29 January 2009

Is CPSIA Putting YOU Out of Business?

I really wasn't going to get involved in this issue. Just reading a few of the details was enough to make me fear I'd have a stroke. This sort of legislation makes me wonder exactly how much longer one can justify calling America "free". I suppose the difference is being allowed to own a shotgun and not being allowed to own a shotgun.

So, if I was going to avoid this subject, what changed my mind?

My inbox.

Today, HSLDA's Federal Relations Department sent out an email informing members that they will be meeting with the commissioners of the CPSC on February 4th. The email says:
However, we are concerned about the effect that this legislation and the proposed regulations will have on small family businesses. It appears that many of these vital businesses could be forced to close due to the high cost of compliance with the CPSIA.

HSLDA is trying to help protect such family businesses, as well as the homeschooling families who may purchase educational items from such a family business.
The tie between homeschooling and small business might not be evident to folks outside the homeschooling community. I know that I was surprised at home many homeschooling families own their own small businesses {or sometimes the mothers work at home at a small crafts-type business}. It makes sense to me, now that I have considered that libery is a foundation of homeschooling. Owning a business is also an act of liberty {and bravery}, as the owners cannot shelter themselves under the wings of an employer, but must be solely responsible for their own success or failure.

There are also many homeschooling moms who, inspired by the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31, use their gifts and talents to benefit the family economy. In fact, some families are able to homeschool because the moms have been successful enough at their home-based ventures to be able to afford to opt out of government schools.

So is CSPIA a threat to homeschoolers? Yes. It is a threat to us all, but it is the threat to homeschoolers that gives HSLDA a vested interest in sorting this issue out.

HSLDA is looking for examples to use in their meeting. If you homeschool and own a family business that will be shut down or siginificantly harmed by the new children's products legislation, they would like to have a 1- to 2-page summary of your business and details of how and why the harm will come to it. Email this information to federalrelations AT hslda DOT org.

For those of you who have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, let me give you a very brief rundown along with links to people who know a lot more about this than I do.

Brief Rundown

Long story short, on February 10, a new law will go into effect which requires lead testing of all products designed for the primary use of children under the age of 12. Part of the problem with this law is the word "all." Testing is expensive. Most of what I have seen is $50 per component. So, let me use Jennie's business as an example. She makes baby slings. Let's say the slings are made of thread, two different fabrics, and metal loops. With testing for each component costing $50 to test and certify, the cost of testing would be $200. Then there would be an additional cost to retest the final product. I have no idea what that would be because I can't stand to inform myself further. What I also know is that because Jennie makes one-of-a-kind items, she would have to retest whenever she changes thread, fabric colors, and so on. This legislation will effectively eliminate one-of-a-kind items for children (except, perhaps, for the very rich or those who do it themselves) because it is so cost-prohibitive. For families who make their livings producing special, personalized items, this is a very serious issue.

Ahem.

I just can't bear to go on.

So...

Links

Here is a brief posted by the Handmade Toy Alliance on Change.org
Common Room has been following this issue:

The New York Post weighs in
So does Forbes
The End of Handmade from upscalebaby.com
And here are some real, live folks who are going out of business or having to make serious changes:

Check out compliant handmade goods at the new prices on Etsy How does a $5880 handcrafted hand puppet sound to you?

28 January 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Six

Chapter Six of All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes is titled Better to Receive and discusses the difference between using culture {which is, according to Myers, what we do, generally speaking, with popular culture} and receiving culture {which would be, again according to Myers, what we do with high culture}. Myers often throws in the concept of folk culture, but he often neglects to explain what we do with it and how it is different than the other two.

I would say that folk culture is the culture that we neither use nor receive, but rather that which we create, sometimes individually, but mostly collectively. I think I can lay it out simply with music: listening to the radio is popular culture, buying a ticket to the opera is high culture, singing with family and friends around the piano in our living room, is folk culture. This would be only one example, of course.

Folk culture, by the way, is the culture which will endure regardless of circumstance. We can't all afford orchestra tickets. In fact, in extreme poverty, the electricity to run the radio might suddenly seem like an excessive expenditure. But the piano or guitar we already own, along with the voices God gave us, and the music we remember or invent? These sorts of things can be timeless.

Moving ever onward...

An Experiment in Criticism

Myers brought up a work by C.S. Lewis with which I am wholly unfamiliar called An Experiment in Criticism. The goal of this book was to define good books and bad books as books which are read in different ways. Myers lists out Lewis' four distinctions between "literary" and "unliterary" reading, and I thought I'd repeat them here as I found them insightful:
  1. Willingness to read a single work over and over. Lewis says:
    The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers "I've read it already" to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.
    We can all agree that some books just aren't worth reading twice, and Lewis would likely say that this means the book was "bad" in a literary sense.
  2. Making reading a priority. Lewis says that unliterary readers only read when they have absolutely nothing else to do or perhaps have insomnia. Literary readers, on the other hand, are always seeking out space in their lives for reading. My son already does this. The house will get quiet and I will find him somewhere, sometimes in very odd places. He's found a book lying around, probably carried off by the toddler, and he can't just put it back on the shelf. He has to read it. He is often desperate for reading time.
  3. Literary readers have profound experiences reading books. They fall in love along with the heroine, they experience the grief and pain of death, and so on. I might note that, if one is a literary reader in this sense, it becomes even more important to make sure one is reading appropriate material. If one reads a book and becomes part of the book, one must take heed not to fall into sin.
  4. Literary readers keep the things they have read present in their minds. I do this to a fault. I can't get through a conversation without mentioning at least one book I've read and I fear this drives a few of my friends crazy, but thankfully they are the forbearing sort.
It is Lewis who considered the idea that culture can be either used or received. Using culture, he says, does not add to our lives, but rather relieves our lives. Receiving culture means that there is more to our lives because of what we have been given.

Enjoyment of the Literary

Have you ever read Russian fiction? Or French, by chance? Such books go on and on. Russians are famous for their character development. By the end of a work, I feel like I've lived a whole life {in a good way}. French books, in particular The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, make the reader so aware of their environment. {At least, I think they do, as I've read many more Russians than I have French.}) The centerpiece of this book is actually the architecture. It takes some settling-in to read such a work because it moves. so. slowly. It took me a while to get the right attitude. I couldn't think of it as a plot to be read and disposed with, but rather a trip not only to the past, but to Paris itself. The sights and the sounds came alive. Reading Hunchback is akin to traveling to Paris.

For the poor. He he.

I thought of this when Myers wrote:
Throughout Lewis' book, he develops the argument that the enjoyment of literature requires the enjoyment of something literary: that is, there is something in the form of the work, in the choice and sound of words, in the rhythm, color, texture, and smell of the prose, in the pacing of the entire structure, in the way the work exists, that grips the better reader. Those who read lesser fiction want action, what Aristotle called spectacle.

Propriety

The idea of context, that sometimes things are appropriate at one time, but not at another, is something we are constantly working on around our home because we have small children. Children are born thinking that whatever hits their fancy should happen or be said right here, right now. They do not think contextually. This is just childishness and it can be trained out of them, for their better. But it is interesting to note that children are born authentic. They are exactly who they are, exactly what they feel, regardless of the situation. The interesting thing about childish authenticity is that it not only ignores context, but also company. In other words, it tends to disregard the other souls around them.

I think of my son who wanted to tell me jokes at the same time that Si was trying to tell me that my uncle had died that day. My son was only being childish. He didn't understand. But such understanding must be trained. It is part of coming out of ourselves and into the larger world.

