29 May 2009

Women Behaving Badly

I already mentioned that I thought Reforming Marriage was aggressive toward husbands. I meant this in a good way. Very few marriage books are written in such a way that the men are addressed as leaders. However, it wasn't until two nights ago that I thought Wilson was being too easy on women. In discussing the differences between men and women in the area of communication, Wilson writes:
For example, suppose a husband comes home from work, and it occurs...to him that quite possibly his wife did not have the best day. He asks her if anything is wrong. She says nothing is wrong. By this she means that so many things are wrong that she cannot put her finger on one thing alone, and besides anybody could see that something was wrong. He says, "Good. For a second there I thought something was wrong," and goes out to watch the news. Later in the evening, he discovers his error--there is a big blow-up. She thinks he should have picked up on the fact that something was wrong, and he maintains that he asked, and she said nothing was wrong. Men and women have different ways in which they use the English language. When we fail to properly translate our words and thoughts, problems follow on hard.
I must confess that I can completely relate to this story. There have been many, many occasions that Si has arrived home to find me overwhelmed. Part of this is because I have so diligently trained our children to argue with each other beginning at exactly five o'clock.

Ahem.

So anyhow.

I also know, being female, how difficult it is to give a straight answer sometimes. I've struggled with it myself. I also well remember how shocked I was when I realized that my husband says exactly what he means and doesn't mean anything in addition to what he says he means.

If you know what I mean.

Men are just this way, and it is a very comforting fact, once you get used to it.

However, comma.

If my husband asks me if I had a bad day, or if something is wrong, and I did, and something is, and my answer is "no, nothing is wrong," I am lying to my husband.

Lying.

If I had a "blow-up" later with my husband, it should have been because he confronted me about lying to him and saying nothing was wrong when something was very wrong indeed.

I know what it is to be overwhelmed. I know what it is to feel like something is wrong and not be able to name it. And when my husband asks me what is wrong in those moments, it is my responsibility as a person of integrity to say something along the lines of "I don't know" or "everything feels wrong right now."

I was disappointed in Wilson, not for being so hard on men, but for not being hard enough on the women in this instance. If something is wrong and I say that nothing is wrong, this is not "using the English language differently." This is lying. And lying is a threat to the relationship, a sin against the relationship, and there is no excuse for lying, nor for acting as if my husband is the guilty one because it was not immediately evident to him that I was lying.

Whenever we talk about communication differences between men and women, I think we have to be very careful not to excuse bad, sinful behavior on the part of one of the parties involved.

With that said, I must note that this is a small "bump" in a an overwhelmingly wonderful book, and it is still in the running for being my favorite marriage book of all time. I haven't decided yet because...well, because we haven't finished reading it.

28 May 2009

Authenticity and Emotions

I've spent some more time thinking over this concept of what I called divorcing authenticity from discipline. On the one hand, when it comes to, for instance, education, I think that love of the subject best compels us. On the other hand, I think it is human nature to shirk hard work. I have a child who I think will adore math, especially as that child matures, but I also know this child well enough to know that the second it gets hard the love will evaporate.

And isn't that what folks say happens in marriage? The second the union has to be fought for, the claim is made that all love {and therefore hope} has been lost, and, even worse, speculation is made that perhaps the love was never there to begin with.

Can you imagine a mathematician? There he is in his lab or office, toiling over a new problem. Suddenly, he throws down his pencil and declares that he hates this problem, therefore he hates math, therefore he probably never loved math at all and he is quitting his job instantly and taking up the barista vacancy at Starbucks.

And now we see why we don't raise many mathematicians: we don't raise many children who can discipline their emotions enough to relish both the difficulties as well as the ease and the triumph.

Though I hope my children are compelled by the heart of the amateur, which is to say love of the subject, I also hope that they become mature, not ruled by their emotions, which is where my discipline comes in. Sometimes in life, we have to do things we don't feel like doing, and there is nobility in fighting through our resistance and doing it in spite of our emotions.

Which brings me to my Thought of the Day: There is more to being human than feeling.

I know, I know. It's been said before. We here at Afterthoughts are firm believers in repeating ancient wisdom rather than trying to invent our own.

The reason why I was mulling over this simple thought is the idea that we often think negative emotions about something invalidate the authenticity of the action. So, for instance, if I am frantic and overwhelmed and also not feeling particularly passionate in my love for my husband, somehow this makes "inauthentic" the love note I place in his lunchbox that morning.

But does it really?

After all, I do love him. I vowed to love him, and I am determined to do so at all times, not just the very best of times. Is it disingenuous, then, to write a note saying I love him when we are in a less-than-best-of time?

I don't think so.

When we say that our emotions are what determines whether something is real or not, whether something is genuine or not, what we are really saying is that emotions are the most human part about us. We are saying that such things as duty, logic, and wisdom are less-than-human, or less real. But emotions are not more human than the other facets of our being. This is a lie from culture, not a truth from Design.

Which brings me back to the example from Wilson's book which I quoted here and will repeat now:
It was a bitter grief for Christ to drink the cup of God's wrath, but that grief does not take away from His love for us; rather, it adds to it.
If we say that our emotions must be completely in line with our actions in order for them to be authentic, we are, in a roundabout way, doubting the authenticity of Christ's actions on the cross. For if He approached the cross with tears, how can we say it is real when we test our own actions by such a different standard?

We can say it because somewhere inside ourselves we know that our standards are wrong.

What is more real? The almost instantaneous infatuation of a fourteen-year-old girl and boy? Or the abiding love of a couple celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary?

I suppose they are both real, but the former is indefinite. It could perhaps be the beginning of a lifetime together, but it is more likely a passing fancy. On the other hand, the latter have a history which cannot be denied. Their love has been tested and proven to be true.

Our culture is upside down. We have elevated the lesser loves, which are close to being not loves at all, but more akin to lusts. And we have done this to the detriment of the better loves, which is to say the quality loves which bring about virtue in all its forms.

So when we discipline ourselves to do our duty, we must not do so grudgingly, for then we do invalidate our actions. Let us rather live for even greater authenticity, which is to say a greater and better form of humanity, humanity in all its fullness, not thrown off balance by lusts and passions. Let us relish discipline, embrace the hard work, looking forward to the reward.

In educating our children, we first model this, I think. My husband was a great model for me early on in our marriage, verbally expressing his love of the feeling of accomplishment after working hard at something. I began to realize there was something to what he said. So we help our children to celebrate their labors, enjoy the rewards at the end of something, and in so doing we teach them real authentic humanity, which is the balance of all things, mind, body, soul; emotions, logic, wisdom.

Whiston's Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies {III}

I figured out something about the language in Whiston's work. He refers to what he calls the "Age of the Messias" and in my first post I said that I didn't understand why that seemed to be plural. The more I read, however, the more it seemed to be singular, and so the "s" at the end confused me. Until it didn't. I believe that an "s" on the end of a name can be the masculine singular in Greek, and also perhaps in Latin, though my Latin is, um, so beginner that there are third graders in Idaho who know more than I. However, I still think I'm right about the "s".

Back when I was in college, I really wanted to take the Messianic Prophecies course. But then a friend of mine came home from the class crying and saying that the particular professor was denying that all of the prophecies about Christ were really about Him, or something like that. Why would he do this? she cried.

Well, because he was tenured, obviously.

But I digress.

I feel like I am taking a course on Messianic prophecies, just like I had wanted to a decade ago. It's exciting!

