect to specific charges, he reminds us to adhere carefully to the Biblical rules of evidence. With respect to the more general (he says 'paradigm'), we really should be like the Bereans ... willing to "search the Scriptures daily to see whether these things be true" rather than simply charging into battle against the enemy accused of having an "enemy" theology.

Educational Philosophy Statement

I promised to post something on education, and since I couldn't find anything short and pithy, I decided to post this template for a philosphy statement for a (hypothetical) Classical Christian school. NB: This blogging software is messing with my endnote references; behavior seems to vary by browser, but the hypertext links are not working for me ... you can just scroll to the bottom of the post to see the notes.

Covenant Classical School

Statement of Philosophy

The founders of Covenant Classical School are committed to providing an education that is overridingly Christian. This is based upon our understanding that the Scriptures mandate [1] [1] Christian education for all covenant children[2] [2] The following paragraphs serve as a brief overview of the educational philosophy.

It is Christian. We believe that Christ holds all things together and in Him all things cohere.[3][3] We hold to an historical, reformed understanding of what it means to be “Christian.”[4][4] We believe that Christ has revealed to us the invisible nature of the triune God. Since we are now “in Christ”, His love, humility and self-sacrifice should characterize all that we do and teach in a Christian school. Looking to the Scripture as the authority in all things, including educational methodology, we find that God chose to reveal Himself to us primarily through story. He has given us the history of His own creation and providence. Christ Himself also made use of parables for instruction. In fact, it is the coherence of God’s story that serves as the integration point for all truth. At Covenant Classical School we will emphasize the essential unity of God’s truth even as we explore the diversity of His truths, making heavy use of stories (both factual and fictional.[5][5]

It is Covenantal. We believe that God has called out a people for Himself, and has intended from the beginning to demonstrate His covenant faithfulness to all peoples.[6][6] We believe that Christian parents are commanded by God to educate their covenant children, preparing them to live lives that “Glorify God” and to “enjoy Him forever.”[7][7] This is another area where the notion of story is involved. One way of understanding the Bible is as the history of God’s redemptive actions on behalf of His chosen people.[8][8] At Covenant Classical School we will highlight God’s faithfulness throughout history with special emphasis on the history of God’s people, both in the Bible and in the life and growth of the Church.

It is Classical in approach. It follows the methodology of the trivium, seeking to identify appropriate analogies of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric in all subjects and to teach all subjects in a manner consistent with the appropriate stage.[9][9] It does so recognizing that the essence of a Christian education is to equip covenant children to think Christianly about all things and to have a reforming impact on our culture. This means that it must be tool-oriented, not [exclusively] content-oriented.[10][10] It also carries forward the classical idea of wisdom and virtue achieved through the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness. However, this concept of wisdom and virtue is not Hellenistic (and pagan) or gnostic,[11][11] but rather it is understood in the context of Christ’s statement that “If you abide in My word, you are disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”[12][12] As we Christians make use of classical educational methodology, we are “plundering the Egyptians.”[13][13] We are equipping students with the tools for a life-long love of learning.

And finally, it is focused on the child. This may sound obvious, but it needs to be emphasized. Jesus tells us that we must “become as little children.”[14][14] Children have a natural sense of awe and wonder, which is all too often stifled rather than encouraged. At Covenant Classical School this sense of wonder will be nurtured, especially in the early years, through nature studies, picture studies, “living books”, biographies, etc.[15][15] Learning begins by being fun. This does not mean that it is not also hard work, only that the satisfaction of learning makes the effort worthwhile. The education will be rich and rewarding, but not rushed or rigorous for the sake of rigor alone. It will be “Life Prep” not merely “College Prep.”[16][16]

Of course, the real key is not philosophy or even curriculum, but gifted and committed teachers, who will “consider not only their own interests, but also the interests of [the students]”[17][17] and model Christ-likeness in all that they do.

[1][1] Among other places, this mandate can be found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9,

“O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the frames of your houses and on your gates.”

The New Testament reinforces this message in Ephesians 6:4, which requires that fathers bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”.

