Imparting a classical education at home. Check out the Edwards Academy.

Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Holiday Reading

Our children are spending the blessed break from school between Christmas and New Year's reveling in their new diversions--more Thomas track, Lincoln logs, a new wardrobe for 18" dolls, and new audiobooks like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Meanwhile, I'm doing my best to squeeze in some family pleasure reading (books not connected with our school subjects). For Christmas the kids received a copy of Edward Eager's "Half Magic" and Eve Titus' "Anatole" both of which I discovered through a list of children's books in the Wall Street Journal. Although both books are classics, I didn't find them when I was a child.

"Half Magic" is, well, charming. This book about four siblings looking for summertime adventure has not failed to disappoint. It is a fun read-aloud in which these four find a magic coin which brings them half of their wishes, a situation that results in their cat talking only jibberish. Cats talking jibberish in a read-aloud are guaranteed to bring peals of laughter to one's living room!

Meanwhile, Sydney, Hope and Lane have a new favorite in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" another book which didn't figure into my childhood reading. And why shouldn't everyone break down in a fit of giggles to this irresistible poem sung by the Oompa-Loompas, about a fat boy who fell into a river of fudge:

"Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!
The great big greedy nincompoop!
How long could we allow this beast
To gorge and guzzle, feed and feast
On everything he wanted to?
Great Scott! It simply wouldn't do!
However long this pig might live,
We're positive he'd never give
Even the smallest bit of fun
Or happiness to anyone. . . "

This poem seems to have introduced our children to the wonderful word "nincompoop" which seems to be hysterically funny all by itself!

Meanwhile, our little Tobias (nearly two) is enjoying Thomas (the train) stories and his very favorite, "Old Hat, New Hat" by the Berenstains. He also likes "Anatole", which is great fun to read-aloud with a French accent (although I'm not very good at that!).

I am reading "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald. This beautiful story of a princess, written by C.S. Lewis' favorite author, is also new to me. I've just started it but will read it aloud to the kids after finishing "Half Magic."

Not to say that we are only reading. We've had several viewings of "Hello Dolly!", another Christmas gift, as well as "Meet Me in St. Louis."

The new year will bring school days again and less time for purely-pleasure reading. Still, most of our school reading assignments are pleasant enough and January will bring a study of the U.S. Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War. I can't wait to read "The Charge of the Light Brigade" aloud to the kids. Who says school can't be fun?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Memoirs

Recently I've been reading Clarence Thomas's memoir, "My Grandfather's Son." I'm not finished yet, but it is a fascinating read. A key attraction of memoirs lies in the opportunity to learn details about someone from their own perspective. Rarely does a Supreme Court Justice grant an interview or speak to the press, but in his memoir I get to read Justice Thomas's own telling of his life story. The bestseller list is awash in memoirs. A quick glance at Amazon.com shows that the memoirs of Steve Martin (the comic), Tony Dungy (the NFL coach) and Eric Clapton (the rocker) are all in the top 25 books.

Memoirs are a popular genre in publishing, particularly when a publisher can snag a celebrity, but it seems that we all have an impulse to write some sort of memoir. The word memoir comes to us from the French word for "memory" and as such a memoir promises the reader some personal memory of the subject. The synonym "autobiography," in contrast, carries a more impersonal feeling. This word from the Greek for "self-life-writing" sounds somewhat less inviting but just as authoritative.

Some memoirs are almost obligatory. Ulysses S. Grant wrote his memoirs at the end of his life, giving his side the story of the Civil War as well as his presidency. John Hay and John George Nicolay gave us a priceless record of Abraham Lincoln and their story is especially valuable for its intimate and personal connection with Lincoln. They authors explain in their introduction,

"We knew Mr. Lincoln intimately before his election to the Presidency. We came from Illinois to Washington with him, and remained at his side and in his service--separately or together--until the day of his death. We were the daily and nightly witnesses of the incidents, the anxieties, the fears, and the hopes which pervaded the Executive Mansion and the National
Capital. The President's correspondence, both official and private, passed through our hands; he gave us his full confidence."


