Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Living a Beautiful Life, Starting Today

I was recently inspired by my reading of The Living Page and considerations of Desiring the Kingdom to pick up again The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer.   This is one of my favorite books – one that I have dipped in and out of several times in recent years.  It really is a lovely book that encourages us to bring beauty into our ordinary, to express ourselves creatively and in that way reflect God’s image to the world – and to do it NOW, with the time and talents and resources we have TODAY.   The ‘practices’ she describes are meant to help us imagine and attend and communicate and live in community together.   It struck me that Charlotte Mason would have heartily approved of this book – education is an atmosphere, after all.   (But then perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised to see glimpses of CM here – after all it was Edith’s daughter Susan who gave us For the Children’s Sake which is the book that brought Charlotte Mason’s ideas back to the modern world.)
A couple of thoughts I found particularly encouraging:
“People so often look with longing into a daydream future, while ignoring the importance of the present.  We are all in danger of thinking ‘someday I shall have the courage to start another life which will develop the talent and express the fact of being a creative creature.’” (p. 33)
"There is a place for the conscious sacrifice of the expression of a talent, asking God to show His will for the use of our lives in anyway He plans - rather than insisting that it must be fulfilled in particular ways.  It is a turning from or giving up - with complete trust that God really is love, and all wise, and would not waste the life of any one of His children...Whether in music, or other things, one never knows what surprisingly satisfying things God has in His plan for the developed talent which is literally 'given' to Him to use or to lay aside." (p.42-3)
“If the one who cooks is the wife in the family, her attitude toward the marriage as a whole should be able to think of it as a career.  Being challenged by what a difference her cooking and her way of serving is going to make in the family life gives a woman an opportunity to approach this with the feeling of painting a picture or writing a symphony.  To blend together a family group, to help human beings of five, ten, fifteen, and sixty years of age to live in communication with each other and to develop into a ‘family unit’ with constantly growing appreciation of each other and of the ‘unit’ by really working at it, in many different areas, but among others in the area of food preparation is to do that which surely can compare with blending oils in a painting or writing notes for a symphony.  The cook in the home has opportunity to be doing something very real in the area of making good human relationships.” (p.124-5)
~Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking
I do have dreams of things that I would like to do - dreams that I don't see as possible to be fulfilled in our current life situation.  Sometimes this is discouraging - and discouragement clouds everything.   I am reminded here to let go of those dreams and use my talents and interests and skills to enrich the life that have today, in my present circumstances, rather than dreaming of what may or may not be sometime off in the future.  I am reminded that the "little" things that I can do today are meaningful and can make a difference.  And who knows how He will work?  He has good plans to grow me and shape me and use me.  My task is to be faithful, one step at a time.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

DTK Chapter 5, Part 2: The Power of Music

One of the worship practices that Smith describes in this section is song.  I agree with him wholeheartedly  when he describes the power of music to leave an impression on and shape us: “A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do.  Indeed a song can come back to haunt us almost, catching us off guard or welling up within our memories because of situations or contexts that we find ourselves in, then perhaps spilling over into our mouths till we find ourselves humming a tune or quietly singing.  The song can evoke a time and a place, even the smells and tastes of a moment.”
Biola University Chorale Chicago Tour, Spring 2001
Have you ever had that experience that he describes?  I do all the time.  Just about anytime I hear a familiar song I immediately associate it with the place where I first heard it.  I have songs that I associate with the year 1996 (the “Macarena” and “Shine Jesus Shine” if you really want to know…), songs that take me back to the summer of 2002 when I had my first new car, songs that will forever be associated with the Ukarumpa Meeting House.   I still occasionally get songs I sang in junior high choir stuck in my head for no apparent reason at all.  Yes: music has a way of staying with us.
I think music has an incredible power to bond together those who make it as well.  I sang in choir and did musical theatre for many, many years and had a brief stint as a voice major my first year of college (little known secrets!) – even after changing my major, I continued to sing in our college choir.  99% of the high school and college friends I am still in contact with are people that I sang with.  There’s something about those experiences that bound us together in unique ways.
Some of the most powerful worship experiences I have had have been musically related too.  Singing beautiful Christmas music by candlelight in a dim chapel.  Hearing the harmonies of “And Can it Be” sung by a men’s ensemble in an echoing tunnel. Singing excerpts of The Messiah with a full orchestra.  The sung benediction of “God Be in My Head” at the end of every choir concert for 4 years and then again at my college graduation, and then again a few years later at my wedding.   More recently, joining together in a mish-mash of French and English to sing a hymn like “How Great Thou Art” or “To God Be the Glory” with our African brothers and sisters.  A little foretaste of heaven, all of these things.
Music does have a tremendous sticking power, and with that comes tremendous shaping power.  Which begs the question: what do we want to stick?   A lot of the music that has stuck with me is good.  I don’t mind it coming to mind at random moments.   But there’s also a fair amount of music in there that I rather wish wasn’t.   The bad sticks just as much as the good.  There is a reason that Paul admonishes us “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NASB)  There is a reason why Edith Schaeffer, in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, tells us that “Christian homes should not be places where nothing but a bit of sentimental or romantic music is heard, but places where there is the greatest variety of good music…” (p. 40).  (As an aside, I love how Ambleside encourages this by the inclusion of Hymns, Folk Songs, and Classical Composer studies in the curriculum.)  This is why we pursue Truth, Beauty, and Goodness – these are the things that we want to stick because it is the Good, True, and Beautiful that will direct our hearts towards God and His Kingdom.
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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Family Reading #13

