Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Lights - a rant

I think I like this ranting on my blog - it keeps me from ranting in person!

So, the kids want to put up Christmas lights. They put some up on Sunday, but didn't check to see if they worked, which they didn't. So, today, we went out and pulled down the old lights and proceeded to put up new ones. Of course, we checked the new ones, and both sets of new net lights have sections out so Ga'Hoole Girl is working on those. Some of the other strings are salvageable, but we'll work on that tomorrow. In the meantime, I put up one string of icicle lights. Now I'm done.

I really like living in the Great White North, but my winter plans always entail indoor activities - sitting by the Christmas tree, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, doing puzzles, etc. Nowhere did I plan to put up Christmas lights when it was 21 degrees outside. The plan was for Mr. Math Teacher to do it. But, now he has this job thing, so he can't. I'm sure my family are all laughing while they read this - "We told you so!" Indeed. Well, I'm off to warm my numb fingers. Maybe over the next week, we can get a few more lights put up then I can sit inside, drinking hot chocolate, and enjoying our Christmas lights.

My house

I love my house. It's smaller than our previous house, but it is about 60 years old and very cute. The problem is that we don't seem to have enough room in our house for all our stuff. The conclusion, of course, is to get rid of stuff. But, I'm kind of at the end of my rope in terms of getting rid of stuff. Our biggest issue is books. We don't have enough bookshelves or room for more bookshelves. Of course, Mr. Math Teacher says we should get rid of the excess books. My answer: "Heresy!!" So, I think I'll be doing some serious rearranging and giving away in the next few months. I may even give away one or two books.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reviews - November 25

While the kids and I were down South, I had the chance to do some reading, and we all saw some DVDs and even went to a movie in the theater. So, here are my reviews.

Dancing Under the Red Star by Karl Tobien
This is the true story of Margaret Werner, the only American woman to survive Stalin's Gulag. I picked this book up off the shelf at the library and figured it might be an interesting read. It turned out to be more than just a good story.

Margaret Werner and her family moved to Gorky in the 1930s so that her father could work in the Ford auto factory there. In the late 1930's, her father was convicted (wrongly) as a traitor and sentenced to the Gulag, where he died. Margaret and her mother continued to live in Gorky, hoping to hear word of her father. They survived the horrors of World War 2 in the USSR. In the 1940's, Margaret was falsely accused of being a traitor and sentenced to ten years of hard labor. Much of the story is about Margaret's survival in the camps.

During this time, Margaret's mother prayed for her, and Margaret had a strong belief in God, although it appears that she knew little about the Bible and Christianity (except that it was banned in the USSR). Margaret was physically and emotionally strong, which helped her to survive her ten year sentence. She was able to participate in dance and drama groups that were allowed in the camps.

After Margaret was released from the labor camp, she married and had a son. Her family was permitted to emigrate to East Germany and then they escapted to West Germany (before the Wall). Her husband became abusive and left her, so she divorced him. She eventually moved to the US with her mother and raised her son.

The book was written by her son, Karl. He tells us that Margaret became a believer in Jesus in 1994. She died in 1997. The Epilogue of the book is Karl Tobien's plea for this country to turn back to Christ so that we can avoid the godless hell that was the USSR. I very strongly recommend this book. I had no idea that there would be a Christian message, but it was a wonderful surprise.

Hitler's Cross by Erwin Lutzer
Lutzer writes this book to show the role of the church in advancing the Nazi regime. It is also a cautionary tale for the church in the United State. Lutzer shows how Hitler tried to co-opt the Church in Germany. Hitler knew that most Germans were Christians, but they were generally culturally Christian. The Christians were, unfortunately, quite willing to distance themselves from the anti-Jewish activities of the Third Reich. The Church became very pro-Germany, even to the point of rejecting Christ. There were a lot of politics discussed, but this is the essence. Churches at first would have a swastica along with the cross in the church, but many of them eventually replaced the cross by the swastica.

Lest we think that we, in this country, are immune to this sort of thing, Lutzer ends his book with an exhortation for the Church in America to stand for Christ. There are two primary dangers for us: 1. Retreat from cultural and spiritual battles to be true to the supremacy of the cross. 2. Become so overburdened with sociopolitical agendas that the Gospel gets lost. Lutzer makes the point that we need to be concerned with reaching people with the Gospel, but also to be active in the cultural arena to make positive change.

