Friday, September 28, 2012

The Truth About Hutchmoot: Through a Glass Clearly

I’m a sinfully arrogant man.

You wouldn’t know it by my appearance, by my prattling on about career successes or high school leadership awards, or my beautiful wife.  I play Christian better than that. 

But I’m an arrogant man because I think that my special thoughts are God-given and are more special than your thoughts.  I’m an arrogant man because I think my music collection is better than yours; that my insightful comments regarding Rich Mullins’ music is deeper and more thought-out than yours; that I have read more books than you have; that I have more degrees than you do. 
And the list could go until I had completely vomited my insecurities across my keyboard and let it run through the cracks in my oversized desk drawers to the pages held there within.  I hope this arrogance is overstated but if I ever spent some time swimming in these dark waters, I fear that my hyperbolic confessions aren’t far from the truth. 

And Hutchmoot 2012 changed me. 


Let me explain. 

I was a first timer, initially led by my over-imagined relationships with musicians I had met at shows years (a decade even?) ago.  As though my carrying out a speaker after a coffeehouse performance by one of the Andy’s in 2002 inspired a friendship that still burned as dark coals below the hundreds of shallow “hi” and “thanks for the kind words” relationships musicians so often encounter. 

I don’t really know what I was expecting – but most certainly I didn’t expect to encounter Jesus as I did.  I most certainly did not expect my heroes to lay down the tools of their trades (whether guitar, pen, or paintbrush) and speak raw and jagged truth.  I didn’t expect to share meals with fellow journey men and women who also wake up every morning and look into the mirror, begging Jesus to not forget them. 
I am a man who has deeply felt the piano wire tension of the siren call of accomplishment, letters after my name, and worldly success with the quiet whisper of a still voice who persistently breathes, “There is another way to live where peace is the foundation and where (as Andy P so eloquently put) things are not always fine but where you are never alone.”
I’m so, so scared of being alone. 

So scared. 

Hutchmoot was about meals and eye contact and singing and tears and tiny victories.  Witnessing a famous musician beam as a proud father watching his boys.  Another famous musician dig deep into the corners of his heart to wrestle with the gray matter overlap of accomplishment and fear.  A brave mother explaining her decision to adopt another child.  A tired and stressed young couple explain why though difficult, homeschooling was the right choice for their family.  Seeing my friend Eric weep tears that healed us all.  Hearing a tiny British woman read her own words in her own rhythm in her own spacing.  Watching a strange bearded man weaving his way through crowds of families and hungry patrons and happy souls hitting a cereal bowl with a stick (or whatever that beautiful bell happened to be).  

Hutchmoot was about the finding artistry and service to God in a guitar, a beautiful song, a spreadsheet, an Irish melody, or another tired, heartfelt greeting at the book table. 

But even greater than that, Hutchmoot showed me the way a Christian community is supposed to be. The way me are excellent in all that we do.  How we look for the joy in the dark. How those who are in a season of plenty harvest the wheat of those who are down because the time will come when our plenty has run bare.  How we all are to make up our own special rules and laugh as often as possible and sing, dance, and wear spacesuits when permitted.   
I returned home from Hutchmoot an humble and peaceful man.  Because you all took the time to welcome me to your table; to honestly reflect on your faith journey; to share a seat at the concert; and pipe out a laugh and my lame joke.

 I’ve returned home a better husband, a better father, and a better teacher.  If you will excuse the cliché, Hutchmoot  - not as a conference – but as a collection of hearts, and hands and feet and people, was a light to this little lost boy.  Because at Hutchmoot 2012, I was handed a tiny little candle with a tiny little wick and a damp match. 

And when I struck the match it came alive and a tiny flame danced atop my tiny candle. 

And I looked around and saw a hundred other faces around me.  Smiling faces. 

And I found that I am not alone. 

Praise God! Praise God!  Praise God! 

We are not alone.  

~ Dizz

Monday, September 3, 2012

One week in.

One week in.

The first night of sleeping in this residence hall, I was beginning to settle in to what I was asking my family to do, telling myself over and over that it wasn't going to be that bad.  And about 9:00 pm, the dinosaurs came.

