28 October 2011

Why We Read Mythology

Often, when I come across a blog I haven't read before that mentions Ambleside Online, I notice that the curriculum is mentioned with a warning--something along the lines of "great curriculum, but uses fairy tales and/or myths." These "warnings" are usually worded in such a way that it is assumed that the blogger and her readers all understand how awful and immoral it is to read fairy tales and myths.

I have already discussed fairy tales a little.

Today, I want to discuss the Greek and Roman myths, and why someone might read them...and not be evil, after all.

He he.

Last night, I read a portion of a chapter in Philip Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics, a book which I am reading slowly, as it requires all of my brain power. Here is an example passage:
All of this is not to say that either the Gospels or the epistles are in these instances setting out to dispute gnostic claims or that there is always a conscious argument against gnostic individualism. It is simply to recognize that biblical religion is far removed from the kind of narcissistic concerns we find in gnostic writings.
Our English word "narcissistic" has a long history. We all know what it means, but the interesting reason is why we know what it means. Other words in our personal vocabularies have been derived mostly by contextual usage. Authors or people we know use certain words, and once we figure out how to use them myself, we integrate them into our vocabularies.

But words like "narcissism" and  "narcissistic" are living words to us. Most of us know them because we read the myth of Narcissus as a child. We can tell explain that these words involve a deeply rooted character flaw of self-centeredness, selfishness, and pride--but not only these things. There is also a dangerous form of introversion and a lack of awareness concerning the surrounding world. It is the myth which gives the word such a powerful imagery, something a dictionary-plus-context never could.

Knowing a single Greek myth gave my comprehension of an admittedly difficult {for me, anyhow} book a depth that would not otherwise have been possible.

Examples of this kind abound.

Milton is arguably the brightest of all our Christian poets {excepting John the Revelator, of course--my apologies to all the Dante fans out there}. And yet I would argue that a child who has not had an education which offered him a basic mastery of Greek and Roman myths cannot read Milton at all.

Not really.

Let's just take Milton's assertion that his poem was given to him by the Muses. Who or what are Muses?

In the first 40 lines of Book III, Milton makes reference to:
  • The Stygian Pool {which is a reference to the River Styx in Hades}
  • The Orphean lyre { which was invented by Hermes}
  • The heavenly Muse
  • Thamyris
  • Maeonides
  • Tiresias
  • Phineus
How in the world could someone get through those 40 lines with understanding if they don't have a basic knowledge of Greek myths? I know that when I was in high school, I tried to read Milton and couldn't. I knew I was lacking something, but didn't know what. I now know that, among other things, my lack of breadth of Greek and Roman knowledge was to blame.

If we decide to keep mythology away from our children, we are isolating them in a historical vacuum. We are cutting them off--forever--from the most important, most beautiful thoughts which have ever been expressed. Milton was doing something important, but they will never have their souls touched by his work.

This is basically the argument made in the Introduction to Bulfinch's Age of Fable {assigned in Ambleside Year Four}:
We propose to tell the stories relating [to the Greek and Roman gods] which have come down to us from the ancients, and which are alluded to by modern poets, essayists, and orators. Our readers may thus at the same time be entertained by the most charming fictions which fancy has ever created, and put in possession of information indispensable to every one who would read with intelligent the elegant literature of his own day.
Not only Milton, but Byron, Spenser {another brilliant Christian poet who is unparalleled}, Macaulay, Shelley, Armstrong, Moore, Shakespeare, Keats, Lowell, Milman, Landor, Dryden, Swift, Hood, Coleridge, Schiller--the list literally goes on and on and on.

To say nothing of the novels {and nonfiction} of the likes of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesteron, and even Rudyard Kipling.

The introduction to Charles Kingsley's The Heroes begins with an explanation of all the ways in which the Greeks have left their mark upon the earth, which really is amazing when we consider that we are over two-thousand years removed from them. He tells us that, next to the Jews, our world owes more to the Greeks than any other culture--their advances in art, science, math, literature, and so on and so forth are mind-boggling. Kingsley then reminds his readers:
For you must not fancy, children, that because these old Greeks were heathens, therefore God did not care for them, and taught them nothing.

The Bible tells us that it was not so, but that God's mercy is over all His works, and that He understands the hearts of all people, and fashions all their works. And St. Paul told these old Greeks in aftertimes, when they had grown wicked and fallen low, that they ought to have known better, because they were God's offspring, as their own poets had said; and that the good God had put them where they were, to seek the Lord, and feel after Him, and find Him, though He was not far from any one of them. And Clement of Alexandria, a great Father of the Church, who was as wise as he was good, said that God had sent down Philosophy to the Greeks from heaven, as He sent down the Gospel to the Jews.

For Jesus Christ, remember, is the Light who lights every man who comes into the world. And no one can think a right thought, or feel a right feeling, or understand a real truth of anything in earth or heaven, unless the good Lord Jesus teaches him by His Spirit which gives man understanding.
The entire introduction is a worthy read, but this excerpt is enough for our purposes.

My point here is that there is value in reading the stories of the Greeks. Not only do they have a practical value, many of them illustrate the human condition or some aspect of wisdom in a way that deserves to be respected. We can learn from them. Our own art can be inspired by them.

The next time someone tells us that "Christians don't read mythology," let's remind ourselves that the Lord tells us to think on things which are noble and pure and good and true. This means that some Greek myths are certainly not worth reading {as is some "Christian" literature}. And others are priceless and worthy of being passed on to the next generation. We are commanded to give honor where honor is due...even when it is due to the heathen.

27 October 2011

The Way

This is the third week of our book club, if you feel sort of lost. Hey, I knew that and I still felt lost! The Way is the second chapter in Lewis' short collection of lectures entitled The Abolition of Man.

I found this lecture to be simultaneously depressing and encouraging, and I plan to spend my post figuring out how to communicate why that is.


If I think about it too long, I feel like the world is falling apart around us. On every level, our culture seems to be on a decline, and a steep one at that. I know that part of this is simply a distorted picture of the world fed to us by news outlets who, for whatever reason, make a lot more money publicizing Bad News than they do Good News. I am always surprised at the good news I hear, and yet I think there is more of it than we realize; it simply goes unreported.

But I digress.

The decline we see around us, though, is real and I saw it described clearly when I read this essay. For instance:
You say we shall have no values at all if we step outside the Tao. Very well: we shall probably find that we can get on quite comfortably without them. Let us regard all ideas of what we ought to do simply as an interesting psychological survival: let us step right out of all that and start doing what we like. Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such. Having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny.
I was encouraged by all of this, though, on two levels. The first is that the Tao is almost inescapable. The second is that the Tao is inescapable.

He he.

Let me explain.

