Friday, December 31, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day Six, End of the Year

Thy goodness has been with me during another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway...
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see thy face the sooner;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use. 

- Year's End Prayer, "The Valley of Vision"

But as he considered these things, 
behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, 
saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, 
for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, 
for he will save his people from their sins." 
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, 
and they shall call his name Immanuel", which means, 

Matthew 1:20-23

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 5, The Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green,
The trees of nature, fruitless be,
Compar'd with Christ the apple tree.

This beauty doth all things exel,
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I miss'd for all, but now I see
'Tis found in Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary'd with my former toil,
Here I shall set and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

With great delight I'll make my stay,
There's none shall fright my soul away;
Among the sons of men I see,
There's none like Christ the apple tree.

I'll sit and eat this truth divine,
It cheers my heart like spirit'l wine;
And now this fruit is sweet to me
That grows on Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

- Jesus Christ the Apple Tree from "Divine Hymns, Or Spiritual Songs", reprinted from 1797

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 4, a Song from the Muppets

Bless Us All

Life is full of sweet surprises, every day's a gift
The sun comes up and I can feel it lift my spirit
Fills me up with laughter, fills me up with song
I look into the eyes of love and know that I belong

Bless us all, who gather here
The loving family I hold dear
No place on earth compares with home
And every path will bring me back from where I roam
Bless us all, that as we live
We always comfort and forgive
We have so much that we can share
With those in need we see around us everywhere

Let us always love each other
Lead us to the light
Let us hear the voice of reason singing in the night
Let us run from anger, and catch us when we fall
Teach us in our dreams and please, yes please,
Bless us one and all

Bless us all with playful years
With noisy games and joyful tears
We reach for you and we stand tall
And in our prayers and dreams
We ask you bless us all

We reach for you and we stand tall
And in our prayers and dreams we ask you
Bless us all

- From "The Muppet's Christmas Carol"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 3, Lewis Quotes

"The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left."

- From "The Grand Miracle"

"The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a Woman's body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab."

- From "Mere Christianity"

"That time He was creating not simply a man but the Man who was to be Himself: was creating Man anew: was beginning, at this divine and human point, the New Creation of all things....The miraculous conception is one more witness that here is Nature's Lord. He is doing now, small and close, what He does in a different fashion for every woman who conceives."

- From "Miracles

All quotes by C.S. Lewis.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 2, a Glimpse at G.K. Chesterton

Christmas Poem

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost- how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

The world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

- Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas: Day 1

The idea of traditions has been in my thoughts lately. It seems that there should and can be a good balance between accepting the new and observing the old. If you lean too much towards one or the other, then there is an imbalance of either capriciousness or stagnation. 

Chris and I established three traditions for us to celebrate year to year as a family at Christmas. It won't be the end of the world if they change some day, but it would be nice to have a few things that are "us". My mom, stepdad, and sister were with us this year, so that was absolutely wonderful to have them be a part of building our traditions. They are:

1. Watching "The Muppet's Christmas Carol".
2. Home-made tacos for dinner on Christmas day.
3. A Peppermint Pig.

One of my greatest friends and her husband used to watch this movie every Christmas; it's my and Chris's favorite holiday film! Tacos are just one of the best things ever if you know how to make them right, and with my mom's training I think I'll be able to pull it off now. The Peppermint Pig is better explained by this website: 

Anyway, I was curious about the Twelve Days of Christmas tradition. After doing some research on the Twelve Days of Christmas song, I found two important facts: nobody agrees on what the meaning of the lyrics signifies, and everyone is pretty sure that the original meaning has been mostly lost. It appears to be a cheerful song that celebrates the Christmas season with imagery of bygone seasonal gifts. The one thing that most do agree on is that the Twelve Days start after Christmas and end on Twelfth Night, usually January 5th, after which begins Epiphany. 

The first day of the Twelve is Boxing Day; it is mostly observed across the United Kingdoms rather than America. Several cultures give presents on each of the Twelve Days, culminating with a celebration on Twelfth Night, which is also called Three Kings' Day or just Kings' Day. Some traditions say that Christmas decorations may be taken down anytime during the Twelve Days, but the last day to put away the holiday trimmings is Twelfth Night (supposedly it's bad luck if you leave decorations up past Epiphany). There are also the traditions of the Yule Log, the King Cake, wassail, and plum pudding.

In the interest of doing something interesting for the Twelve Days of Christmas, I will post something each day relating to Christmas and the season of rebirth as we approach the New Year. Here is today's selection, my favorite retelling of the Christmas story and an introduction to one of my heros, John. 

In the beginning was the Word
And the Word was with God
And the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him
And without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness
And the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
He came as a witness 
To bear witness about the light that all might believe through him.
He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world.

