Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: A Bit of Poetry

I was not a poetry enthusiast growing up.  At all.  (Other than Shel Silverstein.)  The poetry notebook my seventh grade English teacher assigned sealed that deal.  But being the dutiful CM mother that I am, I started reading my children a poem a day as part of our school time.  The result: they love poetry, and it's growing on me too.   Here are a couple of our recent favorites, chosen from our studies in Ambleside Online Year 2 (Michelle) and Year 4 (Me).  Enjoy!
The Bees’ Song
by Walter de la Mare
(Kids’ Choice J)
Thousandz of thornz there be
On the Rozez where gozez
The Zebra of Zee:
Sleek, striped, and hairy,
The steed of the Fairy
Princess of Zee.
Heavy with blossomz be
The Rozez that growzez
In the thickets of Zee.
Where grazez the Zebra,
Marked Abracadeebra,
Of the Princess of Zee.
And he nozez that poziez
Of the Rozez that grozez
So luvez’m and free,
With an eye, dark and wary,
In search of a Fairy,
Whose Rozez he knowzez
Were not honeyed for he,
But to breathe a sweet incense
To solace the Princess
Of far-away Zee.
by Emily Dickinson
(Mom’s Choice)
The cricket sang,
And set the sun,
And workmen finished, one by one,
Their seam the day upon.
The low grass loaded with the dew,
The twilight stood as strangers do
With hat in hand, polite and new
To stay as if, or go.
A vastness, as a neighbor came,
A wisdom without face or name,
A peace, as hemispheres at home,
And so the night became.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DTK: Concluding Thoughts

So, we’ve finally finished Desiring the Kingdom.  (Actually if you really want to know, I finished it over a month ago because I was chomping at the bit to move on to something else. J)  It’s been an interesting journey, to say the least.   I had high hopes for this book since I think Smith raises some crucial questions…questions that everyone really ought to consider whether or not they are involved in the field of education.  Considering the whole person and how our habits and practices affect our whole person is important.  For parents and teachers, considering not only the content but also the method of our instruction and the message that sends to our students is important.  Unfortunately, the book fell a little flat for me.  I didn’t particularly care for Smith’s writing style, nor did I agree with him in many places, especially on some points of theology.   I can’t say that I would recommend the book especially given that there are other resources out there that are more helpful and more encouraging to help us to explore similar ideas.  Nevertheless, I can say that I’m glad that I went ahead and finished the whole thing.   Here are a few thoughts that I am taking away from this study:
This was the first time that I’ve participated in an online, blog-based book study like this and I appreciated the format – I think especially because this turned out to be a challenging book that was a bit of a slog at points.  I appreciated being able to bounce thoughts and ideas off of others who were wrestling with the same points and being able to hear their take on them.  It also provided the accountability that I needed to finish to the end – I may not have otherwise.  So thanks, ladies, for making this a rewarding experience even though the book itself was a bit disappointing.
I came away from this book with the sense that I need to go back and soak myself in Charlotte Mason for a while.  Many of the positive points made in this book echoed her ideas very strongly, only she said them better. J I have the sense that if we want to practice the kind of education that Smith is proposing, following CM principles gives us a good road map for doing so.  Time to get back to the roots. 
I have found myself considering more seriously the role of practices in formation – the fact that sometimes even the littlest, most benign practices can have a tremendous shaping influence.   That our method of education says as much or more as the content of our lessons.  We’ve already made some tweaks to the way we do things around here, and I’m sure there will be more to come.
One idea that wasn’t ever mentioned in the book, but that I came to realize as we’ve considered these ideas over the past couple months is that routines give us a framework to hang habit development and character training from.  I mentioned here how we made some adjustments to our evening routine and how that has made working on smaller habits like table manners, cleaning up quickly and cheerfully, and so on much more manageable.  Chaos is more controlled, and the opportunity to practice these habits are naturally built into the day.  I don’t do well with character/habit training treated as a special project or school subject  - the opportunity to work on habits really needs to be ingrained in our day if it’s going to have any kind of sustainability around here.   I’m playing around with our morning routine now to see how we can make similar adjustments there.
Another idea I’ve found myself thinking about a lot is the idea of counter-formation.   If we want our children (or our students or ourselves) to be able to resist being formed by the negative ‘liturgies’ of secular culture, it’s not enough to tell them what not to do or remove their exposure to those things.  (Besides – no matter how much we try to shelter our kids, we can’t protect them from everything, and someday they will grow up and it will no longer be our job to shelter them anyhow.)  It’s important to fill the gap made by those things with something better – something that will have a “counter-formational” effect.   Charlotte Mason talks about replacing bad habits with good ones, and I’m beginning to think that perhaps this principle can apply to ideas and influences as well.
And that’s all folks. J 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