Memoirs have enduring appeal when their subject is fascinating ("The Story of My Life"by Helen Keller) or they capture viscerally a bygone era (Laura Ingalls Wilder) or if the writing itself is compelling (Annie Dillard's "An American Childhood").

Others have a temporary attraction (will my grandchildren--or even my children--care to read Steve Martin tell of his life?) that fades with passing fame.

Of course, writing a memoir might be a universal impulse (consider the instant-memoir phenomenon of blogs) but following through requires patience, skill, and hard work. Few actually attempt it. Fifteen years ago after reading Dillard's "An American Childhood" my own childhood memories seemed irresistible and I attempted to capture them in prose. As it turned out, my enthusiasm waned after less than an hour. Crafting a readable version of somewhat standard experiences is far more difficult than it first appears, as this blog no doubt demonstrates!

I'm trying again, but this time not with my own memories. I recently embarked on the project of writing a memoir with an acquaintance of mine. She has a life story to tell that she hopes will be an inspiring cautionary tale. While her experiences do have their own appeal, it remains to be seen if I can help her tell them in a way that might capture the interest of readers. In the meantime, I'm reading memoirs like "My Grandfather's Son" with a decidedly different perspective.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

What is the Advent season like in your home? Traditions seem to develop almost without notice and in the past few years our family has acquired several traditions.

It is surprising how the little habits mean so much to the kids. Each evening they take turns opening another door on the Advent calendar and even this small thing is something they ask about throughout the day.



It isn't quite "all Christmas music all the time" for us, but it nearly is! Of course we enjoy all the Christmas hymns and carols, but we also love to play Bing Crosby and some of the other old favorites. This year the kids' favorite is "Mele Kalikimaka", sung by Bing and the Andrews Sisters. Hope and Sydney have improvised their own version of ballroom dancing for that song and can often be seen swirling around the room in front of the glowing Christmas tree!

This is our second year to be a part of GRACE, our homeschool co-op group. GRACE has brought an annual craft day into our traditions and this year the kids will be in a little play. We also will go with our GRACE friends to see "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at the Center for the Arts here in Wichita.

Perhaps the favorite Advent kick-off is our ornament tradition, which we added to our celebrations last Advent. This tradition I owe entirely to my friend Michelle L. and I am so glad she didn't mind me copying her idea. I know that many people give their children ornaments each year, but Michelle does this with a twist that has been a special blessing to my kids.

Taking a cue from the meaning of their names, we give Hope stars, Sydney angels, Lane crosses, and Tobias bells. This has become a fun little way to give them a sense of God's purpose for their life and our prayer for them.

Hope's first name means “belief” and “expectation.” The Bible teaches us that our greatest hope is Jesus Christ. Our prayer for Hope is that she will live to tell others of this hope. To remind her of this, we give her stars, that she might shine with the Hope of Jesus.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
Matthew 2:2

Sydney's first name means “of St. Denis.” St. Denis was a missionary about 200 years after Jesus lived on earth. He went to France to tell people about Jesus. Because he announced the good news of Jesus to the people of Gaul, many people believed. Our prayer is that Sydney's life will announce the good news of Jesus to the world, just as the angel did, and her angel ornaments remind her of this.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:10-11

Lane's first name means “a narrow road.” Jesus tells us, “Enter through the narrow gate . . .small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 6:13, 14

The Bible teaches us that the road to eternal life is Jesus Christ and that we are saved because he died on the cross for our sins. Our prayer for Lane is that he will follow the narrow road and show others that Jesus is the Savior. We want his cross ornaments to remind him of this.

Tobias's name means "The LORD is good." Psalm 135:3 says,
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
We pray that Tobias will live a life in praise to his Father. The LORD is good and for Howard and me Tobias represents the blessing of a very good God. The ornaments of bells that we give to Toby are to remind him to sing praise and make music to praise the LORD.