Some highlights of what we’ve been reading lately….
With the Littles
In the past week we both received our long-lost sea freight shipment (read: Christmas in March) AND Miss Elizabeth celebrated her fourth birthday.  All of that = a very nice stack of new picture books in our household.   Some of the highlights: Miss Rumphius, The Adventure of Brer Rabbit and Friends, The Story of Little Babaji, and Tikki Tikki Tembo.   (I think we may possibly own all of the books on the AO Year 0 Booklist now.)
Michelle’s Reading (Age 8.5)
I asked Michelle what her favorite books she has read for free-reading recently were and she said Happy Times in Noisy Village because it is funny and Ellen Tebbits because it is a good story about girls.  J  (I admit that Ellen Tebbits were always my favorite Beverly Cleary character growing up as well.)
James’ Reading (Age 5.5)
We have been enjoying the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant.
Featured School Book
We are thoroughly enjoying Ambleside Online Year 2.   One book we’ve particularly taken to is Seabird, one of our geography selections.  This story tells of a multi-generational journey around the world alongside a history of various means of navigation.   Michelle likes it best when we are scheduled to read two chapters rather than just one. J   We also enjoy this book because the main character shares a name with one of our family members, and my husband’s family has a history in shipbuilding and sea-faring.  Real-life connections are always fun.
Bedtime Reading
We are continuing to enjoy The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew – very sweet story.
On Mama’s Nightstand
I finally received my copy of Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page.  It is every bit as good as everyone says.  J  That pretty much hijacked all of my other reading over the past week or so.   Now that I’ve read the whole thing fairly quickly from cover to cover, I’m looking forward to reading back through it slowly, savoring, taking notes, and considering how to implement its ideas into our homeschool.   Stay tuned – I’m sure I will be sharing more thoughts on it soon.    
Gratuitous Bonus: my new custom-designed bookshelf for the school corner. :)
What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Fear and Courage

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I have been participating in the AO Forum Book Discussion of The Iliad.   (Can I just take a second to gush about my AO Forum ladies?  I love that we have a group of homeschool moms over there who are willing to take the time to tackle some of these ‘classics’ together so that we can grow and learn together.  The group experience really makes it so much less intimidating and more enjoyable to tackle a book like this.  We’re about halfway done with The Iliad, but discussion has already commenced about what we might read next…so feel free to pop on over and join us for the next one!  Although, be forewarned, we can bit a bit – ahem – silly at times…)
Anyhow, The Iliad.   Epic war stories are generally not my thing.   The Iliad is not for the faint at heart, and to be completely honest, I have skimmed over some of the gorier battle scenes.  Nevertheless, I am finding the story itself fascinating.  In each of the characters – in their actions and interactions with each other – you really start to see reflections of human nature, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And in some of those people you may just see yourself.
“That left the famous spearman Odysseus on his own,
not a single Argive comrade standing by his side since panic seized them all.
Unnerved himself, Odysseus probed his own great fighting heart:
'O dear god, what becomes of Odysseus now?
A disgraceful thing if I should break and run, fearing their main force-but it's far worse if I'm taken all alone.
Look, Zeus just drove the rest of my comrades off in panic flight.
But why debate, my friend, why thrash things out?
Cowards, I know would quit the fighting now but the man who wants to make his mark in war must stand his ground and brace for all he's worth - suffer his wounds or wound his man to death.'

