Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fun Children's Music

Tired of the "heavy"? Me too. So to lighten things up a bit...

Here are some of our family's favorite CD's with "kids" music. It just so happens that Steve and I really enjoy these as well! In fact, we LOVE each of these albums! They provide hours of joyful noise!

Rhinoceros Tap & Philadelphia Chickens - These are both offerings from the humorous author, Sandra Boynton.

Swingin' in the Rain - Maria Muldaur

A Child's Celebration of Folk Music - Various Artists, including Taj Mahal, Jerry Garcia and Doc Watson

Smithsonian Folkways Children's Music Collection - Various, including Woody Guthrie and Ella Jenkins

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

IF You Continue...

Last Thursday, in the ladies' study of Colossians, we were challenged by our pastor to consider what Paul might mean in Colossians 1, when he says:
" order to present you holy, blameless, and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard..."
I am half tempted to just wait until this Thursday and let the teacher tell me what it means, thereby conserving my already-depleted stock of mental energy! But for once, I've decided to resist the laziness and at least attempt to think it through on my own.
This "taking action" was also prompted, in part, by a comment yesterday from an old college pal, who now pastors in TX. He remarked on how slowly the truth seems to sink into the hearts and minds of us dull-minded parishioners! O-K, so he was much more gracious about it than that...but, it made me think about students of mine who routinely "get it" more quickly than others. Why does truth sink in quickly with some and take so long with others? Regardless of natural ability, usually the ones who get it and keep it, are the ones who meditate on a lesson long after it has ended, or think through a question rather than waiting on their illustrious teacher to GIVE the answer. So, here's my rare attempt at modeling that which I desire in my own students...
First of all, there are so many issues wrapped up in this question of "if you continue" that it's hard to know where to begin! Once saved, always vs. bearing good without works...cutting off and grafting into the vine...assurance...perseverance of the saints...etc.
One thing is certain: an AWFUL LOT of Divinely-inspired "if" clauses accompany the instruction regarding salvation, but too often we pretend these don't exist because they interfere with our nicely-packaged little Gospel presentations. "If you continue" doesn't quite fit our "no-strings-attached," "it's-free-you-don't-have-to-do-a-thing, "just-believe-and-receive" gospel. However, we don't do the world or ourselves any favors by ignoring significant portions of Scripture, regardless of what difficult questions may arise. (And, by the way, addressing these Scriptures is not an attempt to "nuance" or "muddy" the gospel or to make the understanding of it is merely taking into account the whole counsel of God.)
So...we were already told us that the word continue comes from the Greek word meno, so I didn't have to figure that part out...just confirm it. Apparently this word is used about 120 times in the NT, and is most commonly translated as abide, remain, stay or live, depending on which version you use. It is also sometimes translated as endure, belong, dwell, hold on, keep on, last, or do not depart.
From what I can gather, meno bears reference to place and time as well as condition. In other words, "stay in the same place - tarry - don't leave" "continue to stay throughout time - endure - stick it out" and "remain as you are - don't become something else" (OR: "don't you go changin" as my friend and beloved choir companion, Jack, would say!) So, we will be presented holy if we meno...does that mean we have to DO something to secure salvation for ourselves? Is it conditional? Can we ever be sure of our salvation? How? If you continue MAY eventually find my conclusion!
Through the popular, extra-biblical, revivalist language of "getting saved" we have inherited an overly simplistic view of the gospel: say and pray. That is, confess with your mouth that you believe (say), then ask forgiveness for sin (pray)...and voila! Done. Finished. End of story. Amen. Hallelujah. Go to heaven when you die. The problem, of course, is that this is NOT the end of the story in the Holy Scriptures! They do not teach that once we have said a "sinner's prayer" we are sealed unto the day of redemption. They DO clearly, conspicuously and repeatedly teach that we must continue in the faith in order to attain the promise.
Major contentions arise because the very implication of "if you continue" is that there exists a real possibility of NOT continuing. If you don't continue in the faith were you ever in the faith to begin with? Can we deny that in order for a branch to be "cut off" from the vine, it must surely have been in the vine in the first place? Otherwise, being cut off means is empty rhetoric. But this begs the question: if you're really in and then you're really cut-off, doesn't that mean you can LOSE your salvation? Hmmm....where's JJM when I need him?
This very question (not "where's JJM?" but the losing your salvation question) strikes near the heart of the current escalating debate about what constitutes being "in Christ" or on whom we bestow the title and benefits of "Christian." What does it mean to be in Christ? At least part of the answer can be found in the Gospel of St. John in his God-breathed exposition on "abiding" in Christ. "Abiding" is the same word, meno, as used in Colossians.
John gives outward evidences that bear witness to our continuance or abiding in Christ and He in us. I suppose that the single evidence is bearing fruit...all the rest indicate the type of fruit that is borne.
1 - Bearing fruit
"As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers...thrown into the fire, and burned." (Jn. 15:4-6)
2 - Love
"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love...this is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you." (Jn. 15:10-12)
"Whoever loves his brother abides in the light..." (I Jn. 2:10)
"We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love, abides in death." (I Jn. 3:14)
"...if we love one another, God abides in us..." (I Jn. 4:12)
"God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him." (I Jn. 4:16)
3 - The Word & Sacraments
"If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father." (I Jn. 2:24)
"Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (II Jn. 1:9)
"Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (Jn. 6:56)
So...we abide by hearing the word, eating his flesh and drinking his blood...seems a bit like participation in covenant renewal worship, doesn't it? You mean, this is part of abiding? Hmmm.
4 - Obedience
"Whoever does the will of God abides in him forever." (I Jn. 2:17)
"Whoever keeps his commandments, in him the love of God is perfected: this is how we know we are in him." (I Jn. 2:5)
"This is how we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." (I Jn. 2:3)
"Let no man deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous." (I Jn. 3:7)
"And whoever keeps his commandments abides in God and God in him." (I Jn. 3:24)
"He who says he abides in God ought to walk as he walked." (I Jn. 2:6)
5 - Repentance
"No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him." (I Jn. 3:6)
"No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God." (I Jn. 3:9)
Suddenly I know why I avoid tackling these things on my own! I began working on this at 1 pm is now 11:30 pm. I haven't even addressed James' words about the necessity of works to complete our faith, or any other passage outside of John's writings. Plus I haven't answered the questions I've asked...nor have I asked all the questions in my mind.
For example, does it matter that Colossians says continue in "the faith"? Sometimes this word is translated just "faith" and other times as "The Faith" as though it were naming an entity such as the people of God. Is that significant?
What about Hebrews? "For we share in Christ if indeed we hold our original confidence steadfast to the end." (3:14) OR: "It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have shared in the Holy Spirit...if they then fall away..." (6:4-6) What does that mean?
Contrast that with the language in Romans 11 where it is stated that a dead (unbelieving) branch will be pruned, but it can be grafted back in through belief.
O-K...without completing the discussion, here's my conclusion.
1 - Christ will not lose any of those given him by the Father.
2 - Those of us who are in Christ depend on the unchanging decree of God to keep us in The Faith.
3 - Rest and assurance are found through faith that proves itself to be alive and active by producing good of love, obedience, repentance, and participation with the people of God.
I'm exhausted...that whole thinking thing is taxing! Thank God for pastors and teachers who faithfully do this work on our behalf, and with great responsibility for our souls.
"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of his eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Prayer I: What is It?