This is an excellent book for anyone with any interest in history. I would encourage others to read it as well, although it may be a little heavy on history for some people. In any case, Lutzer sounds a timely warning for our country.

Innocent Traitor by Allison Weir
This is a historical fiction book about the Lady Jane Grey, who reigns as Queen of England for 9 days after the death of King Edward and before Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) takes the throne. In this telling of the story, Lady Jane is a young woman who is brought to the throne by the powerful adults around her. She does have a claim to the throne after King Edward (her cousin) decrees that Mary and Elizabeth, who should be next for the throne according to their father Henry VIII, may not succeed him because of their status as bastards. This decree was not done with the consent of Parliament. Lady Jane is brought to the throne because she is Protestant and Mary is Catholic (she is called Bloody Mary because she executed so many people for refusing to convert back to Catholicism). In this telling of the story, Mary takes back the throne by force, but plans to spare Lady Jane's life. Mary tries to get Jane to convert to Catholicism but Jane refuses to do so and is beheaded.

This is a very interesting book that is appropriate for older teens and adults. There are some rather explicit scenes, but they are not inappropriate to the story. The book is written as episodes from different people's points of view, which I thought was quite effective.

"The Bee Movie"
We saw this movie in the theater. The kids and I really enjoyed it. The storyline is interesting. The animation is excellent. I appreciated that it was a rather sophisticated story, but could be enjoyed by kids. Jerry Seinfeld is truly entertaining. There was nothing objectionable in the movie, so I would recommend it for about age 6 or 7 and up.

"Nanny McPhee"
I wasn't real sure what to make of this movie before we saw it. I had heard rather mixed things about it. The kids and I enjoyed it. I absolutely love Colin Firth as an actor, and he did a wonderful job as a harried father in this movie. Emma Thompson as Nanny McPhee was also great. The set and costumes were quite colorful and fanciful. It was fun to watch. I think this is a good movie for kids over the age of about 7.

Holiday update

The kids and I had an interesting Thanksgiving week this year. I have already posted that we went down South because my dad was sick. Well, we left the Great White (although not yet) North on Wednesday and my dad had surgery on Friday evening. He had part of his colon removed because of diverticulitis. I spent some time Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening in the hospital with Dad while Mom went home to rest. Dad was able to come home Wednesday afternoon and is recovering very nicely.

The kids spent most of their time swimming! My parents have a swimming pool and the kids had a blast since we don't swim much in the winter - there are indoor pools up here, but we frequent them rarely. We visited Dad several times, which seemed to cheer him up a good bit. On the first Friday we were there, we visited a nature center and learned about sea animals and "hammocks" (a certain kind of forest-type of thing). I meant to take them to another nature center with owl exhibits (for Ga'Hoole Girl) and to the science museum, but they wanted to swim most of the time, so I didn't argue.

The kids and I made a nice dinner for Thanksgiving, although Dad was only able to have broth, pudding, and Jello. Friday, though, the kids and Mom put up Christmas decorations. Ga'Hoole Girl and Wild Man were excited out of their minds! Unfortunately, I had a migraine on Friday, so I just laid low most of the day.

I have never been a big fan of air travel, but I must admit that my actual fear of flying seems to have pretty much gone away. I think our trip to Venezuela a few years ago pretty well took care of it. I was a little concerned about traveling by myself with kids, especially since our flights were booked so late and I had no guarantee about seating arrangements. But, all worked out well. The kids are both pretty comfortable with air travel these days. They each had a backpack with everything that they would need for the flight. For one of the flights, I was 20 rows away, but they did just fine.

Overall, I'm glad that we went on this trip. I think we were helpful for my parents and the kids and I enjoyed each other's company. Now we're going to be doing lots of Christmas crafts and getting our own house decorated for Christmas.

I was planning to do a big Christmas unit this month, but I'm going to have an interesting time of it. I have a bunch of movies from Netflix for us to watch, but the books that I want from the library are all taken already - I think other families are wanting to do the same thing. There is lots of info on the Internet, so that may be our primary source of information. We're going to get back to our workbook work tomorrow and I'm going to have them each keep a notebook for the month. I think we'll start this week with the Nativity story itself.