How We...Prepare for Easter

In the comments to this post, I promised I would share a few of our family’s traditions for the seasons of Lent and Easter.  I realize that it’s a bit too late for this year, but hey, it gives you plenty of time to think and consider how you may want to approach this in your home for next year. J
A couple of caveats: Our goal during Lent is mostly to help our children (and ourselves) understand that this is a special season set aside to reflect on Christ’s coming and work on the cross on our behalf – something that is as significant and important in our family life as our observance of Christmas.  So what I share here are some of the traditions we have adopted as we have endeavored to do that, and therefore don’t necessarily include all of the practices observed in more liturgical churches during the season of Lent.   You will also see that we like to keep things fairly simple.  You aren’t going to see lots of cute crafts or events that are heavy on preparation.   I’m not a crafty-mama in the first place.   We’ve moved a lot in the second place (this year is the first time since 2009 that we have spent two consecutive Easters on the same continent!).  And in our missionary community, March/April tends to be one of the busiest times of the year for community events of all sorts – unfortunate but true.  So our traditions reflect that – simple things that I can still pull off without adding extra stress during a move or an otherwise busy season.   Just so you know where I’m coming from.
The mantle on Good Friday

On each Sunday of Lent, we use John Piper’s Lenten Lights devotional.  I like that this is designed sort of as the ‘reverse’ of an advent wreath – rather than lighting a new candle for each Sunday, one is extinguished.  The last candle is extinguished on Good Friday, and then one awakes to all of the candles re-lit to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.  To go along with each reading of the devotional, I searched for a painting that would illustrate the story.  (I wish I had a nice printable to share with you, but alas I don’t.  This is a useful site for searching for artwork with Biblical themes, however, if you wanted to put together something similar for your family.) 
During Holy Week, we use a set of plastic Easter eggs to retell the story of Passion Week.  Each egg is filled with a symbol that represents a part of the story.   You can buy sets of these commercially, but I made ours myself.  Currently, I have each day/symbol keyed to a reading from Catherine Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible, but am thinking that for next year I will key them to the actual Scripture passages.
Here is my list of symbols and readings from The Child’s Story Bible:
Palm Sunday
Egg #1: Palm Branch (in our case, it’s a foam palm tree sticker)
Reading: Ch. 41 “The King Comes” p.311
Egg #2: Cracker
Reading: Ch. 44 “In the Upper Room” p.314
Egg #3: Silver Coins (mine has 3 dimes in it)
Reading: Ch. 46 “The Kiss of Judas” p.317 (In this story Bible, it doesn’t actually mention the 30 pieces of silver that Judas was paid to betray Jesus, so I just add this in at an appropriate part in the story.)
Egg #4: Feathers
Reading: Ch. 47 “Why Peter Wept” p.318
Maundy Thursday
Egg #5: Whip (mine is made of some strings tied to a toothpick)
Egg #6: Purple Robe
Egg #7: Thorns
Reading: Ch. 50 “Carrying the Cross” p.322
Good Friday
Egg #8: Cross and Nails (my cross is made of twigs lashed together)
Egg #9: Vinegar and Sponge (I actually have a cotton ball in ours that I soak in a bit of vinegar so they can smell it)
Reading: Ch. 51 “The Sun Becomes Dark” p. 323
Egg #10: Burial Cloth and Spices (a scrap of white fabric and some cloves)
Egg #11: Rock
Reading: Ch. 52 “The Stone is Rolled Away” p.325
Easter Sunday
Egg #12: Empty!
Reading: Ch.53 “Visitors to the Tomb” p. 326
On Easter Saturday, we usually dye Easter eggs.  We usually talk about how they can be a symbol of new life.   My 4-year-old asked me as I was preparing the dye this year: "So, first we dye the eggs, and then they come alive again?"  Well, not quite sweetheart....  At least something about the significance of this season is getting into her head, though. :)
Brown eggs come out really pretty when you dye them, don't they?  I love how they look.