What is prayer? Prayer is a specific act, but it is also an abiding attitude of the soul. It is the expression of a constant faith which looks, moment by moment, to Christ...for life, for sustenance, for deliverance, for strength, for everything. Prayer is living coram deo - before the face of God; thus the apostle can instruct us to "pray without ceasing." Obviously, this is not a requirement to remain on our knees or with heads bowed and eyes closed in perpetuity, but it does require us to maintain a perpetual posture of dependence, continually aware that as creatures we are wholly reliant on our Creator.

Having said that, we know from Scripture that prayer is also an action that occurs at a given moment in space-time history. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he didn't instruct them to have a fixed attitude, to gaze dependently at the face of God, or simply to live a certain way. He gave them words - the words of The Lord's Prayer, which should inform and pattern our own prayer life. (Notice that he did not tell them they didn't need to "learn" how to pray...nor did he tell them to just spontaneously pour out their desires, feelings and needs.) Somewhere along the way, someone condensed the pattern of this prayer into the acronym "ACTS" - Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving & Supplication. While this approach can be helpful, it can potentially leave us with an impoverished view of prayer.

One way we might enrich our understanding, and consequently our practice of prayer, is through examining other prayers throughout Scripture. It can be useful to examine them in light of the Lord's Prayer, and to establish mental categories about the sorts of things for which we are taught to pray in the Divine Record. These categories emerge somewhat naturally from within the traditional division of the petitions made in the Lord's Prayer. I have also found it helpful to view these prayers in light of the definition of prayer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

BTW, none of this is set forth as authoritative Biblical exposition on prayer, but as the thoughts of a Christian heart and mind that desire understanding and transformation. Feel free to correct any erroneous remarks. In Sunday School we are being taught how to use Psalms as both the prayerbook and hymnbook that it was intended to be, and this prompted me to meditate on these things as well as review the way in which I have taught the children about how to pray rightly.

To be continued...


I am not a movie critic. I don't know about the "art" of movies. I know nothing of filming techniques. I only know what I like and what I don't.

I liked Bella.

I thought the story was beautiful and moving without being pedantic. I thought it effectively communicated the truth that an unsolicited act of kindness can impact a person's future...that taking the time to pay attention to those with whom we daily have contact, but easily overlook, really does matter...that not every love story is a romance...

All I know is: having once been a Nina, I wish I had had a Jose.

Postscript: Two good links were sent to me today regarding this film...this information is all new to me, and intriguing. Here is a review by Christianity Today. And this one has a video of the leading actor commenting on his purpose in the film industry, as well as other helpful info.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lori's Chili 2007

This chili has lots of meat and is moderately spicy. Lori's Chili 2007

Process until finely minced:

1 1/2 large onion
1 red bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

Saute in 4-5 T. oil until soft. Then add:

1 packet Lawry's taco seasoning

2 packets Amazing for Beef

2 T. sweet Spanish paprika

Bring to a boil. When thickened, return to processor until the texture of applesauce.