First, Lewis makes it sound like no one can ever really get around the Tao, which is his strange choice of a word for what I often think of as The Way Things Are. It's The Law--both natural and revealed--all in one. It is the reality to which we conform ourselves, or suffer the consequences. He makes the Tao sound like it is anywhere and everywhere and even when people try to reject it, they do so unsuccessfully most of the time.

Goodness, one would almost think it was written upon our hearts or something.

Oh wait.

The only way to reject the Tao is to do as the above quote explains--reject all virtue and all values. All that is left is to do what I want because I want to, and even a lot of the time when a person follows this path, the Tao follows them, too, for it is the only thing keeping them from suicide.

Secondly, Lewis explains something that has often baffled me. I have never understood how so many folks out there can use the Bible out of balance. What I mean is that the Scripture as a whole gives a whole picture. It is all we need for life and godliness, but this is more true when we know all of the Scriptures. When we know only a part, we only have part of what we need for life and godliness.

So, for instance, I see folks who see the Church freely sharing all things and interpreting it as some sort of Biblical argument for a socialist government. Or I see someone noting that it is good to give food to the hungry, and using it as an argument for food stamps and welfare. I get confused because I know that the same Bible that said these former things also laid the foundation for property rights in the Ten Commandments, and told us that if a man will not work, then let him not eat.

It's not so simple, and I know it's not so simple, so why does it seem that the Bible has become the latest victim of our sound-bite culture? Lewis made so much sense to me here:
What purport to be new systems or {as they now call them} 'ideologies', all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess...The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.
So I see now all the noise I hear swirling around in our culture is actually quite simple: It is an elevation of a part over and above the whole. People are willing to embrace a part here or a part there, but want to reject the whole to which it belongs.

Very sad.

And yet I see hope. Something inescapable like this is inescapable, you see, so even though I might feel like  good things are passing away, it is impossible.

I also see hope in that when someone loves a part, even though he might reject the whole, yet he did find something lovable about the whole, and I wonder if he could not come to love the whole in the future.

-More book club entries linked at Cindy's blog.

25 October 2011

Bible Lessons, CM-Style {Part 2}

Last time, we discussed how our friend Charlotte approached the knowledge of the Old Testament. Today, we'll discuss the New Testament. Honestly, because I think of the Bible as one big whole, I found it fascinating that she approached the New Testament so differently from the Old, and yet I appreciate her reasoning and believe I might begin incorporating her thoughts into what we are doing, beginning with my Circle Time plans for next term {which have yet to be written, of course}.

As a quick disclaimer, I am not saying that this is the only way to study Bible, or that Bible ought to be studied this way. I simply find Charlotte's ways to be incredibly thoughtful and worth pondering, even though most of us then tinker with things to make them fit our families. I also think it is helpful if we separate Charlotte's ideas about what is a good way to spend time in the classroom with what our families do outside of the classroom. I know there is no fine line in home education which neatly divides "school" from "non school," however, comma, I do not think that all of this is the same as family worship. It would be in addition to not in place of.


The New Testament

The quote I used before in praise of the Old Testament is a good starting point for discussing the handling of the new:
[I]t is probably true that the teaching of the New Testament, not duly grounded upon or accompanied by that of the Old, fails to result in such thought of God, wide, all-embracing, all-permeating, as David, for example, gives constant expression to in the Psalms. Let us have faith and courage to give children such a full and gradual picture of Old Testament history that they unconsciously perceive for themselves a panoramic view of the history of mankind typified by that of the Jewish nation as it is unfolded in the Bible.
Just as the goal of reading the Old Testament over and over is not just simply to better understand our God, but to have a full understanding of the New Testament, so not rushing through the New Testament when children are young is to promote the same. The purpose of Charlotte's methodical plan is to ground them in understanding.

Ages Six to Twelve

Charlotte tells us that the lower forms read in turns each of the Synoptic Gospels. That, my friends, is a very slow reading--something that even I can pull off! So far, I am encouraged.

A good question to ask here, though, is why we would have them "simply" read the life of Christ over...and over...and over. Granted, they are reading three different Gospels, but we all know they are more similar than different.
I should like to urge the importance of what may be called a poetic presentation of the life and teaching of Our Lord. The young reader should experience in this study a curious and delightful sense of harmonious development, of the rounding out of each incident, of the progressive unfolding which characterises Our Lord's teaching."
James Taylor would be thrilled to know that by poetic she means no analysis. Charlotte herself quotes another on this point:
We are at present in a phase of religious thought, Christian and pseudo-Christian, when a synthetic study of the life and teaching of Christ may well be of use. We have analysed until the mind turns in weariness from the broken fragments...
Our goal, then, is for the child to form a unified whole, the fullest picture of Christ it is possible for them to have. This is poetic in its more traditional sense. Interestingly enough, though, it is also poetic in the literal sense in that children are then answering exam questions concerning the New Testament in the form of poetry, expressing their Scriptural knowledge with a poetic impulse. Considering that most poetry is written from a place where we feel deeply, this is, in my opinion, evidence of Charlotte's great success. In building, gently and methodically, a whole picture of Christ, the children have cultivated deep understanding and love.

As far as I can tell, at this age they simply read {or were read to} and then narrated. Charlotte explicitly says very little teaching ought to be done as
...the danger of boring young listeners by such teaching is great...
This boredom would lessen the poetic impulse we are seeking to feed.

Ages Twelve to Fifteen

In Form IV, John and Acts were added to the student's diet. Form IV roughly corresponds to the American conception of eighth and/or ninth grade. Commentaries were not mentioned for the earlier ages, but they are definitely suggested for this stage. Narration is not mentioned, but considering what we know of Miss Mason, I think it is safely assumed.

Ages Fifteen to Eighteen

Here is where children study the Epistles and Revelation. I see the wisdom in this, especially considering that the children are also on their third reading of the Old Testament at this age. If you recall the quote I posted a while back from Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder:
Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ.
I did a little research and learned that, on average, each verse of Revelation has more than one quotation or paraphrase of the Old Testament. We do not tend to catch these, but our children may, if they are offered the gift of this sort of education.

Other Material

Charlotte also mentions the things which do not fall neatly into the above categories:
The Catechism, Prayer-book, and Church History are treated with suitable text-books much in the same manner and give opportunities for such summing-up of Christian teaching as is included in the so-called dogmas of the Church. We find that Sundays together with the time given to preparation for Confirmation afford sufficient opportunities for this teaching.
I am unsure at what age Confirmation occurred, nor am I enlightened as to what this involved. If you have such knowledge, please share your thoughts with us in the comments!

What Our Family Actually Does, What I'm Adding/Changing

I was debating over whether or not to include this, but I decided I will. Our church does not have a Prayer Book, but other than that, things line up fairly neatly. {I would be curious to know how one uses a Prayer Book at home--is it a daily thing? What is a Prayer Book anyhow?}

In Circle Time, we read a story from the Old Testament, and everyone six and older {which, as of now, is only two of my children} must narrate. We began in Genesis a year or two ago, and we are in Judges right now. I had never considered the benefit of chronological education, but I like it, so I'm going to try and figure out how to do it correctly.