Myers discusses church music. He offers the example of a "very earnest soloist [who] sings a piece of music that is exceedingly trite, clichéd, maudlin, and pretentious." He then uses Philippians 4:8 as a mark which has been missed and says that while the text of the song was generally true {though sentimental}, the music "was not true, noble, lovely, or admirable." And then he admits that if a person thought about such things aloud, they would likely be regarded as an arrogant elitist.
You say the music was not true, noble, or admirable; they say it was a "blessing" for them. But is their "blessing" purely a subjective matter? For popular culture enthusiasts, if it feels good, it is good.
That last sentence sets the stage for this:
The subjectivism of popular culture renders null and void any concept of propriety. In social behavior, propriety refers to actions that are appropriate or fitting to the circumstances. At root, the word refers to the true nature of things, their properties. Today how we behave in the presence of others is often said to be a wholly subjective matter. There is no true nature of things: all significance is defined by the self. Therefore, any action in any setting is justified, as long as it is "authentic."
I think a healthy dose of Scripture solves some of this problem. As part of our Circle Time each day, we learn about having proper manners. This has been instructive, even for me! We are using George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation as a starting place. I'm choosing individual, timeless manners, translating them into contemporary English, and then adding a verse to go with them. Last week's manner is a good example of what I mentioned above, which is the childishness associated with raw authenticity. We learned that we should make sure the time is proper before saying what we wish to say. We used Proverbs 25:11 as our foundation: "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." If we root our behaviors in God's permanent word instead of the shifting sands of culture, we are wise.

This is not to say that it is wrong to ever be authentic. However, it is my belief that the idea of "being authentic" is increasingly an excuse for bad behavior. Being true and honest is always a virtue, Biblically speaking, and doing so at a fitting time is as beautiful as those apples of gold. It's all about context or, as Myers says, the properties of the setting in which we find ourselves.

To extend this idea to the Internet, as Cindy is asking us to do, I would say that there are certain things about the Internet that encourage this ill-mannered behavior. If you have ever read a blog where a scuffle went on in the comments {and I might add that I delight that my readers have proven themselves time and again to be perfectly capable of decent and civilized conversation and I am so grateful and inspired by you all}, you will often see written words that obviously were not fully considered before the commenter pressed enter. You might see unkind things spoken in haste. And so on. I think the speed of the Internet, by its very nature, encourages a certain level of thoughtlessness and carelessness, and so feelings are often hurt more on the Internet than in real life! It's not that we should avoid the Internet, but perhaps that we should walk away before making a hasty comment, and only come back when we have fully thought things through. I have found that when I do this, I am far less likely to say anything at all on someone else's blog. And sometimes the less we say, the better it is, even for our own character.

Unfortunately, the speed at which blogging travels, the desire for new material daily, or even hourly, deters thorough conversation. It is hard to think something through to its end when we are obligated to move on to the next subject so quickly. Lately, I have considered the pace of Afterthoughts, and whether it would be beneficial for my own soul {and others} to slow it down a little.

Something to Chew On

I'll circle back to the very beginning and repeat what I thought was a fascinating question raised by Myers:
Now, if every meal you ever ate was from a fast-food joint, would that affect your outlook on the meaning of meals? If there was never any elegance or grace, any ritual or decorum as part of your meals, if all the food that you ever consumed was delivered to you by a person in a funny-looking hat, and was wrapped in cardboard or styrofoam, would that affect your impressions of the Biblical metaphor of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?
I have my own thoughts on this, but I would love to hear what you all think first.

_______________
Links:
Check out the rest of the AGC&BSS book club entries over at Dominion Family.

27 January 2009

The Preschool Report

A more creative title for this post might be "Teaching Letters to a Girlie Girl" or "Learning to Use My Zizzers". But such titles focus on one activity instead of the whole, so I'll need to stick with The Preschool Report even though it lacks a certain something.

"Preschool" is here defined as twenty to thirty minutes per day that I spend alone with my almost-four-year-old. For a while, I tried to add preschool time, especially age-appropriate picture books, into our Circle Time, but I found that it didn't work well for us. So, I began to search for a space to be alone with A.

Our day is such that three of the children do Circle Time with me, and then E. does Ambleside Time, quite early on. There is more "school" activity throughout the day, but the majority of our studying is concentrated in those early morning hours. And then, when it is time for Baby O.'s mid-morning feeding, they all go out to play. They gets lots of physical exercise during this time, running, jumping on the trampoline, and so on.

And it was here that I found my time. I like to spend time alone with Baby O. after this feeding. This is the only feeding of the day that is regularly just the two of us. So it is he and I for about an hour. I fold laundry next to him sometimes.

And then I put him to bed, and I call in A. from playing. I instruct E. to help occupy Q. {which he does, lately they have been digging holes in the side-yard}, and then A. and I have our time.

Since we do Circle Time together, this time can be focused on the few areas where I think she requires my special assistance.

Learning to Use My Zizzers

My oldest child learned to use scissors very organically. I sat him down with a sheet of colored paper, showed him how to hold the scissors, and then supervised only enough to make sure that he cut paper, and paper only. But times are different. Our home is busy. And, frankly, because I used this organic method without any coaching, he still isn't very good at cutting along a line.

And kids the age of three like workbooks. I try to be careful about using workbooks because I think that learning should take place primarily through good literature and other rich sources, and a workbook definitely doesn't fall into this category. However, never say never, right?

When I saw Kumon Workbooks for the first time, I knew they would be a good fit for A. They offer slow and steady progress in fine motor skills through daily practice. They are brightly colored and friendly-looking, appealing to someone almost-four. Most importantly, Mom doesn't have to organize cutting lessons. I prefer to plan my own curriculum, but not for basic skills. I have no qualms about buying a cutting book {actually, this was a Christmas gift she received} and being done with it.

A. is doing so well! She requires lots of repetition to promote retention, and this is just the ticket. I am amazed at how she cuts now. I know it is a little thing, but to compare her shaky, uncertain hands from two weeks ago with her confident slices now, is to witness a profound improvement.

We do two pages a day, because she begs for the second one every time.

Teaching Letters to a Girlie Girl

I must admit that, as far as teaching reading goes, I feel most insecure about my ability to teach letter recognition. My experience as a reading tutor for many years dealt with children who were struggling, but they always knew their letters. Also, E. was super easy to teach. In fact, he already knew all of his letters, shapes, colors, and so on at Q.'s current age {just turned two}. He just had that sort of mind, a steel trap, so to speak.

A., like I already said, requires repetition. I also try not to push too hard. My general rule for teaching early reading {even with E.} was no-more-than-ten-minutes. The goal is to finish the lesson before the brain is overwhelmed. A. requested that I teach her her letters one other time. We tried for a while, but her retention was terrible. When her interest tapered off, I didn't press her for more. My hunch was that her mind was not ready for symbols.

Now that she has asked again, we are back at it, and with greater success than before. It helps that we have the girliest letter book ever. A is for Annabelle is a beautiful book by Tasha Tudor. My daughter loves the frills and lace, making letter-learning a delight. She has now learned about half of her letters, as well as the words to decribe vintage fashions like veil, tippet, cloak, muff, and so on.

We also own this book's fine companion, 1 is One, which I plan to use to teach symbol recognition for the numbers 1 through 20 after we get farther along with the alphabet. This book, too, is a joy for a little girl who loves all things beautiful.

Preschool Story Time

A. has already sat through The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-PoohThe Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter,  and lots of children's poetry. But I rarely get a chance to read alone with her. So I decided to add in some short, pretty books. Here is a sampling:





26 January 2009

The Darndest Things: 5 a.m. Opera

Now that I have four children and all of them have officially done this, I am starting to suspect that maybe most babies do this? You other mothers will have to ring in. Does {did} your baby put on a concert in the early morning hours?