Return to pot and add:

1 bottle Napa Valley Chipotle & Chile BBQ & Grill Sauce (TJ Maxx)

1 jar D.L. Jardines Chipotle Lime Salsa

1 jar D.L. Jardines Chipotle Ole Salsa

In separate skillet, brown:

1 lb. chorizo sausage

1/2 lb. Salisica sausage (Italian)

2 lb. ground chuck

Sprinkle with:

Garlic powder

Mexican chili powder

Add meat to sauce, reserving grease in skillet. Add:

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

1-2 T. chili powder

1 can pinto beans

1 can black beans

1 can rotel tomatoes

1 small can LaPreferida Chipotle Salsa
Heat through, then combine with meat and sauce.

As with all chili, it is best if made a day ahead, then allowed to simmer (or bake) for several hours before serving.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Math

Our school switched from Saxon to Chicago Math in our Upper School this year. After reading site after site online, none of which have anything good to say about the program, I remain extremely suspicious about its usefulness. These reservations were confirmed and even magnified after watching this video from Barlow Farms.

The elementary school program is called Everyday Math, and is absolutely unacceptable (but we are not currently using it at this level). I am open to the possibility that the program might be beneficial once students reach the logic stage...but only if they have been taught math according to the grammar stage - which means they have memorized and drilled math facts and have attained mastery in the basic, most-efficient computational algorithms.

Besides Chicago's claim that the point of math is to "understand the process" rather than get the right answer, it is nearly impossible to determine the underlying philosophy behind the method. In my mind, education is all about philosophy...that is the starting point from which the approach, methods, form and content are determined. It appears, based on my examination of the textbooks, as well as others' comments regarding their experience with them, that they proceed from an "outcomes-based" philosophy, and certainly from a standpoint of pragmatism. Efficient calculator use seems to be their primary goal!

Now, I have no problem with wanting students to understand the process or with math being applicable to everyday life. That is part of the goal. However, many more educated and experienced than I, would contend that students best understand the process by first learning terminology, memorizing definitions and practicing with standard algorithms. Over time, this develops logical structures in their minds which, in turn, allow them to learn more advanced mathematical realities and applications. (Even then, we might do well to have our students study Euclid instead of the University of Chicago.)

We might also do well to understand why, in the classical and medieval models of education, the advanced formal study of both math and science are excluded from the Trivium and relegated to the Quadrivium which follows it. A certain maturity of mind is necessary to throughly grasp and appreciate these studies.

Anyway, our students are the subjects of an "experiment" which we hope will not negatively influence their future success in math. And if I am proven wrong, it won't be the first time...!

In the meantime, on a lighter note, check out this take on "Fuzzy Math." Don't watch the guy's mouth, it'll drive you nuts because it's so out-of-sync, but the very real point is made in hilarious fashion!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rules = Legalism?

What is legalism? Well, one thing is certain...if you want to stop the mouth of a Christian, all you have to do is accuse him of it. It is a powerful accusation that carries a stigma which no one wants to bear. We instinctively know it's not a good thing to be legalistic - the word implies rigidity, inflexibility, intolerance and Pharisaism. And who among us wants to be ranked among the sect most frequently and vehemently rebuked by Christ Himself?!

I have noticed within Christian circles a tendency, which I think is erroneous, to link the making and/or enforcing of rules with legalism. I would suggest that there is a fundamental element exclusive to true legalism which is not necessarily present in formulating and implementing institutional rules.

Legalism is setting up rules or standards, then declaring obedience to them as a prerequisite to godliness. It is the sin of equating man-made rules with God's own laws. And true legalism IS a enslaves those who are bound to it rather than allowing them to live in the freedom granted us by Christ. Of course, it is this sin of which the Pharisees and Judaisers were so guilty...they piled on requirements for righteousness, adding laws ad infinitum, causing many to stumble or turn away out of frustration, and elevating themselves on account of their self-made righteousness.

Another common element in legalism is the tendency to concern myself with how well I think OTHERS are obeying the rules. It encourages a critical spirit, because the focus is on "Do not touch, Do not taste, Do not handle" rather than on producing the righteousness that God requires. Outward compliance is paramount, regardless of the condition of the heart.

This practice and attitude is wholly different from merely establishing and enforcing rules, especially in a public or institutional atmosphere. I can think of three primary justifications for setting up rules: out of a desire to reflect the image of God more closely; out of love and consideration for others; and as a matter of stewardship.

In what way does institutional order reflect the image of God? We learn much about the character of God from his creative work. He has ordered the sun to rise daily in a predictable pattern - it is, in effect, a "rule" which he has ordained and which he enforces by bringing it to pass every day. He does this both as a reflection of his being and as a mercy to us. Most of creation operates in orderly and predictable patterns, and a little reflection on what our lives would be like apart from this orderliness, brings to light the great benefits he affords us by letting us know what to expect. We do well to imitate the Creator in living well-ordered lives and it is a mercy to bestow the same stability and security on our children as our heavenly Father bestows on us.

When an institution refuses to establish order by delineating expectations for "the group," some degree of chaos inevitably ensues. And an atmosphere of chaos does not provide the safest, most stable situation in which people thrive. It is certainly true that when determining the rules, those in authority should choose carefully, so as not to discourage those under their charge or to burden them unnecessarily, and should proceed from a desire to benefit and bless them - both individually and corporately.