In addition to the Old Testament story, we read one chapter of Proverbs {whichever chapter matches the day's date} and one Psalm {we are working our way through from start to finish}. After we finish Psalms, I plan to go through Job before returning to Psalms.

My oldest is reading through the Gospel of John on his own. I haven't been having him narrate, which is a mistake I ought to remedy. It is my favorite, so I never considered that he ought to read the Synoptics first. After John, I will have him read the two Synoptics he hasn't yet read. {My husband is kind enough to break them into readings for me.} He began reading the gospels in Year Three. I am considering adding a daily New Testament story to Circle Time, but haven't yet committed one way or the other.

He is also reading through Romans because we are taking a Romans class at church. I know Charlotte would probably frown on this, but he really likes the class, and I find he is absorbing Romans more than I expected. The class gives us a small reading {a paragraph or two} as "homework" for each week. Every day, he reads that assignment in a different translation: KJV, NASP, NKJV and NIV. He tells me he likes the King James best. {He is a strange child, but I must agree it is the the most beautiful of all available options.}

We are currently using the Children's Catechism. I don't know where we'll head after that--Westminster or Heidelberg. It's a toss-up right now! This fits into our memory binder, along with Scripture memory. They are memorizing various Psalms and parables, which is something Charlotte mentions in her Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six, but does not mention in her section on Bible lessons.

I am researching commentaries. I would like to add one in the next year or so, if I can find something that works well.

Ambleside incorporates Church History into the curriculum, so I just do what I'm told. Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula is read over the first six years. I would like to see my children do King's Meadow Study Center's Christendom course in high school.

After reading through all of this, I find myself wanting to do more as Charlotte did, not less. Her approach makes a lot of sense to me, and what I am doing now is similar {due to her influence, not any inherent wisdom on my part}, so I think it'd be easy to switch. I won't drop the Psalms/Proverbs/Job plan, though. I like it too much, and I never know where to place Job anyhow.

What does your family do? Does Charlotte make you want to change anything?

24 October 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Hooray! I finally have enough links to fill a musings post. It's not for lack of "news" out there, but lack of attentiveness on my part, that caused me to skip a week or two. But today, I've got a nice little collection to share {if I do say so myself}.

Share your great links in the comments!

21 October 2011

Bible Lessons, CM-Style {Part 1}

What do you do for Bible? is a common question I am asked. People are usually looking for a curriculum, something they can buy that will direct them. Does Charlotte Mason offer something like this?

The answer is no.

And also yes.

For it seems there is no box curriculum for anything Charlotte did, and yet she does offer us direction and practical ideas.

I own a number of children's Bible story books that I use with my preschoolers. Our favorites are The Big Picture Story Bible and The Jesus Storybook Bible. Charlotte would have preferred fine art illustrations, I know, but I appreciate the simple poetry and covenantal approach.

But eventually a child turns six, and it's time for the Real Thing. What does that look like?

First of all, for Charlotte Mason, there was no substitute for reading the actual words of Scripture. She did utilize commentaries for background information, but her students weren't reading "Bible storybooks" in her classrooms:
[P]erhaps we canot do a greater indignity to children than to substitute our own or some other benevolent person's rendering for the fine English, poetic diction and lucid statement of the Bible.
Her objective was nothing less that giving the children a knowledge of God, and she knew that this knowledge was best obtained through the use of the inspired text itself.

So, let's try and break down exactly what she did.

The Old Testament

Charlotte really respected the power and importance of the Old Testament's place in our faith. She understood that in order to really "get" the New Testament, we need to have the Old Testament playing on repeat in the background of our minds. Because of this, the New Testament and the Old Testament were approached differently.

We'll get into the details, but it seems important to note at the outset that the philosophy behind Bible lessons was like that underlying everything else: if it's worth reading, it is worth narrating. So Scripture was read, passage by passage, and narrated each time. If we want them to remember and assimilate what we are giving them, we must have them narrate.

Ages Six to Twelve

At this age, children read the Old Testament narratives, chronologically, passage by passage, narrating after each passage. Beginning in Kings, from what I can tell, the Psalms and Prophets were fit in chronologically as well. Mason used a commentary at this age called The Bible for the Young, and I thought I found it on Google Books, though I must say the title was a bit different, and so I wasn't positive.

Personally, I have not used commentaries in our daily readings, though it would be helpful to me to find something that shows me the exact chronology, especially how the various Prophets fit in with Kings. That is a resource I will not need for another year or so, as we are currently in Judges. I wouldn't mind using a commentary; it simply wasn't something I thought about before researching this post.

Does the teacher do anything? Good question.
Before the close of the lesson, the teacher brings out such new thoughts of God or new points of behaviour as the reading has afforded, emphasising the moral or religious lesson to be learnt rather by a reverent and sympathetic manner than by any attempt at personal application.
We draw their minds to the principle, but we let conviction settle upon them as it will.

Ages Twelve to Fifteen

In junior high and early high school {as we call these ages}, they read the whole of the Old Testament again, this time on their own, as arranged in another volume I cannot locate called Old Testament History by Reverend H. Costley-White. From what I can tell, part of the appeal was that Costley-White had made the "necessary ommissions" which made the readings all appropriate for mixed company. Again, I wonder if there is anything like this out there? Or is that really necessary for a home school?  Also, all of the readings were interspersed chronologically, so the Psalms and Prophets were already where they belonged, historically speaking. I believe there are chronologically arranged Bibles available, and perhaps it would be helpful for me to invest in one.

Ages Fifteen to Eighteen

In high school {what she called the "upper forms"}, students worked their way through the Old Testament a third time, this time utilizing Dummelow's One Volume Commentary. More modern versions of this can be found used on Amazon, though I didn't link because I couldn't find the 1908 original, and I can't vouch for the content of the printings from more modern decades. Again, I think that a suitable commentary could be found. {I might even be tempted to use Matthew Henry!}

A Summary of Old Testament Lessons

In Mason's classrooms, then, the Old Testament was read:
  • Three times through {by the end of the student's schooling}
  • In light of a simple, age-appropriate commentary that provided helpful background information
  • Passage-by-passage and narrated accordingly
  • Chronologically, with the Psalms and Prophets interspersed into the books of Kings
  • In the actual English translation, rather than using a "children's version"

Why Three Times?

Mason believed that children should be immersed in the Old Testament, so really the better question is: Why not five times? Ten? {The answer lies, by the way, lies in the quote below, where she explains she believes that doing this gradually is key to their prospering in their studies.} The point we should take home is that Mason viewed the Old Testament as imperative for a proper understanding of the New, as well as for a proper understanding of God:
Here...unfolds for us a principle of education which those who desire their children to possess the passive as well as the active principle of religion would do well to consider; for it is probably true that the teaching of the New Testament, not duly grounded upon or accompanied by that of the Old, fails to result in such thought of God, wide, all-embracing, all-permeating, as David, for example, gives constant expression to in the Psalms. Let us have faith and courage to give children such a full and gradual picture of Old Testament history that they unconsciously perceive for themselves a panoramic view of the history of mankind typified by that of the Jewish nation as it is unfolded in the Bible.