He was in the world
And the world was made through him
Yet the world did not know him.
He came to his own
And his own people did not receive him.
But to all who did receive him
Who believed in his name
He gave the right to become children of God
Who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh
Nor of the will of man
But of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We have seen his glory
Glory as of the only Son from the Father
Full of grace and truth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Inner Victory

Yesterday while walking past a book table at the institution where I'm auditing a class on the constitution and government, I saw a book called "Ordering Your Private World" by Gordon MacDonald. There were several passages that looked interesting, so I skimmed through it to see what was there. Then I bought it and read it in depth that afternoon.

MacDonald's words have definitely had an impact on my thoughts. His premise is that only when the inner self is organized, balanced, and kept in proper order will a person be able to live a life of public effectiveness. Many people who are in the public eye appear to be mature and wise, but if you look at their inner soul, it is empty or full of turmoil. So much emphasis is placed on having a shiny, clean looking outer life; what about what goes on in your mind, in the deepest places, when you are all alone without distractions of busyness, entertainment, people, or society? What do you have inside to sustain yourself through the hard times? What is your inner purpose, your motivation for getting up in the morning? Who are you, really?

Even though the next week and a half will be extremely busy for me (lots of preparation and performances for my students and myself, traveling before the holiday, etc.) I will be thinking hard about these questions. Maybe I'll write more about how the book is affecting my thoughts during the winter break. 

In the meantime, I highly recommend MacDonald's book to everyone willing to ask hard questions of themselves. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lust, Love, and Lyrics: Some Thoughts

"Lust claims that love without sex is impossible and that sex without love still satisfies. But both claims are wrong. Paradoxically, the profligate is more frustrated than fulfilled. 
Expressed more positively, the biblical view of sexual intercourse is that it is not only procreative but expressive. It is the ultimate expression of intimacy, of complete and unconditional unveiling, of which two human beings are capable. As such, it is an act that is misleading and damaging outside marriage, which is the only setting that is totally self-giving.
Like food, sex is of course good in the biblical understanding. But at certain times in the Christian past, its goodness has been severely undervalued, chiefly because of a dualism inherited from the Greeks who saw the mind as positive and the body is negative. From this warped viewpoint, we worship with our minds and sin with our bodies... From the biblical point of view, however, the challenge is quite the opposite: We worship God with our bodies as well as our minds and hearts, and we sin above all with our minds, not our bodies.
At the same time, sexuality has been freed from its former ties to procreation, setting the stage for the isolation and exaggeration of the sexual impulse. This movement reaches its climax in the advocates of sexual mysticism who regard sexual intercourse as the ultimate revelatory breakthrough between human beings- as if love-making were the equivalent of Mt. Sinai or the resurrection...
Lust essentially "uses" and dehumanizes another. But the users deceive themselves, too. Lust-driven seduction without personal engagement ends only in the void of empty-armedness and even deeper longing." 

- Os Guinness, "Steering Through Chaos: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion"

"Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack'd any thing.
A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat."

- George Herbert, "Love (III)"

"Wasted time. I can not say that I was ready for this.
But when worlds collide, and all that I have is all that I want,
the words seem to flow and the thoughts they keep running.
And all that I have is yours. 
All that I am is yours.

Painted skies. I've seen so many that can not compare
to your ocean eyes. The pictures you took
that cover your room. And it was just like the sun,
but more like the moon. A light
that can reach it all. 
So now I'm branded for taking the fall.

So when you say "forever" can't you see?
You've already captured me."

- Lyrics from Everglow, "The Sun and the Moon", by Mae

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Potter Theory

"Jane had gone into the garden to think... "Religion" ought to mean a realm in which her haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest and what she called her "true self" would soar upwards and expand in some freer and purer world. For still she thought that "Religion" was a kind of exhalation or a cloud of incense, something steaming up from specially gifted souls towards a receptive Heaven. Then, quite sharply, it occurred to her that the Director never talked about Religion; nor did the Dimbles nor Camilla. They talked about God. They had no pictures in their minds of some mist steaming upward: rather of rather of strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, perhaps even to destroy. Supposing one were a thing after all- a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one's true self? Supposing all those people who, from the bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was? Supposing Maleldil on this subject agreed with them and not with her? For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. 

Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came.

What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border, were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable met her with no veil or protection between... There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had been like this; only by benig like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little idea of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished... 

The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. It was a person (not the person she had thought), yet also a thing, a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others, a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on..."

Exerpt from "That Hideous Strength" by C. S. Lewis

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Birthday", or A Thanksgiving Close Call

Every once in a while, it's good to take a step back from my life to take a look at everything. It's not meant to "measure my progress"; while I do have some long-term goals, they are either activities that will occur when the opportunity/time arises (like "knit a sock", "travel to Ireland", "learn how to juggle flaming torches", etc.) or desires that will hopefully become reality someday (have kids). I prefer to live by achieving small goals and being flexible to go where life takes me. Still, it's helpful to stand back, see what I've learned from the past, and ponder the path that I'm currently walking. 

Different things trigger these intermittent life-evaluations. The most recent time was elicited from a song. A friend introduced me to a band called The Cruxshadows, which I like very much. Their music videos are a bit disturbing, but I like the style of music and the lyrics a lot. My favorite song that I've heard so far is called "Birthday". Here it is:

"Roll out of bed, look in the mirror
And wonder who you are
Another year has come and gone
Today is your birthday
But it might be the last day of your life
What will you do if tomorrow it's all gone?