I hope that you will post a comment (click on "comments") sharing your Advent traditions. What is Advent like in your home? I'd love to hear from you. (Posting a comment only requires a Google account. You may already have one, or you can easily create one with your email address. It is free.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Visiting the Santa Fe Trail

Yesterday we spent our day after Thanksgiving taking a day trip to Council Grove, Kansas. Our trek through history in our homeschool is taking us West across the Santa Fe trail, so it seemed fitting to take advantage of being geographically near the trail. (I'm usually bemoaning the fact that we are so far from historical sites. When our curriculum says, "Plan a day trip to an American Revolution battle field" I always feel so bummed!)

Council Grove, Kansas was the last place to stock up before making the difficult way across the southwest plains. The threat of Indian attack or running out of water was real. In Council Grove traders could make wagon repairs, stock up on dry goods, and stop in the Hays House saloon for a drink.

We rolled into town just at lunch time and enjoyed eating in Hays House, the oldest restaurant in continuous operation in America. We wandered through the building and leaned against the original bar pretending to order up a whiskey.



After lunch, we drove to view the trail ruts outside of town, posed next to a trail marker, saw the Last Chance store, walked along the Neosho river, and posed in front of the "post office oak." We enjoyed cookies from Trail Days Bakery, which is located in the Terwilliger house. This house was the last building seen by trail goers on their way out of town.

Kansas History in the News

The Kansas-Missouri football game has Kansas history in the news. For kids that were in my Kansas history class, this Wall Street Journal story is particularly interesting. I hope you'll read it.

For some, today's match is a chance to re-fight old battles. Remember Quantrill's raid? John Brown's revenge? Bleeding Kansas?

I don't know about you, but once again I'm glad to be a Kansan! I've always been a K-State fan, but today I'm pulling for KU. Rock chalk Jayhawk!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dwight David Eisenhower report

I really loved reading all your reports about your family's history in Kansas. One family has a relative who came to Kansas from France, another has a relative who came to Kansas from Russia, several are related to Kansas pioneers and farmers, and some of you have families that recently came to Kansas. It is amazing to see the connections to Kansas history within our own class.

This week you are learning about Dwight David Eisenhower. In class I said that Eisenhower was the most significant Kansan in world history. Have you discovered why?

Eisenhower was a key general in World War II, leading important battles in North Africa and then commanding the D-Day invasion. After a distinguished military service, he was elected President of the United States. Enormously popular, people wore buttons declaring"I like Ike."

Look to the right for more Eisenhower links.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Idol Makes a Comeback

"When It Takes a Miracle to Sell Your House:
Owners, Realtors Bury Statues Of St. Joseph to Attract Buyers;
Don't Forget to Dig Him Up"

So goes the headline of the article by Sara Schaefer Munoz in today's Wall Street Journal. It seems that sales of "St. Joseph Real Estate Kits," available for as little as $4.95 plus shipping, are on the rise. Desperate sellers bury the statue of Jesus' foster father head down in the front yard and wait for the buyers to appear. (Catholic leaders apparantly frown on the stunt and recommend putting the statue in the house--"Some are . . . quite beautiful"--rather than burying it.)

What is going on here?

It is funny that a typical children's Sunday School lesson on the danger of "idols" and "idolatry" tends to assume that the actual practice of placing faith in a statue is passe and instead focuses on explaining "modern day idols such as television." Well, think again!

"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments."
Exodus 20:4-6 (NASB)

Many may dismiss this as a kooky good-luck charm, but I find it no laughing matter.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Badge of Courage

The most recent Medal of Honor to be given was awarded posthumously to Lt. Michael Murphy. His parents received the award in a White House ceremony October 22, 2007. The story of Lt. Murphy's bravery is incredible and not to be missed. If you haven't heard it yet, be sure to read about it in the Navy Times and to read this interview with the surviving SEAL in Lt. Murphy's unit.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Kansas History: My Family in Kansas

This is a picture of my great-grandfather, Lee Jones, and his wife Alice. They are holding their first two children, Deema (3 years old) and Bessie Lea (less than a year old). The girls died from diptheria in 1893 when they were only five and three. The family lived in Allen County, Kansas at this time.