The noise was prehistoric.  They were stomping through one side of the building, eating college students, brick, wood, and nails, and headed straight for us.  Screaming, banging, gunfire, explosions.  I couldn't believe that a noise this loud wasn't attracting national guard attention...but then again, maybe it was.  

According to my fellow Residence Life professionals, that noise was actually not dinosaurs but instead the "Call of Duty" phenomenon, a video game that must be played with the same PA system that Motley Crue uses during an outdoor festival and within similar volume levels.  So alas...we weren't going to die but I was reminded that this journey is not going to be a walk in the park...I'm in their world now.  And thankfully, I don't know that I would want it to be.  I have already been surprised by the secondary ecosystem that happens after dark on the college campus and I have a feeling that I will be a changed college administrator.  Or I better be!

And since moving, trying to close on our house, sending our beloved hounds away for a year with two dear friends in another city, the start of school for two professors and bringing our two-year old along wasn't enough, we went ahead and decided to end the pacifier time during this transition as well.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I was outvoted on this one but I think that it is going better than I thought it would.  My little one thinks he has died and gone to heaven being surrounded by college students all of the time and endless tricycle sidewalks but bed time has become a challenge.

But thats fine. We're blessed.  Things are good.  I keep reaching new levels of fatigue but that's to be expected.  Again, things are good.  If they just wouldn't practice Zoomba in the middle of the night right above our heads...




Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Adventure Begins

So I'm back...with a brand new invention.

After much soul searching, a year of diving into the murky depths of academic administration and meeting with many, many professors and administrators and maintenance personnel; after buying a house that I am convinced was the wrong one for me and my family; after spending the year wallowing in budget reductions, work place drama, higher education literature which strongly suggests the end of higher education as we know it, and coming close to losing what was left of my post-dissertation brain, my wife and I put our collective feet down.

It began this way:


I was asked by the chair of a committee that reported directly to the president to join him and a few others on a team that looked at the ins and outs of our university.  We explored the literature on the rise and failures of higher education, many folks calling for a technological takeover, the pricing bubble, and falling value of the degree coinciding with the rising costs of the degrees, etc.  And then we met with literally hundreds of folks in and off campus...professors, adjuncts, administrators, board members, etc. As you can imagine, the members of this team were not popular on campus - more than once I was asked, "Does your own mother even like you?"  But in this, one fact resurfaced over and over and over again.  And that is this:  the sticker price for four years of college for my young child, at a measly 5% annual tuition increase, would be upwards of $350,000 for four years.
As such, I am all but positive that there will be a disruptive intersection within the next 2-10 years.


My wife and I were driving home from church a few months ago and out of the blue she said, "we are no longer allowed to pray for poor people, hungry people, or orphans until we are giving money to the poor, feeding the hungry, and in the process of adopting a child."

Really profound spiritual moment for me.


After working through that profound statement, I began to be highly reflective, looking for ways my actions were not congruent with my actions.  One of the most glaring was in regards to my student loans.  Owing other people money.  I counseled students on the horrors of debt and I looked up to those rare souls who do not owe other folks a nickel.  I ranted and railed to anyone who would listen about my own educational loans and the financial burden that they put my a young family (our minimum payment is right at $1000 a month) but I simply wasn't doing anything about them.  We were paying the minimums each month while also eyeing new vehicles, a better houses, etc.  Oh yeah, and my loans were on a 30 year note.  Seriously.

So my wife and I sent our little one to my folks house and headed to a local coffee shop.  While there, we focused on two truths:  We owe a high five-figure number in student loans between the two of us.  Besides our home, that was the only money we owed someone else.  Knowing that higher education - where we both work - will continue to be highly unsettled in the very near future, it is incredibly irresponsible to carry so much debt baggage.  Additionally, we both come from houses of high debt and we felt that this was a golden opportunity to put a stick in the ground and say "from this point forward, we're going to live differently."  

So we made a plan.  I signed a part-time faculty contract to help with extra money.  We sold our house and we're moving into a student housing complex on campus.  We've committed to having these loans gone in a year.  We're calling it our Opportunity.

