Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dom Julian Stead's "There Shines Forth Christ"

If you've heard of Dom Julian Stead, it's probably because you've read "A Severe Mercy" by Sheldon VanAuken. And if you've read that, you probably remember Stead's lovely poem which ends, "For He is He, and I, I am only I."

What some people don't know is that Dom Julian Stead wrote much more than that one poem, and many of his poems are collected in the volume "There Shines Forth Christ." I received this from my sister-in-law, and have slowly read through it.

These poems are not great for their meter, nor are they concise and precise. But they have a beauty of imagery and a depth of devotion that makes them a pleasure to read, and I kept coming across lines that stopped my breath, like this one from "Fiftieth Birthday" (emphasis mine):

"I ran two miles

and half a century had ticked away.

But the beam was carried in my eye.

I asked for healing

and you gave me repose."

It reminds me of Donne's "Teach me to repent, for that's as good/As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood." Because, of course, in each case, the thing given was the thing asked for, in another guise. We could not repent without Christ's blood sealing our pardon, and we could not heal without repose.

It's full of imagery that makes you think, "yes, that's exactly what that looks like" - imagery you recognize, like this from "Nothing Can Remain":

". . . the leaves reflected back the sun's own music

In a thousand blades of light."

Can't you remember days when the trees looked like that? Days in the mountains when the air was so clear that every individual leaf flashed in the sun?

There is also imagery that captures not just the material world, but the spiritual, like these lines from his meditation on 2 Peter:

"You are the fountain

light-thirst can flee to".

Yes. Indeed. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Thursday, September 9, 2010

links: heresy vs. schism, what you can fit in the day, simplicity and more

First off, a short little meditation by David Mills, blogging over at First Things. Here's an excerpt:

Back when I was an Episcopal activist, both liberals who were busy gutting the Episcopal Church of its traditional beliefs and conservatives who didn’t want to challenge them were fond of intoning “Schism is worse than heresy.” It was a little odd to hear this from members of a tradition that began in a break with the Church of which it had been a part over what its leaders thought to be heresies.

But the real problem with the claim was theological: that heresy is itself an act of schism. It is a break with the tradition, a rejection of what had been the shared and official belief, a willful refusal to remain in unity with one’s brothers, a transfer of allegiance and obedience to a new and alien ideology.

I'd've copied more, but it's only about four paragraphs long anyway; I encourage you to follow the link and read the second half. It's brilliant. And sad.

Then, more brilliance from Patricia Wrede. You may have heard the rocks-sand-water-in-a-jar parable before, but I, at least, have never heard it told with this ending. If you ever feel like you're doing too much, or not getting done the things you think are most important, you'll want to go and read this.

Next, Auntie Leila on how we need to be less patient with our children. And . . . in the way she means it, I absolutely agree. Go read this wise woman's words.

Quotidian Moments has a short, simple post about, well, simplicity. I really liked this part, where she's talking about why she doesn't use Tapestry of Grace, even though it's a good program:

This is why I need simplicity, and it's why I have to define simplicity as what is simple for me. When I find some things overwhelming, I don't always know why. I have no idea why I can work with K12 fairly easily while TOG makes me feel jittery just looking at it. I just know I have to respect that. If I absolutely HAD to work with TOG, say, my husband really wanted me to or something, I'm sure I could make it work. But then, that would be different. Making things work is something different.

There's a sort of freedom in not needing to be involved with something that would be a burden, even if it is good in itself.

You've probably heard that muscle weighs less than fat, which isn't true, but here's a nifty photo showing what is true: that muscles takes up a lot less space than fat. I just think it's a neat visual.

This post on Conversion Diary offers a striking new perspective on the people who just happen to be in our lives (or, in other words, nothing's that random). In all honesty, this post has helped me even this week. 

This might be a bit connected to my current series (is it a series? It might be a series) on education and character . . . at least a bit. Anyway, go read about how "Christian faith is essentially thinking".