You won't be young forever
There's only a fraction to the sum
You won't be young forever
Nor will anyone

Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, what do you want to do?
Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, you haven't got forever

And tell me what really matters
Is it the money and the fame?
Or how many people might eventually know your name?
But maybe you touch one life
And the world becomes a better place to be
Maybe you give their dreams another day
Another chance to be free

Happy birthday 
Happy birthday

Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, what do you want to do?
Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, it all comes back to you."

After listening to this song obsessively for a week, I began to think about the words more. Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? I really want to make a difference to people and the world around me. Is my current road allowing me to do that, in whatever capacity I am able? If I lay dying tomorrow, would I think back on my past and wish that I'd done more, or done something differently? 

On the night before Thanksgiving, Chris and I were driving through the steep hills on our way to Cincinnati, with only forty minutes left to our drive, when we were in a car accident. The weather was foggy and wet, which caused a truck driven by two college kids to skid into a guard rail on the side of the highway. They were off to the side of the road, but the truck was facing oncoming traffic. Its lights were on for safety; the kids were standing a little ways in front of their truck on the side waiting for the police. I was driving my car, and saw them in plenty of time to know that I wouldn't hit them; there was a semi-truck in the lane next to me, so I didn't change lanes. But a guy driving a white car came flying down an on-ramp that was right before the broken down truck, so as we were passing the truck, the white car did not merge in front of us or behind us. Instead, it stayed beside us in my blind spot. It plowed into the truck then ricocheted off it into my car. 

After skidding all over the road, I was able to pull off to the side about a hundred yards away. While Chris jumped out of the car to go see what happened to the other people, I had a massive asthma attack (Chris made sure I took my inhaler before he left, don't worry) from fright. It took a little while to get that under control. The police arrived with a clean up crew and a tow truck. Miraculously, there were no injuries aside from a few stiff necks. The truck and the white car were totaled from all the damage. My car suffered some considerable passenger-side damage to the door panel and a few dents to the front right side, but was completely drivable. 

We were the only ones of the party who had all the information we needed for the police, our vehicle registration, insurance paperwork, and licenses. After a long, freezing cold time with the sheriff, who was extremely frustrated with the idiocy of the driver of the white car, we were able to finish our drive to Chris's family. Chris drove; I was too shaky from the stress and asthma medication.

It was certainly a very close call. There are lots of things to be thankful for. The entire accident was not our fault. Nobody was hurt. My car will make it back home (hopefully; we'll see how that goes tomorrow on the drive). It could have been "the last day of my life" as the song said, but it wasn't. 

Throughout this holiday weekend I have been acutely aware of the fact that I am very privileged with my life here. In one of my favorite movies, "The Village", they say a blessing: "We are grateful for the time we have been given." I was able to echo their words many times during this season of thanks.

This morning I woke up in Chris's grandfather's house and looked out the window to see snow falling. If I had died in the car accident, I wouldn't have been able to see my first snow of the winter season. I wouldn't be curled up with Chris on the couch drinking iced tea and knitting, watching football with his family. I wouldn't be hearing the good news of my friend's new guitar that he purchased today (the picture of the guitar he sent by text was exciting; I can't wait to hear it!). There are so many things to be thankful for in life, great and small.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am grateful for the time I have been given. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is It Possible to Do Away With Religion?

C.S. Lewis believed that there is a physical realm and a spiritual realm, with many battles taking place, unseen by human eyes, yet still having a great effect on us. Lewis did not view ideas such as "sin" and "wickedness" to be outdated or obsolete. All that the modern era has to offer, the technological progress, equality campaigns, humanistic utilitarianism, and so on have not solved the world's problems. We still have wars and crime. There is still extreme suffering. Yes, there have been major breakthroughs in liberties (the abolishment of slavery, the destruction of corrupt governments, etc.), but society as a whole does not seem to be gaining ground in the areas of moral growth, or even happiness. 

Some might say that religion is one of the causes of constant hostilities, therefore if we got rid of religion, then we would eliminate a major factor in human conflict. It would be just as easy to do away with love, or a justice system! As long as there are humans, there will be human emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. Humans have a particular knack for finding something to intensely focus on in their lives. Whether it is an object or idea outside themselves, or their own self, everyone has something they "believe" in. Any sort of creed or "-ism" fits the bill: environmentalism, naturalism, Christianity, Mormonism, atheism, agnosticism, Islam, Judaism, materialism, Catholicism, postmodernism, spiritualism, Wicca, minimalism, feminism... the ways of thinking are endless. 

In the end, everyone has a theory of who they are, how they got there, and what they are on planet earth to do. Some people just throw their hands up in the air saying, "who knows!" or "does it matter?" But you'll find those people, too, are wrapped up in something they value, whether it be a cause, a life-style, or personal gain. That is their religion. So it is foolish to say that we can "get rid" of religion. It is much more beneficial to focus on ending the hostility between religious factions. Even if I have a different faith than my neighbors, that does not give me the right to kill them. 