Weighing it all, heart and soul, as on they came, waves of Trojan shieldsmen crowding him tighter, closing in on their own sure destruction...
like hounds and lusty hunters closing, ringing a wild boar till out of his thicket lair he crashes, whetting his white tusks sharp in his bent, wrenching jaws and they rush into attack and under the barks and shouts you can hear the gnash of tusks but the men stand firm - terrible, murderous as he is - so the Trojans ringed Odysseus dear to Zeus, rushing him straight on.

But he lunged first..."

~Homer (trans. by Fagles), The Iliad, Book XI

This passage resonated with me, and encouraged me. Here was someone who had to face his fear, and overcame it. You see that fear in that little moment of hesitation where he asks himself if he's going to run and face dishonor or stand his ground and fight, come what may. And yet, as the Trojans close in upon him, he lunges first. He chooses to do what is right - not necessarily with a lot of pomp and bravado (in contrast to some of the other characters) but with true courage. I connected with him in that little moment of often do I want to take the easy way out in a challenging situation? Am I going to turn and run, or set my fears aside and 'lunge first'?
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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

DTK Chapter 5, Part 1: The Liturgical Year

Easter Sunday 2010, Australia
At the very end of chapter 4, Smith starts shifting gears a little bit towards where he is heading with chapter 5 – a detailed look at the various liturgical practices that are contained within a worship service – what truths they are meant to embody and how they can be a helpful counter-formation to the ‘secular’ liturgies of our modern culture.  Even though I still maintain that ideas, belief, and doctrine must inform our practices (rather than the other way around as Smith claims), I found this section really interesting and helpful to think about.    I come from a pretty generic non-denominational, evangelical background that has (unfortunately, in my opinion), shed quite a few of these liturgical practices in an effort to become more ‘relevant’ and ‘applicable’.  Smith points out that when we lose some of these traditional practices, we also lose some of the ‘counter-formational’ benefit to worship. Chapter 5 is a long and meaty chapter, and even with it broken up over 5 weeks, I still doubt I will comment on every practice that Smith mentions.  I do hope to be able to comment on those that I found most interesting and significant.   And I may also take some time to comment on some of the other practices that we have found helpful in our home even if they aren’t mentioned by Smith in this chapter.  This week’s section started off with a discussion of the liturgical year.
Advent Candles in France, 2012

Smith points out several ways that following the seasons of the church year can be an effective counter-formation to our secular culture:
  • Celebrating Advent as a time of waiting, longing, and expectation is clearly a different orientation to the over-commercialization of the Season.
  • Celebrating the seasons of the church year reminds us that our Messiah “does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but [is one] who made a dent on the calendar – and will again.”
  • Celebrating the seasons of the church year counters the idea of ‘presentism’ and living for the moment as it remembers back to the events of Christ in history and points forward to His return and coming kingdom.  (We also do this in Communion as we look back and remember what Christ has done and ‘proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’.)  We become people of expectancy – we have the sense that this world isn’t all there is.  “Thus we are constituted as a people who live between times, remembering and hoping at the same time.”
Advent Candles in Cameroon, 2013

I don’t come from a church tradition that particularly values the seasons of the church year – maybe a nod to Advent, and Easter Sunday is a big deal of course.   In my family growing up, we pretty much tacked “Jesus” on to the rest of the hype of the season – sure, Christmas and Easter were about Jesus, but they were also about glitz and food and parties and candy and presents (and as a student heavily involved in the performing arts in high school, an over-the-top performance schedule).   We might have gone around with our nifty “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” buttons, but really, was He?  Not so much I don’t think – at least this is not the sense that I got as a child.    My husband comes from a similar background, and as we started our own family we both had the sense that something was missing.  I’d read about some of the meaningful liturgical traditions that some of the Catholic bloggers I like to follow practiced in their homes and began thinking about how we could make some of those ideas work within the context of our belief system.  I wanted that sense of beauty and rhythm and Christ-centered traditions in our home too.    We began to be intentional about bringing Jesus back as the centerpiece of our Christmas celebrations.  Several years later, we realized that Easter really gets glossed over while Christmas gets all the hype.  This seemed sort of disproportionate to us – Jesus’ death and resurrection is the focal point of the Christian faith.  If we don’t have those, we have nothing, you know?   Didn’t it deserve at least as much attention as Christmas did then?   So we began to be more intentional about observing the season of Lent as it led up to Easter.   That’s still a work in progress.  (Actually I had resolved back at the end of 2012 that 2013 would be the year of being more intentional about bringing these kinds of liturgical practices into our home…and then we moved to Africa. J  I am just now picking up the pieces.)  Both in Advent and in Lent we light candles every evening.  We do special family devotionals.  This year we’re hoping to extend our Lent meditations through the season of Easter.  We go fairly easy on the gifts, decorations, treats, and other activities – we’ve not gotten rid of them altogether, but we’ve tried to ensure that they don’t completely take over life in those seasons either.  Over the years, we have come to really love these simple family traditions – and I think that perhaps our children are starting to pick up on them too.  It didn’t even faze them that our Christmas packages from grandparents arrived 3 months late this year.  That’s not the focal point of the celebration for them.  These simple practices have helped keep our hearts focused on Christ rather than all the commercial hype of these holiday seasons and have given us something constant to hold onto in the midst of all of the moves our family has made over the last several years – this is the first time since 2009 we’ve set up our Advent and Lent-Easter candle displays in the same house (let alone same country!) two years in a row!  It’s a comforting reminder that the truth of the gospel doesn’t change even when the world all around us does.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