[2][2] The term “covenant child” is used to denote any child born into a Christian family and implies a covenantal understanding of the Scriptures and of God’s dealing with man. He has called His people out of Egypt and has promised His faithfulness to a thousand generations. By faith therefore we claim God’s promises on behalf of our children. By faith we baptize them as infants, marking them with the sign and seal of the covenant. Education, then, is the way we bring them up in the nourishment and admonition of the Lord in prayerful expectation that God will honor His promises and awaken saving faith in them.

[3][3] “Christ is the image of the invisible God … All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things and in Him all things consist.” – Colossians 1: 15-17.

[4][4] This understanding is consistent with the great ecumenical creeds of Christendom (Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds) and such documents as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession or the Heidelberg Catechism. The great rallying cries of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and Sola Gratia [Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone] are also key to this understanding.

[5][5] Charlotte Mason, a late 19th century British educator, understood the importance of exposing even very young children to what she called “living books.” By this she meant not only the Bible, but also the great works of literature and history that pique the child’s interest in the world God made. She correctly pointed out that a child’s imagination is much more readily engaged by material that is interesting and well-written, even if it is (for the time being) above their own reading level. She also pointed out that teaching through stories, including well-written narrative histories, for instance, is much more effective than treating history as a dry set of facts. She dismissed the then-newly-introduced restricted vocabulary readers as “twaddle” and much of the mechanistic, rote-memory educational activities as mere busy-work.

[6][6] This is evident in the original curse of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), the promise to Abraham that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3), in Isaiah’s call to Israel to be “a light to the Gentiles” and “My salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6) in John’s declaration of God’s love for the world (John 3:16), in Paul’s declaration of God’s sovereign, predestining love (Ephesians 1:7-12; Romans 8:28-35; etc.) and many other places.

[7][7] From the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?”.

[8][8] Very often God uses a history lesson to remind His peoples of His faithfulness. For a few examples, see Deuteronomy 5:23-33, Joshua 24:1-26, Job 38 – 42, Nehemiah 9, I Corinthians 10:1-13, and Hebrews 11 among many others. Note also the failure of God’s people to keep this history alive in Judges 2:10 – “another generation arose after them [i.e. the faithful ones who had followed Joshua] who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. God is identifying failure to learn a history lesson as a root cause of unfaithfulness.

[9][9] This understanding of the trivium is best explained in the book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson and in Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” which is contained in its appendix. It refers to an approach to education that served western culture and Christendom well for over 1500 years before it was discarded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

[10][10] Content-oriented education is very popular. It is easy to measure (thus ensuring “accountability” through standardized testing), and can easily be used to impress friends, acquaintances and college admissions committees. The real reason for using the “great books” of antiquity, however, has to do with equipping the students to participate in what Mortimer Adler referred to as “the great conversation.” This requires more than just reading selections and commentaries from an anthology. In today’s politically-correct world, this often boils down to teaching the currently popular answers to the currently popular questions, perhaps bolstered by the deconstruction of an ancient expert. Questioning the reigning dogma is discouraged. But as students use the tools of dialectic and rhetoric to engage these ideas that have shaped western culture, they are equipped to engage the culture as it exists today. This emulates the classical Liberal Arts education, which was literally an education designed to equip students with the skills and methods necessary to exercise their civic responsibilities as free citizens. This is what Douglas Wilson and Dorothy Sayers mean by “Tools of Learning.”

[11][11] Many in the Christian community react to the term “classical” because of its roots in Hellenistic paganism. In one sense, this is exactly the correct response. The Greek philosophers (e.g. Aristotle and Plato) had a thoroughly pagan worldview antithetical to the Bible. To them, the goal of education was to attain the perfection of the ideal man, essentially by their own achievements. One of the most strikingly anti-biblical aspects of this philosophy was the dualism that elevated the abstract “ideal” above the real material world that God made. This dualism contributed to and underlay many early variations of Gnostic heresy addressed in I John and elsewhere in both the scriptures and the writings of early church fathers.

[12][12] John 8:31-32.

[13][13] Exodus 12:36. As Augustine said in On Christian Doctrine,

“If those who are called philosophers, and especially Platonists, have said aught that is true and in harmony with our faith, we are not to shrink from it, but to claim it for our own use from those who have unlawful possession of it .”

It is in this sense that we are “plundering the Egyptians” when we employ a classical approach to education. But as Wes Callihan has observed, if our plan involves plundering the Egyptians, that requires us to know where they keep their “gold”. As such, a classical Christian education will involve studying the “classics” from a Christian perspective, not merely rejecting them as works of unbelievers.