Lewis described the world as being "invaded by powerful evils bent on destroying all that is good". He saw the message of Christianity as the truth that would set the world free. While he clearly had a strong imagination, as seen in his books about Narnia, he was also a practical theologian. His book "Mere Christianity" is a rational exploration of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I am excited to re-read his thoughts at this time; I first read the book several years ago during college but didn't have much time to seriously ponder anything. This will be a good journey.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is Success?

Everyone feels pressure to be someone. The influences around us, in the form of people, media, and culture, scream and push and pull us one way or another. One of the main things we feel the need to be is successful. But what defines success? How do we know if what we do, who we are, is successful?

This is what Everett Bogue, a minimalist blogger, wrote about what our society thinks success means, as seen by the barrage of advertisements:

"- Coca Cola wanted us to think success was sitting at the movies chugging cokes watching Tom Cruise dodge explosions.

- American Airlines wanted us to think of success as once a year taking an expensive flight to the caribbean.

- Nikon and Canon want you to believe that you'll be a famous photographer if you just buy one more camera lens."

Is success the size/style/make/ability/newness of your car, or house, or clothes, or gadgets?

Is success equal to your education level or grades?

Is success a job?

Is success a family?

Success to me, at its root, seems to be finding a goal or goals and setting out to accomplish them. But what should our goal in life be?

When I was little (I have no idea how old exactly, but sometime around middle school), I read a verse in the Bible that went like this:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:7

As I read those words I felt a great relief. I often felt bogged down as a child with the weight of wanting to do "right", but not knowing exactly how to do it. Yeah, obey your parents, don't steal, don't fight, blah blah blah... I felt like I knew the basics, but if that was all there was to being a God-follower, then that seemed pretty boring. It gave no direction on what I was supposed to do with my life! I knew that music was my talent, but how could I use something that seemed so mundane to "do right"? 

The answer came in looking deeper into Scripture. Over and over, the command to serve God came up, all through the ages. The nation of Israel was called to serve Him as their leader and God. The prophets were told to serve God as an example to the people when they went astray. What really struck me was the many stories of regular people, men and women, who were called to serve God in the life situation they were in currently. Sometimes they knew they were in a place to serve Him, other times it only became obvious later. There are dozens of stories all through the Old Testament that show individuals in the middle of their everyday lives being given the opportunity to serve God by following His commands to do right. 
I won't list out all the instances I'm talking about, because they are readily available for anyone who is interested in picking up a Bible and reading it with the intent of searching for these people and their stories. My church is going through the book of Ruth right now; it's a tiny book that most people forget about, but it focuses on one woman and the impact she had on history because of her desire to do what was right in the ordinary, common life she led. 

In the New Testament, I saw more evidence of regular people being called to serve God. Now, the twelve disciples of Jesus were called to a life of ministry out of their jobs as fishermen, tax collectors, etc., but I don't think that the average person is supposed to leave their job and fly to Africa to become a missionary (although that IS the calling for some people, so I'm not just dismissing it!). The disciples, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, didn't just sit around. They went out to the world and talked to ordinary people, young and old, male and female, slaves and wealthy. They taught many things, the central message being the saving grace of the God-man. What amazed me was that the people who were became believers were not told to drop everything and live a "Christian" life: they continued in their current vocation; all that changed were their intentions. 
Success is defined in the dictionary as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". It is safe to say then that having a purpose in life and working to fulfill that purpose is vital to being successful! The men and women in the Bible had found their purpose in life: to follow God by serving Him with their abilities and doing right, which meant doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. It went beyond following strictly the Laws of the Torah or the Ten Commandments. It was a purpose that transformed their entire lives, thought, word, and action. 

I firmly believe that every person has been given abilities to do particular things in life. They are gifts, because we can use them to help others. Unless something is particularly directed at doing wrong (people who steal, murder, cheat, lie, and so on), any vocation and any person's life can be used to serve God. 

When I look back on my life as I reach death, no matter how soon or long that may be from now, I want to be able to say that with the Lord's strength in me, I was successful. That by His power I was able to bring a tiny bit of justice to the world. That I sincerely loved kindness by showing it to others. That I walked with God and wanted to follow His will for my life. There would be nothing but failure and inevitable despair if I tried to do any of that on my own. I see in my heart the selfishness that sabotages my attempts to do right every day. But with God's spirit at work in me, there is the promise that I will not be broken, that no matter what happens, I will always see the purpose of life and do whatever I can to fulfill it. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why Believe in God?

I've always tried to figure out why I believe what I believe about God. The study in Genesis right now is good because it is helping me understand more of the theme of the Bible, and thus see the continuous melody running through variations and harmony throughout the book. In the darkest times of confusion, I've wondered why I don't renounce Christianity like so many of my friends have. Maybe it's because even when I question and become angry at God, I am still drawn back by the evidence of His work both in history and in my life. Also, there is the part of my mind that says belief in God is more logical and more suitable to the human heart, soul, and imagination than non-belief. I'm going to be re-reading C.S. Lewis's book "Mere Christianity" soon. It's an interesting trail tracing the steps of inherent moral knowledge up to the tenets of belief in God and Christ. 