Part IV

Another sense has take over.  Our original conversations were about getting to good financial footing.  Not owing anyone anything.  But the further along we have swam out from shore, the more something equally important has emerged.

I got into my work with college students for just that: to work with college students.  And as many student affairs workers lament, the longer you work in student affairs, they less and less time you spend with students and the more and more time you spend romancing spreadsheets, assessment, running from meeting to meeting, and the like.  This has become my my mission for carrying through with this plan.  I am looking forward to interacting with students once again.  Laughing at their crazy ideas.  Lifting weights next to them in their fancy new gym.  Being annoyed at 2:00 am when their parties really get going...extending their learning outside of the classroom as they watch me be a father and a husband.

I'm a pretty introverted guy.  I'm really looking forward to calling my own bluff.  To move in with hundreds of neighbors that I don't know and that I've never met and get to know them on a personal level.  I know that this upcoming year will be long, difficult, exhausting, and a significant challenge.  But I can't think of a better person in the world to have on my side in this adventure than my wife and I can't think of a better place to be launching out on this adventure.

So here we go...    


Thursday, May 10, 2012


The end of the semester is very near.  Folks get a bit nihilistic in their thoughts and actions...fatigue will do that to you.

My good friend texted me this today and I laughed out loud.  Not an "lol" or an "LOL" but a good old fashioned, hearty laugh.

Good stuff.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

With all due're dumber than me.

Here is my plea to all administrators.  I am speaking to those within the academy specifically but this message also extends to those who work in real jobs in industry and commerce.

In short, trust your people and their expertise.  Don't let your default setting be dismissive or condescending.  In thought industries like higher education, you hire folks for not only their ability to process and render data, but also to interpret it, look at it in new ways, operationalize it, and distill it down in easily digestible chunks (usually called high points or executive summaries).  When you ask someone with expertise in an area to run reports and give you a recommendation based on the confluence of the data and their expertise, don't let your first response be, "....ummmmm...naaa.  I don't think so."

If you don't trust someone's expertise in the area they were hired for, do the right thing by both them and the institution and move them somewhere where they will be more effective.  But don't be dismissive.  Or even more importantly, if you have an answer to a question that you want found, point your team in that direction as their task.  Make the answer you want achieved the goal of the exercise and not the mystery.

I'm a qualitative researcher by trade so I tend to have a significant bias...but often, the story is in the details.  When the details are pressed and filtered and regressed down until they are flat (that was my biased "gotcha" toward some types of quantitive analysis), there is often no longer a story to be told.

And I'll take a narrative over a number any day.

Be respectful and remember that trust works both ways.


Monday, May 7, 2012

40 Hours in Heaven

I'm always fascinated at our inability to revere or trust the past.  The newest, latest trends/research/way of doing things cycle in and out and if history serves us correctly, we have a habit of forgetting why we are doing the things that we are doing.

In the case of higher education, I think that now is an appropriate time to be looking at why we are doing what it is we are doing and how that is translating to our actions.  For instance, Super College might be interested in educating students towards critical thinking, a broad understanding of the liberal arts, and service to others.  I think an interesting and important question that must be asked then is whether or not a 128 hour degree plan is the best way to get there.  And so forth...

Anyway, this is tangental to the purpose of today's post.  My good friend James sent me this article today and it was both fascinating, true, and ironic.  It was fascinating in that I am currently wrestling through one of the more difficult seasons of burnout I have ever had.  Not totally uncommon for this time of year for anyone who works in education, but this year was especially long and full of challenges.  It makes sense that the research would suggest that because of the pace and schedule I've kept this year, i'm professionally and personally useless right now.  My wife would probably agree.

Circling back to my first paragraph, it is amusing that we seem to work insane hours and work even nuttier life styles, abandoning the traditional work week.  One step removed, it would suggest that 40 hours and five days a week were either arbitrary or for lazy folks.  Yet the research seems to be pretty strong in opposition to such hubris.

So in honor of this article, I'm heading to bed.