Setting rules and boundaries can be a way of "one-anothering" one another. "Don't talk in the hallway" is not merely an opportunity to exercise is a rule established out of consideration for others who are studying or listening to a lecture. "Don't run in the building" is for the safety of the runner and anyone he might inadvertantly plow into. "Do your work" or "Don't be late" are for training in self-government which leads to satisfaction and further productivity. "Hold the door for the ladies" is one way of showing honor. "Serve your guests first" can be training in preferring others before yourself.

When young ones are taught to view these kinds of rules as outward manifestations of love for others, they are less inclined to rebel against or ignore them, and their hearts will be trained to live in a constant awareness of those around them. They learn to purposely bless those around them by thoughtful actions.

Finally, rules such as "Don't jump on the couch" or "Don't throw the ball in the house" or "Don't take your drinks out of this room" etc., can simply stem from a desire, not to squelch a child's propensity for joy and exuberance, but to cultivate an attitude of faithful stewardship and thankfulness for God's good gifts. If I don't have to replace my sofa, or lamp or carpeting because they've been carelessly ruined, what else might those monies be available for? How might that extra time be spent instead of shopping for replacements?

In conclusion, I would suggest that our reasons for establishing rules, the way we present them to children (or adults for that matter), as well as the way we go about enforcing them can prevent the making and enforcing of rules from becoming an exercise in legalism. However, this requires thoughtful consideration, effort and discernment on the part of the rule makers.

Let the rules live on...let the legalism be put to death!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On "Being Gay"

I believe we Christians do ourselves and the culture-at-large a disservice by adopting the terminology of the homosexual community. "Being gay" is their own phrase, designed to innoculate us against the morally reprehensible behavior which it represents. Part of the problem with the phrase itself is that it implies a "state of being" over which a person has no control. There is a certain inevitability assumed in the term though it were equivalent to "having cancer" or "being autistic." This is who I "am" and I must accept who I "am." This leads easily to the conclusion that to ask a person who "is gay" not to live that lifestyle, is unfairly asking them to deny who they "are." There is a fundamental problem with using this language and many Christians, desiring to appear enlightened or to shed the label of right-wing homophobes, have adopted the language. I suggest that this is not without consequence...that it leads to a paradigm shift in our thinking. Afterall, doesn't "being gay" sound much less noxious than "practicing homosexuality?"

I would also suggest that there is no such thing as "being" homosexual. We don't say that a person "is" a cleptomaniac unless he practices the sin of stealing. I don't say my son "is a liar" simply because he struggles to tell the truth...I only say he is a liar if he lies. With what other sin do we label someone according to the temptations they resist or when else do we assign a "state of being" that leads to the practice of particular sins? Is a rapist a rapist if he never commits rape? Can a man "be" a murderer who has never killed anyone? What if he hated someone enough that he wanted to kill him, but didn't? Does that make him a murderer? Well, yes, in the sense that it makes him guilty before God because heart sins "count" even if they are not acted on....BUT there is a degree of guilt here. It would be worse if that man actually followed through and murdered his fellow man. Our civil and ecclesiastical practices bear this out...we don't jail someone or ban him from the Lord's Table because of the sinful desires of his heart. It is when he ACTS on those desires that his sin leads to punishment. No one "IS gay." They either practice homosexuality or they don't.

I am not denying that some persons, as a result of biological or emotional make-up, or because of circumstances in their past, may struggle more fiercely with particular temptations. That almost certainly is the case. Original sin manifests itself differently in each of us. Some are more inclined to addiction, some to materialism, some to pride, some to adultery, some to homosexuality...often the sins with which we are not tempted remain incomprehensible to us. Though many of us might be faced with or at least understand the temptations of fornication or adultery, many of us cannot comprehend the lure of homosexuality, nor can most of us understand the desire to rape or murder. These "inclinations," if you will, or the propensity to be tempted in a particular area, does not negate liability when those lusts are conceived and bring forth sin.

My main reason for even addressing this, is JKR's announcement that "Dumbledore is gay." Not only does it seem like an inciteful, limelight-seeking move on her part, it seems absurd based on the evidence in the books. Regardless of what she claims is or was in her imagination, she took great pains to conceal it in the book. Dumbledore's character neither engages in homosexual behavior (thus my argument that he cannot "be gay"), nor does he even encounter temptations which he resists. It has been suggested by some that Rowling can make endless radical assertions about any part of her text, but that which remains absent from the story, is simply NOT relevant to the story.

And for those Christians whose "witchcraft" arguments against the book have been ridiculed, and who now arrogantly say, "I-told-you-so," remember that none of you ever criticized the books for their homosexual content, and your arguments against the wizardry remain as invalid as before. (Sorry if that sounds a little grumpy...I have a headache.)

Friday, October 19, 2007


Brian Jacques has a brand-new release in the Redwall series! I am so excited! For some reason, I thought he was finished doing Redwall books. His last couple have been sequels to Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, so I just assumed that was the end of Basil Stag Hare!

I picked up a copy yesterday at Barnes & Noble, but haven't decided yet whether to read it in secret then give it to one of the boys for Christmas, or whether to publicize it now...hmmmm.