What is your family history in Kansas? Several of my ancestors came to Kansas over 100 years ago, but it is unusual for families to remain in the same place for that many years. Today, families move around the country frequently and it is possible that your family moved to Kansas either right before you were born or even in your life time.

You can still write about your family history in Kansas! After all, when my great-grandfather's brother wrote about his family coming to Kansas, it was a recent story at that time.

What brought your family to Kansas? Your dad's job? Or did your grandparents move here when your mom or dad was still a kid? Did they come here to work for the aircraft industry? Did they move to the city or the country? Were any of your relatives Kansas farmers?

I hope you have fun with this assignment! It is fun to hear the stories of your family and your heritage.

This picture shows my great-aunt Hazel holding her little nephew in about 1918. Hazel's twin brother Hayes was fighting in World War I at the time (he joined the Kansas National Guard just before the draft was enacted), which is why you see the service flag hanging on the house behind her. (Her nephew was her sister's son, not Hayes' son.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Word in Defense of Chronological Study

In the "Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation" book review (posted September 26, 2007) I spoke of four perspectives of children's ministry. While each of the four methods are distinct, two of them lean toward teaching the Bible as a complete story and two of them emphasize topical teaching that aims for life change. In fact, increasingly there is a tension between two philosophies of children's ministry that is being played out as "chronological" versus "topical" teaching.

Those in the topical camp disparage their brethen in the chronological camp by suggesting that a bunch of head knowledge results in stuffy children who experience no life change. The chronological camp, meanwhile, complains that the topical folks aren't teaching the full story of redemption. The discussion is civil, but intense. It mirrors a similar tension in adult Bible study philosophy.

It is very fashionable to teach for life change and certainly our lives are changed by Jesus. But does topical children's ministry aim to change children or introduce them to the Life Changer Himself?

Psalm 111:7 says,
Great are the works of the LORD,
Studied by all who delight in them.

God in his love and mercy gave us the Bible to show Himself to us. Do I want my children to learn how to act like a Christian and change their way of life? Or do I want them to know God's works so well that they, like me, tremble and fall before Him crying out in their heart, "Woe is me!" as Isaiah did?

Children's ministry that has a primary focus of changing kids' lives is self-oriented children's ministry. It is in vogue to talk about life-changing experiences, but the only true life-changing experience is to experience the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ and be brought to God the Father by the salvation of Jesus Christ.

In my own real-life experience, this sort of woe-is-me humility and life-change comes about by encountering God and His works as He choose to reveal them, in His complete Word.

Studying the Bible is not about stuffing my head with knowledge! It is about getting to know my LORD. Would we ever tell our spouses that we didn't want to hear their life stories because "it isn't relevant to me"? Or, "it doesn't really impact me?" God doesn't need our adoration and affirmation, He tells us stories of His works only in His mercy. Why aren't we listening?

Are you experiencing the full revelation of God by reading all of His Word? I love the Victory Bible Reading Plan which gives me a chronological reading of the OT, a daily Psalm or Proverb, an annual reading of the NT, and a reading of the Gospels twice annually.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

John Brown

Kansas History Students:

For your John Brown report I especially recommend the PBS links at right. You will find a clear timeline, a wonderful interactive map, and an interesting summary of John Brown's life. Also, the Wikipedia entry will give you a full account of John Brown.

Be sure to look at the picture of the John Brown mural that covers one wall in the Kansas capitol. This mural is reproduced in Harper's Ferry (see link). The artist John Steuart Curry painted Kansas scenes in our Capitol building, including this giant depiction of John Brown. He is shown holding a "Beecher's Bible" and a Bible.

Be sure to begin your report by using the clustering worksheet or the paragraph planning sheet. You will need to turn these in with your final report.

Don't forget about your symbols!