More notes:
  1. The main aim of the Old Testament prophets {or the Holy Spirit speaking through them} was the coming of the Messiah, the character and circumstances of His coming, and the character and circumstances of His Kingdom. Whiston refers to this truth as central, the "very key" to understanding the old prophets. This is the way it was seen by faithful Jews before Christ's coming, as well as Christ Himself, His disciples, and the early Church Fathers, who all had "Christ's kingdom in their eye."
  2. Whiston spends some time mourning the loss of objectivity in his age. He says that theologians are coming to the Scriptures already biased. He believes this is a source of difficulty for the Church. His solution is for us all to resolve that we will take our Opinions from Scripture rather than bring them to it. Si and I lately have been on a sort of theological adventure, and adventure is an apt word for coming to Scripture with hearts yearning for Truth rather than simple confirmation. It is exciting to read Scripture with fresh eyes!
  3. Whiston gives an example of the singleness of prophetic meaning by referring to the very first prophecy, which is that given to Adam and Eve in the garden. He explains that it was obscure, which is the nature of the "prophetick stile," but clearly pointed to one and only one Person, Who is Christ Jesus the promised Messiah.
  4. There are two types of ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah:
    1. Concerning His first coming. These, says Whiston, are comparatively few. Such prophecies refer to His coming to suffer, and to destroy the Jewish Nation for their rejection of Him.
    2. Concerning His second coming. Such prophecies refer to Messiah advancing His kingdom and restoring the Jews. Whiston says that these are the bulk of the prophecies.
    Whiston explains that the Jews missed Jesus because they were so focused on an earthly kingdom of power over the whole world that they missed their suffering, dying King. He also says that "Modern theologians" {funny since I am reading this hundreds of years after the fact} are likewise "missing it" in regard to the Second Coming, which is, in His opinion, "more ridiculous than the Jews" since they themselves {the Modern theologians} already accept the plain sense of the prophecies concerning the first coming.

    Whiston summarizes this part succinctly:
    Messiah was first to come in a mean and low condition to die for the sins of the World, and to plant a spiritual kingdom that should generally be in a mean and low condition also, and under tyranny and persecution also for many ages; and that afterward He will come in glory to restore again the kingdom to Israel, to put a final period to all idolatry and persecution, and to advance an everlasting dominon over Jew and Gentile, after both become Christians, to the ends of the Earth.
    I must admit that I didn't expect Whiston to hold exactly this view, which makes all of this reading more intriguing to me.
  5. It seems Whiston feels the need to restate his argument, or at least it seems like a restatement to me. He says that any Old Testament prophecies which are referring to the Messiah are emphatically not referring to any other person at any other time at all. He therefore concludes that the Apostles' use of such prophecies was correct and appropriate and Modern theologians should stop acting like they need to apologize for the Apostles in this area.
  6. St. Paul did make stranger allegorical connections than were common among the Jews of his time, but St. Paul was lifting these not from prophecies, but rather from the Scriptural histories and ceremonies, and therefore any issues a theologian has with St. Paul should be dealt with elsewhere.
  7. Whiston explains that there are other prophecies along the way in history that do not pertain to the Messiah. There are, for instance, prophecies in the book of Psalms which refer to King David rather than Jesus. He also notes that the Apostles do not apply such prophecies to Jesus also. Rather, they leave them in their place, allowing them to apply to David alone.

More to come...

27 May 2009

Pondering Education

I am ramping up for Monday, which is Day One of our conversation on the beginning of Norms and Nobility. With that said, there is a unique opportunity for those of us considering classical education for the first time or who are newer to the idea or who just want to continue our education...okay, for everyone...and that is Leigh Bortins' doctoral thesis, which she has just begun posting online in chunks. Leigh Bortins, for those of you who are unfamiliar with her, is the author of Echo in Celebration and founder of Classical Conversations, a unique bridge of support between the Church and the homeschool which offers academic rigor, training for parents and tutors, structure, and more. I wish we had one of these here, and I have seriously considered getting the training so as to found one here.

Wish I were braver, but then again I try not to commit to huge, new things when I have an infant, so maybe now is just not quite my time.

Ahem.

So as I was saying, you, my dear readers, and I have a unique opportunity to read Leigh's thesis. Here are some snippets to whet your appetite:
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress {NAEP} and the data compiled in a report funded by the National Endowment for the Arts entitled To Read or Not to Read, in 2005, 30 percent of 17-year-olds in the U.S. were proficient readers, but only 15 percent of adults were proficient readers.

[snip]

But from the 1600s through the early 1900s, America had literacy rates of over 90 percent including black slaves and white indentured servants. No other culture or group of people since the advent of the printing press has raised as literate a culture as America before the 1950s.

-Introduction {Part 1}
Christian leaders are sometimes at a loss to help these intentional parents. They see two areas of need: 1} Integrating these families into the “family of families,” the church, so all of the congregation can benefit from their commitment to strong family life; and 2} Promoting well-structured, rigorously academic learning for families who are doing the best they know how.

[snip]

The details of the academic program’s content and administration are the final project for this doctorate. Currently, thousands of families use this model successfully at their churches. The model develops community and support for the participating members, quality academics for the students, teacher training for home schooling parents, and an inexpensive way to bring academics back into the realm of the church.

-Introduction {Part 2}
Unfortunately, during the twentieth century, Christendom has looked to the state, rather than to believers, to train up their children in the way they should go. The result has been a loss of Christian culture in America and the rise of many questions needing practical, biblical answers.

[snip]

To recover a literate culture, Christian leaders need to give families the tools to teach an image-based culture to think about an abstract God.

[snip]

The church knows that the Bible instructs parents to pass a Christian heritage to their children, yet we no longer equip parents with the academic tools to do so. This paper explains a classical model of rigorous, Christian academics that churches have been supporting since 2002.

-Introduction {Part 3}

I once read that Classical Conversations has 10,000 member families. This is no small sample that Leigh will be documenting.

The best way to read the thesis in its entirety is to subscribe to her blog, 1SmartMama.

I thought this would be a wonderful complement to our book club reading because while we are plumbing the depths of a beautiful educational theory, Leigh will be showing us how her program makes the theory successful in a practical way across the U.S. and beyond.

Biblical Spousal Duties {a la Wilson}

This weekend Si and I read the chapter from Reforming Marriage entitled Duties of Husbands and Wives. I thought I'd share the list here:


Biblical Duties of Husbands

  1. "A husband must always remember that as a husband he is a living picture of the Lord Jesus." This is basic Christ-and-His-Church theology here. Wilson rightly explains that one's marriage is always speaking about this relationship, that it is impossible to remain silent, but rather we are always speaking {with our actions} either truth or lies. For husbands, they are speaking about Christ, which means they have the potential to speak blasphemy, in a way.
  2. The husband must "nourish and cherish" the wife in the same way in which he cares for his own body. Here Wilson explains two Greek words: ektrepho {nourish} meaning "to feed, bring up to maturity," and thalpo, meaning "to keep warm, to cherish with tender love." He makes the interesting observation that a man "must not expect anything but weeds unless he tends the garden with extraordinary care."
  3. The husband must be jealous. This is in imitation of our God, whose name is Jealous {Ex. 34:14}, and involves appropriate protection of the relationship.
  4. A husband must supply the wife with food and clothing. At first, this seemed really revolutionary to me, in the sense that it was on a list of Biblical duties {apparently I have a Gnostic tendency here}. But then I got to thinking about what is involved in animal husbandry. In fact, one of the appeals of getting ducks was that they are semi-wild, meaning that even though we tame them, they can find a percentage of their own food. They can fend for themselves. They are not in need of a full time husband. Said full time husbandry, in the world of traditional farming, involves feeding and clothing and supervising the flock. Our English word extends to a human husband, who is the feeder and clother, if you will, of his household. Wilson says simply that the husband must make sure the wife has grocery money. I would say that at the very least he should provide her with seeds for her garden. I am reminded of Pa Ingalls, who in the worst of times still made sure there was wheat in the house. Ma, on the other hand, was the one who baked the bread.

    Wilson, by the way, says that "neglect of a man's wife in this fashion is the equivalent of apostasy--it is a denial of Christ who feeds His bride." Strong words, but probably appropriate considering I Timothy 5:8.
  5. A husband must meet his wife's s*xual needs {that was for Google}. Wilson includes in this the fact that the husband "must not deny his wife an opportunity to bear children."
  6. A husband must be content with his wife. Among other things, this means not comparing her to other women, real or imagined, in any area of life, as well as being happy with what he has in her.
  7. A husband must "review and approve commitments made by his wife." It is here that he mentions that "when a husband says nothing, he is approving and leading by default."