Allow me to explain.

With each baby, we have experienced this phenomena. I'm not sure what age my other babies were. I never wrote it down. But I would say it was between five and ten months old. They were sleeping through the night at this point but not yet walking. Anyhow, Baby O. just did this for the first time this morning, and all my memories of all the other babies doing this came rushing back.

There is no alternate way of putting it other than to say that they wake up and sing. In fact, they seem to wake up for the purpose of singing. They do not cry. In this morning's incident, Baby O. awoke with a gasp that scared me {his crib is close to my side of the bed}. I saw him lift his head, look lovingly at his favorite stuffed toy, the dalmation puppy he already cannot live without, and begin to coo at the top of his lungs.

It was 5:30 a.m.

This continued until almost six, when he suddenly dropped his head and went back to sleep.

Did I mention they have all done this?

It is so strange to me, these early morning concerts. I keep wondering what the purpose is, whether their brain is practicing something specific. Either way, I expect to see a few more concerts before the week is up.

23 January 2009

It Starts

I am really going for a head-in-the-sand approach to the next four years. There is nothing a classical liberal like myself can do when there is a socialist majority in both houses of Congress and the White House as well {other than pray}. However, I just can't overlook the bad thinking that produced this election.

I almost told Si last night that I thought he should pull out Peter Kreeft's Socratic Logic and offer to teach it to our friends, neighbors, church members, whoever was willing to come. If a people cannot think, they cannot make good decisions. In fact, it is hard to say in what capacity they can make decisions at all. It seems any action taken would have to fall into the category of reflex or instinct.

But I digress.

Why is Brandy irritated this morning? The plain truth is that I cannot tell you how many Christians I encountered online and in real life who thought that Obama's abortion stance didn't matter. The line of {bad} thinking went something like this: presidents do not actually make law, therefore his stance on x {here x is defined as abortion} matters not.

Besides the fact that this completely ignored the tendency of our modern presidents to rule like emperors by virtue of Executive Order, and besides the fact that it overlooked the power of Presidential Veto, it also overlooked the influence of the President. After all, Obama is now leader of the Democratic Party, the party that happens to be in the majority in the legislative branch of government.

And, as my title today states, it starts. In fact, today is the Big Day. Today:
President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order ending the ban on federal funds for international groups that promote or perform abortions, officials told The Associated Press on Friday....

The policy bans U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of U.S. Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the "global gag rule," because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that even talk about abortion if there is an unplanned pregnancy.
I think that, whoever we voted for, now is the time to write down exactly what we predict for this presidency. In is important to see whether our expectations are true and well-founded. I challenge my readers to write this down somewhere and keep it for reference. For instance, if you hoped Obama was going to bring peace and justice for all, write that down. If you think he's going to pay your mortgage, write it down. If I think he's going to cause millions more abortions than we are already seeing in this country, I should write that down. At the end of four years, I can look at my predictions and see whether or not I was being reasonable.

If I had written down what I had expected from Bush {I voted for him, I confess} I would have to say that I was almost completely wrong. I expected a Classical Liberal {well, maybe I just hoped for one, but there it is} and we got a Big Government education reformer {which was unconstitutional, by the way} with serious shades of Socialism.

So write it out. Be specific. And then look back occasionally to see how well you did, how well you were thinking. If I missed something, if I was totally and completely wrong, I promise to admit it. We have to see ourselves in light of reality, folks.

I repeat: write it down.

And now, a bit of Ruskin {emphasis mine} to celebrate the progress of the Culture of Death:
At this instant, a faint cry fell on his ear. He turned, and saw a gray-haired old man extended on the rocks. His eyes were sunk, his features deadly pale, and gathered into an expression of despair. "Water!" he stretched his arms to Hans, and cried feebly: "Water! I am dying."

"I have none," replied Hans [{lying}]; "thou hast had thy share of life."

[And later...]

And as Schwartz climbed the steep rock path, the thirst came upon him, as it had upon his brother, until he lifted his flask to his lips to drink. Then he saw the fair child lying near him on the rocks, and it cried to him, and moaned for water.

"Water, indeed," said Schwartz; "I haven't half enough for myself," and passed on.
Ruskin's work illustrates two brothers, Schwartz and Hans, who have embraced an inner culture of death. Thankfully, in their time they were exceptions and not the rule. But their reasoning, when they deny water to the thirsty is very interesting. It is appropriate to relate this to abortion because abortion is part of a larger issue, and that is the embrace of the culture of death, the embodiment of Survival of the Fittest.

The old? Have they not already enjoyed their share of life? The helpless? Well, there is only so much water to go around. Because resources are limited, the strong has the right to the limited portion. Or, more aptly, no one who is weak can stop them from doing so.

Abortion, and issues like it, puts a price on life and then declares that one life is more important than another. One life deserves water more than another. We're all thirsty, after all.

Yesterday was the 36th anniversary of that tragedy called Roe v. Wade, which was really the logical consequence of the cultural embrace of birth control as an idea.

Who needs war when we can kill our enemies in a much more subtle way? All it takes is one unborn child at a time. Pretty soon, the future has been destroyed.

21 January 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Five

On January 1, our family did what a lot of other families do: we watched the Rose Parade on television. In the last year, our television has been on in front of our children more than ever before. But this was a deliberate choice. We thought it worthwhile for them to watch a lot of the Olympics, for instance. In fact, we let the oldest stay up late twice. Once, he was watching one of Michael Phelps' races, and the other time he was up along with our second child to watch the ending ceremonies.

Incidentally, Mommy was very pregnant and fell asleep during the latter.

They also watched at least two of the presidential debates, though the girls mainly traipsed around playing with their dolls.

Finally, they watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade {something I'm rethinking considering how far it has fallen from its original glory}.

The day of the Rose Parade, Si was in the backyard with my dad assembling a giant trampoline {translation: "free babysitter"}. The children were so excited that they chose to leave long before the parade was over. I usually mute the commercials when they come on, but I was in the kitchen when a car commercial took center stage. My daughter A. gasped in amazement.

"Wook!" {look} she said. "Cwassy! Cwassy!"

It took me a while to realize that she was excited about the classical music accompanying the commercial.

It was about this time that Cindy wrote another of her famous lines, this one being that a familiarity of poetic knowledge, which I think is closely tied to high culture, can help children transcend popular culture. My children are very young, but I felt that in this moment I caught a glimpse of that concept in practice. This child was so captivated by the beautiful music {and she is so sensitive to beautiful music} that she was completely unaffected by the sales pitch for the car.

Chapter Five of All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes is called Accounting for Taste. The overall argument this chapter attempts to make is that a "taste" for high culture and a "taste" for popular culture are two very different things. Myers writes:
When I say I "like" Bach, and you say you "like" Bon Jovi, are we really using the same verb? That is, when I listen to Bach and you listen to Bon Jovi, is essentially the same thing happening to each of us? At one level, all we mean is that each of us takes pleasure in listening to our respective music. But there are many ways of taking pleasure, not all of them comparable, not all of them morally good.
Later, he concludes:
If what happens when we listen to classical music, read literature, or attend the theater is fundamentally a different kind of experience from listening to rock n' roll, reading romance novels, or watching "The Cosby Show," then it is clear that having a "taste" for high culture is a very different matter from having a "taste" for popular culture.
In one sense, high culture is like vegetables. It is good for you, but the taste is acquired for most of us. And just as it is helpful to be eating the very best vegetables {like homegrown tomatoes instead of the store-bought variety}, it is also helpful to expose children acquiring the taste with the very best that high culture has to offer.