19 October 2011

Come Into the Light

She accidentally drops her bowl while clearing the table after dinner. It doesn't even break, but rather spins like a top for a moment before settling into its place. Her father frowns, though, because he suspects she was being careless.

He is right, of course.

"Were you using two hands?" he asks. After breaking more bowls than a family of six can afford to break, the children have been reminded more than once to hold their bowls {and plates} with two hands when walking to the sink from the table.

She completely melts. She screams, and runs down the hall to find her mother, who is getting ready for her monthly reading club meeting.

"Mommy!" she sobs! "I--dropped--my--bowl!" She is gasping in between each word, hardly managing her breathing. "It--didn't--break--but--Daddy--asked--me--if--I--was--using--two--hands--and--I--didn't--want--to--lie--and--" She cuts off here with more screaming and sobbing.

I am torn. Part of me wants to cry for her, she is so pathetic. And part of me finds this humorous. Why is this a such a big deal?

"But it didn't break!" I remind her. "That's good news, right?"

I am trying to be cheerful to counterbalance the panic.

Wrong move. She is now crying more than ever.

So I ask her, "Did you lie to Daddy?"

She screams and sobs!

"Did you use two hands, or one hand?"

She screams and runs away.

I go to find her, and her sister informs me that she is hiding under the desk. She is nothing but a puddle of tears.

I seek out my husband. I suspect that she lied, and she's afraid of being found out, but I'm wrong. He tells me she never answered.

She never told me that, but I guess she didn't get that far.

I go back to her room.

"Come out," I say. "I need to read you a story. Go to my rocking chair. I'll meet you there."

She is sobbing in my chair when I return with our copy of The Lightlings. I tell her this book is about her.

The Lightlings
by RC Sproul
I read it sort of funny. The people, they were made to be in the light, but they disobeyed the King. I think they forgot to use two hands, I say confidentially. They ran away into the dark and they hid. Under a desk, I say. They hid under a big desk. And she laughs a little and blushes.

It was so dark there that they stumbled around. Sometimes they bumped their heads on the desk. She laughs again.

One day, they saw a great light, and they went to find it, and behold! The King had sent a baby lightling Who made everything right again. The people didn't have to be afraid anymore. You don't have to be afraid anymore.

I close the book before the ending. It never ends quite right, I think to myself. Why did he bring up being afraid of the dark, when plenty of children know what it is like to feel like hiding when they have even a hint of guilt?

So we talk about what our King has done. He tells us He has separated our sins from us as far as the East is from the West, and He will never, never think about them again.

"Why?" she asks, like she suspects something is remiss here.

Because He loves us, and He has given us this gift.

So go. Be happy. You are forgiven.

And don't forget to use two hands.

18 October 2011

Because Reason is a Good Servant but a Poor Master

Last night, I was dusting up on the ninth chapter of A Philosophy of Education: The Way of the Reason. Naturally, it reminded me of how brilliant Charlotte Mason is {I know you are all shocked by this}.

Mason tells us:
[C]hildren should be taught...that the chief responsibility which rests upon them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them.

Well, firstly, Mason realizes that ideas necessarily have consequences. But that is not the only reason:
Children should know that...whenever they want to do wrong capital reasons for doing the wrong thing will occur to them*.
She later tells us that
reason will put a good face on any matter we propose.
The idea is that once we entertain an idea, we tend to decide what we think is right or wrong about it, and then justify our conclusions, regardless of what they are. This is why reason is a poor master. Reason cannot tell us right from wrong, and it often helps us justify the wrong:
It is only when he chooses to think about some course or plan, as Eve standing before the apples, that reason comes into play; so, if he chooses to think about purpose that is good, many excellent reasons will hurry up to support him; but, alas, if he choose to entertain a wrong notion, he, as it were, rings the bell for reason, which enforces his wrong intention with a score of arguments proving that wrong is right.
I noticed this exact process--this justification of a desired course--in our Year One reading this morning:
During a lull the sailors fished and made a big haul of cod. They invited Benjamin to eat with them, but Benjamin said no, thank you, he ate neither flesh nor fish, for he had read in a book that it was murder to kill and eat creatures that had done him no harm. But he loved codfish and, when the fish was cooking and the good smells reached his nose, he began to hunt about in his mind for a reason to share the sailors' meal. He remembered that when the codfish were cut open he had seen small fish in their stomachs. If big fish ate small fish, why should he not eat big fish? Then he ate heartily and thought to himself how lucky he was to be a thinking creature who could find a good reason for doing what he wanted to do. After that, Benjamin always ate what was set before him.
Obviously, I think the decision to eat was a good and right one, but that is hardly the point. What I found fascinating was that Benjamin Franklin {or at least his biographers} recognize the justifying function of the will in the story. Benjamin wanted something, and he used his reason to rationalize it.

Sometimes, bad ideas sound good to our ears. Sometimes, good ideas sound bad to our ears. Will reason help us find the solution to this problem? And since the obvious answer is no, to what {or Whom} do we turn for direction? If the scales of reason are not the appropriate place to weigh ideas, what is?

*Just ask my three-year-old.

17 October 2011

The Tenth Birthday Gift

What does one buy for a ten-year-old boy on his birthday? Especially one who already owns his weapons of choice? Well...if he likes to read, one buys him this:

The Story of Rolf
and the Viking Bow
by Allen French

"He's going to love it," says my E.-Age-Nine of his best friend.

Obviously, he has good taste already.

Christianity: Queen of Religions

My dear friend G. is finishing up her final project for her graduate degree. She sent out an email this week, asking for help on her final project. She wanted ideas, and she promised that if our ideas were worth thinking, we just might make it into her paper.

Well, how could I refuse?

I got so carried away and excited, that I thought I'd post it here, just for fun. Because every good idea deserves extra mileage, no?

Friend G. {or perhaps I ought to say Friend G.'s professor} asked:
In the face of all of the competing options in the religious marketplace, what in the person and work of Jesus Christ does Christianity offer that is utterly and profoundly unique? Do not limit yourself only to the question of how one gets to heaven, or the uniqueness of Christ's person as the God-man, but be sure to include discussion of Christianity's uniqueness for the believer's life now. What does the follower of Christ have that is real to him or her today that cannot be found in any other religious faith? This assignment does not ask you to become knowledgeable about other religions as much as to more deeply understand biblical Christianity.
I felt like Pooh, walking around, hoping that my thinker might Think. Of course, the most unique things were what the question already acknowledged. So I decided to get personal, and just share what I have been becoming more and more excited about over the last six months or so.