February's Nature Notes

Weather Report: The rains arrived February 27!   According to our Family Nature Notes, we had our break-the-dry-season storm last year on February 25 – right on schedule. J  We aren’t in true ‘rainy season’ yet, but the transition has begun.   That means occasional really crazy wind-and-rain-and-thunder-and-lighting-knock-out-the-electricity storms and a slight cooling trend in the weather.   It’s still plenty hot on the days that it doesn’t rain (I feel as if I’m about to melt as I type…), but at least the dryness and dust are behind us for now.
One of our goals for nature study this year is to make some more detailed observations of things in our surroundings.  Here are a couple of plants from our neighborhood that we’ve taken a closer look at this month:
Crab’s Claw
French: ‘Bec de Perroquet’ (Parakeet Beak)
This is one of those really common tropical plants – I remember seeing them when we lived in Papua New Guinea and in Cairns, Australia (tropical Far North Queensland) too.  They are really fascinating, though.  Apparently they are related to banana plants, which aren’t actually trees.  The “trunks” are really multiple leaf stalks encompassing each other.   The colorful bracts look like pockets and the flowers grow inside – the ones we observed this particular day weren’t in bloom, but I have seen them flowering before.  In these ones we could see the dead remains of the flowers inside the pockets.
Once again Michelle (age 8) showed me up with this one and correctly identified the plant growing just outside our kitchen window as a papaya.  I have seen papaya plants before, and know what they look like.  I have seen this plant every day for over a year and often wondered what it was.  Silly mama.  I’m seriously handing all plant identification over to my kids now!   This is a fairly young papaya plant which has not yet produced any fruit, so that may have been what threw me off.  This is another “tree” that isn’t really a tree, but a large herb according to our plant guide Tropical Plants of the World.
Some of its features….
It has a narrow hollow trunk covered with leaf-scars – the new growth is all along the top, so the ‘scars’ mark where old branches have fallen off as the plant grows.
The branches are hollow too, and the plant has a milky sap.  
This tree is finally producing some buds, they are growing right along the trunk at the base of each branch near the top.
The leaves are amazing.  They are huge and ornate!  Our kids like to play that they are “umbrellas” sometimes.  I’ve heard you can boil the leaves into a tea as a natural malaria preventative, although I’ve never tried it (I’ve heard it doesn’t taste all that great).
We’re also keeping an eye on our mango tree, which now has LOTS of baby mangos on it.  This gives you an idea of their size a couple of weeks ago (these blew down in a storm).   I failed to note when the mangos came ripe last year, but I’m thinking the season was in April and May.  Soon, soon!
What have you seen in your neck of the woods this month?
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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On Standing for Truth