This post is getting kind of long, so I’ll share our traditions that carry us into Easter Sunday and beyond next time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On Being a CM Teacher

I have been really enjoying Laurie Bestvater’s new book The Living Page, a discussion of the use of notebooks within the framework of a Charlotte Mason education.  The type of notebooks she discusses are primarily the nature notebook, the commonplace book, and the Book of Centuries, although a few other notebook types are mentioned too.  She has really done her research in CM’s own writings and the notes and examples left behind from her training college and the PNEU schools and gives a lot of really wonderful details about how CM really intended these books to be used, why they are beneficial, and practical examples and ways to get started.   "Notebooks" as CM intended were meant to give a student a 'blank page' on which to respond - to take ownership of their own learning, to give a place to make their own connections, to help develop the ability to wonder and attend.  The idea of notebooking set forth in this book is not at all the same idea as the notebooking commonly used in the homeschooling community today - it is far more than coordinating printables or a gathering of student work from the year into a binder to show progress.  I would say the notebooks described in this book are really more akin to personal journals than the idea of "notebooks" that most of us have.
When I first got it, I read the whole thing through in just a couple of days, now I am re-reading it slowly to more fully consider the ideas and how we can start to use them in our homeschool.   I was struck by these passages from Chapter 4:
“…it has been my experience that Mason’s ‘fine art of standing aside’ is not so easily grasped.  It takes a teacher deeply immersed in Mason’s writing and practice…to ‘safeguard the initiative of the child’, intuit the right level of support and encouragement for each individual child’s best discovery and growth.  Often the prevailing worldview creates an anxiety to ‘get on with it’, and drives the beginner to want to practice before the theory or even instead of the theory…We may need to review Mason’s unhurried rhythms to adjust our pace before considering the practical out-workings I have attempted to gather from her writings and lay out in this chapter.”  (p.69-70)
“[Teachers] are not selecting the exact content for the notebooks, but they are making themselves familiar with the parameters and genius of each venue, looking over the day’s work to see where certain kinds of narrations suggest themselves, balancing the written, drawn, sung, painted, acted, etc. and generally curating the feast so that the notebooks become (over time) a natural means of response…Mason teachers spend much of their thought and effort on the nuances of the forms, the needs of each learner, and on cultivating a classroom atmosphere that will foster self-activity.”  (p.70)
“We let the children do their own rightful and meaningful work.” (p.70)
“Parents can come to see in concrete ways how the rationale of Mason’s student-produced books, excepting copywork of course, is not so much to directly reproduce knowledge but allow personality to work on what has been taken in.”  (p.71)
We are preparing to get back into our homeschooling rhythm next week after about 5 weeks away (due to a conference, a co-op session, and a bit of a spring break), and I deeply appreciate this reminder NOT to put the practice before the theory.  I think it is really important to understand the ‘why’ behind CM’s methods before we try to use them.  One reason I appreciate Ambleside Online and the Forum is that it is set up in such a way to encourage parents to do this.  They give us the tools needed, but they haven’t gone so far as to do the work for us – there are no scripted lesson plans that tell you exactly what to do, for example.  It’s up to the parent/teacher to educate themselves about CM’s methods and then apply that knowledge to the booklists and other suggestions that Ambleside provides.   As I consider the remainder of this homeschool year moving on into the next, I see that the most important thing I can do is to prepare myself as a teacher  - to deepen my understanding of Mason’s principles and how to apply them to my specific students and situation, to remember that my job is to ‘spread the feast’ and allow my students to do their own ‘rightful and meaningful work’, and to model for them what an enthusiastic life-long learner looks like. 
Oh, and while we’re on the topic, I just saw that Brandy is starting a new series on becoming a CM teacher over at Afterthoughts : Learning How to Live.  I’m really looking forward to what she has to share!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