Family with a Mission


Last Friday's Wall Street Journal declared family mission statements to be the new status symbol of the wealthy (see the WSJ Wealth Report blog). These mission statements guide wealthy families in the use of their money across generations--at least ideally. Consider this mission statement quoted in the article, "We want our capital to allow our children and their children to be able to find their passion and pursue it with excellence." The article reports that this wealthy couple's "three daughters went on to Ivy League schools and successful careers."

Does your family have a mission statement? We do. No, my husband and I didn't meet with consultants and attorneys to draft a family mission statement and ours has nothing to do with financial wealth. In fact, we haven't even formalized our mission statement, although here it is:

The Edwards family lives to serve Jesus Christ and train our children to live a life in His service.

We don't have money like the wealthy couple with three daughters to fund this goal, but we do have assets--capital--to invest in pursuit of our mission. Chief among these assets is our time.

Our decision to homeschool is rooted deeply in our mission to train our children to live a life of service to Jesus Christ. We have concluded that homeschooling is the best way for us to accomplish this aim. Likewise, it is the reason we are involved in Bible studies and AWANA. In countless ways this unwritten mission statement guides our family.

When faced with an opportunity that requires our time or talents, we look back to the mission and ask each other, "Will this help us stay on mission? Or is this off mission?"

As our children grow we are pressed on every side to add more activities to our schedule. Most all of these activities are good, wonderful, enriching things. We can't do everything, so we come back to our mission statement.

How will we know if we've stayed on mission? We won't know fully until we see Jesus. Only He can judge our success. Even if our children grow up to embrace the mission for themselves, it isn't evidence of our faithfulness to the mission. But Jesus knows our hearts and watches every decision we make along the way.

As Christians, our mission statements are status symbols of a different kind. They identify our status as children of the King and servants in the Kingdom.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kansas History: Great work!

Kansas History students:
I read through your Native American reports yesterday and you all did a super job! These three-paragraph reports were well-constructed, which is a very important skill. I noticed strong topic sentences, good supporting information, and interersting concluding sentences. I can tell that you planned your reports before writing them. Pre-writing really does pay off!

Native American history before Europeans is indeed spotty. After all, the Indians were not recording their own history, so we must rely on the early accounts of the Spanish, the French, and the Americans who wrote down what they saw.

There is no doubt that the American Indians suffered greatly as a result of white people settling and moving west across the land. In an attempt to remedy the situation, the American government moved the tribes west, giving them designated land.

This happened in Kansas in 1825. The United States government began relocating tribes to the "useless" plains. (I gave you a map of these areas last Tuesday.) This is not just a part of Kansas' history. Many of the states west of the Appalachians were designated for Native Americans for a time until settlers won out and pushed them further west still.

Historical events are complicated and many people try to simplify events to remember them better. Unfortunately, most historical conflicts are not just the good guys against the bad guys. White people were harsh and unfair to Native Americans, but they also suffered greatly from Indian attacks, raids, and wars.

Remember that before you criticize historical people, you must FULLY understand their point-of-view and never forget that their point-of-view was not the same as yours, today, in 2007. Most important, you must remember that all people are sinners, even Christians. When we see the sin of Christian people in history, it saddens us even more than the sin of non-believers, but we can have mercy on them. Sometimes sin is easier to notice one hundred years later! Perhaps those that follow us will see more clearly the sins of our own generation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kansas History: Kansas City

Kansas History Students:
Thank you for your Native American Reports. I look forward to reading them.

For your Kansas City report, remember that you don't need to write an essay, just answer each of the five questions with 2-3 sentences. Use the links on the blog and library books or encyclopedia resources that you have. Be careful not to copy straight from your sources. Instead, use this time to practice summarizing information from more than one source.

Kansas City, Kansas is located in Wyandotte County. You will find as you read that the early history of Kansas City, Kansas overlaps considerably with Kansas City, Missouri. The two cities grew up together around the river and have always been closely linked.

Do your best not to get bogged down by irrelevant details. Look for connections with the Sante Fe and Oregon Trail, if any, and look for the slave state-free state battle impacting Kansas City. (More on this in class next week.)