I recently finished reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace.  This dynamic man was a major influence behind the abolition of the slave trade in England and her colonies in the latter part of the 1700’s and early part of the 1800’s.  It was fascinating to read about his early life, his conversion to Christianity as a young man, and his long and dogged fight to end the slave trade no matter the cost.   I also found it interesting to gain a better understanding about the time in which he lived.  Wilberforce’s lifetime spanned the same time period that Jane Austen’s novels were set in.   When I read Austen, life often seems very peaceful, very serene, and very, very proper (although Mansfield Park does touch on some seedier themes of that era, including the slave trade).  Reading this made me realize that there were all kinds of social problems in that time, many wicked things that were tolerated, and a very critical attitude towards true Biblical Christianity (as opposed to just ‘church-going’).   I have a tendency to want to idealize the “good old days”, but really the world was not really a better place back then.   This makes Wilberforce’s story even more applicable and inspirational to us today – who is going to stand boldly for Truth as he did?
These are the words inscribed upon Wilberforce’s tomb in Westminster Abbey, which Metaxas notes were probably penned by his friend Thomas Macaulay.  Oh to leave such a legacy!:
To the memory of
William Wilberforce
(Born in Hull August 24th 1759, Died in London July 29th 1833;)
For nearly half a century a member of the House of Commons,
And, for six Parliaments during that period,  one of the two representatives for Yorkshire.
In an age and country fertile in great and good men,
He was among the foremost of those who fixed the character of their times
because to high and various talents to warm benevolence, and to universal candour,
He added the abiding eloquence of a Christian life.
Eminent as he was in every department of public labour, and a leader in every work of charity,
Whether to relieve the temporal or the spiritual wants of his fellow men
His name will ever be specially identified with those exertions which, by the blessing of God,
Removed from England the guilt of the African slave trade, and prepared the way for the abolition of slavery in every colony of the Empire:
In the prosecution of these objects, he relied, not in vain, on God;
But in the progress, he was called to endure great obloquy and great opposition:
He outlived, however, all his enmity:
And, in the evening of his days, withdrew from public life and public observation to the bosom of his family.
Yet he died not unnoticed or forgotten by his country:
The peers and commons of England, with the Lord Chancellor, and the speaker at their head,
Carried him to his fitting place among the mighty dead around, here to repose:
Till, through the merits of Jesus Christ, his only Redeemer and Savior,
(Whom, in his life and in his writings he had desired to glorify,)
He shall rise in the resurrection of the just.
~Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DTK Chapter 4, Part 2: Worship, Doctrine, and Imagination

In the first part of this section, Smith continues in his disparagement of propositions, doctrines, and belief.  Worship practices are superior, he says, because they “catch hold of our imagination.”   They are “aesthetic and not didactic”.    He accuses the “doctrine police” of “lacking imagination” and “thinking truth only adheres in propositions and doctrines.”
[Jen cringes and very seriously considers dropping this and reading another book instead.  I have lots of others on my to-read list already, ya know?  Cindy warned us that Smith has a tendency to get kind of sneery.  I’ve just about had enough of it.]
As I stated last time, I believe that right belief goes hand-in-hand with right practices (for life or for worship), and the standard to determine both is the Word of God.   Our practices are certainly a good indication of what we really believe to be true, but cannot be the determining factor for Truth.  
Despite the fact that I don’t agree with Smith's approach, I think I do understand what he is reacting against.  I have seen far too often people and churches who may say that they ascribe to a certain set of beliefs, but don’t back that up with practices that mark us as set-apart from the rest of the world or worship that is meaningful and authentic.  Or Christian people who are ‘stuck in a rut’ and just going through the motions of Christian faith (I have been guilty of this myself at times).   Or that tendency to emphasize and debate various interpretations of the minutiae of doctrine, analyzing and tearing apart Scripture to prove a certain point of view.  These things have concerned me too.
And maybe I'm weird, but I would disagree that doctrine can't capture our imagination.  A couple of years ago, I realized that I wanted to more fully explore the theme of grace in my life and so I turned to a slow, meditative study of the book of Romans.  It's been a slow transformation, but I do very much believe that that study has made a difference in the way I live out my faith (my practices, in other words).   And I find that the language in the Heidelberg Catechism is just beautiful, almost like poetry in parts.  If the book of Romans and a catechism aren't "doctrinal", I don't know what is?!
Smith seems to have a bit of a tendency to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’.    His approach seems to be ‘cognitive assent to a set of beliefs isn’t enough to change us, so let’s not use didactic sermons as our starting place, let’s focus on our practices instead’, and thereby apparently dismissing the power of the Word preached.   I wonder if rather than throwing out belief, doctrines, and God’s Word as the centerpiece of our worship from which our other practices flow, perhaps we should reconsider the way that we interact with God’s Word.   Perhaps instead of glossing over doctrine or using it as a tool for debate, we need to approach God’s Word as a thing of wonder, as something that really does have the power to change us.  I would contend that the Word – our source for belief, doctrine, theology – also has the power to “catch hold of our imaginations”.  This is actually something that I’ve been thinking about a lot in recent months – I wrote about this before here, and this fairly recent article from Circe addresses the same thing.  Dr Perrin seemed to be heading in this direction in his answers to the questions that Smith raised in the first chapters of the book.  Carolyn Weber describes the Bible as "the most compelling piece of creative non-fiction" she has ever read.  It came up again in the comments to last week’s Wednesday with Words post, and in a conversation with my husband on how we could make our family devotional time more living and robust.   This idea is popping up in a lot of different places, so I think maybe I’m not crazy. J
To his credit, towards the end of this chapter, Smith finally does acknowledge the role of the Spirit in all of this talk about belief, worship, and formation:
            “..the Spirit meets, nourishes, transforms, and empowers us just through and in such material practices.”
            “The point of worship is not formation, rather, formation is an overflow effect of our encounters with the Redeemer in praise and prayer, adoration and communion.”
To both of these statements, I would also add that we encounter Him through His Word.   We mustn’t leave that out of the equation.
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Friday, March 7, 2014