I read several books and we watched lots of movies, so reviews will be forthcoming!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Spirit of the Disciplines - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 - Salvation is a Life

Willard starts Chapter 3 by challenging the idea that salvation is just the moment when our religious life begins instead of "the daily life we receive from God." Our entire lives are to be saturated by God and His word. Willard tells us: "A close look at Jesus' "great acts" of humility, faith, and compassion recorded in the Gospel narratives finds them to be moments in a life more pervasively and deeply characterized by solitude, fasting, prayer, and service." From here, Willard asserts that our lives must emulate Jesus in the daily disciplines as well as the "great acts".

Willard also stresses that Jesus had a physical body just like we do. Emulating Jesus requires that we do what He did physically; so our salvation and spiritual life are also part of our physical life.

"If salvation is to affect our lives, it can only do so by affecting our bodies. . . To withhold our bodies from religion is to exclude religion from our lives." We tend to relegate our faith to certain aspects of our week and certain places - Sunday morning services, small group meetings, etc. We are now being exhorted to "take Christ into the workplace". This sounds good, but really points up the mistake we are making of our faith being separate from the rest of life.

In fact, salvation is "not just forgiveness, but a new order of life." Modern Christianity too often describes salvation as just forgiveness of sins. But, in early Christianity, salvation was clearly a new way of living - being reconciled to God. Because of our idea of salvation being just forgiveness, it becomes easy to regard the historical disciplines as quaint oddities, often misguided.

Willard talks about the fact that the cross was actually a rather late development as a symbol of Christianity; the first time it was used was about 430AD. The reason is that the early church thought about Christianity as transcendent life. As the church's understanding of salvation narrowed to "just" forgiveness of sins, the cross as a symbol became more important.

The message of Jesus was one of a new life, and the early disciples understood this better than we tend to. "The resurrection was a cosmic event only because it validated the reality and the indestructibility of what Jesus had preached and exemplified before his death - the enduring reality and openness of God's Kingdom."

Willard now spends several pages on the interaction between faith and works. He says that "works are simply a natural part of faith . . . not . . . to prove that one has faith . . ." Faith displays itself in the New Testament in 3 dimensions: 1. A new power within the individual through repentance and forgiveness, 2. An immediate but also developing transformation of the character, 3. Power over the evils of our present age.

Faith is often seen as a purely "mental" act, but the New Testament is really quite practical and shows how faith influences all of our lives, including the physical. Yes, the body has been corrupted by the Fall, but our spiritual lives are to encompass all of our lives - physical, spiritual, and mental. That is where the spiritual disciplines come in. The next three chapters discuss the theological basis for the disciplines.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Homeschooling and "Real Life"

Homeschoolers are sometimes accused of sheltering our children from "Real Life". I'm sure that there are some families out there that are over-sheltering their children, but for the most part, homeschooling allows for much more "Real Life" than having kids spend so much of their lives in school. Today I'm just going to talk about one aspect of this issue.

Three years ago, our family was down South, visiting my and Mr. Math Teacher's extended families. We had a wonderful time, particularly getting to see Mr. Math Teacher's grandmother, who had just turned 90 years old. We got into town on Saturday night and spent until Tuesday with Mr. Math Teacher's family. We drove his parents (Grandma and PawPaw) to the airport on Tuesday morning. Then, we went to visit my parents for several days. Late Tuesday night, we received a call that PawPaw had died suddenly, soon after arriving home.

As you can imagine, we were devastated. We immediately packed everything back into the van and drove from my parent's trailer in Mississippi to Grandma and PawPaw's house in Tampa - a twelve hour drive. Our kids were with us through this entire time. They were there with Grandma and the other family members and friends who came to visit Grandma before the funeral. During the viewing, I took our kids and their cousin to the viewing for a little while and then back to the hotel to swim. Then, we all were at the funeral together. PawPaw was buried in Louisiana, so we drove Grandma to Louisiana with us and went to the burial service together.

During all of this, the children were active participants as much as they were able. We didn't shield them from what happened. We encouraged them to participate in the remembering and grieving with the rest of the family. I only kept them at the viewing for a short period of time and they were not required to do anything they didn't want to (except be polite).