DTK Chapter 6: Towards Application

Well, we’ve finally come to the final chapter of Desiring the Kingdom.  Smith returns to the original question: “What is education, particularly Christian education, for?”  He reminds us that it is aimed at producing radical disciples focused on pursuing the Kingdom of God.  He challenges the current paradigm that pretty much adds Jesus to the current trends in secular education.  And he offers a few suggestions as to how education could be approached differently, at least in the Christian university setting.  Some of his ideas are approaching chapel services differently, using the university setting as a unique opportunity to live in community, and tying classroom theory to meaningful practical applications.   Nice ideas, but not really all that applicable to me as how to approach education differently as a home educator with young children.
That said, I have come across a few excellent resources in recent weeks that I think DO offer some more concrete practical application of the ideas put forth in this book namely:
All of these things are very rich and I encourage you to check them out for yourself, but let me give you a few of the key ideas that I have gained from these resources.
In Perrin’s talk, he invites us to wonder and encourages us as parents/teacher to model it for our students.  Effective teachers are those that are passionate and excited about their subject and let that passion and excitement rub off on their students.  
In Rallens’ talk, she shares the metaphor of “making honey” (based on the practice of lectio divina, if you are familiar with that) and gives several meaningful examples of how she has used this idea to great effect as a tool for lesson planning in her classroom.  Here is a brief outline of what this might look like (although really – do go watch the talk – it was seriously the most inspiring educational thing I have seen in a long time):
  • Gathering nectar: Teaching through story
  • Digesting the nectar: Meditate on the ideas, discuss the ideas, produce something in response (seems like narration fits right in here too!)
  • Making honey: Living out the ideas, the virtues, embodied in the story
(Interestingly enough, our recent conference speaker proposed a similar outline for Scripture study, even though I am fairly certain he’s never heard of Jenny Rallens or involved in any way in the Christian classical education movement!)
Bestvater’s ideas in The Living Page seemed to synthesize these ideas in a practical way. 
As in Perrin’s idea, notebook keeping invites us to really see, attend, and wonder. “Mason had shown me that the notebooks can be forms of vitality, literally the shape and outline, the liturgy of the attentive life.  They nurture the science of relations and the art of mindfulness.  They teach us to see the very brief beauty of now, to know the landscape of here, to be present in all our pleasures and pains.  Through them we, haltingly, dwell in a world of ideas and connections with an ever-higher opinion of God and his works and as truer students of Divinity.” (p. xv)
As in Rallens’ idea, the keeping of a notebook (coupled with the use of living books, great ideas, and narration) give a means to ‘digest’ – to meditate and create something in response to what we’ve read or heard.
Keeping a notebook is also a way that we as parents/teachers can model awe, wonder, growth for our pupils.  “The teacher in a Mason learning community is a co-learner, and it is very helpful for a teacher to model to his students…that his own learning also includes some comfortable notebook friends…Mason’s students at the House of Education and in the Mother’s Course kept notebooks and apart from being good for the students, it seems a very good way to support the paradigm shift for the teacher, not to mention a great personal satisfaction.” (The Living Page, p.72)
All of these educational practices are aimed at helping us not just to take ideas into our heads, but at helping them to reach our hearts so that we can live them out and reflect the glory of God to the world around us.
And that, I think, is the point – THAT is what Christian education is for.
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