BTW, for those who don't know, "Eulalia!" is the battlecry of the good guys in Redwall...and the title of the new release - should be fun!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Milton on Education

I have been a mite busy this week. Among other things, it is report card time, which creates extra work; plus, I needed to attend to some family matters, as well as release some of my creative energy by cooking and crafting. But fortunately (or not), I'm baaack...

On Monday, Eric's teacher handed me a letter written by John Milton to Master Samuel Hartlib, detailing his view of education. His letter opens this way:

"I am long since persuaded that to say and do aught worth memory and imitation, no purpose or respect should sooner move us than simply the love of God and of mankind."

He goes on to say:
"The end, then, of learning is, to repair the ruins of our first parents by beginning to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest, by possessing our souls of true virtue, which, being united to the heavenly grace of faith, makes up the highest perfection."

He argues that we spend too much time on "idle vacancies" and try to teach at first that which should be saved for last:

"Hence appear the many mistakes which have made learning generally so unpleasing and so unsuccessful. [We] force the empty wits of children to compose themes, verses and orations, which are the acts of ripest judgement, and the final work of a head filled by long reading and observing, with elegant maxims and copious invention. These are not matters to be wrung from striplings, like blood out of the nose..."

He believes that by beginning many studies too early, we thus waste our time; his view is that "formal" education can be accomplished between the ages of 12-21. Here is his suggested order of learning:

Age 12:
The rules of Grammar
Clear pronunciation

Age 13:
Expertise in Grammar
Love of virtue and labor
Enjoyment of good books by listening to them read aloud
Rules of arithmetic and elements of geometry learned largely by playing
The story of Scripture

Age 14:
Read the agricultural authors, thereby learning to farm, but also absorbing the qualities of good prose
The use of globes and maps
Natural philosophy
Learn the Greek tongue and read its authors (by whose reading they will learn mathematics and science)

Age 15:
Anatomy - which leads to the study of medicine (enough to be practical)

Age 16:
Practical knowledge from workmen and scientists
Greek & Latin Poetry

Age 17:
Moral philosophy through reading the ancients and the Scriptures

Age 18:
Economics - "Being perfect in the knowledge of personal duty [from their prior studies], they may then begin the study of economics..."

Age 19
Politics - "to know the beginning, end, and reasons of political societies, that they may not, in a dangerous fit of the commonwealth, be such poor shaken reeds, of such a tottering conscience as many of our great councillors have lately shown themselves, but steadfast pillars of the state."
Law (beginning with Moses down to the present)
Church history
Hebrew - and why not throw in Chaldean and Syrian while you're at it!

Age 20:
Only after these "employments are well conquered," will the "choice histories, heroic poems, and Attic tragedies of statliest and most regal argument, with all the famous political orations, offer themselves." They should be read and many memorized and publicly presented.

Age 21:
Lastly, those "arts which enable men to discourse and write perspicuously." (Namely Logic and Epic Poetry) "From hence, and not till now, will be the right season of forming them to be able writers and composers in every excellent matter, when they shall be thus fraught with an universal insight into things...honour and attention would be waiting on their lips."

Milton also recommends that their day be divided into 3 parts: Studies (outlined above), Exercise and Diet.

"The exercise which I command first is the exact use of their weapon...this will keep them healthy, strong, and well in breath...inspire them with a gallant and fearless courage; which, being tempered with lectures and precepts will make them of true fortitude and patience...and make them hate the cowardice of doing wrong." They should also learn to wrestle, he says.

This "unsweating" of their bodies should be followed by ample rest during which time they should "recreate and recompose their travailed spirits with the solemn and divine harmonies of music...The like also would not be unexpedient after meat, sending their minds back to study in good tune and satisfaction." Before dinner, they ought to engage in military drills so they are well prepared in case of need.

Their diet of course should be "plain, healthful and moderate," most often taken at "home" (which is to say at school), lest they "lose much time abroad."

"This institution of breeding which I here delineate shall be equally good both for peace and war."

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Wrong Side of the Blanket

The following is an excerpt from the opening pages of my mother's book, which I am editing for her. It tells the story of her life growing up from the perspective (or "voices") of the 3 main adults (her biological mother, Bertie; her father, Vonnie; and Vonnie's wife, Vergie, who raised her). This is a work in progress, but Mom's desire ultimately is to show, through her story, the faithfulness of God in spite of grave human failure and sin. The working title of the book is "Voices From the Wrong Side of the Blanket: A Tale of Adultery, Illegitimacy and the Immeasurable Grace of God." The phrase "born on the wrong side of blanket" is an old term that referred to an illegitimate birth.

Bertie pulled the quilt around her shoulders as she sat alone in her wheelchair - isolated, invisible, ignored. A deafening silence engulfed her little world, even though a few feet away sat rows of others who, like her, were aged and frail, but who, unlike her, were ignorant or crazy. This rendered them either incapable or unworthy of her communication.