Here is a quote that affected me very much when I was a child wondering about whether God was real or not. It still impacts my thoughts.

"Suppose we HAVE only dreamed, or made up, all those things- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by a play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
- From "The Silver Chair", by C.S. Lewis

Adam and Eve and the Beginning

The women's Bible study I've been attending is studying the book of Genesis. We've been meeting for two months and are only now getting to chapter six! At first, I thought that we'd be zipping right through. I mean, it's Genesis, the very beginning... how long can you discuss Adam and Eve and the six days of creation? But as we've been delving deeper into the verses, I see that I was wrong. 

From the very beginning of the Bible, the themes of justice, love, mercy, failure, redemption, and temptation are evidence in the struggle between good and evil that begins when the first humans are presented with the choice of rebellion or obedience. I always wondered why God didn't just STOP Eve from giving in to temptation, or give Adam a little nudge to do something about the situation. Then none of it would have happened; they would have continued to live in Eden in perfect harmony with God. But that was not the ultimate plan. God had a bigger picture in mind. By giving humans free choice instead of creating them as puppets or robots, God allowed them the possibility to mess up. And they did. Thus the story of the universe began, the story of God as the redeemer of a broken world, a God whose power transcends culture, time, generations, and languages.

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations." - Matthew 12:18

The question in my mind is still there, though. Why go through all this trouble to demonstrate absolution? Why all the wars, the natural disasters, the centuries of conflict? There are some days when I look at the news, become overwhelmed with grief at the amount of suffering in the world, and think that it would have been better if God didn't let mankind continue past that first transgression. Maybe I will be searching for the answer all my life. 

I do know a few things, though. Without sin, there is no concept of forgiveness. The greater the wrong, the sweeter the taste of mercy. Evil is real; with evil comes the need for punishment, and in a society with so much wrongdoing I can't imagine what life would be like if there wasn't the hope of Someone who could provide us with justice.

"Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm." - Isaiah 51:4-5

There are many more unanswered questions I have. The foundation of my beliefs, though, is that God IS good, and despite the confusion and lack of understanding in my human mind, I will trust in His goodness through my studies and search for truth. Even if I never fully see the eternal plan (I don't even know if I could grasp it without my mind exploding!), I am confident that God is working everything together "for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." - Romans 8:28

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Quest

I've been writing for some time now about something called the Quest. It started when I realized that even though I have a good job, great family, nice friends, and a pretty good sense of where I want my life to go, I still felt like there should be more. I am not just what I am outwardly, the places I go, the things I do. I want there to always be an inward growth and search for more. In the words of C. S. Lewis in his final book of the Chronicles of Narnia,The Last Battle, I want to go "further up, and further in."

Throughout my home-schooled education, my mom always emphasized worldview. Everybody has an understanding of what they believe the world to be, what our purpose is as humans, and what constitutes good and evil (or if those categories even exist). Nobody is unbiased; everyone has a worldview, religious and non-religious alike. It would be impossible to function or interact with others or make decisions if one did not have a worldview, a philosophy of life and the ethics and moral laws that they lived by.

One of the main ideas I discovered during my early teenage years was that if a person did not know (or could not clearly articulate) what their worldview was, then one of two things would happen (or both). Either: that person could be spoon-fed the worldview of somebody else, such as a teacher, and thereby not really have any opinion of their own, but blindly accept, follow, and defend thoughts that may not necessarily even be true; or that person would try to not even think about philosophy or what they believed to be true, and only concern themselves with present gratification, having only a shallow knowledge of anything beyond their current affairs.

So I've been on a search for truth. I'm almost ashamed to even write those words, though... I make so many mistakes. I think that the vast majority of my wrongdoings come from two areas: my selfish inclination to do what I want and what will "feel" good, and my stubborn, prideful disposition which prevents me from admitting when I am wrong and altering towards what is right. Mountains of errors stand in the way of my past pitiful attempts to find truth.

In spite of my flaws, though, I know that my search is not in vain. I have an unescapable thirst to find the water of life. Christ, the Living Water, is the answer; by His grace I know that I am forgiven of my faults and set free to change for the better, to be continuously hungry for truth. Here's the good part: I'm SUPPOSED to want to search for truth!

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
~ Philippians 4:8

Pursuit of truth is possible, it is encouraged, even commanded. It is a life-long journey. It will be a battle at times. Here's a quote I found that exemplifies this concept:

"The inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature"
~ Francis Bacon, Essay 1, 'Of truth'

Nobody seems to talk about "wooing" truth anymore. Even the idea of truth being something quantifiable or able to be discovered is taboo because of the logical implication that if someone is right about something, then someone else is wrong. Our culture of tolerance has turned into a culture of intolerance; we are so cautious about not accusing anybody of being incorrect that we are afraid to say that anybody is right. So we are silent.

