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