Biblical Duties of Wives

  1. A wife must respect her husband. "Respect in this situation entails both honor and obedience."
  2. "A wife should also, under the providence of God, bear children." She should also be a tender mother. Wilson gives some directions for how to manage this, including the instruction not to complain in our fruitfulness {mothering is hard work}, but rather bear children with gladness. He compares this gladness with the mothers who boast in their fruitfulness, which he says is inappropriate because all boasting must be in the Lord.
  3. Wives should be "industrious in the home." I don't have trouble with dishes, but there are other areas of housekeeping that slide more often than I'm proud of, so I was particularly convicted by this statement: "It is possible to disobey God through neglect of the dishes." It is here that Wilson mentions that women are not limited to the home and that their industry will take them outside the home in time. Under this label of "industry" Wilson includes a wife keeping the home supplied with food and clothing. The husband might be responsible to supply the means, but she is the steward, according to Wilson. Here Wilson cautions against frivolity: "Shopping should be treated, not as entertainment and luxury, but as work."
  4. A wife "must meet her husband's s*xual needs."
  5. A wife "must carefully avoid nagging and arguing."
  6. A wife "should be a disciple of her husband." If this sounds a bit crazy to you, he is basing this idea on I Corinthians 14:34-35. Somewhere I once read that this sort of order prevents the wife from "outgrowing" her husband. If she is expected to ask questions and he is expected to answer them {spiritually speaking, I don't think there is a prohibition against a woman googling to figure out how to keep weeds down in her garden}, then they are forced by the structure to grow and mature together.
  7. A Christian wife "should be hard-working in works of charity." This is something I want to be better at.

Anything on this list stick out to you? It certainly gave me a lot to think about. In fact, I can say that for all of the book we've read so far. We are really learning a lot, and even though some of it should be obvious, it is amazing how muddled things can be in such an upside down world.

26 May 2009

Discipline and Authenticity

In thinking about marriage, we tend to think that spontaneous actions are genuine while others performed from a sense of duty are stifled, artificial, and contrived. We especially think this way if we are considering questions "of the heart." Doing one's duty is thought to be restrictive to true love.

But the Bible defines love as a whole-hearted keeping of God's commandments. The greatest act of love was certainly the death of Christ for His people, and that act of love was not offered on an emotional high.

-Douglas Wilson in Reforming Marriage
I have been using a timer with my four-year-old, who has proven to me that she is perfectly capable of making her bed beautifully, but prefers to procrastinate. In general, this child daydreams, which is sweet, and dawdles, which is sometimes a problem. So, in the name of learning to be responsible in a timely manner, every morning I set a timer for dressing, and reset it for making her bed. If I can get her moving, the rest of the morning goes just fine.

All of this is to say that I use timers, and have often used timers for myself or my children when necessary. And yet, when I read this, part of my heart was troubled:
My 7th year students work on lessons for approximately 4 hours every morning and have an hour of reading right after lunch and chores. Many subjects get accomplished because I trained the kids with timers when they were younger to move from one subject right onto the next with out delay.

-Linda Fay at Higher Up and Further In
I think it was the unschooling part of my educational soul which rejected {at first} the idea of schoolwork with timers. I was tempted to believe that "authentic" schoolwork was the sort of schoolwork that was allowed to ramble on, even in such a way as crowded out other subjects and other, necessary, parts of life.

In brief, my gut reaction was to divorce authenticity from discipline.

I spent some time thinking about this. I've struggled with this in other areas of life. Marriage is a common place, I think, to believe that something isn't "real" unless it's filled with gushy passion and cheerfulness. But then I thought about when my third child was an infant, and I hadn't yet got the swing of things. I was exhausted. And yet, I made my husband's lunch. I did not want to make his lunch. What I wanted to do was go to bed. But I felt it was my duty, and also an appropriate act of love, and so I made it.

Does this mean that the act of making his lunch was somehow inauthentic?

I would say emphatically no. What was authentic was my desire to do the right thing before God for my husband in spite of what my energy level was or whatever else I was interested in doing. In this way, my desire to obey and do my duty was the most authentic thing about my actions.

I was not only glad to do my duty in this instance, but I am also forever grateful to those who do their duty towards me, regardless of how unlovable I've been.

So we see that in this instance, the disciplining of fleshly desires doesn't trump authenticity.

Might this also be true of schoolwork? When I put a timer on my daughter, I don't walk away feeling like she isn't "authentically" making her bed. After all, the word authentic deals with reality and genuineness. I can check her room and see that it was done.

And I can check the timer and verify that she did it in a timely manner.

So back to schoolwork...

Perhaps the timer can be a tutor in this area as well. How many times in college did it take me four hours to do a two-hour task simply because I had four hours? How many times have I seen my own children dawdle through a book because they have time on their hands?

This is not to say that children should never have such time. In fact, Linda Fay goes on to explain that her children have scheduled hours daily for what Charlotte Mason called "masterly inactivity." This is a time set aside to pursue their own interests.

But what I learned is that the timer can be a tool in schooling also. It can offer structure to the child who is tempted to take an hour for spelling. It can teach the children that time in life is limited, and so it is best to give each subject at hand our full attention. It can even remind Mommy that if I did a two-hour task in two hours rather than four, I'd have two hours left to fill with other good things.

And none of this nullifies the "authenticity" of the learning experience. In fact, experience tells me that too much time on our hands makes us sloppy learners, sloppy doers, sloppy at living in general. It is in discipline and attention that we get the most out of life {and marriage}, rather than in living a life of slavery to our emotions. Emotions only take us so far, and we miss the depth that is possible when they are not disciplined. As Wilson wrote:
It was a bitter grief for Christ to drink the cup of God's wrath, but that grief does not take away from His love for us; rather, it adds to it.

When we come to our duties gladly, it helps us to discipline our emotions. When we come to our duties with the knowledge that God has framed them for us and has assigned all marital duties appropriately, we can rejoice in His goodness.
Oh, that God might allow me the honor of teaching my children the delight and goodness of healthy discipline.

How to Become the Favorite Uncle

Si's youngest brother, L. {of cell phone incident fame}, is a big hit around here once again. He is in a one-man competition for the title of Favorite Uncle. It's not that there aren't technically other contestants, but rather that L. is the only one aiming to actually win.

I suppose that makes him a shoo-in.

When it comes to sending birthday presents, L. is not married, being still in his teens, and so the gifts which arrive on our doorstep are indicative of his love alone. They are also often, but not always, indicative of his secondary goal of Annoying the Parents.

So, if your nephew is about to turn seven, here is how to become Favorite Uncle and also annoy your brother and his wife all at once:
  1. Go on a spring break missions trip to Honduras.
  2. While there, shop for Coolest/Most Annoying Gift Ever.
  3. Decide on one very beautiful handmade drum and a pair of large maracas.
  4. Mail to nephew, along with a letter which ends with this sentence:
    Show your parents how loud you can be!

25 May 2009

The Microhomestead Report {May 2009}

May is always a strange month here on the blog {and in real life} because I am so distracted by special occasions {our anniversary, my birthday, Mother's Day, E.'s birthday, Memorial Day, just to name a few}. Besides this, it is a good month for being outside. Often.

And since I am currently so intimately acquainted with our property, I thought I'd give an update on what is going on here on the microhomestead.

Ducks

As you know, our six Khaki Campbell ducklings arrived last week. They are a delight, and also a surprise because the breed behaves a bit differently than our Pekins did when they were tiny. They are also faster, meaning that I can't take them for a swim alone like I did with Sam and Alex. It took four of us to round them up this morning.

So far we are still toying with names. We don't know their personalities well enough yet. We are determined to use Beatrix Potter's names: Jemima Puddleduck and Rebeccah Puddleduck, but that is all we are set on. They are so sweet that I considered suggesting we give them all flower names.

Everything I read before we bought these babies said that ducks are social animals and so you should never buy just one. I didn't know what this meant before we owned and observed these animals. I thought this just meant that they liked companionship. This is not so! It is so much more than this. Our ducks do everything together. Sam and Alex are a pair. When one is hungry, they both eat; thirsty, they both drink; dry, they both swim; and so on. Alex has always been quicker than Sam, but we never had to worry because if we could catch Sam and put her back in her cage, Alex was sure to follow behind, quacking up a storm.

The Khaki Campbell flock has a different dynamic because there are half a dozen of them. But the description still applies, just on a larger scale. They all drink together, swim together, splash together. The difference is that in order to encourage flock behavior, I have to get a majority to do something, not just one as it was with Sam and Alex. So, for instance, I couldn't get them back in their cage this morning until I had caught four of them. It was only then that the last two conformed their behavior.