I am trying to tear off all the outer clothes that mask truth's honest face. I am tired of walking on tiptoes to not offend people by standing up for what I know is true. I am tired of ignoring what I know to be true in favor of following my own selfish wants. I am tired of political, pseudo-religious, philosophical, nonsensical jargon that impedes truth.

I want to enjoy truth. To be a friend of truth.

"Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but... a wicked race of deceivers... took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all... nor ever shall do, till her Master's second coming; he shall bring together every joint and member, and shall mould them into an immortal feature of loveliness and perfection."
~ Milton, 'Areopagitica'

What I Think of Education, Part III (Repost from earlier blog)

Here are the reasons why I have been so grateful to have been schooled at home:

- Lots of free time for creative play; building blocks, Lincoln logs, Tinkertoys, Legos, stuffed animals, and tiny home-made yarn dolls were my favorite toys when I was younger. As I got older, I began to write stories on the computer, write poetry, journal, listen to music, and especially read books.

Favorite memory: My sister and I learned about the Native American culture and used blankets, pillows, cardboard boxes, and chairs to create an awesome fort that took up the entire living room. My mom let us sleep in it overnight and do our schoolwork in it the next day!

Lots of time outside. Recess was more than a half hour time running around an enclosed blacktop! I could play outside for hours by myself or with my sister or other home-schooled friends, in all four seasons; sometimes we would even take our school work outside on a nice day. Kids who are stuck in school all day don't get nearly as much time in the outdoors.

Favorite memory: About once a month, our home-school group (approximately two dozen kids and their moms) would go to a local park and spend the entire day there. We'd pack a picnic, the moms would chat and socialize, and us kids would be free to play in the sun and trees from early morning to late afternoon. Talk about heavenly!

Friends who weren't all exactly my age. In the homeschool group, the kids ranged from toddlers up through junior high and high-school. I think it's important that children have friends who are all different ages, which allows them to see different perspectives and learn how to function well in multiple social situations.

Favorite memory: Some of my best friends have been much older or much younger than me. In second grade, my best friend was a sixth grade girl who lived across the street. When I was ten, my best friend was a twelve-year old boy in our home-school group. Now, two of my very best friends are an eighty-seven year old woman from church and a sixteen year old fellow guitarist.

School work suited to my level of ability. I didn't have too much difficulty with math after I went back to home-schooling when I was eight, but once algebra hit, that was a different story. Geometry was even worse. My mom would try over and over and over to help me learn and understand these things. I even had a private tutor for geometry for a little while.

Favorite memory: I loved doing in-depth studies on specific books! When I read and analyzed "Pride and Prejudice" in junior high for a semester, I was in heaven. Reading was a huge part of my school lessons and I've loved it ever since then.

Time to pursue areas of interest to me, like music and track and field. After beginning guitar lessons when I was eight, I was able to have a lot more time to practice when I was home-schooled as opposed to being in public school. This was especially true in high-school, when I wanted to practice for several hours a day.

Favorite memory: My mom, sister, and I would often go jogging in the neighborhood park with our across-the-street home-schooling friends. It was a good break in the middle of the day, let us run off some energy, and nearly always ended with us climbing trees or playing on the playground. And surprisingly, no police officer ever questioned us about truancy! We were always prepared with an answer, though: "We're having P.E., sir."

Time for volunteer work. This is something that very few kids are involved in nowadays, sadly. It's a benefit to our society and helps establish a sense of local community. Families can use it as a way for the individual members to come together working on a single volunteer project, or a student can volunteer for a cause that interests them.

Favorite Memory: When I was young, my family would sometimes volunteer to serve food at a soup kitchen; I was too little to be of much help, but I remember being impressed that my parents considered it so important to serve those less fortunate than ourselves. Our home-school group would often sing songs and hand out holiday cards at a retirement home several times a year. Also, I volunteered at a community library as an assistant from the time I was thirteen until i was sixteen. I absolutely loved it!

Freedom to make my own school schedule. My sister and I would usually do a small amount of school-work during the summer anyway, just so we wouldn't forget everything we learned and so we could take time off when we really needed to, like around Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, family vacations, weekend camping trips, park days with the home-school group, field trips days (yes, home-schoolers take field trips too), and craft/art/baking/gardening/etc. days. The nice thing was that if I worked diligently right from the time I got up in the morning, I could usually have all my school work for the day completed before lunch time; then I could have the rest of the day to do stuff with my mom around the house, work on a project of my own, practice guitar, read, etc.

Favorite memory: We were always allowed to have snow days off, even if the public schools didn't. No child wants to be indoors when all that snow is calling to be played in! Sledding, snow forts, snowball fights, fox-and-geese, tag, snowmen, shoveling our driveways and the elderly neighbor's driveways... we had fun all day long until it got too dark to see outside.