I pasted my answer below.

I think our faith is unique in every way! There are so many options. As I was thinking, I realized that one thing that has been at the forefront of my own mind in the past year or so is the idea of rebirth. Every other religion leaves us where we are, but makes demands upon us which we cannot fulfill, for we are fallen. But in Christ, we are a new creationHe is making all things new, and even though that does mean we are instantly perfect people, it means He is working in us to restore and strengthen us from within--we do not have to depend upon ourselves.

I suppose in one sense, I am talking about an order of events. In Christianity, the word "salvation" can actually have three meanings: justification {which is the initial point of salvation, where we are legally declared righteous in Christ}, sanctification {where we become free of the power of sin--free to do and be good--over time}, and glorification {where we are literally free of sin, and receive our new bodies after death or Judgment Day}. Other religions that come to mind, require man to first sanctify himself in his own power, and then hopefully he's good enough to be justified and glorified at the end. But for us, we receive the Spirit in the very beginning, at the point of justification, and then we have His help. In fact, it isn't just help--we are made new.

That is so powerful! I am not the old dying creature; I have new life!

There is a saying in Christianity: "Grace restores nature." What hope! We are made new...in ourselves. God doesn't make us something else, but rather He begins to make us what we were meant to be--what we would have been if there had been no fall. We therefore do not lose ourselves in Him, but we are found in Him. I can be more of what I ought to be--a good mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter--in Him. Without Him, I have all these things I should be--all these things I know I was meant to be--but I am powerless to be them because I am lost in sin. But when He gave me grace, He began to make me new again.

In a single sentence, then, I'd say that what I love about Christianity is redemption. I mean, big, powerful, all-encompassing redemption. It is available to us right here, right now, and we don't have to do anything to get it. It is just part of the gift He gives us when He chooses us for His children. I love that He is making ALL things new--that He is redeeming everything around me, and spreading His kingdom over the world. He is redeeming my children, my friends, and my family, yes, but He is also working to redeem the creation and everything in it. I get excited about His kingdom because of the redemption it offers to the whole world!

This gives me hope. I can't stop the kingdom of God--I can't mess it up, even when I fail miserably--and yet I get to be a part of it's growth. It's very exciting, and it is, I think, very unique to our faith. I can't think of any faith which offers anything close to this!

What about you? What is your favorite, unique thing about our faith?

14 October 2011

God the Poet

I went through a period of time where I didn't appreciate poetry at all. I remember really enjoying it in my childhood--trying my hand at writing it, as well as attempting to tackle Milton while lounging in a plum tree. What happened?

Life, I suppose. And busyness.

Motherhood was overwhelming to me for a number of years. It was all I could do to keep up. As we added more children to the mix, I got better at managing the load of work, but I still found that my mind could only handle certain types of reading.

To be honest, poetry requires a certain quality of heart, one that busyness had crowded out of my soul.

{I'm not writing this to wallow in regret. I'm not sure there is a whole lot I could have done differently, and hindsight is always 20/20 anyhow.}

After listening to Cindy tell us over and over how poetry is the "highest form of thought and writing" enough times, I decided to quit avoiding it. This dovetailed nicely with our commencing with Ambleside Year 1 for the first time {four years ago now}.

For two years straight, I read a poem a day.

And I still didn't feel the love.

I knew at that point, though, that this was about something lacking in me, not about something lacking in poetry.

I have mentioned before that I only began to love poetry when we finally began to memorize it. I don't know why that is, but I have speculated that perhaps in order to love something in general, we must love something of its kind in particular. Can I really say I "love people" if I do not love the very real people living in my house? In the same way, how can I learn to "love poetry," but never know one intimately?

In memorizing, I was forced to become intimate with a poem. Studying it over and over, letting the lines impress themselves upon my heart, I began to appreciate it on its own terms.

And then my children started quoting poetry in conversation.

One of the earliest poems we memorized was Whole Duty of Children by Robert Louis Stevenson:
A child must always say what's true
And speak when he is spoken to,
And behave mannerly at table;
At least as far as he is able.
If I was thinking about something, and didn't hear my oldest daughter talking to me, she would chide me: "Mommy! Speak when you are spoken to!" Or when a certain preschooler went through a lying stage, certain older siblings would rejoin with reminders that "a child must always say what's true!"

There's something to this poetry thing, I would think to myself.

And so it goes.

We've been memorizing poetry for two years now, and we have almost two handfuls of poems under our belts. The more we learn, the more I like it.

No. I love it.

I can honestly say that I love poetry now, even though I will also admit I am still a bear of very little brain and do not always understand it all.

I was astounded the other day when I was thinking about Revelation being a poem. No one teaches it that way, you know. I googled the idea of the Bible as poetry, and found varying statistics, but it seems to be agreed upon that the Old Testament is about 40% poetry, while the New Testament is about 30%. Eugene Peterson is telling me that I'm doing Saint John a disservice if I ignore the fact that he wrote Revelation in poetic form, and then I realize that if the Revelation is, as is written, the revelation of Jesus Christ, then John isn't the only poet.

Jesus is.

God is.

Now that is an interesting idea. When I knew, years ago, that my lack of poetry--my inability to read it and appreciate it and understand it and love it--signified a deficiency in my own character, I did not consider that I was made in the Divine Image, and the Divine is Himself a poet.

Think about it.

Adam is in the Garden, and God puts him into a deep sleep. He pulls out a rib and fashions a woman. Adam awakens, and what is the first thing he does? Adam, the unfallen divine image bearer, speaks in poetry. He called her bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Adam, the first man, writes a poem at the dawn of time.

And Jesus, the Second Adam, who spent his ministry telling simple stories, reveals Himself to us in the final chapters of the Bible in a blaze of poetry.

At this point, it becomes simple logic.

God is a poet.

We bear His image.

Therefore, we are poets, too.

But not all of us. I once was not.

When we develop the poetic, we bear His image more fully.

13 October 2011

Men Without Chests {Post the Second}

Welcome to my second post on the first chapter {or lecture, if you will} of C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man, Men Without Chests. Today I just want to think about and attempt to apply a single idea from this portion of the chapter.

Reasonable Emotions
The idea that there is even an reasonable or logical side to emotions seems, to our modern ears, like a contradiction in terms, like "altogether separate," "almost certain," or "Congressional ethics."


Really, the idea that emotions are purely subjective is unique to the modern and postmodern eras. C.S. Lewis tells us about the world as it once was:
[There was once a] doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not.
He later explains:
No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.
Lewis describes a deficiency in himself at one point. He explains that he does not enjoy being around little children. He knows, however, that this is a problem. This is a defect. This is a place where he is lacking.

I distinctly remember one time when I was trying to teach myself to love something I knew that I ought to love. It wasn't that I hated this particular part of life, but rather that I was completely apathetic. Left to my own devices, I would never have purposely developed a taste for it.