Sam and Alex, by the way, are pretty much full grown. They are huge, white ducks now, with very loud quacks. They are completely tame, and will sit and let us pet them. The KC's are making progress in that direction, also, for today one allowed me to touch her without being caught first.

Tadpoles?

We have a drainage issue out back. It is going to be a problem now that mosquito season is upon us. However, it is also a bit of a blessing because it has been a good location for Duck Swimming Lessons. It has also become much more than a puddle. It now has all of these creatures living in it, and these creatures just happen to be what duckies love to eat.

This morning, I noticed little tiny somethings swimming around in the water. The ducks were eating them in big gulps. I am almost certain they are tadpoles, likely from the tiny sort of frogs which make their home in my garden. I look forward to seeing if I'm right; they should be big enough to identify for certain in a few days.

Fungus

We are having fewer fungal problems now that the weather has heated up. It helps that the ground dries out a bit each day. Fungus tends to like areas which are constantly moist. We are doing what we can to build up the soil in such a way that the fungus gets back into balance with the rest of the flora in our soil.

New Tree!

Kimbrah was kind enough to bring me a fig tree for our orchard. This brings us up to seven trees, our goal being somewhere between thirteen and fifteen in that one area. I'm also hoping to plant a maple in a corner to offer some shade, and also food for our worms.

What We're Trying

Sometimes I think I could write a whole blog on what goes through my mind when I examine our lifeless soil. This world is so infatuate with Pasteur's germ theory that we think sterility is good. It is emphatically not good. Just today I was analyzing this strange circle in which nothing will grow. We water it, but nothing happens. I bet that if I anazlyed it under a microscope, I'd discover that it had no flora whatsoever.

After doing a lot of research on what will help improve our soil while not harming our ducks and also not costing too much money, here are three things we have tried in the last month or so:

  • Grounds for your Garden: Starbucks is kind enough to give away their used coffee grounds for free! We've probably put about fifty pounds of coffee into our soil since discovering this. We have areas that are very low on organic matter, and this was an easy way to work some in while we wait for our compost to simmer.
  • Super Red Worms: We bought these babies from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm, which is an excellent place to buy them, as long as you can stand the service. They can be a little slow, and they don't tell you if something is backordered. But, the product is good. These guys are great little composters.
  • Vermipods: Also from Uncle Jim's, these worm cocoons were planted today by me and our resident two-year-old. Worms do all sorts of amazing things for soil, and our soil has...are you ready for it?...none. That's right. None at all. I told you it was dead out here. Anyhow, I thought at first that some might decide to move in once we started giving the soil some water, but then I learned that once worms go away, they tend to come back in about a hundred years.

    This was not good news.

    But I discovered that Vermipods are a quick and easy way to "plant" worms right into the soil. I bought a hundred, which should hatch about 2,000 worms, and in a year there should be 32,000 if they all reproduce at a normal rate. And that is good news, indeed.
  • EM-1 Microflora: Okay, so the idea here is that health in soil {and people, by the way} is a result of healthy flora existing in a balance that is conducive to life {hence the common term probiotic}. Sterility is the absence of life, and it usually leads to the overgrowth of bad microbes. We understand this in the human body, when a lack of good bodily flora as a result of antibiotics can lead to candida overgrowth {candida is a natural flora, but it becomes out of balance}, or even staph infections.

    Good organisms keep dangerous organisms in balance. This is symbolic, if you think about it, which is something I did today for 37 minutes.

    Ahem.

    So as I was saying, my soil seemed sterile. Good microbes tend to exist in a symbiotic relationship with little creatures like worms and plants. The question becomes how to encourage healthy flora when there is none.

    Enter EM-1, a balanced beneficial culture which we purchased from The Peddlar's Wagon, because we love those folks over in Pasadena, and it is almost like buying local. We plan to use a water hose application to spray it evenly all over the property. And then I'm keeping some to use for cool tricks like culturing our compost, trying a new EM sourdough starter {mine died due to neglect, which is to say sloth}, and even culturing it in our problem puddle I mentioned above. I read that EM-1 has been used to clean up problem ponds, so why not use it on mine?

That's all for today. Anyone else trying something new in your garden?

Happy Birthday, Baby

Seven years ago today, E. made me a mother. {Or, more accurately, God made me the mother of E.} It was the most terrifying day of my life, to say the least. Well, maybe that was the next day when we took him home. But nonetheless, I had never had so much responsibility in my life, and I was frightened. This was one area where failure was not an option.

And now, here we are, seven years later. My, how time has flown. Now I know why people say such things. I feel older at having a seven-year-old than I did at turning thirty.

This past year has been a joyous one, with the defeat of the food allergies and the development in all areas of life which came along quite nicely once he was healthy.

If there is anything E. has taught me, it is that people, especially children, often grow in great leaps and bounds. I think I always thought that people were like plants, with slow and steady growth that would be barely noticeable to the naked eye. E. was quick to correct me on this.

I remember when he was just a tiny infant, and suddenly, I couldn't hardly get him to nurse. He was giving me all the signs that he was hungry, and yet his eyes were bugging out of his head and he was looking all around the room. I, like a typical panicky first-time mommy, called my lactation consultant.

That was the first time I ever heard the term "developmental leap."

But it's true! Sometimes, babies just wake up with improved eyesight, or the ability to sit up, or whatever. There are, of course, things that are slow and steady, like gaining weight or getting taller, but children are dynamic in the truest sense of the word.

One day, when E. was 10-months-old, he decided to walk, even though he had never crawled or even cruised. When he was 3, he decided to read. Sure, it took lessons, but before that came that leap, that jumping into the subject, ready for it all of a sudden and all at once.

This past year, E. did it again. He decided to ride his bike one chilly Saturday morning. He took the training wheels off and never looked back. Si mused later that he always assumed he'd have to teach him, but I think we are learning that children simmer nicely given the right environmental ingredients.

He also decided to begin writing notes and also keeping a diary of his day's events. He began understanding metaphor. And if I'm not mistaken, he decided last Thursday that he was going to be "good" at math.

I had him all alone for almost three years. Two peas in a pod, that's what we were back then. But the role of older brother? It suits him just fine. I look forward to another year of leaps and bounds, all while I try to not be too sentimental about the past and the little toddler he once was.

________
Other posts about E.:
The Bad Beginning
Happy Birthday, E.!
The Darndest Things: What Boys are For
The Darndest Things: Stop Throwing Things!
The Darndest Things: The Gift Giver

22 May 2009

The Darndest Things: Message on a Bottle

Our oldest has begun leaving little notes all over the house. Studying spelling has made him braver about writing in general; he isn't as afraid of making mistakes as he was before. 90% of the time his notes are amusing, to say the least.

Last night, we discovered this sitting innocently on the counter above the dishwasher:



I'll zoom in on the message so you can enjoy it, too:



21 May 2009

The Mystery Box

I've been a little busy the last 24 hours or so. There are many reasons for this, which is often the case with busyness, but my number one reason arrived in a teensy, tiny box yesterday morning:



This box was unusually noisy. It also made tiny movements if you watch it carefully. I went to the Post Office to pick it up with only my two littlest children. The big kids squealed when I brought it home...and opened it up:



We set them free in their New Home {actually, four of these little ladies were only our guests for the afternoon before their new owners came and picked them up}. They ran all over to explore and attempt eating newspaper:



They were travel-weary. One even decided that the first thing she needed to do was take a bath in our ducky "gatorade":



No names yet. We are still learning their personalities. That yellow one you see is not ours; she belongs to Kimbrah. She earned her name, Sassafras, right away! I'm hoping everyone else is so easily and obviously named as we get to know them.

20 May 2009

All His Fault?

For our entire marriage {and actually our engagement, too}, we have had a habit of reading aloud together. This means me reading aloud to Si, and later to the whole family. This started because we had books we wanted to read, and found ourselves stuck in traffic in Los Angeles, or on a long trip to visit family in Sacramento, so reading them aloud was the logical solution. It helps that I love to read aloud, it does not make me carsick, and Si is the better driver.

Reading aloud is a bonding experience. It keeps us literally "on the same page" meaning that we are more likely to be pondering the same thoughts due to exposure to the same books at the same time.

Occasionally, Si has read aloud to me, but I retain nothing. I had a true audio learning disability until recently. My chiropractor is helping me with this, and that is all I'll say about that.

Ahem.