She fingered the frayed edge of the quilt trying to discern the colors through her diminished eyesight. Her hand brushed a white flannel piece and flashes of her youth illuminated her mind. Why, this looks like the wool-flannel dress I wore with new patent leather shoes the day I married Willie Kruse. I still recall the fancy braided trim and white fur collar and cuffs. The contrast of that orange flower on the wide-brimmed black satin hat which crowned my long, black hair, must have presented quite a spectacle! Willie looked unusually dashing himself in his moss-green, shadow plaid suit, his tan silk pongee shirt, brown tie, gray bill cap, and...of all oxfords.! He was sporting that new overcoat as well.

Bertie's thoughts ended as abruptly as they had begun. She became irritated and yelled for the nurse as tears welled up in her eyes. No one came. Some of her companions offered consolation, but she simply glanced at them with disdain and inaudible whispers of scorn. She pursed her lips and retreated into her self-created gloom.

Bertie's brow furrowed as the memories of that wedding day resumed. Every woman anticipates that happy day when she is to marry, but I was frightened and devoid of excitement or joy. I did not love Willie nor did I know what true love was. If only my parents had not insisted that I marry him! Such a high price to pay for the guarantee of a home! What a disaster! But then, if I hadn't married him, I wouldn't have my blessed Ora Norene - what a beautiful blue-eyed baby she was. As Bertie's eye caught a piece of blue satin, she recalled another wedding day - the day the grown-up Norene married Russ. The spirit of love and happiness that eluded my wedding to Willie, pervaded theirs and has carried them through all these years.

She sighed deeply and drifted toward sleep as her head drooped onto her chest. Her hair, no longer a thick black crown, hung thin and white along her cheeks. As she slept, she dreamed happy dreams of the young Norene, dancing, drawing and coloring.

At dinner time, Bertie was awakened and wheeled to the dining room where she was confronted with an unappetizing assortment of food, whose lack of visual appeal alone squelched her hunger. She had once taken great pride in her own ability to prepare delicious and varied meals, but those days were long gone. Now, because her eye-hand coordination had diminished significantly, a nurse's assistant came to feed her. A few bites seemed more than sufficient, so Bertie shook her head and waved her hand in refusal of another morsel.

Her hips ached from too many hours in the wheelchair and she welcomed the relief when, after dinner, aides assisted her into bed. They laid the old pieced quilt over her. Somehow it comforted her and she felt like a child again, finding solace in a cherished blanket. She recognized her infantile capabilities...her inability to turn herself over or to read a book or even to watch the television news as she had for so many years prior. Though in her 90's, Bertie remained surprised by how quickly this deterioration had descended on her. She retreated into her fading memories, retrieving and briefly meditating on bits and pieces of her life.

A square of pink floral reminded her of a dress her mother once made for her sister, Ruby. I never have understood why she didn't make one of those dresses for me also. I waited my whole life to be shown a fraction of the affection that Mother gave to Ruby.

Suddenly, her gnarled arthritic fingers found a fabric that she need not see to recognize. It was the remnant of a dress she had sewn for herself back in 1932. Her mind was deluged with the memories of the relationship between herself and Vonnie Southerland, which had begun the moment their eyes met. Tears came easily now as she recalled the twenty-six years which had beleaguered her with sorrow and pain. How could I forget that April day which brought our first encounter while each of us was married to another?

She had always blamed Vonnie and even now, her aged mind resisted responsibility. I did not seduce him. Vonnie forced me, then tormented me. After telling the story this way for so many years, the truth no longer presented itself.

Bertie lingered in the fog of confusion, tossed between recollections of delight and love, betrayal and rejection. Was she guilty after all? These thoughts carried her further into a state of loneliness and isolation. Where are all my children? Why am I not surrounded with love and lavished with attention in my latter days? Surely after all I have endured, that's the least I deserve. She abandoned her thoughts and succumbed to the welcome relief of sleep.

At this point, the narrative shifts to Vonnie's voice as another portion of the story is brought to light through his eyes. Being so close to the original story, it's hard for me to tell how it comes across to others or if it resonates with anyone outside the family. It is also difficult to know, if our approach makes sense and works with those who don't have all the "back knowledge" that we do. I know this is a brief excerpt, but if you have any comments, I'd like to hear them.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Critical Spirit

This is one of my greatest and ongoing struggles in life. How can I hold beliefs and opinions about what is true, right, good, beautiful or excellent without looking disdainfully on that which doesn't measure up?

I refer, not to moral judgements about matters which are clearly manifest in Scripture, but to issues of smaller import, which nevertheless are not without consequence.

Questioning myself in this regard was prompted (this time), by a particular incident at school. Friday was Grandparents' Day at my boys' school. Each year, the Grammar school children perform some of their songs, chants and sound-offs which demonstrate the methods used daily in the classroom. Both the students and grandparents enjoy the morning.

This time the 5th Grade class performed, among other things, the hymn "How Great Thou Art." They received especially hearty applause and even a couple of cat-calls. Afterward, I heard at least a dozen comments about what a wonderful job they did, yet I sat through the performance internally rolling my eyes at the cheesy note-slurring and dramatic accompaniment. Critical thoughts about the intentional stirring of emotions through this type of lyric and style of music pervaded my mind and I was unable to enjoy the performance.