I am finding this term that it is, for instance, quite easy for children to acquire a taste for Liszt because his works are objectively beautiful.

Myers doesn't really go into why popular culture is so inferior in nature, but I can venture a guess. But first, let me explain that I have a communications degree that happens to have an emphasis in Media Management. Before I decided to marry Si and have babies, I had entertained the thought of going into talk radio.

Anyhow, as I neared graduation, I was uncomfortable with my major most of the time. {It was too late to switch to philosophy and graduate on time, but I tried to cleanse myself by ending my formal education with a stint in seminary.} One lesson that was drilled into my head in my classes was the nature of the commercialism within popular culture. I mean, sure, we all know that TV has commercials, and so to websites and so on. But it was as if the audience was viewed as a product to be delivered to advertisers. My job would have been to prepare the product to accept the advertiser's influence.

Money makes the world go 'round, especially in the mass media. Commercials are what keep shows on the air, for the most part. But it is so turned around sometimes that commercials are actually the focus. The test of a good show is whether or not it draws a big enough audience and is also effective at delivering the audience to the sponsor.

Myers writes:
[Great art] selects its material according to the "Author of the reality to be grasped," not according to the arbitrary needs imposed by marketing departments or Nielsen ratings.
I think Myers is terribly idealistic about Great Art. How many of the greatest paintings and musical scores were commissioned by powerful members of Church and Government? How many times do we come across wonderful works of literature which were worded just so in order to protect the author from political persecution? To say that Great Art is this innocent, untainted thing is to overlook the sordid side of history.

However, I do think there is a qualitative difference between high culture's history of meddling by Church and Government and popular culture's audience-as-product mentality. While the artists in the past were trying to avoid persecution, the focus was mostly on their art. They were just trying to live a few days longer, or perhaps get paid. I would say that this is difference than trying to make art appealing to the masses for the sake of selling the masses to the highest bidder. Essentially, the art of the past was on the defense, trying not to stir the pot too much, while the "art" of the present {I hesitate to use the term} is on the offense, aggressively seeking to please The People, and make lots of money in the process.

I wasn't particularly thrilled with this chapter. I felt like there wasn't strong reasoning backing up the individual arguments or tying them together into a whole. In fact, I spent half an hour last night mapping it out just to be able to grasp what Myers was trying to say, and even then I came away disappointed. Perhaps he'll go into greater detail in future chapters.

I found myself with a lot of unanswered questions. For instance, in one of the above quotes, Myers had said that perhaps "liking" Bach is not the same thing as "liking" rock. Perhaps something different happens to the soul. But unlike Postman, who often maps out exactly what he thinks is happening to soul, character, or sensibilities, Myers leaves a lot of details unsaid.

To use Classical terms, I feel like I'm lacking some of the grammar and logic here.

There were a couple issues Myers touched on that gave me food for thought. One was the effect of popular culture on the Church, and the other was the concept of sentimentality. In regards to the first, he writes:
Entertainment reaches out to us where we are, puts on its show, and then leaves us essentially unchanged.
Remember earlier when I said that my daughter associated church with rock concerts?? {Sorry. I don't usually require two questions marks, but I'm making an exception this time.}

Is this what worship-music-performed-as-a-concert has to offer us? Unchange in the worst sense of the word? Leaving us un-sanctified, so to speak?

This is actually connected with sentimentality, which Myers defines as "loving something more than God does." He further explains that the "scale and proportion of emotion should be rooted in reality."

I remember once, when I was in my early twenties, standing in a worship service wanting to feel something. Was I still in cemetery seminary at the time? I don't remember. But the lyrics to the songs that day were so empty, so vacuous. They could have been referring to anything. Because there was nothing to grasp on to, I began reaching back into the past, trying to remember emotions I'd had previously. I think this is what is being referred to when Myers quotes Abraham Kaplan as writing:
There is a nostalgia characteristic of the experience of popular art, not because the work as a form is familiar but because its very substance is familiarity...The skill of the artist is not in providing an experience but in providing occasions for reliving one. The emotions that come into being are not expressed by his materials but are associated with them.
I would say that most recently-written worship songs rely on association rather than expression. However, over time, we lose our memories and so all that is left is the void, the emptiness.

Shouldn't church have more to offer than this? That was the question I asked so often ten years ago. Thankfully, I have discovered that it does. Or, at least, that some churches do. And the Gospel? Well the Gospel is certainly the Answer.

19 January 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Four

I decided to post about this chapter today because I'd like to spread things out a bit. I appreciated the discussion last week, but I would have liked to have the chapter posts separated a bit so that each could have its own conversation.

Some of what was covered in chapter four compliments a reading of one my favorite, life-changing books {for me, anyway} by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Chapter Four is entitled Popular Culture and the Restless Ones, and I think we can all agree that whatever words one uses to describe current culture, restlessness should be in the mix.

And it's an insatiable restlessness at that:
If one is relying on popular culture to stimulate excitement, one will gradually require greater and greater levels of stimulation to achieve the same level of excitement.

Defining Terms

For the sake of those of you who aren't reading along, I'll briefly explain a few concepts that are foundational for thinking this through. In this chapter and also those to yet to come, Myers mentions three optional forms or types of culture, high culture, folk culture, and popular culture. In regard to high culture, Myers writes:
High culture has its roots in antiquity, in an age of conviction about absolutes, about truth, about virtue. However corrupted it has become over the centuries...its essential features make it capable of maintaining and transmitting more about human experience in creation, and about God's redemptive intervention in history, than its alternatives.

As far as folk culture goes, Myers says that while it is
simpler in manner and less communicable from one folk to another, [it] has the virtues of honesty, integrity, commitment to tradition, and perseverance in the face of opposition.
He offers up negro spirituals as one of our country's best examples of such a culture and explains that folk culture
has the capacity to limit its extremes, since it is the expression of the values and aspirations of a community.

Finally, he contrasts these with popular culture which
has some serious liabilities that it has inherited from its origins in distinctively modern, secularized movements.

[snip]

Popular culture...presupposes the absence of a community of belief or conviction.

Now we have some common definitions of the three culture options. They should be useful when I quote Myers from here on out.

Redeeming the Time

In reading this book, I keep coming back to how much of the issue of culture revolves around the usage of time. Myers begins his chapter by quoting sociologist Leo Lowenthal writing about "the vital question of how to live out that stretch of life that is neither sleep nor work."

I have begun to examine my own life again, now that the baby is sleeping through the night and the feedings are spreading apart again, asking the question of whether I am frittering away the precious "spare" minutes and seconds that are neither work nor sleep. I have a desire for my life to be rich in the intangible, permanent things. And when I say "my life" here, I mean the life I am building in the context of my family.

Farms or Factories?

Myers talks a little about the poor, especially those who, as a consequence of Industrialism, left family farms to work in factories in crowded cities instead. This didn't just result in a general loss of human dignity, but also a loss of folk culture. This is poverty in the truest sense of the word, for the poor ended up with a depraved and hopeless culture, meaning that they now had no wealth at all, neither on earth nor in heaven, neither tangible nor intangible.

Myers writes:
Factories introduced an uncommon level of tedium to the lives of workers...

If these workers had been in the villages and small towns from which they came, they might have relieved the tedium by enjoying the pleasures afforded by activities rooted in folk culture: barn dances, play with extended family, traditional music, storytelling, hunting and fishing. But those traditional forms didn't fit in the city...Such activities were not just entertainment: they were part of a way of life that did not survive in the cities...