It had been awhile since we had read a marriage book together, and I had heard such good things about Reforming Marriage. So when I realized I could acquire it easily enough through PBS, I did.

And we began reading it a few nights ago.

Last night, we read this sentence:
When a couple comes for marriage counseling, my operating assumption is always that the man is completely responsible for all the problems.
At this point, I felt obligated to put the book down and tell my husband that I did not order this book because I thought there was something he needed to learn. This book has been so aggressive toward the husband, that I started to feel like he was going to suspect that I disapproved of him in some way! Thankfully, Wilson went on to make his point perfectly, relating the idea of responsibility to the concept of hierarchy:
Some may be inclined to react to this, but it is important to note that responsibility is not the same thing as guilt. If a woman has been unfaithful to her husband, of course she bears the guilt of her adultery. But at the same time, he is responsible for it.
To illustrate, he gives the example of a sailor on a ship who rebels against his captain and wrecks the ship during the night when the captain and navigator are asleep. Then he asks who is ultimately responsible:
The captain and the navigator are responsible for the incident. They are career officers, and their careers are ruined...It may strike many as being unfair, but it is indisputably the way God made the world. The sailor is guilty; the captain is responsible.

19 May 2009

Called by His Name

I remember that when I was in third grade I was completely infatuated with a little boy who sat near me in school. In my spare time, I practiced writing my first name with his last name. In high school, I became embarrassed when I rediscovered that notebook and threw it away, think such behavior symptomatic of some sort of childishness that I had outgrown in my "old age." But later, at the age of twenty, I found myself spending at least half and hour helping one of my roommates practice her new name. She had just gotten engaged, and while we were all interested in wedding colors and dresses and flowers, of course, time was especially set aside for practicing the name.

Specifically, if one has always been unhappy with their cursive h, should one try a new method entirely upon acquiring a last name containing said letter? We decided yes, invented a prettier h, and the rest is history.

I own books from a time when women were fiercely attached to their husbands' names. One we have been using lately is written by Mrs. Alfred Gatty, whose first name I know not.

Last night, Si and I began reading together a surprisingly slim volume by Douglas Wilson entitled Reforming Marriage. I think this is going to be one of those marriage books that I actually keep, rather than passing along.

Marriage books are like parenting books. A lot of helpful hints can usually be gleaned from such books, but there are only a handful worth reading again and again.

Most marriage books worth keeping begin with a theology of marriage. This is essential because if we don't understand what something is {if we aren't aware of its nature}, we will set inappropriate goals for it, or set about building it up in an inappropriate manner.

Even though I have read a couple books that begin with a theology of marriage, this is the very first I have read that discusses the custom of the wife taking the husband's name.

I absolutely adored taking my husband's name. I considered it symbolic of the transfer of authority in my life, which is to say that I was leaving the shelter of my father behind and gaining the shelter of my husband. However, Wilson goes all the way back to the story of Creation to explain why our cultural custom of a wife being called by her husband's name is appropriate:
...the Bible does teach that God calls a husband and wife by the same name--the name of the husband. This fully supports both our particular custom of taking a new name, as well as the covenantal truth that custom represents.

"This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them mankind in the day they were created" (Gen. 5:2). In Hebrew, the italicized word translated mankind is Adam. In other words, God created Adam and his wife male and female, He blessed them, and called them Adam. She was, from the beginning, a covenantal partaker in the name of her husband. God does not call her Adam on her own, He calls her Adam with him.

18 May 2009

Whiston's Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies {Part II}

As I'm perusing these sermons, I find myself wondering what it was like to sit through one. They are quite lengthy, and something tells me seats were not cushioned and coffee was not handed out liberally back in 1708. No matter. It is interesting to read the particular interpretations of Whiston, as few men have had a more intimate acquaintance with primary sources than he.

More notes:

In addition to Whiston's Eight Principles {which were apparently published elsewhere prior to giving these sermons, and that is why he spends only brief time on them}, he adds a few additional principles for this particular set of sermons:
  1. Prophetic language is very peculiar to itself. It is mysterious, and the meanings are hidden. However, the language has its own internal logic, which Whiston calls "stile" {style} and so it is still capable of being understood through the use of reason. He gives these examples:
    • It is initially strange to our ears to have Daniel use four great beasts to illustrate four nations that tyrannize the people of God. However, he says, when one recalls that a Beast always denotes an empire in prophetic style, this seems more natural. So though it is initally strange, it is true to the style of literature.
    • Joel speaks of the characteristics of four small insects {small beasts}, the palmer-worm, locusts, canker-worm, and caterpillar, which, says Whiston, illustrated that the heritage of the Jews was given to reproach and they would be ruled over by the heathen. He goes on to say these four small beasts of Joel contrast nicely with the four large beasts of Daniel, both explaining the same thing, which is to say the tyrannical rule of heathen nations over the Jewish people.
    • 400 years subsequent to to King David's death, Ezekiel is still prophesying that David would sit on the throne and rule and shepherd God's people forever. But once we understand that the name "David" has become a prophetic name {the most commonly used in the Old Testament, he says} for the Messiah Himself {in my head I consider it a "code word", this is not so strange}.
    • Isaiah prophesies against seemingly inanimate objects: the Cedars of Lebanon, the Oaks of Bashan, and so on. But, says Whiston, the prophet, just prior to saying such things, himself explained the metaphor. Namely, that everything will be put in its rightful place: kneeling to Jehovah. God is not actually angry with a bunch of trees.
    • We can learn the meanings of these various words and then read consistently with understanding. Even though the language is an enigma, it has its own logic.
  2. Prophetic language always has a single meaning. Whiston compares it to history in this: a history of an event details exactly one event in the past while a prophecy details {in an enigmatical, concealed manner} exactly one event in the future. As evidence that this assertion is true, he lists:
    • A single, determinate sense is the natural reading. This makes more sense to me now that I've been studying Latin. The tense of the word gives instruction as to how the word is to be taken. So when Whiston says that the natural reading is such, he is referring to the structure of the language itself.
    • If prophecies be allowed to have more than one meaning or fulfillment, there is no limit to their number. There could be fulfillments every century.
    • Multiple fulfillments weakens the case for Jesus as Messiah which the disciples themselves made to the Jews. Christians then find themselves apologizing for the way the Apostles spoke of fulfillments in the singular sense in Scripture.
    • There is no precedent set by the Apostles and early church leaders for allowing multiple meanings or fulfillments. As examples, he uses the Jewish evangelism of Peter, Paul, and even Philip found in Acts.
    • There is also no precedent for multiple meanings or fulfillment in the recorded works of the early Church Fathers.

15 May 2009

Whiston's Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecies

Si and I have been going through various parts of Whiston's Works of Josephus, which is a ponderous volume, to say the least. You see, in the 1700s, while America was still a distant twinkle in our yet-to-be-born forefathers' eyes, William Whiston was spending his time translating amazing works from antiquity, including the complete works of the Jewish historian Josephus, as well as other works, such as Euclid's geomotery. Josephus alone is two or three Bibles in length {maybe longer...I am not good with guessing concrete measures}, and I find myself fascinated that one man could accomplish all of this in one lifetime.

Anyhow, there are parts of Josephus that I have difficulty understanding, such as when he refers to the fulfillment of certain prophecies. It was not customary for him to write out Scripture references, or even give the dates of the events to which he was referring in the history he was documenting. I was excited, then, to find online {I love you, Google Books!} a collection of eight sermons on this very subject, delivered by Whiston himself, and published in their entirety in 1708, and dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I thought I'd share some of my notes. I find myself designing at least a term of antiquities study based on such primary sources as Josephus and Philo. Certain people can do this in the original languages, but I think that would be a stretch for our family, which is an understatement.