Quality time with my mom and sister. My mom taught us not just how to read, write, and do math, but also many different practical skills and fun activities. Here is a list of just some of the things we did together:

Berry picking
Fruit picking
House cleaning
Canning (preserving)
Child care
Art projects
Museum trips
Science experiments
Chicken raising
Library trips
Nature walks
Candy making

One of the most important things my mom taught me, though, was self-discipline. 

What I Think of Education, Part II (Repost from earlier blog)

My mom originally wanted to be a teacher. However, I came along and she gave up her college studies to raise me at home. She read to me constantly, several times a day from what I remember: fairy stories, poetry, children's nursery rhymes, and books too hard for me to comprehend at the time, but enjoyed all the same (The Trumpet of the Swan, The Little Princess, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many more). I could read easily by the time I was four. My mom helped me memorize things like Bible verses, songs, multiplication tables, and vocabulary. I listened to music all the time, mostly classical, because I couldn't stand anything composed later the mid-twentieth century (I was weird).

When I was eight, my family moved to Idaho. I asked my parents if I could attend a local public school, and they agreed. At first, I really liked "going to school": walking with friends in the morning the few blocks to the school building, participating in a real class of kids my age, the arts and crafts... it seemed very fun. But very shortly I began to see disadvantages. The class was very cliquish; the girls didn't accept me easily, and the boys were nice but often rough in their play. The teacher, in spite of being a wonderfully sweet lady, often didn't know what to do with me when I would finish my class work quickly and ask for something to do... she began sending me to the library just to read. Also, math was beginning to be a problem; I'd never been great with numbers, but my math skills were declining as the class was taught new concepts and I fell behind because I didn't understand them. Mostly... I was bored. After already having had my mom's full care in my education for eight years, the divided attentions of a teacher who had to deal with a class of two dozen children could hardly compare.

Here's the honest-to-goodness reason why I eventually begged my mom to take me out of school: My class began studying the Chinese culture, and when we got around to learning about the Chinese New Year, we found out that all the children in the class were born in the Year of the Tiger... except for me. I was slightly younger than the rest of the class, and had been born in the Year of the Hare. After that, the class thought that its duty was to chase, catch, and eat me during every recess. A silly thing to some people, but horrifying for an eight year old child who was naturally shy. I left less than a year after I had begun.

It seems to me that my three main problems in public school (besides the Chinese New Year) were these: social difficulties, insufficient activities for my appropriate level of ability (which varied from subject to subject), and lack of teacher availability for special help in a subject that caused me a lot of confusion. I was so happy to be home-schooling again!

Granted, I spent a very small amount of time in a public school, but I still think that being homeschooled was definitely the best choice. In my next blog, I'll give my reasons for why I think homeschooling is such a good idea.

What I Think of Education, Part I (Repost from earlier blog)

Lately I've been studying a method of education called unschooling. Unschooling, by definition, is allowing the child complete freedom to choose what they will study and when they will study it. "When the child is ready," they will study it. In other words, a child should not be pushed into studying anything they do not choose themselves.

Now, I've seen several "modern moms" who seem fully in favor of this style of schooling; however, I don't agree with its main precept. My major opposition to unschooling is that children, being young and inexperienced, cannot fully appreciate the long-term effect of decisions. A child might feel that playing with legos or a computer game all day is the best choice, but I know of very few parents who would agree! Games and free creative time should be a major part of a child's life, yet it should not be the ONLY thing. The best way I've read it described was in an online article, like this:

"Our brains are a muscle just like any other part of the body, and to think by working out math problems, or taking a spelling test, or dissecting a frog, flexes and tightens the brain muscle to prepare it for proper thought patterns and good study habits. If you pamper this muscle, laziness and rebellion take forth, and all they want to do is play. Playing, like walking, talking and sleeping is what children do best, it is not something they learn to do, and it is an instinct of life. Playtime is great, but still needs to be balanced out with crafts, thought time, study time, quiet time, or physical work, like chores."

The most important things that children should learn, in my opinion, are:

- To love God.
- To love kindness and justice.
- To love their family and the people around them.
- To hunger for truth.

As far as the benefits they should gain from "formal schooling":

- To love beauty (music, art, dance, the natural world).
- To learn how to think outside the box (creativity).
- To learn how to think logically (logic, brain teasers, puzzles, math).
- To learn how to gain understanding (writing, reading, religion, philosophy).
- To learn how to express themselves (writing, reading, language, grammar).
- To learn from the past so that they can become aware of the future (history, philosophy, politics, archaeology).
- To learn why things work the way they do (science, biology, math).
- To learn practical mathematics (budgeting, taxes, business math).
- To learn practical life skills (household chores, cooking, gardening, sewing, car mechanics, child-care, computers, social interaction, volunteer work).

If schools today followed these basic goals, I bet that about half the curricula could be thrown out. Also, children would probably need to spend a smaller portion of their day actually "in" school. But then... this would mean that parents would have to take more of a part in their child's education! *gasp*

I think that a child should learn first how to be a proper human being, and then a scholar. Most schools seem concerned only with filling a child's head with facts, pushing them on through one grade to the next regardless of knowledge retention, and teaching them how to stand in line and ask for permission to go to the bathroom. Virtuous character is more desirable in a child than head knowledge, but it takes considerably more effort to create one than the other.