[14][14] Matthew 18:2-5.

[15][15] Many of these ideas are also taken from Charlotte Mason. It is worth noting that her approach to education was aimed primarily at students in what we would call Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Afterwards, her students would enter a more “traditional” (at that time) classical education. At Covenant classical School we see a natural correlation between the Grammar stage and Charlotte Mason methodology. Some of the more obvious “child-like” aspects of the latter will be phased out in the upper Grammar school (4th-6th grades), but the overall emphasis on engaging the students’ interests will be a continuing emphasis at all levels.

[16][16] When considering school options, especially “high school” options, many Christian parents give inordinate emphasis to “College Prep” curricula. In our concern to provide our children with all the advantages that “education” can provide, we often miss the fact that true education extends far beyond the bounds of “formal” education. A classical education at the primary and secondary level prepares a student for a lifetime of education. Furthermore, it is eminently practical in that it prepares the student to think about things Christianly and to make wise choices. It also inculcates both the value of hard work and the satisfaction of accomplishment. With respect to college, this kind of preparation is a far more effective guarantee of success at college than is a traditional “College Prep” approach. In fact, a common manifestation of this traditional approach is one made up of anthologies and excerpts, encouraging students to dabble in a little of everything and tie it all up with politically correct “research” papers. This may teach manipulation, but does little to stimulate a deep engagement with the ideas themselves. Furthermore, we should not presume that college is the automatic “next step” for every child. It is crucial that parents discern (and help their children to discern) God’s calling for their lives. Whatever it may be, they will certainly be better equipped to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” if they begin with a solid classical education at the primary and secondary school level. The church and the world certainly need theologians and cultural thought-leaders who have read and appreciate Beowulf, but the same is true for engineers, mechanics, plumbers, nurses and (perhaps especially) housewives.

[17][17] Philippians 2:3-11. See also Romans 12:1, I Thessalonians 2:1-9, James 3:1.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Sharpening Iron

The Thanksgiving turkey provides me with one of my few opportunites to excercise my surgical skills (sic). The annual ritual involves breaking out the rarely-used carving knife and honing its edge against the long, steel, sharpening rod that it came with. I carefully draw the edge of the blade against the sharpening rod a dozen or more times on each side before pronouncing the equipment ready for battle. The battle itself, as is often the case with battles, rarely goes according to plan. Fortunately, however, the end result depends far more on my wife's skill with cooking than on mine with carving.

As I was contemplating the annual ritual of iron sharpening iron, however, something jumped out at me that I had not really given conscious thought to before.

As iron sharpens iron,
So one man sharpens another

- Proverbs 27:17

Oh yes, we've all heard sermons about the rough edges (sin) removed and the friction (conflict) involved. And I (for one) have tended to use this to justify various friction-generating behaviors. But it suddenly struck me: In one sense, it is certainly the sharpening rod that is sharpening the knife, but only in an "instrumental" way. Unless I wield the instrument, nothing gets sharpened. And that brought me back to my long-standing interpretation of this proverb. Is it really about accountability (as I have often imagined)? Or is it really about community? I think the latter.

God has made us part of His body and has promised to conform us to the image of His son. To do this, He needs to "sharpen" us, but He is the one taking initiative. We are involved in the sharpening activity only as instruments. Perhaps encouragement and bearing one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) should rank higher on our list than "accountability relationships".

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Encouragement requires us to identify with a fallen brother (Gal. 6:1), and the last thing that brother needs ... the last thing I need when I have fallen ... is to have the fallenness explained as if the one on the ground was oblivious of his condition, which is rarely the case. Perhaps my temptation to explain is rooted in a falsely placed sense of pride that I am the one still standing?

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. - I Cor. 10:12

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Inconvenient Reality

One of these things is not like the other ...

Perspectives, New and Otherwise

Dan Phillips, a self-proclaimed Pyromaniac, has some very interesting thing to say about the common practice of congenital followers:

Some seem more temperamentally prone to it than others. These folks feel the lunar tide pull of strong personalities, present and deceased. Big-name preachers, teachers, writers, living and dead, functionally become their Canon. In seminary, you hear young preacherlets sounding off, and you can almost tell by their style who their pulpit idols are.