Here are some of my notes:


  • Focusing on the writings of the Apostle Peter to the Jewish Christians of his day, Whiston points out that in order to assure these Jewish Christians that their faith is true, Peter consistently appeals
    to the Sure word of Prophecy; or to the ancient Predictions of the Jewish Prophets, and their remarkable completion in Christ Jesus, as another most uncontestcd evidence for the Truth of his Religion. {emphasis his}

  • Whiston gives some basic rules for understanding Prophetic literature:
    1. In Jewish {by this I believe he means Old Testament/Old Covenant} prophecies, a "year" literally means a year.
    2. In Christian prophecies {New Covenant}, a "day" means a year.
    3. We compute these numbers according to how the prophet himself, in his particular age and nation, would have computed them.
    4. Number four sounds just like number three to me and I'm having trouble making the mental distinction. It sounds to me that it is simply re-emphasizing principle three in light of difficult passages he will cover later in his sermons.
    5. Prophecies, especially from the latter part of the Old Testament, which are expressly said to take place in the "last days," "latter days," and "time of the end" are not referring to the literal end of the world as we know it, but rather the Last Great Age, which Whiston repeatedly refers to as the "Days of the Messias." And, no, I don't know why "Messias" appears to be plural.
    6. Numbers are used with great exactness in prophecy. So, for instance, there is little leeway on either side for some event to happen and still be accurately called a fulfillment. Whiston says that a "year" allows six months on either side, a "week" allows fifteen days on either side, and a "day" only twelve hours.
    7. General words used indefinitely are to be understood in their most remarkable sense. He gives no examples here, but I am anticipating some in the future.
    8. Because so many difficult-seeming {at the time of their writing} prophecies have already been easily and obviously fulfilled, we can trust that the same will be able to be said of those events which have not yet taken place. I took this to mean that we do not need to fret over the possiblity of vague future fulfillments.
    These are Whiston's fundamental eight principles, and I believe they were considered to be the traditional understanding of the Church over the ages. Am I the only one surprised that he did not explain what a "week" is meant by in the Book of Daniel?


  • More to come...

    Lesson Plans and Record Keeping: Because You Asked

    Mystie wrote:

    Brandy, how about a post on how/if you do lesson plans? :) Kindergarten for me was "pull out memory work and recite" "pull out copywork page to trace" and "pull out book stack and read a couple pages of each." Now I'm looking at my piles of books for next year and am wondering how to put it on paper.
    The state of California doesn't require a whole lot of records for private schools {we are, technically speaking, a family-centered private school}. However, any place you find homeschooling legal advice, you will be told that keeping records is a must if you want to be easy to defend in a court of law. Now, we all pray something like that doesn't happen, but it is helpful to be prepared.

    And preparation helps me get more done, while record-keeping helps me see what we've accomplished in a year.

    My thought was to combine the two. I had done a test run in kindergarten, which is not legally required in California. This means it was the perfect opportunity to play with record-keeping without it being a liability to do them poorly or not keep up with them or something.

    What I learned about myself is that it isn't reasonable to think I'm going to sit down at the end of each day and type up what we did. {I have dinner to make.} In fact, when I have a newborn, it isn't reasonable to think I will remember it all thoroughly. And if I wait longer than a day, I will remember even less. What I also learned is that it is tempting to believe that keeping records is a substitute for learning. It is sort of like filling up a Dayplanner. If it's packed, we feel like we're good, productive citizens, even though a full schedule doesn't actually reveal much of anything about the soul.

    Spending time on records doesn't do much for the soul of school, so I try to keep paperwork to a minimum.

    All of this is to say that I devised a very thorough, specific plan. I planned everything I could for the entire year, and then I perfected each term {we have three in a year} during the week prior to its commencement. My binder has three sections which are labeled: Attendance, Circle Time, and Ambleside Time. Things that don't fit into this binder are math, art narration, copywork, nature study, free reading, and books read aloud. I try to keep records about these things, but generally I just assume that we will do one worksheet of math each day, one of copywork each day, one art narration per week, one nature study per week {unless you count spending way too much time watching our pet ducklings play}, and hours spent reading both alone and aloud as a family. One thing I do regularly is to jot the titles of books we have finished reading aloud in the margins of my pages along with the date we finished reading it.

    Is this boring? I feel like I could fall asleep typing this.

    Ahem.

    In the name of laziness, I culled my own archives and found a couple samples of CircleTime: DecemberTerm and a sample week also appeared in my Defining a Bare Minimum post.

    As far as Ambleside Time goes, we followed the Weekly Schedule for Year One for the first two terms. Then, my son made a developmental leap and was able to handle a greater bulk of narration at a time without getting overwhelmed. So now we are going through the same schedule in the same order, but at an accelerated pace. I didn't bother to change my printed pages. I'm simply writing in the dates we accomplish each assigned reading/narration as we go.

    I will say that I actually went through all of the Ambleside readings in advance and noted how long each chapter or section was. Then I tried to divide them into days according to how much time I thought we'd have and how much he could handle. This was really helpful for me, for I wouldn't have instinctively known that Aesop's Fables are a mere paragraph while a Parable from Nature could take almost an hour.

    Because I love you I will show you what the first two weeks looked like for us:
    Week 1
    Monday
    An Island Story: chapter 1 "The Stories of Albion and Brutus"
    Aesop’s Fables: “The Wolf and the Kid”
    Tuesday
    Fifty Famous Stories Retold: "The Sword of Damocles"
    Aesop's Fables: “Tortoise and the Ducks”
    Wednesday
    Parables from Nature: "A Lesson of Faith"
    Thursday
    Just So Stories: "Whale"
    Friday
    Paddle to the Sea: chapter 1 {introduce blank map}


    Week 2
    Monday
    Fifty Famous Stories Retold: "Damon and Pythias"
    Aesop's Fables: "Belling the Cat"
    Tuesday
    The Adventure of Missionary Heroism: chapter 11 "Among the Indians and Eskimos of Hudson Bay"
    Wednesday
    Fifty Famous Stories Retold: "A Laconic Answer"
    Aesop’s Fables: "The Eagle and the Jackdaw"
    Thursday
    Burgess's Bird Book: chapter 1 "Jenny Wren Arrives: Introducing the House Wren"
    Friday
    Paddle to the Sea: chapter 2 {color blank map}


    Math Mammoth is our math curriculum, and I didn't plan anything in advance at all for this. I had tried to choose sections based on his interest. So, for instance, when he began measuring things on his own for fun, that was the next section we studied. In general, I give him a page per day unless it is embarrassingly easy, on which occasion I give him two. This puts us slightly behind on math, however, as far as the curriculum itself is concerned, but I consider that an asset. There is nothing worse than a child who is done with elementary math before having the physiological maturity of the brain to handle algebra. I love math, but I don't love going too fast with it at this particular age for this particular student.

    This is the extent of my organization. If I didn't have Ambleside's schedule, it would have taken me a lot more time, plus I wouldn't have known that some of the works match up, historically speaking, or they allude to each other, and so knowing one story first will aid in comprehending another story later. However, the easiest way to go about it is probably to break each larger work into manageable chunks and then spread them throughout the year or week or month at will. We have some works that lasted us the year, while others lasted us only three weeks. It has been nice to have a blend of consistency and novelty at the same time.

    Have I mentioned that I love Ambleside? What a treasure trove of the best that the Western literary tradition has to offer children! I will be forever in their debt.

    Anyone Else?

    If anyone else reading this has examples posted somewhere of your lesson plans or yearly schedule or whatnot, please feel free to link them in the comments. As we finish Year One, I am already beginning to contemplate Year Two, and I always appreciate the inspiration of what others have done. Besides, it isn't like any of these ideas are my own. They are simply my modifications of the things other folks have already done!

    14 May 2009

    Baby's First Hair Cut

    She's four-years-old and I just cut her hair for the first time. We like long hair. Added to this, she was bald until she was two, so it is as if her hair were only two-years-old. It was getting ragged at the end, which turned into tangles, which turned to tears, and the logical solution was a trim.

    A trim.

    It didn't matter what you call it, in her realm of experience, putting scissors to hair is for boys. She was horrified, and also convinced she'd look like her brother. When I was done, and her hair was still long, she was relieved. Not happy. Just relieved.

    Like most things in life, for better for for worse, I did it myself. After taking a deep breath, of course. First, I combed it out.



    Then, because this needed to go into the baby book even though she's not a baby, I took the longest part and banded it together, then clipped off the lock all at once. See it in her hand?



    Then, I took her outside and evened it out as best I could. I brought her back in to photograph the finished product.



    Please take note of my messy living room. Thank you.