This Monday, my dad was sent to the Emergency Room because he continued to be ill. He was admitted to the hospital Tuesday morning and surgery was scheduled for tonight (Friday night). Wednesday morning, the kids and I flew down here to be with my mom (Grams) and dad (Grandpa). We have visited Grandpa, made dinner for Grams, and generally tried to be helpful. We are planning to be here until next Saturday.

During both of these episodes, the kids have been completely "off school". But, really, they are learning more from these events than they would from books. They are learning about illness and death - things that our society handles very poorly. They are learning about taking care of each other during difficult times. They are learning to be unselfish. What will help them more as an adult - learning decimals at the right time of their life or being with their family in a crisis? The answer seems obvious to me. This week is another demonstration of why we homeschool - to prepare them for "Real Life".

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Eclectic homeschooling or . . . chaos?

I like to think that we do eclectic homeschooling around here, but I'm not real sure. I think that chaos may be a better description. I really love Sonlight, but we use it mostly as a guide right now. A lot of what we do is based on things that come up or ideas that I have. So last week, we researched Venezuela to make our exhibit for the World Fair that our homeschool group put on. Last Saturday, we spent the morning at the library telling people about Venezuela and learning about other countries. Yesterday, I got the bright idea to make rock candy, something I've wanted to do for a long time. We talked about solutions, suspensions, supersaturated solutions, crystallization, and more. Then, we pulled out my microscope and looked at sugar and salt crystals and then at some of the ant corpses from our ant farm. So, maybe it's kind of chaotic, but they're learning.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Christian Ghetto - a rant

This rant is several months in the making. I chose tonight to write because I've got something of a block on my novel writing - NaNoWriMo is starting to wear on me.

Ghetto (from
1. a section of a city, esp. a thickly populated slum area, inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships.
2. (formerly, in most European countries) a section of a city in which all Jews were required to live.
3. a section predominantly inhabited by Jews.
4. any mode of living, working, etc., that results from stereotyping or biased treatment: job ghettos for women; ghettos for the elderly.

Being a Christian in modern America comes with all kinds of "ghetto" trappings. We shop at Christian bookstores, wear "Christian" clothing, read "Christian" books, etc. Every new cultural phenomenon is accompanied by warnings about how it is to be avoided by Christians. I'm sure we all remember the Harry Potter psychosis. My daughter couldn't talk about her favorite books with her two best friends because they were not allowed to read HP or watch the HP movies.

The latest event in my life to highlight our propensity to be part of the Christian Ghetto occurred a week or so ago. Our homeschool group set up an art class for the last year or so. My daughter went a few times and enjoyed it. But, the new coordinator found out, quite by accident, that the art teacher was also an energy healer. The coordinator was quite uncomfortable about having her kids in a class (art class, remember) taught by this woman. In her attempts to have another person coordinate the class, the teacher chose to no longer continue teaching. There is a rumor that the church that hosted the class would not host the class because of the teacher's other vocation. This is an egregious example of the Christian Ghetto at work. Family's are so concerned about their kids being exposed to a woman who is an energy healer that they won't even allow them to take an art class with her.

The recent barrage of emails about "The Golden Compass" is another example. While I was happy to be informed about this so I don't send my kids off to see this movie without me, I have been apalled at the handwringing that this movie has invoked. I haven't heard people talking about using this book and movie as a teaching moment for your kids. I have heard how we need to boycott it. And some people are even picketing.

Those most involved in the Christian Ghetto tend to be like me in many ways. We are often Evangelical Protestants. We want to raise our children to love Jesus. But somewhere the desire to teach our children our values gets turned and twisted into bizarre protectionism. The response to the non-Christian world has become to run and hide when it should be to march out and engage. Jesus calls us to be "in" not "of" the world. Somehow, many Christians have decided that even being "in" the world is too much.

How should we as Christians relate to the rest of the world? First of all, we should not be remotely surprised that the world is hostile to our Savior. Jesus told us to expect persecution. Second, we should be prepared to engage our world. This means that we must have a grounded faith. But, it also means that we need to be able to defend our faith - and with more than just "The Bible says it!" We need to understand why people become atheists and how we can talk to them, not work so hard to avoid them. We must teach our children our faith, but we also must teach them what kinds of philosophies and ideas they will come up against in the world and how they can respond intelligently to them.