On top of that, I sat worrying whether the students are being taught the hymns outlined in the 5th grade curriculum...Not What My Hands Have Done, Lord With Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee, For All the Saints, Psalm 23, etc. Afterall, we are a school who, at least confessionally, embraces the "Reformed" tradition and it ought to be reflected in the content we set before the students...right?! I also found myself rejoicing that my children have already passed through 5th grade and learned the "real" hymns.'s the deal. I can "rebuke" myself all day with arguments such as "their teacher is a faithful Christian man who is serving them day after day and his desire is for them to know and trust the Lord; therefore, you shouldn't criticize." Or, "it's not church, you know...big deal if they are singing a testimonial hymn with pre-millenial undertones." Or, "involving the emotions is not entirely least they are not being trained to be Stoics, like yourself." Or "the style alone doesn't make it bad..."

I don't think for a moment that singing "How Great Thou Art" is harmful to the students, but why would we not want to present that which is better? Why not present them with substantial truth, rather than an emotional inducement to devotion? In a society of relativists, it is considered arrogant to declare one idea or approach as superior to another. Can these declarations proceed from a heart absent of arrogance?

Even if I respond graciously to those involved, and don't make sweeping judgements about them personally, I remain troubled and uncomfortable, and want to be a catalyst for change. So the question remains: How do I sit and listen to "How Great Thou Art" performed emotionally and enjoy it without criticizing? Do I have to abandon my opinions?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

No Time to Blog

Not today anyway...

A couple weeks ago, a gal from church challenged me to memorize the book of Colossians with her. We are studying this book on Sunday evenings, as well as at Ladies' Bible Study on Thursdays. Tomorrow is the day by which I should have memorized vs. 1-8 of chapter one. In characteristic fashion, I have procrastinated until the very last minute, so I have other things to occupy today's allotment of brain's limited, you know.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cooking Fiasco

My friend, Jennifer, shared her most recent kitchen fiasco here, so I thought I'd share "ours." I will not identify the guilty party...under threat of punishment!

Last night, I went to my favorite local haunt, Barnes & Noble, to read for a know, for a change of pace. :) I made some progress on Bondage of the Will, but I also read the first couple chapters of My Grandfather's Son - Justice Clarence Thomas' new autobiography - which was fascinating enough that I will purchase it soon. (While I was there I saw this gorgeous new "illustrated" version of David McCoullough's is fabulous! I put one of those on hold.)

But, I digress. On arriving home, I found the doors ajar, windows open and the whole-house fan running was after 10 PM, mind you, and the children are SUPPOSED to be in bed! Anyway, one of the Shaffer males had attempted to hard boil some eggs, which can be tricky, you know...all that boiling water and stuff. Well, the aforementioned Shaffer male went in his room to watch Saints & Soldiers (good movie, btw), and promptly forgot about the eggs...until he heard a strange "pop." As he headed toward the kitchen, he was greeted by clouds of smoke and a raunchy, choking smell...yep, the water was dried up, the bottom of my GOOD Swiss-made pot was scorched, and the portions of egg that were not permanently affixed to the bottom of said pot, had splattered all over the kitchen...the stove, counters, microwave, floor, and yes, even the CEILING were all dotted with egg-particles.

When I walked in shortly thereafter, the smell was horrendous! Have you always thought that hard boiled eggs smell badly? Trust me...SCORCHED hard boiled eggs have to be the smell of Hades. The smell lingers even now, but should dissipate by day's end - I hope! Thank God for whole-house fans!

The Bondage of the Will I

I've known for at least a decade that this is a "must-read" but have put it off, because of a mistaken notion. I assumed, having never read Luther's own writings before, that this would be a dry theological treatise on free-will, which I would have to slug through simply because I should.

Boy was I wrong! This is a tailor-made Invective...a veritable handbook! extended "howler," if ever there was one! This response makes the current discourse about "Federal Vision" seem tame and practically impotent! (One significant difference, of course, being that Luther actually read the works of the man he was publicly refuting, and engaged the man himself in direct dialogue, rather than simply reading about his teachings while pontificating to others based on hearsay...)

Those who know me, are likely not surprised that I would enjoy this sort of animated verbal sparring! I must admit, however, that at times, I have been a bit astonished at and even uncomfortable with Luther's tone...or at least if I imagine this dialogue occurring today, it seems quite harsh. I don't know enough about the extent of his relationship with Erasmus - did they know each other only through these debates, or did they have a personal relationship? Nor have I read Erasmus' "Diatribe," so I am only learning what he actually said in bits and pieces as Luther quotes him. Maybe the sum of Erasmus' content deserved nothing less - just yesterday, I encountered some of his more absurd assertions (Erasmus').