DTK Chapter 5, Part 5: Beyond Sunday Morning

We have finally reached the conclusion to chapter 5 and its fascinating discussion of how the practices of Christian worship can change us.   I particularly liked Smith’s conclusion to this chapter: considering how to take these practices along into our day-to-day lives.  Ah, finally!  The rubber meets the road!
Attending Sunday worship is a crucial counter-formational practice.  Earlier in chapter 5 in the section entitled “Call to Worship”, Smith had noted that it is rather telling that we bother to go to church at all.  He drew a rather vivid picture of someone, perhaps a college student, getting up early to go to church on a Sunday morning when everyone else is sleeping in.  This image resonated with me since it reminded me of going to church on Sunday mornings the year we lived in France.    Even though France is a very secular country (I know there were only 3 very small Protestant churches in the city of 100,000 where we lived, and perhaps that many Catholic ones), everyone there likes to take a rest on Sunday.  Most businesses are closed, and those that open do so with reduced hours.  The busses run on a very reduced schedule.  We had to walk about 30 minutes to the church we attended and there were very, very few people out and about.  Getting up and going to church on Sunday really did mark us as ‘peculiar people’ in that society.   And once we get to church, the act of participating in corporate worship is very concentrated, charged with meaning and formational power.  Nevertheless attending church on Sunday morning is not enough.  We must carry our counter-formational practices into the rest of the week as well.  So how do we do that?   Smith offers us some practical suggestions:
1. Recognize secular “liturgies” for what they are – this lessens their formative power:  “If we can start to see cultural practices for what they are, it’s as if we can then say to them, ‘I see what you’re up to…’  So this recognition, coupled with intentional participation in Christian worship, can decrease (but not eliminate) the formative power of secular liturgies.”
2. Choose to abstain from certain ‘normal’ cultural practices.  Smith didn’t say this, but I would also add that when one chooses to abstain from a certain practice, it is important to replace it with something that will have a better formative influence.  Charlotte Mason talks about breaking bad habits by replacing them with good ones, and I think the same principle can apply here too.  A couple of examples of ways we have done this is our home:
- Intentionally choosing not to be involved in tons of outside activities so we can place a priority on our family relationships, be available for hospitality, and other such things.  (Admittedly, this is much easier to do in Africa where there is far fewer activities to choose from, but even if we lived on the States I think we would still be very careful about how many and what kinds of activities we would spend our time on.)
- Limited TV.  We don’t own one, actually (and still wouldn’t if we lived in the States), so what we do watch is on DVD on our computer.   This limits the amount of advertising we are exposed to (especially our children) and eliminates mindless channel surfing.  We make intentional choices about what we choose to watch or not to watch, and it is not constantly on in the background.
3. Cultivate habits of daily worship.  Prayer and Devotional reading – both privately and in community – are important daily practices not to be limited to Sunday morning.  This is something that is important for everyone, but we’ve found extremely important to our family since we live overseas and have to deal with language and cultural differences in our church environment.  (It’s still important to be there, but it doesn’t have quite the same ‘power’ as worshipping in your mother tongue!) 
Ways that I try to do this in my private devotional time:
- Opening and closing my day with Bible and devotional reading (check the sidebar for my current choices) and journaling.
- Prayer – often using Psalms or the topically arranged Scripture passages in Daily Light as a template – sometimes just praying, sometimes doodling or writing as I pray.
- Listening to sermons, podcasts, and uplifting music as I go throughout my day.
Ways that we do this as a whole family:
- Our Breakfast Devotional Time: Scripture and Catechism memory (new and review), reading from Psalms and Proverbs, Hymn Singing, and Prayer focused on Adoration, Confessing our Need for Him and asking for His help, Thanks, and Requests for others.
- Our Evening Devotional Time: Prayer time based on a Psalm, Bible story with narration and discussion (working towards a ‘habit’ of imagination and wonder here)
4. Live ‘communally’, recognizing that friendships and family relationships are important.   I struggle with this one a bit because we are rather transient (it’s difficult to build deep-rooted relationships when either your family or your friends’ families move internationally every year or two…), and I am also an introvert.  A shy introvert.  A shy introvert who has said good-bye too many times.  (Ahem.)  But at the same time, I see the importance of recognizing that we aren’t meant to go through life alone.  I do desire to have these kinds of deep relationships.  And in my own way, I do have them.  We place a lot of emphasis in our home on developing our immediate family relationships (at least when we move, we move all together!)  I am still best friends with my best friend from high school, despite the fact that our lives have moved in vastly different directions and we really only see each other once every few years now.  We’re still the ones that we turn to first in joys and trials.  We really know each other – sometimes better than we know ourselves I think – 20 years is a lot of water under the bridge!  I treasure that.  When I was a single missionary in Papua New Guinea, I had a family that took me in to theirs – right down to having Christmas morning and vacations with them.  They were the ones that talked, prayed, and encouraged me through my long-distance courtship with my husband.   And now we have a young, single missionary lady who is part of our family.   She lived with us for almost a month last fall when she was recovering from illness, and recently stayed with our children while we went away for our tenth anniversary weekend.   She loves and is loved by our children, is always up for a cup of tea and a chat, and has been a source of joy and encouragement to me as well.
In all of these things, the goal is to be living out the Kingdom NOW as a testimony to the world around us.  It is easy to get caught up in the notion of ‘changing’ or ‘transforming’ the world – doing something Big for the Kingdom, especially in missionary circles.   But more and more I am coming to realize that perhaps in order to do this we must first live out the truth.   This idea was confirmed by our conference speaker (sorry – you’ll be hearing a lot about him in the next couple of weeks I’m afraid) in the message he brought to us about Ezra.  He made the point that Ezra was qualified to be used by God in ministry because he had first been shaped by God’s Word.  The phrase “you haven’t learned it until you’ve lived it” keeps popping to my mind here too.
So, let’s live out His Truth.  Let’s choose practices that will form us into people who reflect His glory and image to the world – on Sunday and Every Day.
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Monday, April 14, 2014

March's Nature Notes

Weather Report: It’s that transition between dry season and rainy season.  Occasional heavy, crazy storms interspersed between really hot, sunny days.  Anybody’s guess which one you’re gonna get. J
We’ve seen a couple of neat things we hadn’t noticed before in our neighborhood this month.
This is called a Christ Thorn.   It’s a strikingly good name for it, don’t you think?  Those thorns are intimidatingly long.  It also struck me how the flowers are a dark reddish-pink, which made me think of the blood shed for our sins.  Very apropos that we found it during the season of Lent.
Okay, these plants aren’t new.  They were one of the first ones we noticed when we moved into this house last year.  (I mean, how can you miss a plant with pink or polka-dotted leaves?!)
Later we identified them as “caladiums” or “Heart of Jesus” (I think taken specifically from the pink variety).   What we didn’t notice is that this is a flowering plant! 
We noticed the flower one morning and originally thought it might be a ceriman, but on closer inspection we found they were actually part of the caladium plant, and confirmed this in our plant book. 
We took a closer look at some of the other caladium plants around the yard and found most of them had a bud that could very easily house a flower of this shape and size. 
Isn’t it cool how you can learn something new about the most familiar things in your surroundings when you stop to take a look?
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