Working on a farm can be laborious, but at least it allows interaction with living, growing, changing things. Working in a factory {especially prior to any significant forms of automation} was deadly dull by comparison.
I have to emphasize that last part: farming can be backbreaking work, but it is still humanizing work. I think that perhaps why workers were so easily replaced by machines later on is because they were acting as machines in the first place. It isn't simply the repetitive motion, though I am sure that Henry Ford developed a method that used men as tools, making them no better than slaves. It is also that there is no wisdom required to work in a factory. A farmer can know each chicken {my grandma often tells me about my great-grandfather, whom I never met, but he just knew when one of his chickens had quit laying, which is to say he knew just who he was going to eat for Sunday dinner} and act in wisdom and skill. He can become a better farmer with practice and experience. But the factories offer no growth except perhaps into management for those who happen to be a bit assertive. Other than that, they offer the hopeless despair of living life as a one-trick pony.

New and Shiny

From its roots in early industrialized society, popular culture inherited two attributes that still characterize it: the quest for novelty, and the desire for instant gratification. The quest for novelty is not simply a search for new distractions; it involves the notion that a new thing will be better than the old one.
Myers quotes C.S. Lewis to explain this. Apparently, Lewis believed that "the dominance of the machine in our culture altered our imagination." Lewis wrote:
It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones. For in the world of machines the new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy.
I couldn't help but think of the recent election in connection to this. I met someone who voted for Ron Paul in the primaries and Barak Obama in the final election. Before you brush this person off as insane, let me assure you that there was one common tie. Both candidates represented to this voter something other than the status quo. Because both men symbolized something new and different, they both received his vote.

It mattered not that one couldn't get two more opposite candidates.

The idea embodied in these seemingly inconsistent votes was simply that the new, the different, change, if you will, was inherently better. Being new equalled being better to the extent that the actual beliefs or voting records of either candidate were ancillary issues.

I loved the quotes from Lewis sprinkled throughout this chapter, most especially this one:
"How has it come about," C.S. Lewis once asked, "that we use the highly emotive word 'stagnation,' with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages would have called 'permanance'?"
Which, naturally, brought to mind our search for a classical education {which focuses on permanent things}, which is to say that we are opting out of John Dewey's education-as-a-means-of-social-change methodology.

Lost in Rock

Myers brings up rock n' roll music as "popular culture's most dominant idiom." In one of the previous chapters he mentioned how certain groups have gotten caught up in, for instance, the issue of backmasking {this was written in '89, remember}, while ignoring not just what is being said forwards, but also the culture of rock. However, Myers hasn't actually defined or thoroughly described this "culture of rock," and so I find myself feeling a little lost.

I have questions about rock n' roll. It is much easier for me to examine lyrics and say "this is bad" than to dig through its culture {with which I am almost wholly unfamiliar}. I do know that last time we were with the Browns, there was some sort of Christian music channel that we had on on their TV {this sort of cable will play songs and have a picture up, like the cover of the album or something}. A song came on by a CCM artist named Plumb. I commented that in her photo she looked mean, and someone there at the time replied that a lot of CCM artists are like that, and try to look like rockers.

I can't help but think that this conversation is somehow connected to that issue of the "culture of rock" but I'm not sure what that means. I also find myself asking the question of whether a church's rock-type worship band is a symbolic embrace of rock culture?

Of course, Myers himself points out that many old hymns actually use the tunes of drinking/pub songs. He seems to think that using rock music in church is somehow different, but I fail to see the distinction, even though I much prefer traditional hymns and quieter instruments myself.

Maybe the key to this is in the last sentence in the chapter, which is a great way to end this post:
[T]he difference between the two forms [{high culture and popular culture}] is not simply a matter of class or taste, but reflects different ways of understanding creation and one's place in it.

16 January 2009

Delighting in Norton Juster

We are currently reading Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth as our family read aloud. This is a unique book because Juster is so very clever with his use of language. While A. is enjoying the story for its own sake {and nothing more}, our son E. is awake enough to nuances in the English language to catch a number of the plays-on-words that Juster utilizes.

And of course Si and I catch them all and delight in the fact that a children's book can be so much fun for adults.

Wasn't it C.S. Lewis who said that this was the mark of a great children's book, that it could be read and enjoyed by adults as well?

We have just finished the part where the hero Milo learns the history of the land in which he has found himself. He now knows that two brothers, Azaz the Unabridged, king of Dictionopolis, and the Mathemagician, ruler of Digitopolis, had been so engrossed in their own sibling rivalry that when their adopted sisters, the princesses Rhyme and Reason {who rule the city of Wisdom}, declared words and numbers to be of equal value, the brothers agreed on one thing, and that was to banish their sisters:
"And so they were taken from the palace and sent far away to the Castle in the Air, and they have not been seen since. That is why today, in all this land, there is neither Rhyme nor Reason."

"And what happened to the other two rulers?" asked Milo.

"Banishing the two princesses was the last thing they ever agreed upon, and they soon fell to warring with each other. Despite this, their own kindgoms have continued to prosper, but the old city of Wisdom has fallen into great disrepair, and there is no one to set things right."

We have already entertained agreeable meetings with Juster's colorful characters, including a Watch Dog named Tock, the Spelling Bee, the Wicked Which, Officer Shrift {who is so short he is only two feet tall}, the Lethargians {who live in the Doldrums}, and so on.

My favorite laugh-out-loud incident so far is when King Azaz's cabinet members arrive to escort Milo to The Royal Banquet. Milo doesn't understand how they are going to get there:
"But what about my car?" he asked.

"Don't need it," replied the duke.

"No use for it," said the minister.

"Superfluous," advised the count.

"Unnecessary," stated the earl.

"Uncalled for," cried the undersecretary. "We'll take our vehicle."

"Conveyance."

"Rig."

"Charabanc."

"Chariot."

"Buggy."

"Coach."

"Brougham."

"Shandrydan," they repeated quickly in order, and pointed to a small wooden wagon.

"Oh dear, all those words again," thought Milo as he climbed into the wagon with Tock and the cabinet members. "How are you going to make it move? It doesn't have a--"

"Be very quiet," advised the duke, "for it goes without saying."

15 January 2009

The Humpty Dumpty Cake

We threw a birthday bash for our New Year's Eve baby on Saturday, January 3rd. I really love to throw birthday parties as it is an excuse to get all the family in one place and spend some time together. This particular party was a bit smaller than usual, but there was fun to be had, and have it we did.

In honor of the economy I decided to go with Humpty Dumpty as this year's theme. Even Henry Paulson couldn't put this guy back together once we ate him.

Actually, I have been saving this cake idea since I saw it in Parents Magazine in 2003. There was always something else to make, and so I've kept it quietly filed away until I knew someone would appreciate it. Q. loves little rhymes and affectionately called her cake "Humpy."

This birthday was significant in a number of ways. First and foremost, this was our first birthday since the food allergies fled the premises. It was so nice to not have to work on my GFCF cake recipe. I did a cake from a box and sighed with relief. Second, this was our first birthday in the new house. One of the things I had to figure out was where to put the cake table as our new place doesn't have a kitchen island. I decided to just put a card table covered with a neutral-colored bed sheet near the entry. Here is Humpty Dumpty on his table:

Cake Table

Grace came over and helped me make the cake. It felt like old times. I have wonderful memories of her helping me make E.'s first birthday cake, which was also my first "mommy" cake. And then there was the time she and I made cupcakes for Si's birthday {was it his 25th?} and decorated them to look like baseballs, soccer balls, and basketballs. We had fun. Here is a close-up of our masterpiece:


Humpty Dumpty Closeup


If you want to know how to make Humpty Dumpty, I will give you the quick version. Make two 8-inch round cakes. Ours were chocolate. Make 1 dome-shaped cake. I used Wilton's specialty mold, but some people say the right type of glass bowl would work just fine.