    13 May 2009

    John Lord, King Solomon, and Taxes

    We are still working our way through Lord's Beacon Lights of History, Volume II: Jewish Heroes and Prophets by reading a little bit during Circle Time three or four mornings per week. {And can I just say that the magic never wears off of real leather books preserved with love for 80ish years?} The past few days we have been finishing up the chapter on King Solomon. My son is just fascinated by all of the details I would have considered mundane at his age: wars, building projects, political intrigue. He keeps me on my toes.

    Anyhow, thought I'd share a quote:
    To keep up this regal splendor, to support seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines on the fattest of the land, and deck them all in robes of purple and gold; to build magnificent palaces, to dig canals, and construct gigantic reservoirs for parks and gardens; to maintain a large standing army in time of peace; to erect strong fortresses wherever caravans were in danger of pillage; to found cities in the wilderness; to level mountains and fill up valleys,--to accomplish all this even the resources of Solomon were insufficient. What were six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, yearly received {thirty five million dollars}, besides the taxes on all merchants and travellers, and the vast gifts which flowed from kings and princes, when that constant drain on the royal treasury is considered! Even a Louis XIV. was impoverished by his court and palace building, though he controlled the fortunes of twenty five millions of people. King Solomon, in all his glory, became embarrassed, and was obliged to make forced contributions,--to levy a heavy tribute on his own subjects from Dan to Beersheba, and make bondmen of all the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizites, Hivites, and Jebusites. The people were virtually enslaved to aggrandize a single person. The burdens laid on all classes and the excessive taxation at last alienated the nation. "The division of the whole country into twelve revenue districts was a serious grievance,--especially as the high official over each could make large profits from the excess of contributions demanded." A poll tax, from which the nation in the olden times was freed, was levied on Israelite and Canaanite alike. The virtual slave-labor by which the great public improvements were made, sapped the loyalty of the people and produced discontent. This forced labor was as fatal as war to the real property of the nation, for wealth is ever based on private industry, on farms and vineyards, rather than on the palaces of kings. {emphasis mine}

    12 May 2009

    Norms and Exceptions

    Yesterday I mentioned one of my Number One Rules when it comes to reasoning about norms: Don't reason from exceptions. If we reason from exceptions, we will end up a society without norms altogether for it naturally follows that in an imperfect world we will always be able to find at least one exception.

    There are a few different reasons why exceptions always find their way to the surface of the conversational puddle. Sometimes, we are just trying to find the boundaries of a norm. We are trying to discover if it is an Absolute Immutable Truth, or rather a helpful rule of civility within our own culture. Other times, we really are discussing a specific, personally known exception, and we want to assess how to handle the situation in light of the norm. And then there are the times when this is merely an attack on the norm itself, an attempt to use exceptions to abolish the rule.

    Such defensiveness may stem from the perception that establishing norms is an automatic judgment and condemnation of the nonconforming. This reveals cause for being careful when establishing norms, and not turning the establishment of normative principles into an activity of hyperlegislation and attempt to control our fellow man.

    Defining a norm is not a form of judgment, even though it may seem to be so upon initial consideration.

    Let me illustrate with a fairly non-controversial example.

    First, the norm would be: Parents should raise their own children. This is a norm that few would argue with, even if they had different definitions of how much time and interaction is required by the word "raise." The idea is that parents shouldn't farm out their responsibility.

    However, comma.

    I don't find any fault {and I doubt you do, either} with the hearing son of deaf-mute parents being sent to live with his uncle so that he can learn to speak properly with his voice.

    So here we have an exception: the deaf-mute parents are unable to teach their son to speak, something of which he is naturally capable.

    We have a solution which does not conform to the stated norm: the parents are not raising their own child, but are having a relative raise him, for a time at least, so that he can be taught something they, by virtue of physical defect, are unable to teach him themselves. And the thing they are unable to teach him is not something ancillary, like gardening or playing the piano, but something essential to his manhood as a hearing person: speaking.

    To be sure, we wish those parents could figure out how to do this themselves. But let's say they think this is the only way, and the uncle is a good, kind, God-fearing man. Could we not say that the parents are acting in the best way they can considering their circumstances? I do not think that the norm condemns them.

    Let me repeat: the norm does not condemn them.

    Moreover, their need to "farm out" their parenting for a time, so to speak, does not invalidate the norm. These parents would likely agree that the normative behavior is to raise your own child, and that to willfully refuse to do so is aberrant behavior. But their situation is extraordinary, and so is their response.

    It seems to me that this teaches a few things. First, norms do not necessarily condemn exceptions. Second, exceptions do not invalidate norms. Third, family {and also friends and church family} can help ease those who find themselves in an exceptional circumstance. Exceptions call for grace, wisdom, assistance, and, most importantly, love.

    11 May 2009

    The Darndest Things: Dizzy, My Head is Spinnin'

    For the last four days or so, Si has been suffering from what we believe is a virus which manifests itself through only two symptoms: severe ear congestion complimented with a heavy dose of dizziness. I am pretty sure our toddler has it, too.

    Let me tell you how I know:

    At a meal, she suddenly grasps the sides of her chair as if she is hanging on for dear life, gasps loudly and yells, "I falling! I falling!"

    In Defense of Propriety

    Back in February I wrote a review {or rather a non-review} of the book How Strong Women Pray. At the time of its writing, I knew that my perspective would not be a popular one. If I could rewrite the post, I would explain myself more thoroughly. Upon a rereading last night, I also think that it did sound harsh. I didn't mean it in that way, and I should have sat on it long enough to write it in a softer tone. If any of you were offended by this, I apologize. Since I received an additional unhappy comment yesterday morning, I have decided to resurrect this subject long enough to {I hope} better explain what I did and did not mean.

    If you do not recall the post, it might be helpful for you to read it if you intend to converse in the comments. The comment I am responding to is here, and I will be going through most of it piece by piece.

    Wow! I understand your point, but almost think you could not have been more insensitive. I'm sure you didn't mean it to seem that way, but I just truly don't think you understand the issue - at all.
    I think I do understand the issue I am talking about, but I think the commenter here does not. So let me briefly explain what is and is not the issue.

    What is not my argument: Women who have been abused in some way should stay silent and never tell anyone, no matter what.

    What is my argument: Women who have been abused in some way must use wisdom concerning who and when and where and how they share the information concerning their abuse. Even though they have done nothing wrong and are victims, sharing extremely graphic details concerning said abuse has the potential to be harmful and/or inappropriate depending on the circumstance.

    This is a hard truth, which is why some people will call me insensitive, and I understand this, which is why being called such doesn't offend me. I am actually arguing in favor of sensitivity, though. What I am saying is that we must be sensitive to the circumstances at hand. So I am being sensitive in another way than that which is preferred rather than insensitive altogether.

    It must be noted that I do not think that this particular commenter is a regular reader of this blog. If that be the case, now might be a good time to explain that Afterthoughts is an ideas blog, for the most part. This means that, in a situation like this, I'm trying to establish a certain behavior as normative {sharing experiences within the right context and using discretion concerning precise details} while discouraging other behaviors {sharing whatever is on our minds at the moment}.

    This is an idea that extends well beyond the specific circumstance of abuse.

    This is a good place to introduce the concept of propriety. In 1828, Noah Webster defined this to mean
    Fitness; suitableness; appropriateness; consonance with established principles, rules or customs; justness; accuracy. Propriety of conduct, in a moral sense, consists in its conformity to the moral law; propriety of behavior, consists in conformity to the established rules of decorum; propriety in language, is correctness in the use of words and phrases, according to established usage, which constitutes the rule of speaking and writing.
    One of the reasons I chose to go ahead and write my review despite possible controversy is that I believe our culture is having a crisis of propriety. This is symptomatic of a tendency toward chaos and is not a sign of cultural health.

    You say that you can understand someone sharing "such things" privately. What about women/girls who have no one to share "such things" with? Who think they are the only one that this horrible thing has happened to, or at least have no idea how to find someone else who can understand and support them? Coming across the writings of someone who has had a similar crime perpetrated upon them and survived and even triumphed very well may be that victim's saving grace. You can't even imagine, I'm sure.
    When we talk about the establishment of norms, we should never argue from exceptions. There will be exceptions to every norm in an imperfect culture, which essentially means that if we argue norms from exceptions, there will be no norms.