DTK Chapter 5, Part 4, Post 2: The Story of Scripture

(I shouldn't have said anything about the power and internet being functional when I said I'd post this back on Thursday.  I think I jinxed myself or something.  This is apparently the week for things not to work as we've been without water, internet, AND power at various times.  I think all three are functional at the I'm posting this now before I am prevented again...HA!)
In my last post on this section, I explored a little bit the role of the mind in our formation.  Today, I want to talk a little bit about engaging with the Scripture not only as a manual for doctrine and practice (which it is, of course), but also engaging with it as a Story.  
Smith makes the point that Scripture has greater shaping power when we are able to grasp the story of it – to engage our imagination and sense of wonder in the way that we interact with it, rather than interacting with it as a series of dos-and-don’ts:  “Over time, when worship confronts us with the canonical range of Scripture, coupled with its proclamation and elucidation in the sermon, we begin to absorb the story as a moral or ethical compass – not because it discloses to us abstract, ahistorical axioms, but because it narrates the telos of creation, the shape of the kingdom we’re looking for, thus filling in the telos of our own action.  We begin to absorb the plots of the story, begin to see ourselves as characters within it; the habits and practices of its heroes function as exemplars, providing guidance as we are trained in virtue, becoming a people with a disposition ‘to the good’ as it’s envisioned in the story.  Because we are story-telling animals, imbibing the story of Scripture is the primary way that our desire gets aimed at the kingdom.”
I had also suggested this way of approaching Scripture in my post on Chapter 4 (in that post there are also several other links discussing this idea – it seems to keep popping up!).  Interestingly enough, this point was brought to my mind yet again through the messages we heard from the devotional speaker (a visiting pastor from the UK) at our conference last week.  Now that I think about it some more, I would say that he made a point to preach in this manner.  After reading the Scripture passage, he narrated the story in such a way that helped us to imagine that we were there.  He described the response of the people to the reading of the Word of God in Nehemiah chapter 8 – their submission to its authority, their enthusiasm and commitment, their understanding, their brokenness over their sin, their joyful celebration.   He challenged us with the question: “Does God’s Word still excite and invigorate you?” And then he left us with the reminder that Scripture study doesn’t have to be dry and abstract because when we immerse ourselves in it with are “entering into the story of God’s Great Rescue.”  Only then, after he had helped us to enter in to the story, did he bring it around to his points for practical application.  I know his teaching had an impact on me, and my husband said he felt like the speaker was speaking right to him.  I can’t help but think that his pattern of preaching – of bringing us along with him in the story – had something to do with that.
A couple of days later in my devotional reading – currently Matthew alongside JC Ryle’s commentary – a similar point was brought home to me again.  In contrasting the Magi, who saw the star and believed, with the priests and Pharisees who refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, Ryle points out that head knowledge (which the priests and Pharisees had in spades) matters very little if it makes no difference in our hearts, and that “familiarity with sacred things has a dreadful tendency to make men despise them.”   I got to thinking that perhaps approaching the Word with wonder, intentionally engaging our imaginations, helps to avoid that ‘familiarity that breeds resentment’, that familiarity the keeps the Word from moving past our heads and into our hearts.   I know that I have been guilty of this - having been raised in the church and well-versed in all the stories from the time I was little, it is so easy for me to gloss over the Scripture with the thought that there is nothing new to take away from it.   That’s not true of course – there’s always something new to learn because I haven’t ‘arrived’ yet, and won’t until He takes me home.  But it has occurred to me that perhaps I do need an attitude shift in the way I approach Scripture.  (Shoot, I’ve encountered this idea from so many different angles lately, how can I ignore it?)
So I’ve been trying this out a bit – this idea of approaching  in my personal Bible reading with wonder, engaging myself not only in the truths to be applied, but also the Story of it – both in my personal Bible reading as well as in our family Bible reading.  When we do our family Bible stories in the evening, I’ve been asking the children to try to imagine as if they are there in the story, or to “make a movie in your mind” as I read.  (We are currently reading through Catherine Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible, and the tone with which she writes lends itself quite well to doing this).  I have been trying to do likewise in my personal Bible reading.  It’s too soon to tell, really, just what kind of impact this might be making.    I just know that I long to be invigorated by the Word, and I long for my children to not only know the Word, but to love it too.  (If anyone else has thoughts or ideas on this topic, I’d love to hear them!)
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday Commonplace: On Passing on our Loves to our Children