At one point, I mentioned this to someone else, and the response was interesting to me. I was encouraged to let it go. "You don't have to like everything," I was told.

Well, yes, I suppose this is true, but I think that I knew deep down that I was less human because I didn't like this thing. I knew that a full expression of the divine image would involve appreciating all that God made, and yet I found myself with something that I failed to appreciate. I knew the problem was me.

It is possible that I had already read Lewis at this point, and it was he who pointed it out to me!

Training the Emotions
I have two little girls. I am amazed at how emotional little girls can be. Perhaps I bought a bit into the cultural lie that little girls are not born this way, but rather made this way.

No, really. They come this way.

Having two boys and two girls has given me something of a case study. My boys are very different. One is more quiet and studious, the other loud and rambunctious {more in line with the stereotypes}. But neither of them freak out the way their sisters do.

"You hurt my feelings."

This is a sentence I hear daily, often multiple times.

Sometimes, this is a reasonable statement, because someone was doing something for the sole purpose of being mean. Those hurt feelings were a just reaction--she knew someone was trying to hurt her, and she felt it.

But other times, they are completely unreasonable.

"You hurt my feelings..."

...because you won't let me have what I want when I want it.
...because you accidentally bumped me when you were carrying something and couldn't see me.
...because you wouldn't look at me when I tried to interrupt your talking and steal your attention from one of my siblings.
...because I woke up grumpy and everything you do and say is wrong until further notice.

There was a time when I thought emotions were Sacred Ground. I didn't want to squelch their little personalities. {Plus, I didn't want to be talked about in therapy when they were in their thirties.}

But I honestly didn't know what to do at one point, and the estrogen levels around here were getting a little out of control. I talked with a friend of mine {who has six boys and two girls} about it. I told her about the trouble I was having, and how sometimes I was...afraid of three-year-olds with lots of feelings.

She patted me on the shoulder. She sympathized. And then she said something I never expected her to say:
Their husbands will thank you if you teach them to control their emotions.
Is that possible? I thought.

She said that it was, and she gave me a few principles.

I came home armed with a new set of house rules. No longer are you allowed to leave your room after nap until you are...ready to get along with others. Taking things personally when they are not can land you in your room until you are...ready to get along with others.

In addition, getting offended when your ploy to steal attention from someone you love fail might earn you a lecture on putting others above yourselves.


I feared that spending time squashing completely irrational emotions was going to make me a hard-hearted soul, stomping all over emotions in general.

Straighten up! How dare you feel!

But that isn't what happened, after all.

Instead, I find myself quiet. I want them to feel the right things, and when they do, I try not to interrupt. In the car, when they are amazed by every. single. thing. we drive by, when I'm getting the headaches from everyone yelling, "WOW!" so often, I have learned to keep my mouth closed.

For in those moments, they are more human than me.

I ought to be amazed too, but I grow old, I suppose.

Read More:
-Buy the book
-More book club entries linked at Cindy's blog

12 October 2011

Quotables: Reversed Thunder

Reversed Thunder:
The Revelation of John
and the Praying Imagination
by Eugene Peterson
[T]here are many people who stubbornly refuse to read it, or {which is just as bad} refuse to read it on its own terms. These are the same people who suppress fairy tales because they are brutal and fill children's minds with material for nightmares, and who bowdlerize Chaucer because his book is too difficult as it stands. {p. x}
[T]he Revelation is a gift--a work of intense imagination... {p. x
Everything in the Revelation can be found in the previous sixty-five books of the Bible. The Revelation adds nothing of substance to what we already know. The truth of the gospel is already complete, revealed in Jesus Christ. {p. xi
The result of St. John's theological work is a poem, "the one great poem which the first Christian age produced." If the Revelation is not read as a poem, it is simply incomprehensible. The inability {or refusal} to deal with St. John, the poet, is responsible for most of the misreading, misinterpretation, and misuse of the book. {p. 5} 
A good place to begin is to be courteous to St. john himself by honoring the fundamental concerns that we discern in his life and that come to expression in the Revelation: that his subject is God {not cryptographic esoterica}, and that his context is pastoral {not alarmist entertainment}. {p. 10} 
The Revelation makes explicit what is true of all scripture: it originates as God's word spoken and heard, or presented and seen. {p. 11} 
The most-to-be feared attacks on the Christian faith go for the jugular of the word: twisting the word, denying the word, doubting the word. It is impressive how frequently the Psalmists denounced and cried out for help against lying lips and flattering tongues. Far more than they feared murderers, adulterers, usurers, and Egyptians, they feared liars. God made himself known to them by word, and it was by words that they shaped their response to him. When words are ruined, we are damaged at the core of our being.

The subtlest and most common attach in the satanic assault on God's ways among us is a subversion of the word. {p. 14} 
The Revelation has 404 verses. In those 404 verses, there are 518 references to earlier scripture. If we are not familiar with the preceding writings, quite obviously we are not going to understand the Revelation. John has his favorite books of scripture: Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Isaiah, Exodus. But there is probably not a single canonical Old Testament book to which he doesn't make at least some allusion...

The statistics post a warning: no one has any business reading the last book who has not read the previous sixty-five. {p. 23}
 Every line of the Revelation is mined out of rich strata of scripture laid down in the earlier ages. {p. 23}
[John] does not merely repeat [scripture]--it is recreated in him. He does not quote scripture in order to prove something; rather, he assimilates scripture so that he becomes someone. {p. 23} 

10 October 2011

Miscellaneous Musings on Monday

Well, hello, hello! I almost didn't fit this post in today. My husband's twin brother is here visiting, and our house has been a flurry of activity. Plus excitement! All O-Age-Three does is follow his uncle around demanding, "Pease hode me! Pease hode me!"

It's really quite adorable.

Of course, I am not the one being stalked.


In other news...

  • CiRCE is promoting Plutarch! One of my favorite things about this year is the addition of Plutarch studies. It has been fabulous. CiRCE's Why Read Plutarch? is great food for thought, as is Dr. Grant's article of a similar title. Why do I read Plutarch? Well, I started because Ambleside told me to, but I continue because I adore watching two little nine-year-old boys learn to think.
  • Have you ever had school just fall apart on you? We have. When my husband was in the hospital a couple years ago, it took me two months to finish up the last couple "weeks" of school. What can you do? Cindy has some great advice for us in this regard. I especially appreciated her advice to also "make hay while the sun shines." This was a good reminder for me to take full advantage of our good days.
  • My husband brought some dessert home from a work barbecue on Friday. Normally, that wouldn't be news, but I think the fact that O-Age-Three just took it out of the fridge and ate five cupcakes and two cookies while I was typing this bears mention, don't you?
  • Do you know how to ask a question? I've been trying to learn to ask better questions, since I'm supposedly a teacher and all. Fred Sanders has some good thoughts on this subject: What's a Good Question?
  • I don't think of myself as a crafty person. I can't {or won't} sew. I don't feel confidant making much of anything {unless you count food}. But I'm seriously considering getting a rug canvas and seeing what happens. I seriously think I could make something cute and messy.
  • It's time for the Homeschool Blog Awards. Go nominate someone.
  • I finally updated {most} of the books links. That means I'm back in {the Amazon} business. If you need a search box, you can find it in the right sidebar. Thanks for your patience!
And that's all. Share your links in the comments!