Those people haven't met me and my cake disasters.

But I digress.

Make two batches of homemade white frosting. This means that there will be approximately two pounds of sugar in the icing alone, which is to say that all the guests will think it is the best ever--unless someones asks the fatal question, "So how do you make your frosting?"

Glue your cakes together with frosting. Frost Humpty's head. Tint icing as you like. Have fun with it. It really helped that Si gave me cake tools for Christmas. The right tools certainly make jobs easier, though Grace and I have done well in the past with plastic baggies and determination.

As far as the rest of the party food goes, I was trying to go for cheap, tasty and warm, not necessarily in that order. We served homemade chili and a baked potato bar. That hit the spot on a frosty day. Also, I have never been good about party favors and I refuse to send children home with bags of candy, however, when my sister-in-law sent us number cookie cutters, I couldn't resist. We made a whole plate of number-2 cookies that I placed on a platter on the cake table with a little note telling our guests to take one home with them. The cookies had a baked-on frosting so that they weren't messy when stacked:

2 Cookies

I was going to give my girls a cookie once guests arrived. I knew they were having a hard time waiting. After I had set the cake table up, Si noticed Q. beginning to steal a cookie. When she saw him see her, she grabbed it and ran away as fast as she could. Apparently she and A. had been stealing cookies for a short while as we discovered that between the two of them they had eaten at least four cookies.

My girls are 22 months apart and this was the youngest's second birthday. My own sister and I are 22 months apart and I am the older. On my younger sister's second birthday, we got in trouble for sticking our fingers in the cake. It seems that history repeats itself in a way.

13 January 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Three

Since this chapter, entitled Would You Take Jesus to See This Planet?, spends time discussing the Sabbath, I feel I should just come right out and admit that we've never had a tradition of observing the Sabbath, or celebrating it, or whatever one calls it. With that said, we don't have a tradition of non-observance, either. What I mean is, it's not like we work eight days a week, even though I always thought that song was catchy.

I can't say that I've given the Sabbath much thought. I believe I allowed it to be brushed aside for me once in my late teens or early twenties when someone observed in my presence that Sabbath-keeping was the only Commandment not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. And then there is the slightly enigmatic passage where Jesus first declares that He is Lord of the Sabbath and then says that it is lawful to do good on such a day. I've never really known what to do with that passage and I've never heard it preached on.

So please forgive my ignorance.

Myers definitely gave me pause. My husband and I have been quite passionate about, for instance, the nobility of work because it preceded the Fall, and also because God Himself performed the work of creation. So though we might often experience work as being painful, we know that the pain is a result of the Curse, while the actual work was meant to be a joy and reflection of God's image. {Unless, of course, your job is cleaning toilets. I think that such work is a result of the Fall also. But I digress.}

When Myers wrote that "the Sabbath {like work and marriage} is rooted in the nature of creation" I couldn't believe I had never noticed that before. How did I ever miss that?

My husband and I tend not to do much of anything on Sundays because that is what comes naturally, not because of some sort of religious conviction. {Cindy: I don't even read blogs on Sunday.} But I found myself asking my husband what it means to observe the Sabbath east of Eden, so to speak, and why we don't observe it in any religious sense.

I believe this is something we'll be talking about further.

The unexamined life is not worth living, right?

Moving onward, I like what Myers said concerning Christians existing within the culture:
Not even the people of God in our epoch of redemptive history are called to create a holy culture, because Christians are called to go out into every culture with the gospel. We are a people, to be sure, but our peoplehood is spiritual. Culturally, we are Jew and Gentile, Greek and Roman, European and African.

[snip]

Until our bodies are made new, like the body Jesus now enjoys, our calling is not to escape fleshly existence, nor to sanctify culture {since it is "common," shared by believer and unbeliever, and cannot be made holy}, but to so influence our culture as to make it more consistent with the created nature of man, and to sanctify our own lives, because we are also living in the Spirit, with our minds set on the things that are above.
Ken Myers wants us to "attempt to influence our culture to make it more fitting for human beings bearing the image of God."

And Cindy wants this applied to the Internet.

That's an abstraction I'm having trouble with. I suppose I can just admit that I think that with the Internet, as with all technology, less is more. I have tiny children in my home. I love to read and write, but really, children are where I should be right now {well not right now as they are sleeping, but you get my point}. I spent a lot of time on the Internet when we were dealing with food allergies. We didn't know anyone going through what we went through, and all the online assistance was amazingly helpful. I really don't know how we would have done it without the internet. I simply had no concept of how to live a GFCF everything-free life.

But that is in our past. And so just two days ago I went through my Google Reader and weeded out all the blogs I had subscribed to concerning for the purpose of dealing with allergies. When we had the need, such reading was time well spent. Now, it is time that could be spent doing something else which is needful.

Whenever I begin to think about technology {and this isn't limited to my arch enemies The Microwave and The Cellular Phone}, I always come back to the idea that humans as humans deserve my full attention. If my face is to a computer screen, chances are my back is turned on someone.

Frankly, I have a fear that I will blink and my three-year-old will be twenty and I will have missed it.

And also the dishes won't be done. I don't underestimate chores. I sometimes visualize myself as a keeper at home in the warrior-sense. I am defending my home against the chaos that will overtake us if I don't. I remember once that I was ironing my daughter's dress and felt that I was truly making paths straight for her. It was a transcendent moment.

The Internet might make me miss the little things like dishes and the big things like Children Growing Up.

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter Two

Chapter Two, for those of you who aren't reading along, seeks to define culture. I love the titles in this book. This one is What is Culture, that Thou Art Mindful of It? which pretty much sums up the two major questions in the chapter. Not only do we want to be able to define culture, but we want to know whether it matters. Does God care? Should we?

Myers defines culture thus:
It is...a dynamic pattern, an ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people {many of whom do not know they are associated}, in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.
There are other little tidbits earlier on in the chapter which provide a foundation for such a thorough definition. Myers says, for instance, that culture is "the human effort to give structure to life."

Myers appeals to the likes of C.S. Lewis concerning the issue of whether or not one should concern oneself with culture:
"If you attempted," [Lewis] argued, "to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better." This is precisely what many religious people do, which is one of the reasons we have such bad music and ugly architecture in Christian settings. Lewis went on:
You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, either in the Church or on the [front] line: if you don't read good books you will read bad ones. If you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions you will fall into sensual satisfactions.
The argument is essentially that culture is. So if we are not deliberate in building a certain type of culture, then there is some other culture built by default, often one that is inferior to what might have been.

I am at a very busy time in life. This is not to say that I am busy, but simply that there is much to do. I find myself constantly making choices. There is not enough time in the day to do everything, not even close. So what will we do? Some days can be so frustrating as I have a certain child right now who insists on arguing through half of the morning. There are activities that hit the chopping block because time was spent wasted debating with this child. I could look at the simplified schedule for a particularly trying day and say that we have built a simple culture. Or I could be more honest and say that if I am not careful we are actually building an angry, tense, arguing sort of culture by default.

So you see that culture is always being built.