The goals outlined above are what I think every child should graduate high-school with. But here's something I want to stress, what I think the backbone of this pre-college education constitutes: if this plan was followed, then hypothetically each child would most likely, between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, gain some sort of idea as to what they want to pursue as a vocation. If a child has been given the freedom to investigate areas of interest to them in their early years, with opportunity to "try out" various trades or occupations, then there is very little that stands between them and finding their career of choice. Through taking early college classes, volunteering, job-shadowing, and/or part-time employment, a teen can narrow their job interests down to what they might really like to do.

For example, if a teen is interested in becoming an architect, they will want to go on to study more advanced mathematics and drawing while still in high-school, most likely by taking outside classes to gain increased understanding and instruction in these subjects. This will give them a chance to see if they have a real proclivity for this profession, and also give them an added advantage in their knowledge even before they formally enter college to major as an architect.

I believe that children should have a great deal of free time, that they should be allowed and encouraged to study things that interest them, and that hours upon ridiculous hours of rote schoolwork are unnecessary and even detrimental in elementary schools. In these things, I am agreeing with some of the ideas behind unschooling. I think that children do have a natural inclination to learn because they are naturally curious; however, I sincerely doubt that the majority of children have the drive/diligence/knowledge to pursue a plan of all-round learning that will benefit them the most in life. That is why I cannot agree with the practice of unschooling.

As a side note, one of the most depressing things I've seen is that most children and even teenagers (and some young adults, too) have no idea why they are actually in school. You'd be hard pressed to find a student who could offer more than the shallow, ultimately meaningless answers of, "I'm supposed to learn/want to learn", "I need to study in order to get a high-paying job", or "I'm in school because my family/society requires me to be here". Is this what the purpose of life should be? As several of my much older and wiser friends have told me many times, "Life does not begin when you graduate from college; you have been alive for twenty-one years already, and hopefully you were actually living and not just looking forward to beginning to live once formal schooling was complete."

In my next blog I'll explain how my principles of education came to be this way.

Quotes (Repost from earlier blog)

In my recent studies, I've come across these quotes. You can probably tell which ideas I agree with and which one I don't.

"Why should we have to try to develop such [actively inquisitive] minds, when children are born with them? Somewhere along the line, adults must fail somehow to sustain the infant's curiosity at its original depth. School itself, perhaps, dulls the mind- by the dead weight of rote learning, much of which may be necessary. The failure is probably even more the parents' fault. We so often tell a child there is no answer, even when one is available, or demand that he ask no more questions. We thinly conceal our irritation when baffled by the apparently unanswerable query. All this discourages the child. He may get the impression that it is impolite to be too inquisitive. Human inquisitiveness is never killed; but it is soon debased to the sort of questions asked by most college students, who, like the adults they soon to become, ask only for information."

~ Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book, Chapter 18: How to Read Philosophy

"We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is simple... We will organize children... and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way."

~ Excerpt from a 1906 document from Rockefellar's General Education Board, called Occasional Letter Number One

"Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgement and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament is affectation; to make judgement wholly by their rules is the humour of a scholar.... for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning (pruning) by study..."

~ Francis Bacon, Essay L: Of Studies

"To a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid. A dismal thought, but hard to escape. Infants are not stupid. Children of one, two, or even three throw the whole of themselves into everything they do. They embrace life, and devour it, it is why they learn so fast, and are such good company. Listlessness, boredom, apathy- these all come later. Children come to school curious; within a few years most of that curiosity is dead, or at least silent... The expressions on the children's faces seemed to say, 'You've got us here in school; now make us do whatever it is you want us to do.' Curiosity, questions, speculation- these are for outside school, not inside."

~ John Holt, in his book Why Children Fail


Here are several quotes about schools and education that caught my eye recently. I'm beginning to agree with the sentiment behind them more and more, although I still have several major oppositions to a completely anti-formal-schooling mindset.

"On your own, you have to face the responsibility for how you spend time. But in school you don't. What they make you do may obviously be a waste but at least the responsibility isn't charged to your account. School in this respect is, once again, like the army or jail. Once you're in, you may have all kinds of problems but freedom isn't one of them." - Jerry Farber

"The function of high school, then, is not so much to communicate knowledge as to oblige children finally to accept the grading system as a measure of their inner excellence. And a function of the self-destructive process in American children is to make them willing to accept not their own, but a variety of other standards, like a grading system, for measuring themselves. It is thus apparent that the way American culture is now integrated it would fall appart if it did not engender feelings of inferiority and worthlessness." - Jules Henry

‎"School is indeed a training for later life not because it teaches the 3 Rs (more or less), but because it instills the essential cultural nightmare fear of failure, envy of success, and absurdity." - Jules Henry

"Schools have not necessarily much to do with education...they are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school." - Winston Churchill

“School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.” - Ivan Illich