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And just like that we come to the end of another calendar year. Here are some snapshots, highlights, and reflections from the year of teaching, podcasting, speaking, writing, and general life.


I taught three different courses this year (multiple sections): Aesthetics, Biblical Foundations, and Christianity & Popular Culture. I have found that teaching the same classes multiple times requires a different sort of creativity than creating a new course. To keep the courses feeling fresh, I try to adjust them each time I teach. The general content stays the same, but I substitute new readings, rearrange the order of lectures, and try alternative forms of assessment.

I also do whatever I can to get students interested in the ideas rather than just trying to “beat the game” with as little effort as possible. I try create assignments that are either A) easy to complete/grade or B) interesting to complete/grade (the worst combination would be difficult and uninteresting). This means constant experimentation with sometimes uneven results. The other element is that the composition of every class is unique, and so the experience of the material is different based on who is in the room, who is willing to speak up, etc. I once taught two sections of the same class the same semester. One was the best experience I’ve had; the other was the worst.

Having just read my most recent student evaluations, here are some things that stand out from this year of teaching (illustrated by gifs):

  • It’s hard to stay relevant. This is especially the case in one of the classes I teach frequently, on pop culture. Some of my students mentioned that some of the cultural artifacts we spent time with were a bit dated. It made me laugh, because I do have a tendency to fall back on the security blanket of pop culture from the late 90s/early 00s (when I was in high school and college). This includes The Truman Show, The Matrix, Fight Club, The Simpsons, and Seinfeld. To be fair we also spent time with more recent offerings from Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen, Black Mirror and Don’t Look Up (plus Community, The Good Place, and a healthy dose of The Office; in past iterations of the class we’ve also watched Ted Lasso and Abbot Elementary) but the point stands. If you have any suggestions for the next time I teach the class, please send them my way.

  • It matters if you learn student names, especially in larger classes. As one student wrote: “Students can tell when profs care about their students and when that’s not as important to them. I’m sure all professors care, but… being able to call each one of us by name means a lot.”

  • It’s hard to focus on the right things. No matter how well things go, there will always be someone with a negative comment, especially if the feedback is anonymous. It’s amazing how one negative comment sticks in the mind over against 20 positive ones. I realize that when I read my course reviews, I find myself skimming for negative comments. Why is that? It sometimes feels like we are in search of any piece of evidence we can find – be it ever so small – to confirm our fears that we are inadequate.

  • God is at work. I received one of the most meaningful comments I’ve ever had from a student a couple of days ago. I won’t share much other than to say that it was in response to the final lecture of the semester, and the student wrote about how it helped them make some sense of a horrible tragedy they experienced. It stunned me. It also reminded me that in the midst of my worries that some of the classes I teach are merely transactional (e.g., when students are required to be there), moments of grace can still occur, when we least expect them and least deserve them.

In addition to teaching, I also produced another year of the In All Things Podcast, which allows me to interview wise voices and curate something of a listening/reading list for a consistent audience. The podcast had a good year, growing to average around 1200 downloads per month. There were 17 new episodes this year, including three live recordings. The highlight was definitely getting to do a live interview with the Ruralists, which included live music!


Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed a consistent rhythm of speaking for a slightly expanded audience from the students in my classes, which allows me to stretch different muscles, so to speak.

I had a full year, giving 28 total talks. This included 7 sermons at local congregations, 7 chapel talks, 9 conference keynotes, 3 smaller conference sessions, 1 commencement address, and 1 online event. I continued as a ecclesial fellow for the Center for Pastor Theologians and a board member for the Center for Public Justice. My travels took me to Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Utah, Indiana, Virginia, Texas, California, Washington D.C., and Vancouver.

I’ve had a few interesting moments where people have waited to speak with me after one of my talks. Most of the time people are incredibly kind. Every once in awhile someone says something strange or memorable. Here are three that stuck with me this year, for different reasons.

  • The funniest comment: “I’ve never heard of you.” – wasn’t quite sure how to take this. Yes, thanks for waiting to tell me this.
  • The strangest interaction: “Your talk reminded me of something. Have you ever read the work of Dr. Theodore Kaczynski?” Me: You mean the Unabomber? “Well, yes, but he also was a doctor and a writer…” Me: Well, obviously I’m against his Unabombing… but you might consider the work of Jacques Ellul instead…
  • The most soul-searching interaction: “You didn’t quote any Scripture in your talk. You quoted all these other people, but you didn’t quote God.” The moments after you finish speaking are pretty vulnerable moments. Usually if someone has a problem with your talk, they don’t come up and tell you. But on this occasion someone did. She noted that although the wisdom of all the thinkers I quoted was valuable, it is really Scripture that we need to ground us and make us strong. Why hadn’t I cited Scripture? Her approach was very humble (she was shaking as she told me) and I could tell that she felt like the Lord had laid this on her heart to share with me. I thanked her and told her that if the Lord laid it on her heart I would reflect and consider it. I had others who shared encouraging words about the talk. But of course that comment – because it came in that vulnerable moment and was out of the ordinary – it sort of rocked me, and I needed time to process it. After about a day I had finished processing, and was able to feel satisfied with the choices I had made. But it also showed me that one of my fears is that as I continue learn and grow I will leave my “first love,” so to speak.


Writing wise, the major project I’ve been working on has to do with the relationship of prayer and the imagination. (Not imaginative prayer, but the way that prayer shapes perception and vice versa.) It started with six chapel talks for chapel at Dordt – one of the highlights of my year! Since I gave the chapel talks, I’ve been trying to work them into a book manuscript. Above is a link to the first of those chapel talks, which gives a taste of what I’m trying to do in the book.

In addition to my major project, I also wrote a handful of short articles of various lengths for the Banner, NAMB, and Christianity Today:


The Bailey family is doing well; we are all healthy and thankful for many blessings – including a high schooler who is learning to drive, a middle schooler who got a key role in the play, and a 20th anniversary for me and Mel. The year has been full of joy and it’s hard to complain.

And yet, I think I have entered into the malaise of middle age, if there is such a thing. I’ve recently discovered a whole body of research debating this – with many arguing that while the “midlife crisis” is a myth, there does tend to be a midlife slump, curve, or dip. There’s even a movement to consider midlife as “middlescence” (parallel to adolescence), a special stage of life requiring unique understanding and support.

I’m not qualified to adjudicate the debate, but I do know that I feel different in my 40s than I did in my 30s or 20s. There is still a lingering imposter syndrome (I’m not a real academic or real theologian), unhealthy comparison (everyone else is further along than me), and inaction regret (I wish I had started doing “x” a long time ago). Some of it is just self-pity, some of it represents overly idealistic expectations. But my expectations also reveal deeper fears, taking the form of disappointed voices. I thought I would be better at parenting. I thought I would be better at prayer. I thought I would be a better person by now. If I’m not careful, I find myself listening to voices that are purely imaginary, condemned by the fantasy self I am always failing to become.

I’ve found that these voices are not displaced by positive self-talk, the kind encouragement of others, or accomplishments. They are best resisted when there is something more absorbing to capture your attention, something that keeps you from thinking about yourself at all. Resisting and repenting are necessary, but they are not enough.

And so you begin to see something of the reason why I’m writing about the healing of the imagination. It’s also the reason why, when I go to church on Sunday, all I want is to hear the gospel and to take Communion. If I preach, it is because I am trying to preach the messages that I most need to hear, in hopes that someone else needs to hear it too. If I lead Communion, it is because I hope that someone will experience it the way I long to experience it. To know that in all of my failures and attempts to fix myself, there is good news about Someone Else. And He welcomes me to come to His Table and be fed.

Advent blessings, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

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