This actually reminds me of a news article I recently read concerning the inventor of The Pill. Yes. That Pill. You know the one of which I speak. Well, Carl Djerassi, who co-created The Pill, has now come out against it. Why?
Djerassi outlined the "horror scenario" that occurred because of the population imbalance, for which his invention was partly to blame. He said that in most of Europe there was now "no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction." He said: "This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete."

He described families who had decided against reproduction as "wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it."

The fall in the birth rate, he said, was an "epidemic" far worse, but given less attention, than obesity. Young Austrians, he said, were committing national suicide if they failed to procreate. And if it were not possible to reverse the population decline they would have to understand the necessity of an "intelligent immigration policy."
Most folks think that decisions concerning birth control are personal and private. But actually, we are building a certain type of culture by default. The culture is described clearly in the above article: no connection between sexuality and reproduction, demographic suicide {not enough births to even maintain the current population}. But the list goes on. Countries with birth rates as low as this should also expect to see changes in the language. There will be a complete elimination of words for aunt, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew and so on. And along with this goes the concept of family such words stood for.

One person makes a decision. Another makes a decision like it. And suddenly we see that when thousands or millions of people are making the same decision, a culture is born.

Something like birth control is easy to see because the effects are measurable {at least some of them are}. But culture has a number of intangible components. We cannot measure the effects of certain things upon the soul. But I think that God knew and that is why He exhorted us, for instance, to think on things that are good, pure, and lovely. Because if we don't, we tend to think on things that are bad, dirty, and dishonorable.

We are to guard our hearts, knowing that it is the source of life. And what we think about, what we really love, will be the bricks and mortar of the culture. Our thoughts are the beginning of our sins, which ends only in death. However, we as Christians can have life, and that abundantly. Of course, that means that we should {ideally} be able to build a culture, or perhaps individual cultures within churches and families, which function as a sort of rock or island of haven within the current of the cultural flood. We don't immerse ourselves in the waters and get soaking wet or, worse yet, carried away. But we can still be right there, offering a hand to the drowning, pulling them up on the shore and showing them another way.

09 January 2009

The Understanding the Times Three-Pack

If I were rich enough, I'd do a give-away for a while on this blog, and I'd call the prize my Understanding the Times Three-Pack. And if you won, your prize would be identical to Si's Christmas present.

Well, minus the socks and flannel pants, but I'm sure you get the picture.

I have this rocky relationship with politics, you see. If I start to follow it too much, I become this wad of stress with really tight shoulders needing daily, if not hourly, massage. Part of my frustration is what I consider blindness on the part of the average public. Now, I know enough about most of my readers to know that you all aren't included in this statement, so please don't be offended. However, far too many people seem to approach politics as if the world began last Friday, and frankly it's the lack of a big picture that has been the downfall of many people groups.

I mean, we could go all the way back to the Old Testament. What was the constant pattern of God's people? God saved the people, there followed a fairly faithful generation, and then after that came a generation that Forgot. Forgetting put them right back into position for needing some saving again.

Thankfully God is gracious and patient.

I remember reading those ancient stories in high school without understanding. How in the world could God's people forget His great deeds? I was baffled. Now, I understand. Generations get lazy. We assume our children know certain things. We assume the school is teaching them certain things. And now I wonder that we can ever remember because such effort is required to do so.

The widom of the Shema becomes very apparent to me, and not just in regard to the children. Perhaps teaching our children as a lifestyle of walking by the way, rising up, lying down, and so on is actually for our good as well.

So that we don't forget, either.

For any of you who got excited about the mention of a prize, please calm yourself. That was all hypothetical.

Of course, if you all shopped Amazon through my blog more often, maybe we could work something out.

Ahem.

As I was saying, I bought Si three books that I thought would be helpful at this juncture. Even though politics aren't exactly transcendent and are very much a part of popular culture, ideologies tend to appear throughout history. These books go deeper than, say, a book that only tells us that President Reagan really liked jelly beans. And, actually, the last book isn't really political. It's more of a response to the times from the past that just might end up being appropriate in the future, considering the circumstances.

The Forgotten Man

Book Number One of the three-pack is Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man. Incidently, Amity would have been Baby O.'s name had he been born a girl. I have liked the name for some time, but Si not only didn't like it, he even made fun of me once. I told him it meant friend in Latin, but he didn't care, even though we were planning on having a classical school. But then, he saw an interview with Ms. Shlaes, and now he loves the name. He even pretends it was his idea.

Go figure.

The history of the concept of The Forgotten Man is an interesting one, even though the book is about more than this man. It's about the Great Depression. Actually, it's kind of creepy because the book was written before all the recent financial crises but instead of feeling like history it feels like reading a news report, and doesn't that make you nervous?

So who is The Forgotten Man and why should you read about him? Well, you should read about him because he is a defining difference between classical liberalism {not to be confused with either major political party} and progressivism {which, translated, means "going the wrong direction quickly"}. Shlaes draws from two speeches to establish the original Forgotten Man, and also reveal how the concept was hijacked and twisted beyond recognition by none other than FDR himself. First, she quotes William Graham Sumner's lecture at Yale University in 1883, where he mentions a number of folks, named A, B, C and X. C is the original Forgotten Man:
As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X. . . . What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. . . . He works, he votes, generally he prays--but he always pays.
C is indentured to the cause that has struck A and B's fancy. At least, I think that's how Shlaes puts it. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then the Governor of New York, distorted this in his radio address on April 7, 1932:
These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
It is this radio address which renamed X as the Forgotten Man. And so it has remained to this day. FDR is very much an Obama type. I knew this in the socialistic/Marxist aspect, but I never really thought about it in the historical context. Hoover, who preceded FDR, was a lot like Bush II and abandoned his classical liberalism and classical economics because of the seeming necessity of the moment. He seemed to view himself as a savior-type who thought he was big enough to fix the worldwide economic downturn (just like today, the original events, which triggered other events that became a Depression in the U.S., were actually worldwide phenomena and not localized). FDR entered on the tailcoats and brought The New Deal to smothering heights, effectively stretching The Depression into a decade.

Shlaes, by the way, is a senior economic fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization I do not fancy, but I cannot deny the excellence of her reading, writing, and thinking.

Liberal Fascism

Before you go getting all offended by the title, please know that it has its roots in history. The author of Liberal Fascism. Jonah Goldberg explains that the influential H.G. Wells was the first to use the term:
Nor did Wells coin the phrase as an indictment, but as a badge of honor. Progressives must become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis," he told the Young Liberals at Oxford in a speech in July 1932.

Wells was a leading voice in what I have called the fascist moment, when many Western elites were eager to replace Church and Crown with slide rules and industrial armies.
Before you start thinking that this means the author is convinced that liberals in America are going to begin exterminating Jews, please let me assure you that this simply isn't so. I have only "read" as much of the book as Si has read aloud to me, which is to say, not much of it. But he seems to be going the direction of F.A. Hayek, who also feared that America would follow in Germany's footsteps. To think this through a little, you will have to put aside the extermination issue and be willing to consider the ideology of fascism. For the sake of his argument, Goldberg gives his book's official definition of the word:
Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy.
That last sentence, by the way, is why Hitler outlawed homeschooling.

I found the explanation of totalitarianism fascinating. I hadn't really considered it before, that everything is viewed politically and so the government sees no natural end to its powers. This is so true in our culture. Every time something goes wrong, the people cry that there should be a law against it. And so now it is a political {rather than parental} decision as to how long our children are in carseats, where they sit inside the car, what type of carseat is allowed, and, coming soon to a tyranny near you, what types of clothes, toys, books, tools, CDs, DVDs, and anything a person can buy them.