Or these folks wed themselves to a dead theologian, or a school of dead theologians. These worthies may make very fine instructors, but they are very poor gods. The devotees may be about as right as their exemplar—but no righter. If Right Hon. Rev. Dr. So-and-such didn't see it, then by gum they're not going to see it, either. They won't finger a rosary with a Romanist, but they're equally wed to tradition, and equally blinded to portions of the Bible. Just a different tradition, and different portions.

It seems to me that some of the Federal Vision/Auburn Avenue/New Perspective controversies are characterized by this type of participant. In addition to those who follow blindly, however, there are also those who react allergically to certain well-known personages of the "wrong" party. Perhaps God will grant us unity of dogma, but let us pray first for the unity of the body ... characterized by a respectful and charitable exchange of viewpoints while dogmatic differences remain.

101 Lessons on Project Management

The Project Management Source site has an interesting list of 101 ways to organize your (project management) life. A few of the gems include:

6. Giving autonomy does not mean not keeping track of progress.
29. Minimize your supervision - Provide a sense of autonomy. Freedom is a major motivator and builds trust on both sides. (Tip: But don’t tune out completely.)
- Micromanagement is bad, but so is absentee management

18. When you pressure your team to deliver faster than is humanly possible, don’t be surprised to see a poor quality, bug-laden product.
- You get what you ask for, so ask carefully

27. The buck stops here: You are accountable for your task / project. However, this does not mean that you do not delegate. Delegate work to your team members, let them know that they are accountable for their assignment/s, and ensure that they have the resources so that they can deliver successfully.
- This is key (see also my post on Responsibility & Humility). When you start using the word "they" while describing a project problem, it is time to repent

39. Be Open: While you should not be a dumping ground for grievances, you SHOULD be accessible enough for team members to openly discuss concerns or delays.
- Be sure not to become Absalom, though

Keep your sense of humor: It helps – especially in situations where no one feels like laughing.
- I am often finding 'Dilbert moments'

Getting it right from the outset: The most important part of a project’s life cycle is the identification of its requirements.
99. Desiring the impossible gives rise to suffering It is also the root of many failed projects. When undertaking a project, you have the duty to question authority, to push back. Ask questions, rather than voice objections. Why is this the deadline? What if it isn't met? What do you really need, and by when? What assumptions are you making? What would you give up to get what what you really need? Will we have the right resources at the right time?
- Do not underestimate the challenge of gaining real understanding here (and do not mistake documentation for understanding)

86. No job in the world is worth neglecting your kids for.

- Why is this #86? And (as if I were truly puzzled here) why does it need to be stated at all?

Check out the site for the full list (and some other useful stuff as well).

Why Projects Fail

Any of us who are involved with “project work” (and I am speaking especially of software projects here) have seen the evidence: Projects fail. Often. They fail in spite of our Microsoft Project Plans, Work Breakdown Structures, Resource Leveling, Critical Path Analysis, etc. They fail in spite of our PMI Certifications, Project Charters, Requirements Documents, Functional Specifications, Change Management Processes, Time Tracking Systems and Weekly Status Reports. After so much energy and effort has been put into defining and refining various processes for project planning and execution, why is it that project failure rates remain more-or-less constant? As with everything else, the Bible provides significant insights into this problem.

First, we are inclined as project managers to believe our own rhetoric. In particular, we believe that we can foresee every eventuality and build every possible contingency into our project planning such that we avoid “surprises”.
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit" — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance.

The problem here is not with the planning. After all, we are commanded to "count the cost" before we undertake a project. The problem is with the underlying assumptions of enlightened modernity. In our pride, we really believe that it is possible to understand and ‘model’ all of the interactions that take place according to nice clean rules with units of measure like ‘function points’ or ‘man hours’. But God did not create us like that. Individual team members will vary in productivity from day to day and different team members will vary in productivity both ‘in general’ and with respect to the specifics of the tasks to which they are assigned. The ‘interchangeable part’ approach to project staffing is like building a wall out of mass-produced bricks, but we are individually created ‘living stones’ … each with different sizes, strengths, etc. … that need to be carefully placed into the project “wall” to avoid gaps and weaknesses. So our first mistake is to ignore the reality of our God-created individuality.