I have only finished 2 of the 8 "chapters" to date. Here are some of Luther's most inciteful phrases:

"...your book struck me as so worthless and poor that my heart went out to you for having defiled your lovely, brilliant flow of language with such vile stuff. I thought it outrageous to convey material of so low a quality in the trappings of such rare eloquence; it is like using gold or silver dishes to carry garden rubbish or dung." (p63)

"...what kept me from rushing in with an answer to you was...simply disgust, disinclination and distaste - which, if I may say so, express my judgment on your Diatribe. have taken vast pains throughout to be slippery and would have nothing actually asserted, while yet you would seem to assert something!" (p64)

"In a word, what you say comes to this: that you do not think it matters a scrap what anyone believes anywhere, so long as the world is at peace...'If they affirm, I affirm; if they deny, so do I.'" (p69)

"So here again, in your desire to discourage us from anything rash, you allow yourself to be carried to the contrary extreme (as fools do) and teach the very quintessence of godless, suicidal folly. Do you see, now, that at this point your book is so godless, blasphemous and sacrilegious, that its like cannot be found anywhere?" (p85)

"You are venting your spleen on us, as usual, in order to prejudice and discredit our cause, because you see that you cannot conquer or overthrow it." (p88)

"What a fulsome speaker you are! - but utterly ignorant of what you are talking about. ...if you do not grasp that, if it leaves you unmoved, then mind your own business, and leave those to grasp it and be moved by it to whom it is given of God!" (p90)

"...your next bit of advice, 'wrong decisions made in councils should not be publicly acknowledged, lest grounds for denying the authority of the fathers should thereby be given.' This, of course, is just what the Pope wanted you to say! He finds it sweeter hearing than the Gospel itself; he will be most ungrateful if he does not honour you in return with a cardinal's hat, plus all the attendant revenues!" (p96)

"So, your Creator must learn from YOU, His creature, what may be usefully preached and what not? God was so stupid and thoughtless, was He, that He did not know what should be taught till you came along to tell Him how to be wise? - as if without your pointing it out He would not have realized that this paradox involves the consequence you draw? " (p98)

Wow! Even Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter seem tame by comparison!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Pizzarelli & Molaskey

Saturday night I had the joy...yes, the JOY...of listening to some excellent jazz at the Sheldon, a relatively small and acoustically superior venue in St. Louis, which hosts primarily folk, jazz or bluegrass concerts.

We joined 3 other couples for dinner before heading down to listen to - and watch - the John Pizzarelli Quartet. We were introduced to Mr. Pizzarelli several years ago by one of the couples who loaned us some of his CDs. I thought he was good enough...until the first time I saw him perform (Saturday was my 3rd).

His voice ranges from moderately good to exquisite at times, but his guitar playing is nothing short of astounding; plus he is quite the entertainer...charming, funny, humble, unassuming...and a handsome New Jersey Italian to boot! Mr. Pizzarelli hails from a jazz family - his father is Bucky Pizzarelli (which actually means nothing to most people!) - and his brother, Martin, is part of his Quartet. Each member of the quartet is as accomplished on his respective instrument (drums, bass, piano), as John is on his guitar. His wife, Jessica Molaskey, is also a musician...she sings the old pop standards, plus Broadway tunes...and she joined him on stage Saturday. Delightful...

If you ever have the chance to see him, don't miss it!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

San Antonio?

It's a BUST!

In spite of everyone's encouragement to the contrary, we made a practical decision based on the following:

1) The alloted time is too short - we have talked of going there for some time and this whirlwind trip would be our one shot...we would not have nearly enough time to do all we would like.

2) We couldn't see friends - there are two people I would like to hook up with if we go there and this timing doesn't work for that.

3) Steve's work - this is Steve's busiest time of year...he was willing to do it, but it will add some pressure to him unnecessarily.

4) It's too expensive - we always tell ourselves we'll get off cheap because the flights are free, the rental car is free, the hotel is free...but when we started listing all the things we would actually spend $ on (babysitting, nice food, tickets, attractions, etc.), it didn't add up for such a short trip.

So, thanks for your input, but in the end, the pragmatist trumped the romantic.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

On Rhetoric XV: Figures of Description

I have not forgotten that one of my earliest posts on rhetoric promised to provide definitions and examples for the most widely used Figures of Description.

In the early stages of composition, students are learning to write primarily by imitation of proven authors. Remember that the exercise of imitation is helpful because students learn, by absorption, the nature of well-framed plots, characters and settings. When we ask them to expand an existing story, by inserting a specific Figure of Description, we allow them to focus on the development of one particular skill rather than expecting them to simultaneously generate an interesting plot, engaging and believable characters, well-formed sentences, and accurate spelling.

These figures are prescribed - and commonly used - ways of bringing a story to life. They require the student to isolate an image in their mind and then bring that same image into their reader's mind. As mentioned previously, this requires astute powers of observation which can be acquired and sharpened through practice.

Here are some of the common Figures with their definitions. I will expand on each later, providing examples from literature.

Each of these definitions begin with the words: A vivid description of...

Anemographia - the wind or air

Astrothesia - the stars or night sky

Chorographia - a nation or group of people

Chronographia - an historical or recurring time

Dendographia - trees, vegetation

Effictio - a person's body, often from head to toe

Geographia - the earth or landscape

Hydrographia - water or bodies of water

Prosopographia - a person's face or expressions

Pragmatographia - an action or event

Topographia - the layout of a room, street, town, etc.

Topothesia - an imaginary place

The definitions for the following figures, do not begin with "the vivid decsription of"

Ecphrasis - a conventional description of a person, place, event, season, etc.

Ethopoiea - the portrayal of a being's character

Prosopopoeia - "To give a face" - to animate the inanimate (same as personification)

These are the primary figures I will deal with in the classroom. I have excluded a few that are commonly named because I either don't understand them, or have not found sufficient examples to elucidate them. I am in the process of inventing names for some other descriptions that I find repeatedly, but are not specified on any list I can find.