OK. Rant finished. You may continue with your regularly scheduled lives.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Spirit of the Disciplines - Part 1

I have been reading this book for a couple of weeks now and really getting a lot out of it. It is quite challenging. Here is a brief summary of the first couple of chapters as well as some of my thoughts. I look forward to hearing your comments.

Willard starts out by asserting that Christianity is the only answer for fallen humanity. He states that "Christianity can only succeed as a guide for current humanity if it does two things. First, it must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements. . . . Second, it needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation." So, Willard adds, "My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thin - by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself." This book is to help us change the practice of our faith with respect to the spiritual disciplines. By participating in the spiritual disciplines and trying to live the way Jesus lived, we can see real change in our lives.

Chapter 1 - The Secret of the Easy Yoke
Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:29-30 that we are to take His yoke upon us because it is easy and His burden is light. Yet, most Christians do not find ourselves truly living this way. Why? Willard compares our Christian lives to the lives of young athletes. A baseball player wants to emulate a baseball star. But, he doesn't do this by just trying to be like the baseball star when he's out on the field. The young athlete tries to do everything just like the baseball star - nutrition, practice, equipment, etc. In the same way, we can't expect to live the Christian life effectively by just doing the right thing in a crisis. We need to live our entire lives the way that Jesus did. We are saved by grace, but the moment by moment victory over sin that is promised to us does not come automatically. It requires practice and discipline.

Chapter 2 - The Theology of the Disciplines
As Christians, we know that we are to be Christlike, but find ourselves falling far short of that goal. The American Church does not do a very good job of helping it's members to "grow in grace". In the last 30 years there has developed more interest in the historical spiritual disciplines: fasting, meditation, solitude, silence, giving. Why the new interest? After the "laxness" of the 1970s, many Christians have become more interested in structure. In addition, the development of Christian psychology reawakened the idea that spiritual growth requires development of habits and character. Willard also points out that the late 20th century saw the blurring of the lines between many Protestant denominations. The effect of this among conservative Christians was twofold: 1. saving faith became (to many) merely a mental assent to correct doctrine and 2. the Bible was no longer "functionally authoritative" over life. Many Christians are looking to get back to a faith that "takes our lives seriously". Willard will spend the rest of the book developing a practical theology and elaborate on the following: "Full participation in the life of God's Kingdom and in the vivid companionshipo of Christ comes to us only through appropriate exercise in the disciplines for life in the spirit."

My thoughts:
I absolutely agree with Willard that American Christianity rarely changes lives. We read in the Bible that we are to be like Jesus and then justify why we aren't. But, what good is faith that doesn't get you through life? I am intensely interested in this topic right now. I have learned so much in my walk of faith in the last few years, but I know that there is so much more that I could be doing. I don't just want to learn the facts of theology. I want to walk with Jesus.

I am also reading a book on meditation and have started meditating on Scripture. That has been so helpful just in the last two weeks. For example, I have spent some time on Isaiah 30:15 and working out what repentance and rest looks like in my life. Our small group recently studied the story of Ananias and Saphira. My tendency so often is to kind of gloss over stories like this that I have heard since I was a kid. But, I spent some serious time meditating on that story and got some insight into lying to the Holy Spirit. God sees everything about us, but He expects us to be honest with Him. That's what got Ananias and Saphira into trouble. What does that mean for me? Well, apparently nothing bad enough for God to strike me dead! But, denial is a big defense mechanism for me. This story makes it clear that God wants us to be honest with Him. That's what gets me to repentance and then to changing my behavior.

This is going to be a really good study for me. I'm discussing this with an online group, as well. It's really good to get insights from others. So, I'm interested in your comments.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Cat and the Socks

We have three cats and I love two of them dearly. The other one belongs to Ga'Hoole Girl. She can be a very nice cat, but she has a bad habit of attacking the other two cats. So, she's already on my bad side most of the time. She has developed a new annoying habit, though. She takes dark socks and carries them around the house. She will take them out of the clean or dirty laundry baskets, off the table, or from whereevery they are around the house. Then, she drops them somewhere else in the house. There is no rhyme or reason to it. She's not hoarding. She doesn't play with them. She just carries them around. And, she only does it to dark socks, not white socks. So, I'm now training the rest of the family to get the clothes put away quickly so Sophie doesn't carry the socks off. Arghh.