Second, we are inclined as project managers to focus on law, not grace. For instance, there is typically a heavy emphasis on accountability which often takes the form of penalties of one kind or another for missed deadlines. As project managers, we seldom stop to realize that we may have imposed the deadlines themselves as a result of our failure to fully understand the complexities of the problem at hand. As Dilbert’s manager puts it, “Anything I don’t understand is easy.” Furthermore, if we do “empower” team members by having them set their own deadlines, we have only moved (not removed) the uncertainty. Holding people strictly accountable for predictions in this environment will only lead to longer time estimates and/or more elaborate excuses, not improved productivity or reduced time-to-completion. Grace is never free, and I am not suggesting any sort of project management antinomianism that absolves sinful team members from their obligations, but I am suggesting that a strict legalism is as counterproductive in project management as it is in the church. “Grace” in this context, then, refers to an approach to project management that encourages team members to take responsibility, to promptly “confess” when problems arise, and to accept the “forgiveness” that is available through the flexibility built into the project plan. [Note that these thoughts are based loosely on the application of Theory of Constraints to project management, and I intend to elaborate in future postings.]

But most importantly, we are inclined as project managers to believe that everybody else understands things in exactly the same way we do. With apologies to Lewis Carroll & Humpty Dumpty, “My status reports, design documents and work assignments mean exactly what I intend them to mean, nothing more and nothing less”. Communications problems of various sorts are at the root of every project problem and every problem project. Consider for a moment the most successful project in the history of the world: the construction of the Tower of Babel. My next post on this topic will elaborate on this passage, but in the meantime consider … With literally infinite possibilities available, God chose to remove only one small component of this otherwise successful project. He chose to "confuse their language.” By simply introducing confusion into their communications he effectively derailed the project without ever addressing such mundane issues as resource contention, scope creep, funding, etc.

Stay tuned for more on this topic. In addition to project communications lessons from Genesis 11 (next), I also intend to cover project planning, staffing and work breakdown (from Exodus among other places), project execution (from Nehemiah) and contingency planning (from Ecclesiastes and Proverbs). Betwixt and between I will also address project manager qualifications.

Friday, November 17, 2006


As I embarked on this voyage, one of the first things I was faced with was the necessity of populating a "profile". This involved (among other things) one of those odd questions that people ask: "What is your favorite book?" The question is essentially unanswerable (though I did take a stab at it), but it does include in itself a comment of sorts on us. We are a people who want to be popular and to be seen with the popular. We want a government "of the popular, by the popular and for the popular."

But that said, I have been particularly attuned to comments about the eclectic "favorites" I included in my profile ... including City of God. George Grant has a great piece contrasting Augustine with Aquinas:

While Augustine categorically rejected the principles of Greek philosophy, including the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas embraced them and wove them into his Christian understanding of the world. Augustine thought in black and white; Aquinas thought in various shades of grey. Augustine drew a line through all of history; on one side was the “City of God” on the other was the “City of Man;” nearly every fact, every event, every idea, and every movement could be sorted out on one side of the divide or the other. Aquinas drew lines of distinction as well, but they were far more complex, subtle, and broad. Augustine thought in exclusive Biblical categories. Aquinas thought in inclusive philosophical categories. Augustine drew inferences from Scriptural ideas. Aquinas drew inferences from Aristotelian ideas. Philosophers and theologians have said that Augustine’s ideas were based largely on antithesis while the ideas of Aquinas were based largely on synthesis. And never the twain shall meet.

More on Politics

George Grant quotes one of my erstwhile heros on the topic:

Eugene McCarthy, once the darling of the New Left, also said it well, "Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important."

Elections and Optimism

Ben House -- pastor, educator, historian, and one of my favorite bloggers -- did a wonderful piece on Political Pragmatism just before the recent election. A brief excerpt follows:

History can be so cruel. If it would just sort itself out into Golden Eras and Dark Ages, all would be fine. We could model ourselves after the one and flee the other with reckless abandon. History is such a tangled up mess for a principled conservative looking for purity. It can be worse for the Christian. After all, the Nicene Creed was formulated and financed by a government program. Being a Presbyterian doesn’t help. After all, the Westminster Standards came into being by government directive and Parliamentary sponsorship. Being a Calvinist doesn’t help. After all, Calvin’s Geneva had government subsidies for schools, welfare, hospitals, and other agencies, with a fair share of government involvement in church matters.