Cindy at Ordo Amoris is taking a blogging hiatus, which means that there won’t be a Wednesday with Words linkup in the meantime.  However, I’ve found that I really enjoy culling something from my reading to share each week – kind of an online commonplace book of sorts. So even without the linkup I would like to continue posting a thought from something I’ve read each week.  Until such time that Cindy is able to resume Wednesday with Words, I will call it a Wednesday Commonplace.
With all the busy-ness going on around these parts in the last few weeks I’ve taken a break from some of my heavier reading and have been enjoying the lighter works of James Herriot. (My hubby and I have also been enjoying watching some of the episodes of the old BBC television show).  Anyhow, last weekend I was reading his fourth book The Lord God Made Them All and one of the things that I really loved to see was his relationship with his children.
With his son, Jimmy:
“ ‘Hello! Hello!’ I bellowed.
“Hello!  Hello!” little Jimmy piped just behind me.
I turned and looked at my son.  He was four years old now and had been coming on my rounds with me for over a year.  It was clear that he considered himself a veteran of the farmyards, an old hand versed in all aspects of agricultural lore.”
With his daughter, Rosie:
I let my heart fall into careless hands.’  Little Rosie’s voice piped in my ear as I guided my car over a stretch of rutted road.  I had singing now to cheer the hours of driving.
I was on my way to dress a wound on a cow’s back and it was nice to hear the singing.  But it was beginning to dawn on me that something better still was happening.  I was starting all over again with another child.  When Jimmy went to school I missed his company in the car, but I did not realize that the whole thing was going to begin anew with Rosie.  The intense pleasure of showing them the farm animals and seeing their growing wonder at the thing of the countryside, the childish chatter that never palled; the fun and the laughter that lightened my days – it all happened twice to me.”
And the results of this habit of taking his children with him on his rounds, things which he realized years later:
“I only half realized at the time how lucky I was.  I had a demanding, round-the-clock job, and yet I had the company of my children at the same time.  So many men work so hard to keep the home going that they lose touch with the families who are the heart of it, but it never happened to me.”
“I suppose it was a natural result of my children seeing veterinary practice from early childhood and witnessing my own pleasure in my work that they never thought of being anything else but veterinary surgeons.”
“ ‘Maybe ye don’t know it, Mr Herriot, but this is the best time of your life.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘Aye, there’s no doubt about it.  When your children are young and growin’ up around ye – that’s when it’s best.  It’s the same for everybody, only a lot o’ folk don’t know it and a lot find out when it’s too late.  It doesn’t last long,  you know.’
‘I believe I’ve always realized that, Mrs Clarke, without thinking about it very much.’
‘Reckon you have, young man.’  She gave me a sideways smile.  ‘You allus seem to have one or t’other of your bairns with you on your calls.’”
~James Herriot, The Lord God Made Them All
I’m thankful that my husband is often willing to have the children – our son in particular – join in on his projects.  And I suppose that homeschooling – especially CM homeschooling with its emphasis of sharing good books together – is one way that I do this.  I think that an effective teacher is a contagious one – one whose love and wonder for what they are doing or teaching  just bubbles out of them.  I think our Mr Herriot succeeded on this front.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DTK Chapter 5, Part 4, Post 1: The Role of the Mind