06 October 2011

Book{s} Review: The Grandma's Attic Series

I already knew I liked the Grandma's Attic series when I requested to review the last two books. We'd read the first two, and were ready for more.

Thankfully, the rest of the series did not disappoint!

If you're unfamiliar with the series, the best way to explain them is to say that they are a little reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie series. Author Arleta Richardson is sharing not her own experience {which is what Laura Ingalls Wilder did}, but rather her grandma's experience. Richardson grew up listening to Grandma's stories of her childhood in the 1880s, and as a woman she wrote them down.

And now they have been published so that all of us may read them!

The Good

Still More Stories
from Grandma's Attic
by Arleta Richardson
Each chapter stands alone. We like to use the books as a lunchtime read-aloud, munching on a chapter or two before the littles go down for their naps. {Q.-Age-Four loves these books!} Even though the main characters are girls {Richardson's grandma, Mabel, and her childhood best friend, Sarah Jane}, E.-Age-Nine likes them because they are funny, and sometimes the older brothers do frustrating older brother things, which delights him to no end.

Unlike the Little House on the Prairie books, the Grandma's Attic books are much more direct about the Christian faith. Also, in almost every chapter, Mabel is learning her lesson about something or another.

My children loved that Mabel made silly, embarrassing mistakes {just like them} and had to confess to her parents {just like them}. And, like a lot of children, they enjoy stories about simpler times where the action involves horses and farming and dolls and sledding and handiwork and the like. In all, we think these books are great and are happy to finally own all four!

The Bad
I have only one complaint about the books, and this deals with how the stories are set up. There are two different narrators {both using the first person "I"} and this confused some of my children--especially A.-Age-Six. Most chapters begin with Richardson's own childhood voice explaining how she came to hear this particular story. Maybe she herself had a similar experience. Maybe she and Grandma are off visiting her great uncle, Roy, who is featured in the stories as a young boy {Grandma's older brother}.

The transition from this narrator, to the next narrator--who is Grandma, telling the story of her childhood experience, also in the first person--gets, as I said, confusing. Some of this might have been due to the fact that we were reading during lunch. It is easy to miss transitional cues when other things are going on at the table! Regardless of the reason, we eventually solved this problem by me formally saying, "Okay, now Grandma is going to tell her story."

This is a slight problem that I would have tried to fix as an editor way back when the books were first published {this is a re-release}. But it didn't happen, and it doesn't diminish the value of the books at all.

Note: For you Amblesiders out there, I think this would make a great series to use with little girls if you are building your own Year 0.5 to use as a kindergarten year.

The Great

Treasure from
Grandma's Attic
by Arleta Richardson
There is one story that stuck out to me as possibly the most valuable, perhaps due to its uniqueness in children's literature. The books themselves already encourage children to value grandparents {and older people in general} as persons of interest and sources of wisdom. But there is a chapter in the third volume, Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic, that is just priceless.

A neighboring family needs to go and care for a family member, and so they leave their aging patriarch, Grandpa Hobbs {who has dementia, or something like it} in the care of Mabel's family for a while. {This man actually features in at least two of the Grandma's Attic chapters that I can think of.}

It is a bit strange to the children in the family to have this confused man at their table for meals, and living in their house. He falls asleep at weird times, and is confused when he awakens. He is confused about what decade he's living in, and remembers days gone by as if they really were only yesterday. And even though the man is odd, Mabel's parents set a good example of patience and lovingkindness, and the children begin to appreciate hearing some of Grandpa Hobbs' stories of long ago.

And then Mabel is supposed to be memorizing a passage of Shakespeare from Othello "about a good name," but she has forgotten her book, and she doesn't yet know it because she's only read it once. She's worried about completing her assignment when suddenly Grandpa Hobbs' voice, strong and self-assured, rises up:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash;
     'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

{Othello, 3.3.155}
The family is stunned. It later comes out that there is a lot more where this came from, including the entire book of Philippians.

The important thing is that my children were stunned. My children gained a greater respect for Grandpa Hobbs that day. My children learned that there was more to him than met the eye. It is hard to teach such things directly, and there are very few opportunities in children's books to draw out the value of the life of an older person as an older person. This alone makes the book worth its purchase price!

Final Note:
Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic and Treasures from Grandma's Attic were given to me free of charge by The B&B Media Group in exchange for a frank and unbiased review.

The Grandma's Attic series includes In Grandma's Attic, More Stories from Grandma's Attic, Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic, and Treasures from Grandma's Attic.

05 October 2011

A Contemplation of CiRCE {Entry I}

If you've been reading here for any length of time, you know that this is the time of year when I begin listening to and blogging about the CiRCE Conference. Every year, I buy the CD sets. This is my own personal teacher feast. I listen to them {often over and over and over} while I do important things like Making Dinner.

There is a slight chance this causes me to shush my children.

Boo. Hiss.


Naturally, my first entry concerns the first plenary session, A Contemplation of the Divine Image, give by the man himself.

I'm not going to summarize this talk, but I must say it is worth listening to. As I do every year, I encourage you to buy some {or all} of the sessions.

The first idea that stuck out to me in this talk was that of logos. First, Mr. Kern reiterates what he has been saying for years, which is available on the CiRCE website in the definitions section:
A science is a domain of knowing ordered by a unifying principle (logos).
 Logos here is the Greek term for that ordering, unifying principle.

John is my favorite Biblical author, so I've been fascinated by the idea of the Logos for years. I knew already that the Greeks and Romans sought for the Logos--the single unifying principle for all of creation. They wanted One Thing upon which to hang everything else.

But they never found it, and they had to settle, Mr. Kern tells us, for little-l logos. So, in biology, for example, the unifying principle is life.

But John reveals to us that there really is a big-L Logos and He is Christ Jesus.

If in biology, the unifying principle is life, Kern encourages to make the big-L application to all of education.

In true Christian education, the unifying principle is Christ Himself.

This was the connection I've been waiting years to make, because my feeble brain wasn't capable of making the leap. But I see the truth of this oh so clearly now that someone has pointed it out to me.

Wendell Berry tells us that
the first principle of the Kingdom of God is that it includes everything.

This makes perfect sense when we consider John's words:
In the beginning was the Word {logos}, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

-John 1:1-3
The obvious question becomes: what does an education look like, in which Christ is the organizing, unifying principle?