It is a long post (almost as long as this one) but well worth the read. As I pondered his premises, though, I couldn't help but be reminded of Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, who wrote an excellent History of the English in 1135 (available in the Oxford Medieval Texts series). Henry was commissioned by Bishop Alexander 'the Magnificent' of Lincoln in the 1120's to 'narrate the history of this kingdom and the origins of our people.' Henry took the task seriously, spending perhaps 10 years on the effort. The work itself quotes (extracts, really) extensively from Bede, Gildas, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and many lesser-known sources, not all of which remain extant. He seems intent on showing us all manner of moral failings on the part of various English leaders while explicitly repeating his central theme: God is in charge, not kings, and He causes all things to work together for His ultimate glory and ours. That message reaches out over the intervening nine centuries to our current situation with no loss of applicability. But then, that is exactly what Henry intended. He was explicitly and self-consciously writing to us. Nothing apart from following his own practice of quoting at length will do his words justice:

Book 8, Epilogue

This is the year that contains the writer. The thirty-fifth year of the reign of the glorious and invincible Henry, king of the English. The sixty-ninth year from the arrival in England, in our own time, of the supreme Norman race. The 703rd year from the coming of the English into England. The 2,265th year from the coming of the Britons to settle in the same island. The 5,317th year from the beginning of the world. The 1,135th year of grace.

This, then, is the year from which the writer of the History wished his age to be reckoned by posterity. But since I gave hope to those starting this book that we might turn back to moral purity, this computation will show what point in time we have reached. Already one millennium has passed since the Lord’s incarnation. We are leading our lives, or – to put it more appropriately – we are holding back death, in what is evidently the 135th year of the second millenium.

Let us, however, think about what has become of those who lived in the first millennium around this time, around the 135th year. [He comments on the emporer, the pope and the governor of ‘Christian Britain’.] … But who were the other people who lived throughout the countries of the world at that time? Let our present kings and leaders, tyrants and princes, prelates and consuls, tribunes and governors, magistrates and sheriffs, warlike and strong men – let them tell me: who were in command and office at that time? And you, admirable Bishop Alexander, to whom I have dedicated our history, tell me what you know of the bishops of that time. I ask myself: tell me, Henry, author of this History, tell me, who were the archdeacons of that time? What does it matter whether they were individually noble or ignoble, renowned or unknown, praiseworthy or disreputable, exalted or cast down, wise or foolish? If any of them undertook some labour for the sake of praise and glory, when now no record of him survives any more than of his horse or his ass, why then did the wretch torment his spirit in vain? What did it avail them, who came to this?

Now I speak to you who will be living in the third millennium, around the 135th year. Consider us, who at this moment seem to be renowned, because, miserable creatures, we think highly of ourselves. Reflect, I say, on what has become of us. Tell me, I pray, what gain has it been to us to have been great and famous? We had no fame at all, except in God. For if we are famed now in Him, we shall still be famed in your time, lords of heaven and earth, worthy of praise, with our Lord God, by the thousands and thousands who are in the heavens. Now, however, I, who will already be dust by your time, have made mention of you in this book, so long before you are born, so that if – as my soul strongly desires – it shall come about that this book comes into your hands, I beg you, in the incomprehensible mercy of God, to pray for me, poor wretch. In the same way, may those who will walk with God in the fourth and fifth millenia pray and petition for you, if indeed mortal man survives so long.

He then concludes with a discussion of why he has such an optimistic eschatology. Quoting his teacher, Bishop Herbert of Norwich, he argues:

According to my judgment and what I can conclude by reason, truth will endure much longer than symbol, light than shadow, the thing signified than what signifies it, the time of grace than the time of law. If the symbol and shadow preceding and signaling the grace of Christ stretched, let us say, for 5,000 years, would the light and grace of Christ be so much the greater? We see the folly of the theory of those who thought that after the Lord’s Passion the world would last only a thousand years, since Christ will come in the last age. … But rather I believe with good cause, on the authority of Jesus Christ, that the truth promised for many ages will endure much longer.

It seems to me that we would do well to share both Henry's and Ben's perspective on the relative importance of our civil magistrates.