    This sort of argument is often raised when someone says that Christian children should receive a Christian education because education is, by nature, a spiritual endeavor. Immediately, we will find the person who says, "What about the one-legged, impoverished, widowed, illiterate mother of nine?" Even though this is a sad circumstance and, if I met such a family in person, I would certainly be responsible to help in any way that I could, it does not address the nature of the argument. The argument was made in an attempt to establish a norm, not to deal with an exception.

    Exceptions are interesting, and in real life they demand true, prayerful attention.

    I can definitely see how it would be encouraging to read about or meet someone who had triumphed over similar circumstances to the woman who feels alone. Though I have not faced this specific issue, I have faced some of life's pains, and knowing that there are others who have overcome gives us heart.

    With that said, I feel the need to emphasize that this particular book I am referencing contained explicit, graphic detail. I believe the context of the book {genre, target market, etcetera} did not merit this. One of the verses I shared in my original post was Ephesians 5:11-12:
    Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
    This verse actually contains the distinction I'm trying to make. The Greek here has the sense that "exposing" is done in such a way that condemns and confronts the behavior while "speaking" of the deeds deals with naming them, explaining them. This is part of God's directives for Christian conversation, and the Bible is revealing that there are two different ways to talk about an issue, one that will be helpful and one that will not be.

    So, to focus in on my point: my problem with the author's writing was not that she stated a simple fact, but that she had shared inappropriate graphic detail.

    No one can force someone to read a book. If your delicate sensibilities were so offended, then you did the right thing for you by closing the book. But to insinuate that there are some things that should NEVER be written about is the height of hubris. It simply perpetrates the misogynistic viewpoint that when a girl or woman is victimized in this way, it is something that SHE should be ashamed of. The opposite is true: the more these CRIMES are brought out into the open, the better we can do as a society {not to mention the church} to acknowledge them, address them, and prevent them.
    First, it should be noted that I never said that something should never be written about ever, ever, no matter what. I didn't mention this here before, but there is a woman at my church who has written an amazing {so I've been told by my mother} book that helps women struggling with this exact issue. It's called Growing a Passionate Heart, and I would highly suggest it for women struggling with this issue. Our church has also developed a support-type group so that women have a safe place to heal from childhood hurts like this.

    You see, it is all about context. Growing a Passionate Heart is written in a way that exposes darkness for what it is and then soothes souls with the truth of God's Word. It isn't that we shouldn't write at all, but that we should use wisdom in all that we do and say, especially when we are writing a book for general audiences.

    To say that we should use wisdom in this area is not an act of hatred toward women, nor does it insinuate that they are somehow guilty. On the contrary, it reaffirms that the deed itself was shameful and so we must take extra care when talking about it. This is not the same thing as saying I had ice cream on Tuesday, and it shouldn't be treated as if it is.

    In addition, the idea that saying whatever we want whenever we want to say it and including as much detail as we wish will somehow stop a crime is illogical. Words are powerful things, and we must be careful how we use them. I would actually contend that speaking of things too frequently and without appropriate care normalizes them and creates a culture in which crimes will be more likely to happen rather than less likely.

    Propriety reinforces a peaceful society. A young boy who is taught manners from early age, who is instructed on his place in society of a man and how he is to treat women, who is tutored in self-control, this is a young boy who is less likely to commit a crime.

    We either act with decorum or we don't. A culture which allows anything to be said at any time is not a culture that values propriety, but is rather a chaotic culture. A chaotic culture does not raise self-controlled boys. Very few things are neutral and we cannot isolate our opinions to one sector of life. These things spill over and create what is commonly called a culture. If the culture is full of wild boys, there will be more crime rather than less.

    I also highly doubt that including graphic detail in a book on prayer deterred crime.

    Silencing anyone has never been on my agenda - I passionately believe in speaking out, especially for those who cannot speak for themselves - and I do not suggest that you should be silent on the way that you feel. But perhaps you could just educate yourself first and attempt to put yourself in another's shoes instead before you write about things which you apparently know nothing about.
    This is not just a way that I feel. I was actually seeking to establish an ideal norm for cultural behavior. I do not think that I need to have been abused to do this.

    In conclusion, I would like to explain once again that this was an idea post on an {mostly, save my occasional indulgences} idea blog. Afterthoughts, you see: I am thinking about things after I experience, read, or hear them. I am considering broad, big ideas, and underlying all of this is the idea that everything is connected rather than fragmented.

    I say this only to explain that this is, again, a contextual issue. If I had a friend show up on my doorstep, crying, and in need of compassion, that would not be the time to talk about broad cultural ideas. That would be a time to extend a loving arm. It also would be a very appropriate time and place for my friend to pour her heart out and expose what had been done to her, and I, as a friend and Christian sister, should be expected to accommodate that.

    The Bible explains that to all things there is a time, an appropriate context. Ideas are a good context for a place like Afterthoughts. But loving arms are expected of all people, even idea people like me, when we are one on one in real life with people who need us. The original post and this follow-up post were not intended to discuss abuse, but rather the way in which we discuss matters as a culture.

    08 May 2009

    In the Medicine Cabinet: GSE

    So yesterday I posted about my children's good health and then today I ended up taking Baby O. in because he was having trouble. The irony of this is not lost on me. He had either a virus or a bacteria. I can't remember now, but I do know that I was given {translation: I bought} a new addition to my medicine cabinet that I have high hopes for:


    NutriBiotic Grapefruit Seed Extract Liquid Concentrate


    This is a concentrate meaning that I will have to water it down. In fact, I was told that Baby only needs one drop. The rest I can save for whenever anyone is showing signs of illness.

    By the way, in case anyone was wondering, I won't be putting it in a bottle of milk as it would curdle the milk.

    In addition to internal use, I can also use it {again, in diluted form} to clean cutting boards in my kitchen, to wash store-bought foods, or even to sanitize surfaces. I am seriously looking into whether I can use it effectively to wash our eggs {because eggs are not laid nice and clean the way they look at the store...}. Talk about versatile!

    So if you are looking for something natural to add to your bag of tricks, this might be what you're looking for.

    Other Items in the Proverbial Medicine Cabinet

    Bifidobacterium Infantis
    Garlic Compresses
    Fever
    Sunshine
    Raw Honey {for cuts and scrapes...a friendly alternative to antibacterial ointments!}

    07 May 2009

    Perfect Attendance

    The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

    James 5:11

    Last night was our Cubbies Award Night. The children participate in Awana. This has been working out nicely for our family {for now}. The two younger children go to their grandparents' home, we drop off the big kids at the church and then run errands alone together. If we have time in the winter we purchase hot cocoa at Starbucks and chat.

    But back to Cubbies.

    There were five or six children who received a Perfect Attendance Award last night, and our daughter A. was one of them. I felt more grateful than if she'd brought home straight A's on a report card! Once again, I was reminded of the miraculous gift of health that God has given to our family over the past year.

    In order to appreciate how completely revolutionary this award was, you have to understand what our existence was like before.

    You all know that the children had food allergies, but what you may not know is that allergic children spend a lot of time sick. My two oldest were sick constantly. At the height of their illnesses, when their fevers were burning and their noses were messy, they would inevitably pass whatever they had to Number Three. My first winter with two children was the beginning of a pattern we had for a few years there: I missed church {and life} from October to February every year.

    The third year, we tried experimenting. We kept the children away from other children, cut out Sunday School for the winter months, etcetera, but I still spent the bulk of my time nursing sick children.

    This year, October came and went and I felt really hopeful. Then we raced through November, December, January, February...We missed church once, perhaps. But even the colds they seemed to be getting never materialized. They fought them off within a day or two without many symptoms beyond the sniffles and less of an appetite.

    I am in awe of this. I had really begun to believe that it was completely normal for a family to be sick most of the time. It was normal to me to not see other people because we were afraid our children would infect the small babies in other families. It was normal to be isolated for months on end.

    And now, here we are. I revel in this. I am so happy that I can make plans a week in advance and not say, "As long as my children are healthy." I am thrilled that another family can bring over a sniffly child and I don't have to be fearful that this means my children will be sick for the next month from the exposure.

    God has changed our physical lives. I am so grateful for our new found health and strength, while also trying to be a good steward of what he has given us. Our family's health is not perfect, by any means, but when my daughter stood up there {mortified, by the way, as she hates focused attention like that} getting an attendance award, a friend of mine commented that she never would have thought one of my children would have perfect attendance. How true!

    Surely we have experienced God's mercy.