And…I’m back.  The last couple of weeks have been good but crazy here with our mission organization’s annual conference, a weekend away for our tenth anniversary, and tired kiddos with colds. (Well, that part’s not good, but I suppose to be expected with the long days spent in childcare during the conference and general lack of normal routine.)  Now we are in to three weeks of our co-op program which is busy in its own way, but it does mean that I do get a wee bit of time at home with all the kids gone to their respective classes when I don’t have to go help with something.  So here’s to hoping that I will have a little more time to chat with you in this space (assuming that both power and internet are functional at the same time). J
In this week’s section of Desiring the Kingdom, Smith discusses (among other things) the role that the recitation of the Creed (referring to the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed) and the exposition of the Scriptures in the sermon have in worship and formation.  This section made me think about these issues from a couple of different angles, and in order to keep my post for this section from rambling on too much, I am breaking it into two parts (look for part two on Thursday).   He likened the Creed to the ‘pledge of allegiance’ for the Kingdom of God and noted that it roots us to our historical faith – a faith that has endured for many generations.  The exposition of the story of the Scriptures “narrates the identity of the people of God, [is] the constitution of this baptismal city, and [fuels] the Christian imagination.”  He also says that Scripture shows us “the kind of people we’re called to be”.  
In the midst of his discussion he also made a couple of comments that rather struck me.  Regarding the Creed he says: “What is articulated in the Creed has been behind much of what we’ve been doing in worship.”  He also says that “Christian worship is deeply shaped by an explicit articulation of the story in the Scriptures.”  In other words our practices are (or should be) rooted in and informed by our beliefs – our doctrines – as articulated in the Creed and in the Word.   He also made the comment that “By emphasizing that the practices of Christian worship are formative at a fundamentally precognitive, affective level, I am not suggesting that in Christian worship we kiss our brains goodbye.”
 Huh.  Really?  Did anyone else kind of get the feeling that he was kind of contradicting himself?  I have had the niggling sensation from the beginning of the book that Smith has been trying to dismiss the importance of the life of the mind, the role of ideas and beliefs in shaping us.   In both of my posts on Chapter 4, I basically laid out why I disagreed with this point of view and why (here are those posts again: Part 1 and Part 2).  While I agree with doctrine/belief alone aren’t enough to change us and that they must be coupled to our practices, I will always maintain that our beliefs need to be the guide for our practices and not the other way around.  And without the informing ideas behind our practices (worship practices or otherwise), the practices themselves become pretty meaningless.  It seems very much to me that here Smith is changing his tune and basically saying what I was trying to say in my response to Chapter 4.   Not really sure what to make of that – did I miss something along the way, or is he really contradicting himself? Or was he just being hyperbolic to make a point in Chapter 4 (he does sort of seem to like to do this)? Am I just too practical to wrap my head around his philosophical meanderings? I don’t know. 
As I’ve been thinking about these issues over the last couple of weeks, I came across this very interesting article on “Intellectual Discipleship” by Al Mohler.  It is full of the type of language that Smith detests: “worldview”, “cognitive principles”, “thinkers”, “doctrine”.   And yet, at the same time, I think they are working towards similar ends.  Mohler points out that “A robust and rich model of Christian thinking – the quality of thinking that culminates in a God-centered worldview – requires that we see all truth as interconnected.  Ultimately, the systematic wholeness of truth can be traced to the fact that God is himself the author of all truth.  Christianity is not a set of doctrines in the sense that a mechanic operates with a set of tools.  Instead, Christianity is a comprehensive worldview and way of life that grows out of Christian reflection on the Bible and the unfolding plan of God revealed in the unity of the Scriptures.”   The role of the mind is vitally important – I think the key is to make sure that we don’t stay there.  Our ‘way of life’ needs to grow out of the beliefs and doctrines and ideas that our minds receive.  Our whole selves need to be affected.   Perhaps paying attention to our practices is part of the way that we can ensure this takes place – that ideas and beliefs don’t remain only in our minds?   Just a thought that crossed my mind as I consider the interaction between belief and practice.
Just this morning I came across this thought in Sinclair Ferguson’s book Children of the Living God:
Paul says we are transformed as we ‘reflect’ or ‘contemplate’ the Lord’s glory.  How do we do this? Primarily by looking at the Lord as he has revealed himself in Scripture.  It is only as our lives are in line with Scripture, and as our minds are devoted to understanding and applying it obediently, that this reflection of Christ takes place.  This produces the renewing of the mind which Paul describes elsewhere (Romans 12:1-2).  Notice that such renewal is the opposite of being conformed to the image the world desires to produce in our lives.  Conformity to Christ, through the use of the renewed mind,  always produces nonconformists!  But Christians are not nonconformists in order to be difficult, or even simply for the sake of being different.  Rather, we are nonconformists because we conform to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This new attitude of mind emerges from the fact that we are new men and women, children of God ‘created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:23-24).”
Nonconformists.  A ‘peculiar people’ – that’s Smith’s terminology.  A people who are not conformed to the habits and patterns of this world, but who are conformed to the image of Christ – who are committed to pursuing His Kingdom.  That’s the goal, regardless of what vocabulary one wants to use to describe how to get there.
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