And, on that point, I'll leave off. I'll have a new post on homeschooling and character growth up soon, because I don't think I"ve changed my mind completely, but your comments and points are certainly refining my thinking on the subject, and helping me see what the ladies I met might have been getting at. I'm still mulling it all over, and I'm very grateful for the help you've contributed to that mulling-over process. Thank you!

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Homeschooling is School, II

Thanks so much for all the comments, ladies!

Here's some further information on the trend I'm noticing: it is specifically that character training is a subject, like math or reading, and that it is the most important subject. That is what I'm disagreeing with, because I don't think character can be taught as a subject. At least, I can see that it can, and maybe that should be a minor part of forming a child's character (after all, it's easier to try to be patient if you've been given a definition of "patience"), but I don't think it fits under the umbrella of "school" nearly as well as under "parenting" for the simple reason that most of our character development comes from what we see, do, and imitate.

School will be part of that, just because it's part of our day, but I don't think that character development is more particular to school than it is to, say, chores.

I suppose, when I look at school, I would say that the primary duty of a Christian teacher is good academics, just as the primary duty of a Christian carpenter is producing a good table (thank you Miss Sayers!).  In other words, if you let the academics slack because you're more concerned about a nebulous "character issue", you're actually having the opposite of your intended effect: you're producing a lazy, ignorant student.

But . . . I can certainly see viewing homeschooling as a weapon in your parenting arsenal. Much as you might use a chore chart to help produce diligence, you can use your schooling method to produce, well, diligence. :) And family closeness, and opportunities for Bible study, and on and on. That does make a lot of sense to me. What doesn't make sense to me is seeing the primary purpose of homeschooling as character development. I should think that the primary purpose of homeschooling is education - the primary purpose of any form of schooling is education. Now, the reason you most value education could well be character development. And you could certainly think that homeschooling, properly pursued, is more conducive to good character development than other forms of education. But I think if your schooling aims at a good character, you're not going to get it. But if your schooling aims at a good education, you will get that, and likely get a good character thrown in (if all the other necessities are in place, of course).

That said, as Kelly and Elena both pointed out, you can homeschool for developmental reasons, especially in the early years. I'd put my family in this group; we first started looking into homeschooling when we realized that public school would mean our five-year old would be out of the house for about the same amount of time my husband was at work! We honestly think homeschooling is better for our family dynamics (less stressed mom and kids!) right now. And that is connected to character - stress can lead to growth, but too much stress can stunt growth. But again, I would say that was a parenting decision . . . homeschooling was the right tool for the job (sometimes you want a Phillips screwdriver instead of a flat head screwdriver). 

But it was also what you might call an economic decision: I didn't think what we'd be getting would be worth what we'd be paying for it. I don't think that eight hours a day of my child's life is worth the return of an education that lacks history, foreign language and religion.  So the fact that my child would be unduly stressed was part of it, but also that she'd be unduly stressed and uneducated. Not worth it. Because, again, school should produced educated children.

Amie, I appreciate your point too, that Christians can educate better because we have the truth. I agree, actually. But I don't think that this is something that's impossible for Christian public school parents to do (I don't assume you do either!); there can be a lot of benefit from having teachers who disagree with you and then coming home and discussing it all with your parents, and having them help you form good arguments to support your own beliefs. Those parents are also educating Christianly, they're just doing it in a different manner.

So, in this particular case, it was literally the idea that the character issues I'm working on with my child (honesty, kindness, etc.) should be written down in my lesson plan book along with her math assignments. I just think it's miscategorization. I think those things exist alongside schooling, but if I had to categorize them, I'd certainly put them under parenting, and not schooling. I think that including them in schooling (perhaps unknowingly) assumes that public school parents couldn't possibly be discipling their children too, because it assumes that school is primarily about character growth, and not about education. (Again, if I'm cooking, I should be a good person while I'm cooking, sure, but when it comes to the job itself, what matters is not my character but how the chicken tastes!)