Because children are political, of course. Because everything is. What kind of car you drive. What you eat. What you drink. Whether you do or do not smoke. What you weigh. What your child weighs. How you learn. How you work. Whether you exercise. Whether you volunteer. {And you will, if Obama has anything to say about it, or at least your children will.}

How the Irish Saved Civilization

This little book give great hope, I think. Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization explains how, once upon a time, when all seemed to be lost in the world and the torch of freedom put out, a very unlikely event {or series of events} took place:
For, as the Roman Empire fell, as all through Europe matted, unwashed barbarians descended on the Roman cities, looting artifacts and burning books, the Irish, who were just learning to read and write, took up the great labor of copying all of western literature--everything they could lay their hands on. These scribes then served as conduits through which the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian cultures were transmitted to the tribes of Europe, newly settled amid the rubble and ruined vineyards of the civilization they had overhwelmed. Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one--a world without books. And our own world would never have come to be.
Many have called homeschooling monastic in nature. This embodies not the idea that homeschoolers are hiding out, but that they are passing on valuable knowledge. The culture of freedom will be preserved in small family monasteries throughout the world, and will reemerge when the world is ready for it once again. It is the act of passing on the heritage that makes sure the culture does not die. Whether or not this will be actually necessary is for the future to reveal, but in any event, educating one's children, even having children, is an act of casting seeds into the future.

08 January 2009

A Boy's Copywork

I spent part of Quiet Time today typing up copywork for my son. I was going to post an iPaper example via Scribd right here for your viewing pleasure but they did not have my font and also I didn't pass the copyright test. Apparently, documents can be kicked off of Scribd if they contain even an excerpt of copyrighted material.

But that is not the purpose of this post.

So my son is now selecting his own excerpts for copywork. Talk about making life easy for me. I'm spending less than half the time I once spent because he's doing the selection process for me.

And I'm learning a bit about him, and probably a bit about boys in general.

I really thought that I was trying to choose boyish copywork. I didn't get fixated on pretty flowers. Occasionally, I did select a well-written landscape description, but they weren't particularly girlish.

Or were they?

I have only typed out three pages so far {he does one page per day, for those of you who want to know}. So far we have:
  • Two examples of slapstick humor
  • One instance of a foul odor
  • One description of the fine workmanship of a spider web
  • One instance of a rat keeping a collection of "nasty objects"
  • One disagreement between siblings
I've flipped through what's coming up. Soon, we'll have:
  • A dirty pig getting a bath
  • A rat who ate so much his tummy was "like a jelly jar"
  • Someone dying of dehydration

Something tells me that copywork would be much more popular with boys if teachers spent time picking out the dirtiest, smelliest passages they can find.

07 January 2009

All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Chapter One

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

-From Jesus' High Priestly Prayer {John 17:14-19}
[H]e prayed that the Father would keep them from the evil, from being corrupted by the world, the remains of sin in their hearts, and from the power and craft of Satan. So that they might pass through the world as through an enemy's country, as he had done. They are not left here to pursue the same objects as the men around them, but to glorify God, and to serve their generation. The Spirit of God in true Christians is opposed to the spirit of the world.

Matthew Henry's Commentary on John 17
For those of you who aren't actually reading along, Chapter One is titled Of the World, But Not in the World. The focus of this particular chapter isn't just popular culture in general, but Christian popular culture in specific. I feel really out of touch in this regard. So much so that commenting on this chapter has been something of a struggle for me. There was a time in my life when I was slightly enamored with Christian pop culture. Following that, I went through the postgraduate jaded stage. Now, I'm in the pop-culture-doesn't-really-matter-to-me stage. What I mean is, I just don't think about it much. I don't buy Christian T-shirts, but it doesn't bother me that someone else does.

Can a T-shirt be Christian?

Actually, Si had a friend once who wore a shirt I thought was hysterical. On the front it said something like, "This shirt is Calvinist. It chose me." And on the back it said something like, "This shirt is Armenian. I chose this shirt." Now that, my friends, was a shirt worth buying.

Anyhow, I am usually much more concerned with technology than I am with the content the technology is carrying. I tend to view technology with a wary eye, even if there is a shiny happy preacher on the front. So Myers' discussion of Christian popular culture essentially being a knock-off {a poor one at that--it was the late 80s after all} of secular popular culture wasn't something I could really dig into. However, there was one bit that really caught my eye:
The thin Christian veneer in such projects very quickly wears away, and what is underneath determines the response of consumers of such products. Such a strategy is a sad reminder that most of the Christian criticism of popular culture has focused on content while ignoring form. A generation after Marshall McLuhan, the Church still behaves as if the forms of culture, especially the forms of mass media and the role they play in our lives, are value-neutral.
So let's spend some time listing some of the forms of culture the Church has adopted. And when I say Church, I mean Church as a meeting of believers, the local churches both collectively and individually, including the extremes like Saddleback. Many churches have adopted:
  1. sound systems
  2. auditoriums with stages and without choir lofts
  3. age segregation
  4. announcements done by slideshow complete with rocker background music
  5. jokes during sermons
  6. stage lighting
  7. cry rooms
  8. rock bands leading worship
  9. telecasting of sermons
  10. telecasting of worship songs
  11. coffee bars
  12. corporate-style management practices
  13. campuses reminiscent of either industrial manufacturing or, alternately, universities
  14. websites
  15. casual dress
  16. pop-culture references embedded in sermons

All of this would, of course, be in contrast to at least a thousand years of tradition, and also in contrast to the early church with its simple, house-church sort of form.

Naturally, I'm not condemning each and every single item on the list. I, for one, have a deep affection for cry rooms and have spent many years of my life in one. They are perfect for training children to sit in church without disturbing my neighbor.

My concern is the lack of thoughtfulness I see within the Church in general. It seems like there isn't much consideration for what a form or medium communicates in and of itself.

I once glimpsed this through the eyes of a child. Let's just say my family attended a rock-band style worship service, complete with stage. Later that same day, my daughter happened to see a commercial advertising a rock concert. I don't even remember how that came to be as we don't watch television with the children. What I vividly remember was her response. She pointed at the concert and she said, "Look Mommy! Church!"

Yes. My daughter thought the closest thing to church she'd ever seen was a concert. Another name for a concert is a show. In other words, something one watches rather than participates in.

One church that Si and I attended early in our marriage did all the cutting-edge stuff. At the time I was amazed at it all, but now it feels more like chasing the wind than anything. Anyhow, one of the things this church was planning to do around the time we left was to telecast the sermons to another location. This was a method of church-planting without church-planting, as it meant that one pastor could preach at all the churches.

Discussions concerning this project centered on logistics and cost-effectiveness. However, I think the most important questions were the ones that seemed to go unasked. This would include questions like: What does it mean to be a pastor? Does telecasting to separate locations undermine what it means to pastor a church? What is the effect of watching a sermon on a screen upon parishoners? Might such activity later lead to staying home and watching a sermon on television rather than attending church at all? What is the nature of doing church? Does a virtual sermon undermine that nature? What is communion and how is it changed when a sermon is telecasted?

I could go on.

The point is that it is dangerous to play with the latest thing without considering its potential effects. Postman once wrote:
[I]t is inescapable that every culture must negotiate with technology, whether it does so intelligently or not.
As a final thought, I cannot help but wonder how chasing impermanent things like the latest technology might actually harm our ability to convey and also experience Permanent Things like holiness and reverence.

________________
Links:
Technopoly, Poetic Knowledge, and the Disappearance of a Bookstore
Negotiating With Modernity
Dominion Family for more...
Putting Technology in its Place