I haven't listened to all of the conference CDs yet, but I can venture a bit of a guess, and it is not much like any school I've ever seen--even Christian schools I've seen.

I think the key here is the "should" questions that Mr. Kern is always encouraging us to ask. I mentioned before that "should" questions work like magic in my home, bringing Scripture back to the center of whatever we are reading. In discussing "should," we edge our way toward truth. Because we acknowledge Christ as Lord, He automatically has jurisdiction over our "shoulds."

I'm not saying there is a Single Right Answer. I'm saying His is the wisdom we need in properly answering these questions. In asking "should," we see our need. When the only answer a student can muster is a helpless, "I don't know," we learn to run to Scripture.

Even if it's history.

Or poetry.

Or literature.

And so "religion" isn't a class we take, but a life we lead, and Scripture has reign over all.

Join the conversation:
-Did you happen to buy the CDs or download the audio recordings? If so, whenever I post on a talk, I invite you to link to your own thoughts on a post in the comments.

04 October 2011

Hip Hip

Hooray!! If you haven't already heard, Governor Brown has signed legislation repealing the so-called "Amazon Tax." {If you don't know what that is, please see my post Fired.}

The original legislation caused a bit of financial hardship for our family. I don't like to complain because it's not like we couldn't eat or anything. It is simply that my Amazon funds have been almost the total source of our school budget {as well as gift budget} for a few years now. Because of the state's law, I suddenly lost my book budget...right during school buying time!

Thankfully, I had already earned enough {thanks to all of YOU} to pay for this school year. But I've been secretly dreading Christmas.

And today I get word that the law was repealed and I can rejoin my beloved Amazon Associates ASAP.

I'll be switching my links back over in the coming couple days. In the meantime, I just wanted to share my good news!

Quotables: Home Economics

Home Economics
by Wendell Berry
Some time ago, in a conversation with Wes Jackson in which we were laboring to define the causes of the modern ruination of farmland, we finally got around to the money economy. I said that an economy based on energy would be more benign because it would be more comprehensive.

Wes would not agree. "An energy economy still wouldn't be comprehensive enough."

"Well, I said, "then what kind of economy would be comprehensive enough?"

He hesitated a moment, and then, grinning, said, "The Kingdom of God."

03 October 2011

Men Without Chests (Post the First)

Today, we interrupt our regularly scheduled Miscellaneous Musings on Monday. Reason 1: I didn't save enough links this week. Reason 2: Cindy's book club started, but I didn't have any time to participate until now. Frankly, I'd rather discuss Lewis than politics today--all this Day of Rage stuff reminds me for some reason of the Two Minute's Hate, you know?


Last week, the Club began discussing the first half of Men Without Chests, which is the first essay in C. S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man. This means you still have time to read a copy online for free--or buy a copy--and participate! {Hint hint.}

What I want to do is today is simply think through a few ideas that struck me as I read.

Two Kinds of Men
If you are unfamiliar with this essay, you need to know that in it, Lewis is criticizing a new English textbook. The textbook spends some time "debunking" an advertisement. We'll come back to the idea of debunking, but what struck me as possibly the most important thought thus far is this:
[T]here are two ways of being immune to such an advertisement--...it falls equally flat on those who are above it and those who are below it, on the man of real sensibility and on the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of salt water.
I think the obvious question is: which are we raising? Are we teaching our student-children to be above the sentiments in an advertising because they know and love the Good...and are not silly enough to settle for less? Or are we simply producing dullards incapable of mustering up enough passion to even fall for an advertisement? Who perhaps even takes pride in having a heart which is not moved by an advertisement?

Lewis points out that advertisements typically appeal to real human emotions and desires. They are detrimental insofar as they coax us into settling for less than we ought. If we try and kill the emotion, we might succeed in creating a populace immune to advertisements, but not because they are actually a superior kind of men.

How to Train Superior Men
In the "debunking" which goes on in regard to the advertisement, Lewis explains that it is actually the emotion which is being debunked. Lewis assures us:
What [the student] will learn quickly enough and perhaps indelibly, is the belief that all emotions aroused by local association are in themselves contrary to reason and contemptible...[H]e is encouraged to reject the lure of the 'Western Ocean' on the very dangerous ground that in so doing he will prove himself a knowing fellow who can't be bubbled out of his cash. ...[W]hile teaching him nothing about letters, [the authors] have cut out of his soul, long before he is old enough to choose, the possibility of having certain experiences which thinkers of more authority than they have held to be generous, fruitful, and humane.
 Lewis then reminds us of our duty, which is not to kill the emotions, but to train them:
Until quite modern times all...men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it--believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. [snip] 'Can you be righteous,' asks Traherne, 'unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.'
I do not pretend to know exactly how to do this. But I think that Lewis gives us a clue when he suggests that instead of "debunking" {there's that word again}, the authors ought to have
put this advertisement side by side with passages from great writers in which the very emotion is well expressed, and then show where the difference lies. [snip] A lesson which had laid such literature beside the advertisement and really discriminated the good from the bad would have been  a lesson worth teaching. There would have been some blood and sap in it--the trees of knowledge and of life growing together.
This is where I keep coming back to the fact that God may in fact use Charlotte Mason to save me from myself when it comes to our educational project. All of these good books we've been reading have done my soul good. They have corrected me where I have been wrong. There is a sense in which they have re-enchanted my world. I trust that, at the very least, as they are able to restore the likes of me, they will also do good to my children.

I am trying hard to wrap my mind around debunking as a concept, and I'm not there yet. {Perhaps someone else is...I haven't read all the entries yet.} What I have gathered so far is that it is a superficial form of criticism that may have unforeseen ramifications upon the soul. Lewis gives a number of examples. One is a piece in which a writer is criticized for calling horses
the 'willing servants' of the early colonists of Australia.
 The author
contents himself with explaining that horses are not...interested in colonial expansion.
In both this instance, as well as the advertisement mentioned above, there are other writings which are Good in every sense of the word {hence the capital-G} which could, according to Lewis, be criticized in like manner. In this latter example, Lewis sees this as an attack on the entire human tradition of anthropomorphism and semi-anthropomorphism.

In addition, Lewis seems to believe the long-term outcome of this sort of activity will be pride--what he calls taking "pleasure in their own knowingness."

Since I cannot completely unravel the mystery of debunking--and therefore cannot be sure I will not commit this trespass--my solution is to try and keep my focus on good literature, and loving good ideas. Personally, I'm not sure how studying bad advertising could possibly be as helpful as studying the best writing by the best writers. Just as bankers learn to recognize a counterfeit by studying a real dollar, so I shall place my faith in studying the real writing and the best ideas. I think if we tried to study the worst--or the silly--I would fall into the debunking trap as quickly as the next person, to the ruin of my children.

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Other book club entries are linked at Cindy's blog.