So, education certainly impacts character, and visa versa. But nothing in life is really unconnected to anything else, and just the fact that they're connected doesn't mean that they're in the same category. Huh. I suppose when it comes down to it, my frustration is really that I'm using the Dewey decimal system and they're using Library of Congress! 

(I.e., you're right, Amie, I should just ask more questions.)

Thanks again for the discussion; I'm very open to hearing yet more thoughts on the subject.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Homeschooling is School

Wow. So I lasted a whole year in homeschooling without acquiring my very own Homeschooling Pet Peeve. 

No longer! I now have one. And here it is: Homeschooling is School. 

At least, it is for our family. And I'm writing this partly so that I can understand the opposite point of view, because, well, it's always good to understand folks you disagree with, especially when they're obviously well-intentioned.

So, here it is: I've run into some other homeschooling moms whose big reason for homeschooling is so that they can develop the Christian character of their children. And here's my problem with that: that's not school; that's just parenting.

Character issues are not school. School is academic. I am not homeschooling in order to make my first-grader a Christian. By God’s grace, she is, and Adam and I are working hard to teach her and disciple her. But that’s PARENTING. That is not SCHOOLING.

Am I just compartmentalizing more than most people do? That's entirely possible. It's not that I see character growth and academics as totally divorced. Rather the opposite. First, what you study and learn can (and should) directly impact your actions. That's why Christians study the Bible and meditate on it. Secondly, all of our life - schooling included - can be dedicated to the Lord's service. All of it can be undertaken in such a way that it makes us more (or less) like Christ. In those two ways, I can clearly see how schooling and character issues are connected.

But neither of those are things that I'd write down in our lesson plan book, other than to mark off which chapters and verses of the Bible we've been studying. (The Bible is certainly a valid academic subject, and we study it more than secular folks would because we believe it's more important than they do. Fair enough.)  And I certainly wouldn't mark down character issues I'm working on with my daughter. Why? Because that's not schooling. That's parenting.  It's what we'd be doing if we were public schooling

I suppose that's part of the problem: framing character issues as part of homeschooling seems to imply that raising Christian children is the job of homeschooling mothers. But it's not. It's the job of Christian parents (and note the plural*).

I just . . . I just clearly have all kinds of problems with this. I think it’s silly. Moreover, I think it’s mistaken. I agree with the basic premise that Character Is More Important Than Academics. Sure. Who would disagree with that? But school IS about academics. Character Is Also More Important Than Cooking Skills. But when I’m making dinner I should focus a little more on the rice and a little less on my honesty, yes? My honesty will bide while I make the curry. I don’t get points off my Good Christian Chart for thinking a bit more about the garam masala than about the gospels during the short time I’m toasting the spices. Same with school. During science, I don’t want my daughter pondering the Golden Rule. I want her thinking about the characteristics of a cat.


I just . . . I just . . . I just am discovering that this issue makes me stutter "I just" a lot. Heh. I just have huge issues with this. Workable issues, because I can just not pick that fight. (And in real life - not blog life, I'm not arguing.**) But issues. Huge.

Anyone else? Or am I missing something huge here? Is this one I can simply look at from another point of view and understand? Or am I just going to get a swollen tongue from all the biting it I'm going to have to do? ;)

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

*This is not to say single Christian parents have not the same vocation. Just that if both parents are present, it is then a shared responsibility.

**Explaining my POV, maybe, but not arguing. :D 

cheap diapers

Always a good thing, right? Just wanted to point those of you who haven't heard towards AmazonMom. It's a new program from Amazon where you can get diapers, disposable training pants, and wipes very cheaply. AND delivered to your door. And by cheaply, I mean those big boxes of diapers (size 4, 140 ct., for example - Sam's Club size boxes) for $25. That's an amazing price.

Anyway, I just used this to get cheap training pants for the twins, and I thought I'd pass it along. Hope it helps someone else!

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell