09 December 2006

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup (2001), directed by María Ripoll; starring Hector Elizondo, Jacqueline Obradors, Constance Marie, and Raquel Welch

This is a remake of Ang Lee’s wonderful Eat Drink Man Woman. Sometimes a remake is a vast improvement on the original, as in the case with Sabrina, with deeper characters, and even a more plausible plot. Sometimes, however, the original film is so tightly woven together in the writing and editing that a remake just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the second is the case with Tortilla Soup. It’s not a bad film, but it just doesn’t measure up to Eat Drink Man Woman.
No one simply wants to copy, frame by frame, another filmmaker’s work, but instead wants to add certain touches, change motifs, or develop characters in a different direction. The problem here is that the original was so good, no extra dialog, no extra shots, every scene showing something about the characters and their relationships to one another, and powerful, repeating metaphors, that any changes reduce the impact of the remake.

Here’s one example: in the original, food is tightly controlled: who eats food prepared by whom, circumstances when people eat either alone or together, characters’ attitudes toward food, all develop or reveal character and relationships. The food in Tortilla Soup wasn’t as tightly controlled, and thus it loses much of its symbolic and thematic weight.

There were certain scenes in the original that were cinematically wonderful - no dialog, just an image that communicated clearly what was going on - that in the remake were exchanged for an easy-to-miss expository line of dialog.

Many of the set-ups weren’t paid off (again, we traded images for throw-away expository lines of dialog), and the climax of the film was moved from the very last scene to the penultimate scene, reducing its impact.

I’d suggest that you rent Eat Drink Man Woman and read your way through the subtitles. And then discuss some of these issues, especially the use of food, with those you watched it with.

08 December 2006

Quote Time

From The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul, Chapter 2, pp. 28-30:

If ever there was a man of integrity, it was Isaiah be Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed--morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. ...

...He saw the holiness of God. For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was. ...

...His was pure moral anguish, the kind that rips out the heart of a man and tears his soul to pieces. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Relentless guilt screamed from his every pore.

The holy God is also a God of grace. He refused to allow His servant to continue on his belly without comfort. He took immediate steps to cleanse the man and restore his soul.
(pp. 32-33):
Two important things must be noted in Isaiah’s reply [‘Here am I. Send me.’]. The first is that he was not Humpty-Dumpty. In the nursery rhyme, the fall of Mr. Dumpty is tragic because no one in the entire kingdom had the power to put him together again. Yet he was no more fragile than Isaiah. Isaiah was shattered into as many pieces as any fallen egg. But God put him together again. ...

The second important thing we learn from this event is that God’s work of grace on Isaiah’s soul did not annihilate his personal identity. ... Isaiah could still speak in terms of ‘I’. He still had an identity. He still had a personality. Far from God seeking to destroy the ‘self,’ as many distortions of Christianity would claim, God redeems the self. ... Isaiah’s personality was overhauled but not annihilated. He was still Isaiah ben Amoz when he left the temple. He was the same person, but his mouth was clean.

07 December 2006

Logs and Specks, II

So, how have Drew and I begun to apply the truths I've discussed in these last few posts to our children?

First of all, we’ve taught them from Matthew 7, going through with them what I’ve been discussing here. This was done when no one was in the middle of overt and obvious sin. In other words, it wasn’t aimed at any one person in particular, and I included examples from my own life as we discussed this. I wanted them to realize that I don’t think I’m above this, but that it must apply to me, too.

We’ve also listened to CJ Mahaney’s sermon entitled Cravings and Conflict, at least a couple of times already and we’ll listen to it plenty more through the coming years as our little ones grow. (It helped that we all heard it together for the first time when CJ was visiting and preached one Sunday morning.)

These teachings have given us some common language for dealing with our children’s sin (and our own). I can now calmly ask them, “Where’s your log?” or “What are you craving?” or “Who are you focused on right now?” as shortcuts to pointing them back to their own hearts and the sin therein when conflict arises. Another question I ask my older kids is, “What idol are you worshipping right now?”

Humility on my part is required. Am I willing to confess my own sin to my children and ask their forgiveness? Or do I try to brush my own sins under the rug?
And, just as I need to get to the root of my sin, I must try to teach my children to dig for their own roots. If we don’t get to the root of the sin, but focus on changing behaviour, we haven’t done our children any favors.

These truths come up often when discussing our weekly sermons. We are truly blessed in our church leadership and in the teaching we receive week after week as we learn to apply the gospel to all of life.

We also tease one another a bit. We sing a wonderful song at church which includes the following lyric: “It’s all about you, Jesus, and all this is for you, for your glory and your fame. It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way, you alone are God and I surrender to your name.” When we see self-centeredness beginning to manifest itself, sometimes we start singing this song, only we change “Jesus” to the name of the person who’s focused on himself at the moment. We usually only get to “It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way,” if even that far. The kids get the drift and know where the song is headed. This sounds horrible as I read it, but it’s done gently, with a big grin, and helps cut to the heart of the matter in a way that helps the person involved surrender much more easily than a scolding would.

Another aspect of this that I’ve recently begun to apprehend is that sometimes school needs to be put on hold while we work on these heart issues. If my kids can multiply and read Latin, but don’t know how to apply the gospel to the sin in their hearts, have I really served them well?
These are issues that can be talked about in the context of literary or film characters. For example, as we discuss Lizzie Bennett’s and Mr. Darcy’s attitudes toward one another in these terms (“What is Lizzie craving?” or “What’s the log in Darcy’s eye?”), the kids don’t feel attacked, but are learning to discern and think in these terms.

Sanctification is a process, a step-by-step, line-upon-line process. We can’t afford to be too busy for this process, nor can we rush it. God is patient with us and so must we be with our children. If we can deal with our own logs, our children will understand that we’re on their side as we help them deal with their specks.

Next, I’ll try to post some resources, books and downloadable sermons, to help these truths become functional in daily life.

I feel like I need to include a disclaimer here. I’m still very much in process and haven’t arrived by any stretch of the imagination. I’m writing this as much for myself (to reinforce it) as for anyone who may read it.

06 December 2006

Logs and Specks

I got an email about my post on 28 November (you can’t imagine how I’ve wanted a legitimate reason to say that ever since I started watching VeggieTales!!!). My friend asks (and you must imagine a sweet, Aussie accent to do it justice!):

“I am wondering how you ever get around to dealing with your children's logs and specks when you have to deal with your own first. That's a revealing comment, isn't it! I am fully aware that uncontrollable emotion in me points to MY sin, which needs to be dealt with, but not so sure that I can ever deal with sin in my children over-emotion-free. I know it has something to do with awareness of, and acceptance of how much I have been forgiven, but still have a hard time with it - so I look forward to your further reflections with expectation and hopefulness.”

It not only has something to do with awareness of and acceptance of how much I’ve been forgiven, but I believe it has quite a bit to do with it, as does looking for the root of my own uncontrollable emotional response. (Once we deal with the root issues, I’ll have some practical applications that I’ve been trying lately with my own brood.)

If I don’t act upon the knowledge of the depth of my own sin and the even greater amount of grace poured upon me, I’m the ungrateful servant of Christ’s parable. He was forgiven a debt he couldn’t have paid in five lifetimes. He then went out and found someone who owed him $10 and put him in debtors’ prison until the debt could be repaid.

Think of an old-fashioned scale, a balance. One side contains the immeasurable fullness of my sin against the infinite, transcendent, and holy Lord. It’s deeper (and darker) than the Mariana Trench, higher than Alpha Centauri, and heavier than Jupiter, and it’s all been forgiven because of Christ. On the other side of our metaphorical balance is the sin the person I’m in conflict with has committed against me - all 2 or 3 grains’ worth of sand. Until the sin against me is as huge as my sin against God which he has forgiven, I have no right to get angry.

I must also examine the root of my sin. Why exactly am I so upset when one of my children sins? Various reasons come to mind.

Maybe they’ve disregarded my desires (for a clean house, a bowl of ice cream, a half hour of peace and quiet, help in the garden...you fill in the blank).

My children aren’t thinking of me and I’m upset about that. Don’t they realize how much they owe me? How many hours I spent in labor? How hard I work to homeschool them? How much I’ve given up for them? All I’ve given them and do for them each day? I’m so wonderful, well ... they should just bow down and worship me.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve lost sight of what I really do deserve (and, because of Christ, what I’m not getting). My focus at this point is myself and it’s not pretty; I’ve become more important in my eyes than anyone else. I’m worshipping myself, which is another way to say I’ve descended into idolatry. Ouch. It’s not only not pretty, it’s pretty ugly...horribly ugly. (Which brings me back to the cross and the enormity of the forgiveness offered there, and the gratitude toward Christ for his sacrifice. There is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.)

Or suppose there’s real sin going on in my children (not an unreasonable conjecture). Who are they really sinning against? Me? or God himself? What is my responsibility before the Lord toward my children?

After listing the fruit of the Spirit and contrasting it with the fruit of the flesh, Paul writes, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 5:25-6:1)

Paul gives us instructions for how we should treat one another, not just when things are going well, but especially when a brother (one of my children) is caught in sin. The picture in my mind isn’t that I’ve caught one of my children red-handed (ah-ha!), but that sin, which blinds and deceives, is a trap that has caught one of my children, the sin that so easily entangles from Hebrews, chapter 12. If I were to come upon one of my children caught in a physical trap of some sort, I’d want to set him free from the trap, not challenge him or boast that I wasn’t entangled in it. And I’d realize that he certainly couldn’t free himself.

I’m the one “who is spiritual” when my child is caught in sin. How must I seek to restore him? Not by challenging him, but in a spirit of gentleness. Why must I seek to be gentle? That I too will not be tempted. Restore him to whom? The Lord, primarily. And again, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Do I act as if I want to condemn him or to restore him?

I must remind myself that my children’s sin isn’t really against me, but against the Lord, transcendent, holy, and just. Even if they do owe me $10, I owed the Lord much, much more and he forgave. In gratitude to him, how can I do less? If I can bring this from the confessional level of simply acknowledging this in my mind to the functional level of living by it, I will begin to be changed by it, and I’ll begin to be able to deal more effectively and biblically with my children’s sin.

28 November 2006

Homeschool Peace

This is really a continuation of the Place of Rest thread, but I got tired of the name. ;-D

We had a basic lesson last week that has begun bearing fruit in our children. When my dh and I first learned it, it changed the complexion of our relationship and our day-by-day walk.

In Matthew, chapter 7, we read the following:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”

As sinful human beings (remember, there are only two kinds of people in the world at this point in time: sinners and sinners who have been saved by grace, so this applies to us all), we are so quick to see the speck in our brother’s eye. “My feelings are hurt, so I don’t even have to look for the speck in your eye. I can see your log from the other side of the room! And it’s huge!!!”

What we learned turns this on its head. When I feel hurt, or upset, or frustrated, or angry, that isn’t an indication that your sin is big and obvious and I have every right to be hurt, or upset, or frustrated, or angry. It is, however, an indication that I’ve got a log in my own eye. I probably don’t see it - sin is deceptive and blinds us. Uncontrollable emotion is a neon sign pointing to the active presence of sin in my own heart and until I deal with that, I have no right or obligation to try to point out your sin.

21 November 2006

Opus #8

You ever lavish blessings mercif’ly
Upon us. Sinners all, we don’t deserve
Your cross, our guarantee.
Your kind regard and clement care preserve
Us warm beneath your wings. Your mighty hand
And strength sustain, conserve
Us now and through the swiftly slipping sand
Of time and all eternity. You give
Sweet hope of heav’n - joy, fanned
By heartfelt gratitude declarative
Of watchful charge and tenderness. Release
The fetter’d fugitive,
To those upheaved bestow your tranquil peace,
Abate the raging storm within, cruel weight
Of guilt remove, increase
Our trust and faith, our crooked ways make straight,
Unshackle us from foolish self-concern,
From hubris liberate.


© Lynne Spear, 2006

20 November 2006

Place of Rest, IV

I thought I was done with this topic, but I don’t think I’ve done an adequate job of communicating what I’m trying to communicate. Then, yesterday during the sermon, our senior pastor helped me clarify and I thought I’d have one more go at it.

His sermon was on Luke 14:1-24 and the topic was the failure of religion. He dealt with the failure of legalism (working to earn God’s favor and our salvation), pride (in our accomplishments toward earning God’s favor and our salvation), and presumption (assuming we’re good enough to earn God’s favor and our salvation). He finished up with a few application questions to help us gauge our own spiritual health in these areas, one of which was, “Is my mood based on my performance?” This question was the key.

If my mood is based on how well I’m doing, then that’s a symptom that I’m putting my faith in my actions and my ability to perform rather than in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Anxiety over how my day is going is a clear sign that I’m relying on myself and my (supposed) good works to try to earn the Lord’s favor instead of trusting in his unfailing love for me as expressed through the cross, and resting in his goodness and his plan for my day. If I can keep the gospel in focus, reminding myself that I’m an incapable sinner and that he’s done it all and given me all good things because of his grace, I can rest in him.

This morning, as I sat and made my to do list for the next few days, I saw a potentially difficult week with many opportunities for frustration and anxiety. As I prayed over the list, my prayer wasn’t that the Lord would help me get it all done (although without his help, I can’t), rather I prayed that I would be able to rest in him and in his grace today as I worked, in full reliance on his strength, keeping my focus on the gospel.

18 November 2006

The Prestige

The Prestige (2006), directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine

I don’t have too much to say because to say too much would give away too much. I will say that I’m finding it difficult to write about this film without referring to The Illusionist. When two films with so much in common, and yet in some ways with so little in common, are released so closely together, one can’t help comparing them.

The Prestige is the story of ambition gone wrong, revenge, and the inevitable moral descent caused by obsession and overweening pride - a cautionary tale, wherein the wages of sin is death. The Illusionist is the story of a man trying desperately to make a life for himself against all odds and what happens to him on that journey.

I wasn’t that drawn into the characters of The Prestige when all was said and done. At first, I felt a certain sympathy for them, but it disappeared like a bird in a cage during a magic trick. I also saw through some of the plot twists and wasn’t as terribly surprised by the ending as I was supposed to be.

The Illusionist had much much more heart and it was easier to become engaged with and care about the characters. I also fell for the illusion, only coming to understand what had really happened as one of the characters figured it out.

Of the two, I enjoyed The Illusionist more, but found both to be thought-provoking. If you’re only planning on watching one film about 19th century magicians, see The Illusionist. If you want to watch both, watch The Prestige first, saving the better for last.

17 November 2006

A Thanksgiving Toast

A turkey, stuffing, cider, bread,

Potatoes sweet and white,

Such grace and blessing, gratitude

For all within our sight.

For friends and fam’ly gather’d here

Upon this cheerful night,

Please lift your glass and drink a toast

To great big appetites!


© Lynne Spear, 2006

15 November 2006

Place of Rest, III

So what exactly is rest and how we live and teach from it? I don’t think Andrew was referring to physical rest (although a nap sounds great!). I think he’s referring more to peace. So that brings us to the question: what is peace? Let’s start with what it’s not. Rest on the outside with turmoil on the inside is no peace at all. Peace is not an entity unto itself, but rather fruit of the gospel at work in our lives.
“[T]rue peace is far more than the absence of active conflict. At the same time, peace is not permanent, unbroken relational serenity. It is not a destination at which we can arrive. ... Biblical peace is ... a lifelong focus, a process, a journey, a heart attitude, a matter of regular and careful attention. In its progressive, ongoing nature, peace is a lot like sanctification, to which it is inextricably bound.”
Love That Lasts, pp. 106-107
As I learn to apply the gospel to all of life, remembering that I am a vile sinner and God’s grace expressed in Christ through his death for me on the cross, my heart begins to change. This transformation frees me from focusing on myself and liberates me to think of others first. Others’ small sins against me are put into their proper place when I weigh them against the enormity of my own sin against God.

When I get upset, angry, or hurt, that points to a log in my eye, which must be dealt with before I try to tackle the speck in my husband’s or children’s eyes. This is an obvious reminder to me to stop and pray, asking the Lord to show me the sin at work in me, before I lose my temper with another.

Becoming more aware of my own sin doesn’t sound like it should lead to peace. But the bigger my view of my sin becomes, the bigger my view of the cross becomes. God’s grace is bigger than my sin, so this awareness shouldn’t lead to condemnation - there is, after all, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This is completely contrary to the feel-good, self-esteem teaching so prevalent today, not just in the world, but in the church, too. How can this lead to peace? It sounds like utter foolishness. Ah, ha! It is foolishness and it’s this kind of foolishness that God uses to humble the wise ones in the world and to show his power.

Once we have a more accurate view of our own sin, we can see the cross more clearly and accurately. As we apply the gospel to all of life, we begin to know peace. And we must always remember that Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Knowing him and his glorious good news of our salvation better, will bring us greater levels of peace and rest in him.

And, no, I haven’t arrived yet. As the Ricuccis said above - peace is a process and a journey, intimately tied to sanctification. I won’t arrive until I stand before the Lord face-to-face, but what a day that will be!

Film Conference Reviews

Mostly Martha (2002) (imdb); directed by Sandra Nettlebeck; starring Martina Gedeck, Sergio Castellitto, and Maxime Foerste; filmed in German with English subtitles

Martha is a chef, completely in charge of her world and everything in it, primarily because cooking is her life. Her fairly tidy world is thrown into disarray by the death of her sister and the arrivals of her 8 year old niece, Lina, and a new Italian sous-chef, Mario.

Watch how food is used in this film, specifically who eats whose cooking. A few other motifs to keep an eye on: the freezer and Martha’s hair.

I really enjoyed this film. The dynamics among the characters sparkled. My favorite was Mario (who couldn’t love Mario?).

This is in negotiation for an American re-make. How that turns out will depend in large part who writes the script and how the story is approached. (edit: the remake, No Reservations, is wonderful (we bought it), but again, not quite as good as the original in its use of those literary motifs that made Mostly Martha such a work of art.)

Trivia: Sergio Castellitto (Mario) didn’t speak German, so he delivered his lines in Italian and then his dialog was dubbed in for the German release. So, when we watch the subtitled version, we’re watching an Italian actor, dubbed in German, and then subtitled in English.

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) (imdb), directed by Ang Lee, filmed in Chinese with English subtitles; Ang Lee’s first film made in Taiwan

Master chef Chu may be the master of his kitchen, but he struggles at home with his three daughters. The oldest is a Christian, the middle a successful airline executive, and the youngest a university student who works in a fast food restaurant. To top it off, Chu has lost his sense of taste - a disaster for a chef.

Ang Lee has cooked up a delightful film which tells the story of a family growing up, growing apart, and then growing back together as each family-member finds his way.

As with Mostly Martha, watch who eats, who doesn’t, and who cooks for whom. Also pay attention to how meals affect or express things about each character, especially the two protagonists (I’ll let you figure out who they are!).

This was re-made in English and set in Los Angeles as Tortilla Soup, directed by María Ripoll and starring Hector Elizondo and Raquel Welch. It’s at the top of our Netflix queue. I’ll post more after I’ve seen it. (edit: I've seen it - it's okay, but much of the great symbolism and metaphor of meal as communion was omitted, so I wouldn't rate it as highly as the original.)

02 November 2006

Opus #6

My ardor cools by slight degrees, a hoar
Frost chills my soul. The passion I held dear
In past is frozen. Breezes gust and roar,
Autumnal windstorm, frosty, insincere.
Hard, wintry ice weighs down mere’s rippled wave.
Dull leaves drift down and carpet ground - earth’s shroud.
All life in hibernation sleeps. My grave
And soul’s decease writ large, benumb and cloud
My heart.
I hear a muted hymn that swells
And grows, reminds me of your grace. Splash, drip-
Your love a supernatural spring that quells
My dread. Your care a fire that melts death’s grip-
A sun that brings new life: the blush on fruit
Of freshest rip’ning faith and tender shoot.


© Lynne Spear, 2006

23 October 2006

Place of Rest, II

So, what did I mean by stating that Christ is the only secure place of rest from which we can live and thus teach? What does that look like?

Well, that’s a good question, but before looking at what that looks like on the outside, we must look to the heart of the matter, and it starts in my heart.

Lately, the Lord has been showing me the depth of sin in my own heart. Yuck! It’s vile! The idolatry, the pride, the selfishness. You may not think that this is very restful, and the beginning of this process isn’t. But, as he shows me my sin, he also reminds me of the cross. My first look at the cross reminds me that that’s what I deserve. Because I’ve sinned against a perfect, holy, pure God, I deserve to hang there...forever. That’s how bad my sin is. Take some time to contemplate that.

My second look at the cross shows me his love for me. Christ took my punishment, paid my debt, became sin for me. I could not pay for my own sin, yet I no longer owe that debt. There is no longer any condemnation for me. I find rest in the finished work of Christ. Because of his finished work, I have peace with God where there was only hostility.

The first look begins to kill my pride. The second look reminds me who belongs on the throne in my soul, thereby beginning to kill idolatry. I say “beginning” because learning these lessons is the work of a lifetime.

I know this is basic Christianity, but I’m learning how it applies to all of life. And that’s what’s been bringing peace to my relationships with my husband and children. As peace grows in my family, it grows in our schooling. I’ll try to pull together more of these details next time.

16 October 2006

The End

Well, I wasn’t waiting eagerly, but when I learned that The End of the Series of Unfortunate Events was being released on Friday, I had to finish up the series.

I’d had some reservations regarding where Handler seemed to be headed in The Penultimate Peril. I wasn’t comfortable regarding the differences between Volunteers and Villains he chose to underline; namely that Volunteers and noble people are blind, weak, and ineffectual while Villains and evil people are the only ones with the strength and brains to get anything done. He was blurring the lines too much. I felt, if he continued in the direction he seemed to be going in PP, that these books could be more dangerous than some people think Harry Potter is.

The good news is that he doesn’t really clarify this blurred image in the way I thought he would, pursuing it to its logical end. The bad news is that he doesn’t clarify much of anything else, either, and there is no logical end. I got to the last page with no sense of closure or resolution. The story doesn’t really conclude; rather it just stops being told.

At first, I thought the books were interestingly written, but the cleverness got old after awhile. I started skimming when I got to the fourth volume. There seemed to be no forethought in the plotting of these books, just where ever Handler’s imagination decided to go that day. He’s an authorial nomad.

I think Handler could be counted among the plethora of clever modern writers, who, while they may have talent, they don’t use their talent in a skillful manner or display much craftsmanship. He doesn’t really seem to know how to plot one book, much less a series of thirteen, at least from what I read in these; his grown-up novels don’t tempt me at all. He drops all kinds of clues along the way, but they don’t point to anything particular and we’re never really let in on the secret.

I wish now that I’d listened to Lemony Snicket, put these books down, and snuggled up with a quilt, a cup of tea, and The Littlest Elf.

14 October 2006

Teaching from a Place of Rest

Andrew Kern was in Colorado Springs last weekend for a Lost Tools workshop. As usual, he dropped a few phrases that have been rippling through the Isle since then. “Teaching from a place of rest” is the one that really caught my attention and it builds on much of what I came away with from Memphis in July.

In order to teach from a place of rest, we must live in a place of rest, and the only truly trustworthy place of rest is Christ. Unless our hearts are resting in Christ and in the gospel, I don't know how successful we can be in teaching from a place of rest, even with the best of intentions.

I don’t think this requires that we come up with a list of things to do in order to work toward that place of rest. These changes rather are the fruit of the rest and peace that grow in our own souls as we fix our eyes on Christ.

I know. I tried the to do approach for a long time, but it's only recently, as the Lord has been making the gospel more and more real and more and more functional in my life, that I’m seeing the fruit of tranquility and peace in our schooling. It didn't start with school, but in my heart and soul and our schooling is affected, too.

Through my next few entries, I’d like to see if I can try to explain the changes the Lord is bringing about and how the fruit is becoming evident in our schooling, not to give anyone a to do list, but to give encouragement that, if the Lord can do these things in our home, he can work in anyone’s, although it probably won’t look exactly the same.

08 October 2006

The Place of Music

The next session I attended at CiRCE was called “The Place of Music in the Classical Christian Curriculum”, taught by John Hodges. He is passionate and knowledgeable about music and this was a delightful session. And when it was over, we asked him where we could sign up for his class.

I wasn’t sure at first that I wanted to attend this session. I’m not really a musician and thought most of it would be over my head, but I was wrong. Since most of the rest of the Wild Bunch was going, I thought I would too and then Jenny, our WB musician-in-residence and my roommate, would fill me in later over tea in our room. If I mess up, it’s because I haven’t had time to re-listen to the CD and I only partially understand what John said.

Is music math or is it art? Yes! It’s both! It’s filled with ratio and proportion. For example: if you strike a low D on a piano keyboard, included in the vibrations produced are D, E, and F# 2 octaves above. If you strike the low D and leave the damper open, those three strings will also vibrate. (I think he called this sympathetic vibrations, but I could be wrong - as I said, I’m not a musician. He also did this cool demonstration with an old curly phone cord to show us how vibrations work - it was almost like physics class!) Because of this sympathetic vibration, harmonies are actual and objective, not subjective. They are part and parcel of the created order, not something we made up on our own. (Man discovered these in the same way we discovered mathematical principles and laws of nature, such as gravity. We didn't create them.) Dissonance and consonance are a result of the created order. Our Western system of music is a man-made system based on creation. Physics is the same throughout the world in all different cultures.

Now we get to the “Art Part”. “Art” is the science of making things, forming things using what God has created. (I like Tolkien’s “sub-creation,” that we are creators under The Creator. He made everything ex nihilo, we use what he made to form, order, and create beauty.)

Growing up means learning to discern. Someone (Augustine? Aquinas? Boethius? I don’t remember...) said that beauty contains unity, proportion, and clarity, and pleases upon being seen. It is objective in its unity, proportion, and clarity, but for those whose affections are trained to love that which is good, it produces a subjective, emotional response. It’s not an either/or proposition.

However, it’s not as easy as all that because the Fall affects us. Our receptors are damaged, but we must still strive to see what is good.

How do we teach aesthetics?

  1. Introduce the idea of objective. Good art is good, whether I like it or not. It’s not how I feel about it that counts.
  2. We must also model analysis using the elements of music: rhythm, melody, harmony, form, texture, and timbre. (This would also apply to any artistic discipline we’re teaching and learning about - Jenny has begun pulling together lists of the different elements of different disciplines and I’m sure I’ll be asking her for her input in the future.)

    Rhythm is the organization of pulses into groups of strong and weak beats. Then these groups can be subdivided. Ask: “Why did the composer choose that particular rhythm?

    Melody is the linear aspect of music, the part you hear. Is it long? short? Does it have sections? Is it a call and response? What stylistic differences are there?

    Harmony is what you hear simultaneously; it’s the vertical aspect of music. Listen for chords leading into one another.

    Form is the big picture of the piece. Strophic form is a repetition of the same thing: AAA. Verse/chorus is ABAB. If someone understands the sonata form, it will unlock a lot of classical music.
(John then went into a fairly detailed - at least to this novice - description of sonata form. I’ve started hearing the differences in the different movements, but I haven’t had the time to sit and listen for the subtleties yet. I’m only going to give the overview as my notes at this point are a jumbled mix of diagram and phrases.)

A sonata is an instrumental piece, made up of four movements that vary in tempo. The first movement is fast and is called Allegro. The second movement is slow and repeats some of the melodic themes and variations of the first movement. The third is a dance, most often a minuet incorporating a simpler form of the melody from the first movement. The fourth movement is fast: Allegro or Rondo.

A good example is Mozart’s 40th symphony, the first movement. The various movements are very clear and easily identifiable. The Romantic composers hid the seams between the various movements and so it’s harder to identify them in their works.

The following information relates to sonatas composed in the 18th century. A piano sonata is a sonata written for piano alone. A clarinet sonata is a sonata written for clarinet and piano. A concerto is a sonata written for piano and orchestra; at least it’s similar although there’s usually no dance movement in a concerto. A symphony is a sonata written for orchestra, generally consisting of four movements.

In the 19th century, the Romantics, while accepting the sonata form at first, broke the rules to express themselves, which lead to the breakdown of the form. They also were the first to use this form to tell an outside story using music.

There were two Greek gods who inspired art: Apollo, who was responsible for reason, order, balance, symmetry - the head and ideals; and Dionysus, the god of grapes, wine, nature, passion, the emotions - the heart and particulars. This Greek dichotomy was synthesized by the early Christians who understood that both were worthwhile: the objective, that which deals with the object itself; and the subjective, that which deals with the emotions of the partaker of art.

There are three objective “goods” relating to any piece of art: performance (the excellence of the piece in terms of its execution, whether painting, sculpture, or film), composition (the structure of the piece), and content (the message communicated). In other words, a piece might be well-composed in its structure and have a wonderful message, but if its execution is lacking, it will not qualify as good art.

We must receive and understand a work of art; then we ask, “Where do I agree with it?”; and only after these first two steps should we ask, “Where do I disagree with it?” This reminded me of CS Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism. I try to teach my children to understand what the author, sculptor, painter, poet, or director was saying and only when we think we understand, do we begin to critique it.

03 October 2006

Opus #5

This metaphor has been rattling around in my mind for over a decade now. The Lord has only recently given me the final puzzle pieces to put it into words.

It describes both ways I’ve been treated by various people and, unfortunately, ways I’ve treated others. I confess that I’m most often the second woman, especially to my children. By God’s grace, I’m slowly becoming more like the third.

Deep in a pit, upon my back,
My ankle twisted, broke.
I’m bruised; my head has had a crack.
I cry out, weep, and choke.

A stone upon my broken limb,
I cannot stand; I sprawl.
I fear my rescue hope is slim,
I’m helpless as a doll.

Above appears a simple grin
That sees no need to fret,
Ignores the hole, deep gloom within,
“Don’t mope or be upset!”

More platitudes she calls to me,
“Now, where’s your cheerful mood?
The weather’s fine as it can be,
So don’t be so subdued.”

She skips away. She never saw
How dangerous my plight.
Too optimistic was her flaw,
Too rosy was her sight.

A scowl appears atop the hole,
She knits her brow, so grim.
Self-righteous chiding is her goal.
“You! Climb up to this rim.”

“Come pull yourself up here with me,
You prat, you’re strong enough!
If you’d more faith, you would be free.
You’re made of worthless fluff!”

She stomps away, her shoulders shrugs,
Not charity, but shame.
She sees no use in tender hugs,
Believes they can’t reclaim.

A sister dear shows me her face.
Her eyes set me at peace.
Her gentle hope like an embrace,
My dread and fear decrease.

To reach my side she scrambles down,
Ignores the nasty slime.
Her touch as soft as eiderdown,
She counts not cost nor time.

My tears are dried, my wounds are bound,
She rolls away the stone.
Her joy and laughter, such sweet sound,
Now I walk not alone.

A greater Friend descended here
Into our blackened pit,
Assumed our woe and took our fear,
For God, He made us fit.

He wiped our tears and bound our hurt,
He paid off all our debt,
Did not despise the mire and dirt,
But washed away our sweat.

Into the tomb he went, unspared,
Then rolled away the stone.
Our beastly sin and grief he shared,
So we’d walk not alone.


© Lynne Spear, 2006

28 September 2006

The Principle of Integration

Back to CiRCE! My CD’s should be arriving any day now.

The next session, “The Principles of Classical Education: The Principle of Integration”, was taught by John Mason Hodges. (Again, I’ll add my thoughts in colored italics.)

We labor under false dichotomies, specifically separation of faith and reason, which leads to rationalism and the death of truth.

To Integrate means to make one or whole

In the medieval university, in order to know anything, you needed Jesus in the center. John likened the university to a wheel. Jesus was the center that the hub, philosophy, turned around; the spokes were the seven liberal arts, the tire was practice and application.

Where can knowledge be found in the multiversity of today? How can we return to integration?

We need something higher than the disciplines to integrate them. We must return to a hierarchy. We can’t integrate two subjects without a general principle or a moving toward the center of the wheel. (That general principle stands over the separate subjects, otherwise there could be no integration. I think this is the hierarchy that John refers to, a hierarchy of ideas with some being more basic or foundational than others which build upon these foundations, not any kind of hierarchy of people. And I’ll admit that, by using a building metaphor, I’ve turned John’s metaphor literally on its head! ☺)

We can’t turn back the clock, but we can turn back toward the center.

Currently, we have a separate philosophy for each subject, but we need to base our philosophies on theology. Only in the Logos can we find integration.

Logos=the defining principle of everything.

Right worship is connected to integration and knowledge.

As we integrate all knowledge in Christ, we get a clearer view of it and that leads us to worship rightly the Creator of all knowledge.

This builds on what I’ve learned from George Grant in our Christendom studies. Today, we don’t have many universities, but we have a multitude of multiversities. There is no overarching principle or core that all students must study and then branch out to study their specialization according to these core principles. That core used to be Christ, Christianity, Western Civilization. ISI has published some great little booklets, which are also available to be downloaded free, to guide today’s college students in how to pursue this core at colleges and multiversities. While there are a few schools that still insist that all students master a core of knowledge, they are rare.

27 September 2006

Jayber Says...

I finished Jayber Crow on Monday. In celebration, I thought I’d post a few of my favorite quotes, currently residing in my commonplace book (a red Clairefontaine journal that loves fountain pen inks) written in Noodler’s bulletproof Iraqi Indigo ink (a permanent, soft, sort of greyish/violetish-blue - very easy on the eyes and a Pendemonium exclusive) with a Lamy blue AL Star fine-point fountain pen.

It was impossible to hurry there, and so I settled myself into patience.
I became a sort of garden fanatic and I am not over it yet. You can take a few seed peas, dry and dead, and sow them in a little furrow, and they will sprout into a row of pea vines and bear more peas - it may not be a miracle, but that is a matter of opinion.
After the Depression and the war and the years of work that they were now beginning to think of as slow and too hard, the country people were trying to get away from demanding circumstances. … We couldn’t quite see at the time, or didn’t want to know, that it was the demanding circumstances that had kept us together.
They did not approve of government approval.
“God loves Port William as it is,” I thought. “Why else should He want it to be better than it is?”
…as I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think.

25 September 2006

Not-a-Sonnet #4

My eyes were blind; Your holiness
And glory hidden, dark.
My depth of sin, I’d not profess.
The cross in shade obscured, slight mark
On far horizon.
Light’ning crack!
Grand thunderclap! You strike a spark,
Illuminate my gaze. My lack
Laid bare in daylight clear and in
The gap the Cross stands tall, not black
But shining bright, and near. Within,
I glimpse Your grace.
So sinless, pure,
You’re high above. My soul so thin,
Inside vice still a deep allure.
Anew conviction comes; this gift
Gives life and hope. Your hold secure,
Belov’d, You soar on high, so swift.
Alone, I’d plunge to depths complete.
Your Cross mounts up to fill the rift.
Expanse You render obsolete.


© Lynne Spear, 2006

23 September 2006

Sonnet #3

Thy holiness, so infinite yet veil’d,
Complete perfection, blazing honor hid.
My sightless gaze obscured. I fully fail’d
To stem, restrain my wickedness, forbid
My blacken’d ways. Depravity my sole
Reply - heed not, I turn away and lid
My wretchèd shame.
Then Light o’er brims my soul,
Damn’d scales flings off! Distress, despair! Can’t flee,
I crumple, slump. High priced...too dear the toll.
Immense, unbounded gorge ‘twixt me and Thee.
Sweet Gospel bends; she lifts my head. Tear’d eyes
To Thee I raise - Thy grace, my only plea.
Forgiveness grows, ‘Cross vast abyss it lies,
Thy bridge of hope. Thou bidst me come, arise.


© Lynne Spear, 2006

19 September 2006

No Condemnation!

Romans 8:1 tells us that, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I’ve been loosely tethered to this verse for the last couple of months, trying to understand it, to bring it from the confessional level to the functional level. Last night, at church, one of our pastors worked hard to drill this joyful idea deeply into our souls.

Tracy Lee Simmons wrote: "Ideas are shadowy and inert without [words]. But with words to clothe them, ideas take on form."

And he’s right. On the way home, I decided that I just didn’t really understand what condemnation means. It was the Invisible Man and needed words to clothe it so I could get a better glimpse of it.

My best guess was destined to be punished because of guilt. While this isn’t wrong, it’s only part of the story.

When I looked it up in Webster’s New World Dictionary and Noah Webster’s 1848 Facsimile Dictionary, I learned that this word means a great deal more than I’d ever imagined. From the two dictionaries, I discovered quite a bit that made this verse come alive.

There is therefore now no condemnation (no guilt, no punishment, no doom, no rejection, no censure, no blame, no disapprobation, no disapproval, no declaration of being unfit, no determination of being wrong) for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Now there’s an Invisible Man made visible!

13 September 2006

A Second Sonnet

This is dedicated to the only One who can truly tame our thoughts.

My thoughts are like the wild birds that flit

Where e’er they will. Brown daydream sparrows fly

Above a landscape, empty-promise-knit.

They flutter off, grey mem’ry wrens so wry!

Before I know - they’re gone! Took wing

Across blue firmament. Quick loop-de-loop!

They flicker past, eyes mocking me. They sing

Their siren song. They chase and soar and swoop.

I plead with them. They tease and taunt! Oh, bane!
Untamèd thoughts! My net has holes. I reach ...
I stretch ... I twist ... exert myself in vain!!
And in my ears, resounds their jeering screech.
Lord, catch the birds and clip their wings and train
Them to fly home and there in peace remain.


© Lynne Spear, 2006

09 September 2006

The Business of Reading Great Literature

The Business of Reading Great Literature: Why We Should Teach Literature to Business Students and Why That Matters to Classical Christian Schools (Now that’s a title and a half!)

The next session at CiRCE was on Friday morning. Vigen Gurioan was insightful in his analysis of the result of combining business schools and liberal arts schools. First he mentioned a few of his published works: Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening (sounds great to me!), Rallying the Really Human Things (I bought this that afternoon, but haven’t read any of it yet.), and The Fragrance of God. Vigen is a tenured professor at Loyola.

American society is business-oriented. We receive many material comforts from this, but we also lament the hedonism that is such a temptation in our culture. Whatever our response, we must acknowledge that the American economy is here to stay.

During the 20th century, agricultural colleges became business schools or expanded to incorporate business schools.

There is definitely a need for business training, but this training contains serious limitations, including that business training undercuts the ethos of liberal learning. Schools stand or fall on the way they handle the liberal arts and sciences, defined as the acquisition of accumulated wisdom of the ages, an investigation into the very nature of things, truth and error, goodness and beauty.

The study of literature contributes to the humanization of life. Literature is a metonym (from metonymy: a figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated) for liberal learning.

The adding of business schools to liberal arts schools undermined their very understanding of education. Business schools are simply higher vocational training.

Literature makes better and more interesting human beings. (Vigen then quoted someone, but I’m not sure I got the quote right and don’t know who originally said it, “Literature doesn’t save, but it enlarges the soul to be saved.” Sound familiar? Anyone out there with one of the sets of CD’s from the conference who could verify this for me?)

The novel form is truer to life than a textbook. “Loss of the University” is an essay by Wendell Berry that Vigen recommended. “Education is essentially for free men. Vocational training is for slaves.” ~CS Lewis

We need both education and training. Those with only vocational training are the mules of the marketplace. They are producers and consumers with a yoke on their minds.

There’s a difference between character development in the context of literature and academic training in the context of a class in ethics. We must develop the human being, then train him for the workplace, through apprenticeship.

He recommended The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination, by Robert Coles.

08 September 2006

A Sonnet

My heart was cold and far from thee. I ran

Away at ev’ry turn; woo’d blighted foe,

My pride and vain ambition; sought to ban

Thy winsome sway. Sweet Grace, I spurned thy flow.

My dusty soul - oh, shriveled, withered thing! -

Was cracked and parched, the desert during drought.

No drop, no plash, no drizzle could I bring,

So wilted, lifeless, faded, emptied out.

No water - brittle, barren - not a trace;

Dust swirling, whirling, turned all topsy-turve.

I thirst! I cry for rain! No drop of grace

Do I, oh, dead and sinful soul, deserve.

Begins the rain. Thy precious, holy blood
Flows from the cross! Sweet, undeservèd flood!


© Lynne Spear, 2006

26 August 2006

The Power of Music

The next session I attended at CiRCE was taught by John Mason Hodges and was entitled, “The Power of Music”. John is a wonderful and energetic teacher whose enthusiasm is contagious. The Wild Bunch had lunch with him on Friday and it was a blast! He’s witty, erudite, thoughtful, down-to-earth, and simply exudes joy. During John’s workshop, he began to unpack (for me, at least) what it means “to train our affections to love that which is good”.

As usual, my rabbit trails are italicized and colored for clarity.

Plato said that the ideal forms of things reflect and are analogous to virtue. Christ is the embodiment of truth, goodness, and beauty and virtue.

In the Greek mind, there were two ideas regarding music:

1. It’s based on mathematic proportions. Pythagoras discovered the natural connection between harmony and pitch.

If we take a string and pluck it, then divide it in half and pluck it again, the second pitch will be one octave higher than the first pitch. If we divide the string in thirds, the tone equals a triad. This is based on ratios that God built into the created order. I’m a bit fuzzy on this last point about the triad - my notes aren’t complete enough, I’m not that knowledgeable regarding music, and I don’t have my CD’s yet to be able to go back and relisten to this session. I hope to revisit this and try to clarify it when I get the chance. If I remember correctly, he went into more detail about this in a later session.

The Greek word for ratio is logos. In a previous blog entry I wrote this, which I think applies (the quote is a small excerpt from Peter Kreeft’s Socratic Logic; the rest has been tweaked just a bit from what I originally wrote): “ ‘logos: the unchangeable and necessary law for the very nature of things; a fact; objective truth.’ ”

“Jesus is the logos, not just the Word as we conceive of it in English, or the study of something as when we refer to a branch of knowledge with ‘-ology’, but the unchangeable and necessary law of everything - ‘In the beginning was the Unchangeable and Necessary Law of Everything, and the Unchangeable and Necessary Law of Everything was with God and the Unchangeable and Necessary Law of Everything was God. Through Him all things were made.’ ”

So, how does this apply to music? Well, this mathematical basis is the unchangeable and necessary law of music. Without this structure built into the physical world during creation, there would be no music. Music is built into the very fabric and physics of creation. And Scripture tells us that Christ is actually the Logos, so he is at the foundation of what makes music music and all things hold together in him, including music.

To the Greeks, the first ideas presented in John’s gospel (that the Logos was in the beginning, that the Logos was with God, that the Logos was God, and that through the Logos all things were made) were understandable, but the the idea presented several verses later, that the Logos was actually embodied and made incarnate (the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us) was absolutely shocking.

So, we come back to the ratio and proportion at the foundation of music. Music is mathematically harmonious, ideal order made vibrant enough for us to hear it, organized sound that imparts gracefulness and begins to teach the soul to love virtue. This reminded me of Andrew’s comment that the Kindergarten teacher’s most important job is to expose her charges to beauty.

2. The Muses were nine daughters of Zeus who inspired the arts: (I looked this up on Wikipedia and cleaned up the list John was struggling to come up with from memory) epic poetry, music and lyric poetry, history and heroic poetry, lyrics and love poetry, tragedy, hymns and sacred poetry, dance and choral song, comedy, and astronomy. The Muses all had the same mother, Memory. Inspiration is impossible without looking back in time.

The Muses were said to have sung their inspiration; the whole universe vibrated with their harmony.

To be amused is to be uninspired by the Muses. Amusement is a break from being mused. Consider the irony that, today, we use music to amuse ourselves.

Augustine wrote, regarding rhythm: “The material world includes the soul, which is invisible material. It has form. Rhythm forms and gives shape to the soul. It shapes the way we perceive things and contributes to the training of our sensibilities to recognize and love beauty when we see it. There is (or maybe “should be”?) a connection between melody, harmony, rhythm, and what the student loves.

Music is numbers in audible form.

Gothic cathedral architecture of Christendom also has a harmony of number as seen in the shape and proportions of the building, the spacing of windows, etc. Musical harmonies were composed specifically for the architecture and acoustics of Chartres Cathedral. Theology is the center of the liberal arts. This is shown in the south entrance of Chartres, where the tympanum shows Christ in the middle with the seven liberal arts and a representative practitioner of each art arrayed around Him.

There were three aspects of beauty in the Middle Ages (see Art and Music in the Middle Ages, by Umberto Eco):

  1. the Greek idea of proportion and number

  2. light: a symbol of unity because white light is a unity of all color; it is essential to seeing and knowing

  3. symbol
Thomas (Aquinas?): “Art is the science of constructing things according to their natures.” We moderns no longer think about the nature of things.

Bacon started it. Instead of adapting to the nature of things, his perspective was that we can know enough to have power over things.

Virtue is doing. Art is making and requires knowing the nature of the materials being used. To apply this to music, medievally, a musical instrument player wasn’t considered a musician, nor was a composer considered a musician. Musical theorists were considered true musicians because they understood the nature (the structure and form) of music.

Aquinas said that beauty is that which pleases upon being seen and is composed of unity, proportion, and clarity (understandability). We, however, have separated the object from the subjective experience. Kant believed that appreciation is a subjective act. We need to recalibrate ourselves to feel what we ought to feel.

We current-day Christians acknowledge that there is absolute truth and absolute goodness, but we don’t acknowledge that there is absolute beauty. We must press this contradiction with our students to help them see where we are today.

We moderns have a deep-seated prejudice against reasoning about music. I was discussing this with a friend last night and she commented that a fairly well-known author told her recently that he is seeing a new attitude in Christian teens - they don’t want to discuss the story or cinematic elements of a film, even after the fact, because it will destroy the experience of enjoying the film. My dh and I have observed the same thing in many adults of our acquaintance.

The power of music is that it reveals through general revelation. It should be studied instead of used, and understood in terms of number. This reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism, which presents the same idea in terms of literature and books.

I don’t know that I can pull this together any more than I’ve done here. I also don’t know that I agree or disagree with anything. (You’ll notice that I included fewer rabbit trails on this session than I’ve had in the past.) I have a feeling that this was so new to me that I didn’t even know what to write as I tried to take notes and that I left a lot out, so it feels disjointed. I haven’t really given these points much thought. My goal today was simply to try to process it a bit more, even if I don’t understand it yet. I look forward to the arrival of my conference CD’s so my dh and I can listen to this one and try to puzzle it out together . John’s next workshop was much more practical and I might find some connections between the two workshops when I get there. (I’m working through my notes chronologically, so it’ll be awhile.)

21 August 2006

Musing About Musing

Friday night at dinner, my husband and I discussed my notes on James Daniels’ workshop regarding leisure. Ever the engineer, he thinks it sounds great, but he’s also concerned that if we become out of balance, our children’s processing speed will be affected (that was said tongue-in-cheek, but does accurately express his concern).

After our discussion, I felt that I should look again at the balance Mr. Daniels discussed that was traditional to education. We need both ratio, or discursive and analytical ability, and intellectus, or the ability to be still and contemplate. This needn’t be an either/or proposition.

Ratio is achieved in a Christian classical education by the rigor of our studies of Latin, logic, rhetoric, math, history, literature, theology, and science.

Intellectus is achieved in a Christian classical education by taking time to think, read, and discuss deeply ... by taking time to contemplate and appreciate a work of art ... by simply taking time.

In our present culture, the pendulum has swung toward the ratio side of things. Our American way of life is all rush and hurry, deadlines and goals, busyness and to do lists, information and analysis.

Lest my dear husband (who is one of my faithful readers) think that I’ll overcompensate and cut down on ratio as I seek to increase intellectus, I offer the following rambling thoughts:

In ancient Greek mythology, the daughters of Memory were the twelve Muses. The Muses were responsible for inspiring creativity in music, epic poetry, dance, theatre, the writing of history, etc. (more on this when I get to the next workshop by John Hodges). When an artist was “in the zone” it was thought that he was being visited and inspired by a Muse.

In English, the word muse means “to be absorbed in thought” (v.) or “ an instance or period of reflection” (n.) [ye olde Apple widget, again].

And thus, we have muse, with connotations of creativity and deep thought. I think there is a connection between muse and recreation or, maybe it would be more clear if I wrote it thus: “re-creation”. We aren’t creators in the ex nihilo sense that God is the creator, but we are made in his image and, to use Tolkien’s term, are created to be sub-creators. We don’t create out of nothing, but we imitate our creator when we take his raw materials and change their form, giving them structure, and in the process re-create something beautiful, just as Adam was told to tend the garden, making it even more beautiful than it already was. This is true recreation.
The opposite of muse is amuse. The prefix makes all the difference. That one small vowel changes the word to mean the opposite - without creativity, without deep, reflective thought. The French origins of the word are telling and carry connotations of causing oneself or another to stare stupidly by means of entertainment or deception [ibid.]. (There’s something to reflect on the next time you find yourself awaking from a television-induced alpha-wave stupor during a commercial and you can’t remember what show you were watching.)

I know that word meanings change through the course of time, but I find tracing the etymology of a word to be fascinating and helpful toward understanding and questioning the presuppositions I soak in simply by living during the time period I do. As I contemplate how we got from point a to point b, I begin to see the culture I live in differently. I think that, as we track these kinds of changes in word meanings and usages, we can begin to get a feel for the direction in which cultural presuppositions have shifted through time.

In our culture today, when our work is over and we have downtime, we want to watch television, sit and play a computer game, or read a novel that demands no thought or creativity from us. We want to amuse ourselves: check out, veg, zone - call it what you will.

One of my favorite films comes to mind. In the 90’s remake of Sabrina (starring Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear), Sabrina has spent a year in Paris. She arrives home in New York and changes Linus’s life. Linus is a work-a-holic; he lives at the office, has no friends, and deep down he resents it. Sabrina teaches him to live, to enjoy life, to begin to relax (and as a result, he falls in love with her, but, hey, it’s Hollywood). The interesting thing in light of this discussion is that, as we watch her in Paris, learning to live well, Sabrina isn’t plopped in front of a television set, she doesn’t spend her time playing video games, or in cyber-cafés. She develops friendships, she learns to contemplate and observe life through a camera lens, she spends time “listening to the river” from her favorite bridge, she shops for fresh vegetables at the local marché, and she writes both in a journal and real letters home to her father. She learns to speak French. She tells Linus about her favorite walk in Paris in such detail that we know it’s something she did often and that she paid attention. Linus asks her to a typical evening on the town: dinner, drinks, and a Broadway show. Instead, in one of my favorite scenes, she introduces him to Moroccan food and after dinner, as they sit quietly and talk, she plays with and enjoys the scent and texture of fresh rose petals. This is living well.

(I would like to point out that, yes, this is a scene from a film, but, as a fan of film, I can’t watch one without spending time thinking about it and discussing it with those who watched it with me. We treat films like literature in that we look at story structure, foreshadowing, character development, themes, and lots more. There’s nothing passive or thoughtless about it.)

All this to say that I don’t want to replace ratio with intellectus in our schooling, but to marry the two. And if, in the process, we have less time for amusement, so be it.

18 August 2006

Leisure: The Basis of Schooling

The next session I attended at CiRCE was taught by James Daniels. In my journal, next to his name, I wrote, “a Hobbit”. This is the workshop that almost brought me to tears and that the Lord used to roll so many burdens from my shoulders. I walked out feeling a liberation regarding our schooling that I’ve never felt before. I think I also understood better what I’d been talking and thinking about for years, but didn’t know how to do. As a good friend says, “I want not only to school well, but to live well.”

My rabbit trails are italicized and set apart by color. I hope the color makes things more clear.

There are serious problems in our schools: we are producing anxiety and fear in our students. This fear and anxiety are reflections of our society at large which mistakes busyness for productivity.

Leisure is commonly thought of as an escape. This is the whisper of the spirit of the world. Our schools remain focused on retirement. We want our children to do well in school, so they can go to a good college, so they can earn enough money to retire and live an idle life that we call a life of leisure.

On the other hand, we see work as drudgery and busyness that’s punctuated with short respites of leisure or idleness.

However, in Genesis, we read that Adam was created for work. Before the fall, God set him to tend the garden.

We misunderstand the nature of both work and leisure.

The anxiety in our schools is driven by parents who want what’s best for their kids. Schools are afraid of not doing enough. Wanting what’s best for our children isn’t a bad thing in itself, but it must be approached with discernment.

Leisure Redefined

In the traditional definition, there are two types of thinking (not thinking about leisure, but actually two ways in which we think about thinking; in other words, two different kinds of thought or ways to think). Ratio is discursive and rigorous. Discursive means “proceeding by argument or reasoning rather than intuition” [Apple’s dictionary widget]. Intellectus refers to contemplation and is meditative. Contemplation means “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time; deep reflective thought” [ibid.]. The goal was a harmony between the two types of thought. This is the difference between overstanding and understanding. When we stand under something, we submit to it. Understanding requires time to submit and therefore it requires time to contemplate and to reflect.

The Latin word schola, from which we derive the English words school and scholar, means “leisure”. Ever the skeptic, I looked it up when I got home in our Cassell’s Latin English Dictionary, and sure enough, the first definition listed was “learned leisure”. This refers to the contemplative, meditative thought described above and not to our modern ideas of leisure as respite and retirement, kicking back and vegging out. So it could be defined as “learned contemplative and meditative thought”. This view of schola and the type of leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) it promotes or helps us gain perspective.

It is not measurable. (The idea that something immeasurable could be so important to education flies in the face of the modern industrial approach to teaching our children and is worth a post of its own...someday.)

There are two types of arts in traditional education. The liberal arts were those disciplines studied and mastered by free men and their end is honor. The servile arts were those studied and mastered by slaves and their end is money. It’s not that the liberal arts make us free, which is a teaching I’ve heard before, but that they were studied by free men.

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by God. “Be still and know that I am God.” “Deep calls to deep.”

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by our lives. We must stop in order to process. Human beings are not computers; our processing speed does not matter. We are called to walk in the patterns established by Christ, who lived an abundant life, showing us the fullness of what it means to be a human being.

Leisure (contemplative and meditative thought) is demanded by our calling as educators and leaders in schola. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I want to make sure that I don’t slip back into a faulty understanding of this word, “leisure”.

Most of teaching is what you don’t say, but is carried in our tone and attitudes.

Schooling Examined

Theological Foundations: education must be based on who God is and his beauty. We must take time to gaze upon God’s beauty. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Christ is our Sabbath rest. This perspective results in the cultivation of the entire human being, not just a mind.

Philosophical endeavors take time and quietude.

Practice Required (unfortunately, institutional schools don’t have most of these luxuries):
  • the patterns and personal disciplines of my life These have been severely lacking for me lately. God has been so good to bring this to my attention lately in many, many ways. It is truly his kindness that leads us to repentance!!
  • How do we approach God? Are we listening? Or is our prayer time simply a list of things for God to do, good things many of them, but we must ask ourselves, are we seeking him or his gifts?
  • We must re-think the way we design schools.
  • We must re-think the way we design and teach lessons: “Take five minutes of leisure,” (contemplative and meditative thought); “Stop and think about what was just said”; “What do you notice about ...?”; “Does this look familiar?”; “Time out.”
  • We must cultivate our students’ and our own aesthetic sensibilities.
  • We must acknowledge the mysteries of life. We cannot know everything and the sooner we acknowledge that the better.
  • Don’t jump, or allow our students to jump, to conclusions.
  • Don’t reward quick or snap answers.
  • Model wonderment and contemplation for students.
This will affect the way we order our days. Don’t start with a list of objectives. When we get up in the morning, say to yourself, “Self, you can’t do everything you need to do today. Get over it.” We must accept our limitations and prioritize our day at the Lord’s feet.

This is why I”m going to try to get us to outdoorsy places this year with our sketch pads and the camera (I hope at least once each week), away from the computers, phones, DVD’s, etc. of the city in which we live. We’re also going to putter in the yard and the garden. My desire in the garden isn’t necessarily to create an English or French country garden (although I would love it if it becomes a combination of them some day). My desire is simply to spend the time. It’s about the process and the time we’ll have for intellectus, for schola, for leisure, for thinking as we work with our hands. I want to begin teaching my children this wonderment and try to give them the ability to contemplate. It’s time to slow down, to be still and know that He is God, to listen to deep calling unto deep. I was also made aware of how blessed I am to be learning this as a homeschooler. Mr. Daniels stated that, as a teacher in a private school, he and his fellow-teachers are are struggling to figure out how to apply much of what he shared with us and has been contemplating and they’ve been discussing at his school. As a teacher at home with my children, I have much more flexibility in my day. There is also less delineation between school-time and nonschool-time. That line separating the two is quite blurry and shifts at home. I hope this will be a help toward my children’s learning to apply these principles to all of their lives and not just their academic work.

15 August 2006

Method vs. Content?

Kelly wrote:
Do you think it might be a bit overstated or too simplistic to say Method is more important than Content? Your analogy points out your meaning to a degree but one could say, arsenic in any form is still lethal. Perhaps some would suggest that what I bring up is so obvious it doesn't need to be stated. However, it might be something to ponder because, if it is true, then, where on that continuum does method become a higher priority?
I had a few niggling thoughts in the back of my mind when I heard Dr. Berquist make her statement about the importance of method over content, but I didn’t include them in in my original post because I wasn’t sure how to word them. I’ve had a bit of time to think about it and think I’ve got it.

Dr. Berquist’s original analogy was that a statue of her grandfather was of her grandfather whether it was made of bronze, marble, or sandstone. It was the shape that made it a statue of her grandfather. She related the shape of the statue to the method of our instruction and the material of the statue to the content of our instruction.

However (thought I), a statue of her grandfather wouldn’t last long, nor would it be appropriate if made of red jello. Red jello (or any color jello, for that matter) just wouldn’t be proper to the form of the statue.

I think there should be a marriage of method and content (at the very least they should be extremely good friends). I think we must look at our methods and make sure that they are proper or appropriate to the content.

I also think that often when we hear or read these kinds of statements, it behooves us to investigate or at least to contemplate what might have lead to it. Conference workshops aren’t developed in a vacuum. Dr. Berquist may have been trying to remedy an overabundance of content that has been wed to improper methods.

Are we, for example, focused on the result of a simple read-and-regurgitate test or quiz grade to judge comprehension, without concerning ourselves about whether the child truly understands the subtleties of the work (age appropriately, of course)? Does the method strengthen the relationship of the parent and the child as they learn and explore together? Does it treat the child as a relational human being or as a computer whose data needs to be checked for accuracy? We need to evaluate the propriety of our methods as they relate to our content, our family’s current needs, and our children.

So, while I don’t necessarily agree with her statement as she said it, it did cause me to think about the issue and possibly begin to see its appropriate application. That, however, brings up the question of what are the proper methods for the different disciplines (or subjects, to use a more modern word) of study. How do we learn this discernment? I certainly don’t claim to know all the answers, or even many of them. The questions above are my simple start as I begin to try to develop discernment in this. And the answers to those questions will necessarily depend on the age and maturity of the child, among other considerations.

Thanks for the question, Kelly. You helped me think about this and organize my swirling thoughts.

How I Came to Classical Education

I was recently asked how I came to classical education and to describe my changing definition of classical education through my journey. I thought it might make an interesting post, so here’s the story.

About 7 years ago, I heard George Grant speak. In one of his workshops, he sought to define classical education as describing the three stages of growth children experience (and, thus, is called the stages approach) - the first, the grammar stage, being the acquisition of facts; the second, the dialectic or logic stage, being the connection of those facts; and the third, or rhetoric stage, being the application of all those connected facts. He associated those three stages to the Bible's description of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. That worked for me for quite awhile, and gave me a basic framework (according to George's definition, any subject could be taught classically), but I still often found it overwhelming.

Through the years, I began to hear about other things in association with classical education: Latin, literature, the study of logic, history, rhetoric (the skill of persuasive writing and speaking). I tried to fit in those subjects we hadn't already been covering and to continue working on what we were working on - our load was getting pretty heavy.

I became acquainted with Andrew Kern, founder of the CiRCE Institute, about 5 years ago in the context of an online email loop. Andrew's influence was imperceptible and slow to work, but it's become huge in my thinking. Andrew's definition: "Classical education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that, in Christ, a student is better able to know, glorify, and enjoy God." As Martin Cothran said in his talk, this definition deals with the end goal of a classical education, but I was still stumped on the application - what does it look like day by day in my home?

Then, last year, as I began to prepare to work through formal logic with one of my children by studying it myself, I began to understand the connection between the grammar learned in what used to be called grammar schools (funny thing about the name) with the ability to think clearly and reason rightly. I also began to understand how rhetoric (persuasion) is then built upon logic (right thinking - if we don't reason rightly, we shouldn't try to persuade anyone of anything because without order to our thinking, the structure and style of rhetoric simply become empty propaganda and we will either fail to persuade or we will persuade when we shouldn’t).

I began to see that classical education must include, and is, in part, defined by an in-depth study of the structure of language (grammar, most often through inflected languages: Latin or Greek), a rigorous study of the structure of thinking (logic, both formal and informal), and thoughtful study of the structure of persuasion (rhetoric). These three disciplines form the skeleton, if you will, of a classical education. Without them, there is no classical education.

Classical education forms the mind. I know so many people who really don't understand basic grammar and it seems that they can't think clearly - grammar helps to give structure to the mind, as does logic, and rhetoric.

However, it's not enough solely to form the mind. In order to make classical education Christian, we must also work on loving our students and teaching them to love as Christ loved. Andrew explained this so well! We must teach our students virtue (Christlikeness, as much as it can be taught and relying on the grace of God to bring to maturity the seeds we plant). We must remember and remind our students that classical education is a gift from God and that we don't deserve it (humility). Classical education becomes hard and cruel when separated from Christ (as it was in British boarding schools before it was discounted among the educational elite in the 19th and 20th centuries).

This new understanding, virtue walking hand-in-hand with the disciplines of classical education, has been truly liberating for me. I've finally been able to pare down the number of subjects we're trying to cover; to slow down our pace, not just of school, but of life itself; to realize that the intellectual training I was aiming for is simpler than I thought it was and that it must be tied to love; that the simplicity relieves the pressure and allows us the time and energy to work on relationship and virtue in the context of our studies. This paring down is a setting of priorities and yet will increase the rigor of what we're learning - less, but much more deeply.