What We've Learned: February 2014

Education is an Atmosphere
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.”  (1 John 3:1, NASB)
Alternative use for packing tubs...

Education is a Discipline
So, last month, we were still struggling to find a routine.  This month has gone much more smoothly due to several tweaks in our routine:
I wrote about our new evening routine here.   We’ve been following this routine for about 4 weeks now and it is still going really well.  It has made a huge difference in our evenings.  And now that we have a workable evening routine in place (read: our evenings aren’t totally in chaos anymore), I feel like we can tackle some of the related habits such as improved table manners, pleasant table-time talk, holding the older children more responsible for cleaning up their stuff thoroughly and without nagging, and more enthusiastic participation in our evening devotional time.
Monday mornings have also often been chaos around here, so that was the next thing that I wanted to tackle.  One of the nature study ideas I wanted to try this year was to have a meal-time outside on a regular basis.  However, it is often too hot to do this at noon for lunchtime, so I decided to try a breakfast picnic instead.  I chose Monday as the day because I thought this might provide a pleasant motivation to  get moving on a Monday morning as well as create less mess in the house to clean up so we can easily get started on the rest of our schoolwork when we come back in.   We’ve done this the past two weeks and I think we have another “keeper” in our routine.  We’ve taken a simple low-mess breakfast (hard boiled eggs, muffins, drinkable yogurts for the kids) out into the yard, enjoyed the cooler morning air, and taken some time for nature observations and journaling.  Very pleasant way to start the week.
Also, inspired by this post, I put our other “activity” subjects (drawing, paper sloyd, science experiments) into a looping schedule.  In a good week we can get to them all, but in a disrupted week we just carry over the extra to the following week rather than feeling grouchy because we missed out on drawing or science time AGAIN.   We’ve been much more successful hitting at least 2 of the three the last couple of weeks as well.
Papaya Leaf Dancing...

Education is a Life
Michelle – Age 8 – Year 2
We are already up through Week 6 of AO Year 2.  It’s going by quickly, and has been so very enjoyable.  Among other topics we have read about William the Conqueror, and much to Michelle’s dismay the Normans did indeed conquer the English.  She was dreadfully disappointed...although apparently this is a common sentiment among other Year 2 students.  J   As an adult, I knew what was coming of course, but I will admit that in my textbook-study of history, I had never thought of the Norman Conquest as a two-sided conflict.  And this, my friends, is why I love AO so much.  Michelle is likely never to forget the Norman Conquest because of how much she was drawn into the story, and I as an adult gained a new perspective on what was previously just a blip on a timeline.
Michelle has been reading Leif the Lucky, The Burgess Animal Book, and Understood Betsy independently and narrates all of them really well.   She is also making great strides into written narration.  She is keeping a notebook for the animals she reads about in BAB – after she narrates orally to me, she draws a sketch and writes a few sentences to tell what she has found interesting about one of the animals in that chapter.   Here is a recent entry:
Click on the picture to view it larger
She’s also enjoyed doing comic-style written narrations and completed this one of the first half of Leif the Lucky (she plans to do a second page to add to this when she completes the book, and a cover she tells me “so it’ll be a real book mama”):

Click on the photo to view it larger
I’m really pleased with her efforts.
Math – well, it goes. J  We have been working on subtraction with regrouping, counting coins (American and Cameroonian), and continual drill and practice on addition and subtraction facts.
We’ve also been doing drawing and paper sloyd (paper folding) projects, exploring properties of water with Science in the Beginning, memorizing a speech from Shakespeare (they ADORE Shakespeare!) and getting back into a nature study groove.
Showing off her paper sloyd envelope.  More on sloyd soon, I hope...
James – Age 5.5 – Year 0.5
James is a delightful student.   We enjoy our daily reading time together.  He has been reading to me from the Little Bear books. He has been enjoying all of the books I am reading to him, and especially Among the Farmyard People.  We’ve reached some very basic adding and subtracting in MEP 1A, and he continues to enjoy copying a sentence chosen from his reader each day.  I am still not requiring narrations, but on the occasions when he offers them they are very thorough and detailed.  In all, he is taking to his formal lessons quite well.  (Moving him towards independence with household chores, however, is another matter....)
Nature Journaling
Elizabeth – Age-Almost-Four – Year 0
Still the tagalong!   She will be 4 right before we break for Conference and Co-op at the end of the month, but when we get back to our homeschool routine at the end of April, I will pull out some of our alphabet manipulative stuff and start being a little more intentional about playing around with them with her.   Friends of ours with twins about the same age as she is also just offered to let her come over and do learning activities with them one morning each week.  She went the other morning and had a ball, and the rest of us got our work done with time to spare before lunch. J
Yet another little bookworm
Mama – Year 4, etc.
I am about three weeks into Term 2 of AO Year 4.   I added in Plutarch this term and am really enjoying it.   I started with Poplicola and am using Anne White’s highly recommended study guide.  I see why they are highly recommended – they really do make Plutarch  less intimidating.   I am also absolutely LOVING Genevieve Foster’s history book George Washington’s World.   I love how she weaves together bits of history from all over the world, and some of the little bits that she includes in each story are really interesting.   I’m really enjoying the biography of Abigail Adams too.  I’ve never read/heard much about her.   I’m getting the sense that although her culture and time dictated that she stayed behind the scenes, she really was very influential in the life of her husband, and therefore in the life of her nation.  As a “behind the scenes” kind of girl myself, I appreciate stories like this – you don’t have to be high-powered and out-in-front to make a difference.
I continue with The IliadSilvia had some lovely thoughts to share on our group reads over at the Forum.  And I’m continuing with Desiring the Kingdom – I really wanted to like this book, and it HAS given me good food for thought, but I am also finding it a little bit of a disappointment.  Smith raises good questions, but I'm not sure I like his approach to finding answers to them.  Anyhow.  The discussion and reading various perspectives on other’s blogs has been a good experience, though.  I’m still planning to finish it since I’m blogging it and all….but at the same time, I’m sort of chomping at the bit to move on to something else in this genre.   Maybe I’ll just read ahead of schedule, finish it, write a couple of posts on anything that strikes me to post in the appropriate weeks? (Is that cheating?) Charlotte Mason’s School Education and CS Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism and Vigen Guroian's Tending the Heart of Virtue and Laurie Bestvater’s The Living Page  (well, if my copy of it ever arrives rather than being LOST AT SEA!) are calling my name…..  (So many books, so little time...)
Oh and I finally downloaded some of the talks from the 2013 Circe Conference when they had a special a few weeks ago: good, good stuff.
What happens when Mama passes over the camera to the 8-year-old so she can take pictures of nature specimens that interest her....

What have you been learning in your family?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wednesday with Words: On the Power of THE Word

Our small group Bible Study has been studying the book of Isaiah, and I sometimes dip into Raymond C Ortlund Jr.’s commentary Isaiah: God Saves Sinners to help supplement that study.  This isn't a scholarly commentary necessarily, but reads more like a devotional or sermon transcript.  These words from his comments on Isaiah 50 were powerful to me, especially in light of what I wrote in my Desiring the Kingdom post yesterday:
“God encounters us meaningfully through words – words that illuminate, words that last, words that undeceive our confusion.  ‘The Christian faith has come to us in words, not images;  find that passage in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St John – the Word becoming flesh, and dwelling among us full of grace and truth – one of the most beautiful and profound things ever written.  If it had come to us in images instead of words, it would not have lived as it has.’ If God’s way of getting through to us is the word, then we need to learn what it means to listen.” (quoting Malcom Muggeridge)
"When nothing else in our experience makes sense, when we have no visible path forward and everything seems to be closing in around us, what should we do?  We should take our stand on the revealed character of God and keep going in his will, one step at a time.   We should announce to ourselves again and again the promises of the gospel.  The bare word of God has the power to stabilize our panicky hearts.  In this simple, profound way, our lives will declare that God is a good Savior.  And it's how we show we are really listening to Christ."
~Raymond C Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

DTK Chapter 4, Part 1: Doctrine and Practice

I want to start my post today with a true story I once heard from missionary colleagues of ours in Papua New Guinea – one of many just like it I could tell you.  Des Oatridge was one of the first Bible translators working with our organization to arrive in PNG back in 1956.  He and his wife worked for many years among the Binumarien people:
At the time that Des and his wife allocated to this area in 1959, the Binumarien people were facing extinction - there were only 112 people left, mainly due to excessive amount of tribal warfare with neighboring clans.  Des shared that when they arrived in the area, it was obvious to them that the people had lost the will to live.  Although they had a church in their area, the preaching and teaching were in one of the coastal languages and translated into Binumarien.  Many years later, the local man who translated sermons for the pastor told Des that when things were hard to understand, he would just make something up or say what he thought it meant.  As a result, the people had a great deal of misunderstanding of the Bible's teaching – some really bizarre things like God created only men in the beginning and then turned Eve into a woman as a punishment for sins.  Or that you were saved by works done for the mission church. It was not until the Oatridges began to help them translate the Bible into Binumarien that the people's misunderstandings about the Bible were cleared and they came to a true understanding that salvation comes not through the things that you do but by trusting in the things that Jesus did for us.  One particularly poignant example that was shared was about one of the old men who was sort of viewed by the people as the village idiot.  After hearing the Easter story read in Binumarien, he stood up in church and said: “God is great!  God is big!  He’s very powerful and He walks on the clouds and on the wind.  He’s got a fighting stick in His hand.  And He took that fighting stick and put it down.  And He very humbly entered into the stomach of a young woman.  And He put away His anger and His strength – He put it all aside and He took on humility and gentleness.  And He grew up to be a man and He died on the cross for our sins and now we can be forgiven and that’s how powerful and how humble God is.”  He got it right the first time. This clear understanding of Scripture, as a result of having it in their own heart-language, has totally transformed and saved the lives of the Binumarien people in more ways than just the spiritual sense.  The population has more than quadrupled in the past 50 years - there are over 574 full-blooded Binumariens living in Papua New Guinea today [as of the writing of this story in 2006]. 
So why do I tell it?  I tell it because I think it counters some of the ideas that Smith is trying to propose in this section.   I got very squirmy when Smith started saying things like “Lived worship is the fount from which a worldview springs rather than being the expression or application of some cognitive set of beliefs already in place”  and “Doctrines, beliefs, and a Christian worldview emerge from the nexus of Christian worship practices.”   He claims that this is so because the early church didn’t have “the Bible” (at least not in the form we have it today), and yet they had worship practices that were far more formative and effective at shaping their desire for the Kingdom than what we typically see in the modern church, so they must have had it right.   But if that is so, why is so much of the New Testament filled with teachings aimed at countering heresies and correcting some of the practices that the early church got wrong?   God’s Word is a gift, and one that we should not – indeed, must not – ignore in any discussion of Christian doctrine, belief, worship and practice.
That’s where this story comes in.   The Binumarien people had had a church among them for years and years.  They knew what the practices of Christian worship and Christian living should look like, and I daresay many of them followed these practices, whatever their motivation for doing so may have been.   But it wasn’t until they heard the Word preached – really preached in their own mother tongue – that they really got it.  It was God’s Word that “speared them in the liver” as the saying often goes in that part of the world and caused them to reorient their lives towards His Kingdom.    
I agree with Smith that worship  practices are important.  And that head-level belief in a set of doctrines alone is not enough.   And that our worship practices ought to align with our doctrines and beliefs – there shouldn’t be a disconnect between them.  And I think that often our practices do reflect what we really believe at our core, even if we say we believe differently.   But practices cannot be the starting place in defining our doctrines and beliefs.   God’s Word is the starting place for that.   God’s Word has the power to speak to our hearts (Hebrews 4:12) and contains the wisdom we need to discern what our practices for Christian life and worship ought to be (2 Timothy 3:14-17).    Trying to go at it the other way around lays us open to syncretism, error, and emotionalism that fades because it isn't rooted in Truth.  Perhaps this is harder to see in the West because we have such a heritage of Christian faith (even though that is fading in today’s world).  But having lived and observed churches in two different non-Western-Christian cultures, I can say that this is true.   Right practices flow from a deep understanding, appreciation, and belief in the Truth of His Word.
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