Have a great week!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Real Life


This week is "Flag Week" at the Edwards' home. We are learning about the War of 1812, President Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison, Francis Scott Key and his Star-Spangled Banner anthem, and Old Glory herself. The kids love all the history stories, but putting their new-found knowledge into their own words seems to put the knowledge into long-term memory. We relied on "What You Should Know About The American Flag" by Earl P. Williams, Jr. for flag details and protocols.

Hope asked me to put her paragraph about the American flag on the blog.

Higher Learning?

I'm adding a new book to my to-read list: Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. This book by Anthony Kronman, a professor at Yale, examines the way places of higher learning have lost their way. By following a German research model, universities and colleges value narrow, specialized thinking in professors. This is a great model for the natural sciences, but it has proven to be a disaster to the humanities.

Although I haven't read the book yet, I'm glad to see that this subject is getting the attention that it deserves. Christians especially can beware of the agenda-driven secular university, but all Americans should care deeply that higher education in the humanities is more indocrination than education.

Professor Kronman is not the only one calling for a return to classical liberal arts education and one hopes that there is some momentum building that might succeed in bringing back real learning about Western Civilization. (See also Diane Ravitch, Tracy Lee Simmons, and others.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Formation through Hardship; Wisdom Beyond Our Years



(Kansas History Students: Look for my Kansas History posting in the September archive.)

Did you see Clarence Thomas on 60 Minutes Sunday? I happen to catch this segment following a football game and watched mesmerized (as I popped Sunday night's batch of popcorn). If you missed it, read the transcript or watch the segment.

It is striking to see how the hardship Justice Thomas endured early on served to shape him into the man he is today. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Quite anti-Christian and credited with bringing us the post-modern age, he nevertheless found a nugget of truth in that remark. The Bible tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Every one of us can point to difficult circumstances in our lives that, in the end, formed us into the person that we are today.

It is odd, then, that as a homeschooling mom my first instinct is not to help my children navigate through difficulty successfully, but to look for ways to remove them from the difficulty. This might be my way, but it is not God's. Over and over again the Bible tells us of men and women of God who were not rescued or removed from the difficulty they faced, but they were strengthened by the power of God to endure it.

My mothering is so inevitably flawed, but each morning I implore the great Redeemer to redeem my efforts and even in my failures to somehow use that to make my children wiser, stronger, and yet more dependant on their Savior.

••••

PBS has been broadcasting Ken Burns' latest documentary entitled The War, which tells tales of World War II in the voices of those who lived through it. I've seen portions of episodes here and there, but last night as I watched I was overcome with a feeling of sadness. I wasn't feeling, however, grief about the horrors of war (although it is horrible). When I remembered reading Psalm 90 just a few days before I understood my sadness.

Psalm 90 is a prayer of Moses, the only Psalm credited to this man of God. Excerpts from the Psalm:

You return man to dust and say, "Return, O children of man!"
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . .
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. . .
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants! Satisty us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

As I watched the elderly veterens recount their memories and evaluate the impact of those experiences on their lives, I felt a grief for the passage of time. The hard-earned wisdom that comes from numbering one's days and enduring a span of toil and trouble is lost to the generations that remain. I'm grieved that our culture prefers to take direction from the young and foolish and so discredits the wisdom of those whose years are coming to an end like a sigh.

We can remedy this by listening, as Ken Burns did, to the wisdom of the aged. And we can compensate for our youth by studying the wisdom of the ages and learning through the experience of others in ages past. This might give us wisdom beyond our years.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Creation Care: A Worthy Cause?


Kansas History Students, go directly to the Kansas History post by clicking "Kansas History: Native Americans in Kansas" in the Blog Archive at right.

Fifteen years ago I was a student at Wheaton College and our nation was in the midst of a Presidential election. But for students at Wheaton, it was a bit of a snooze. Sure, some were energized by politics but it was a quiet fall semester on campus by my recollection. Today the situation is very different. My recent Wheaton alumni magazine chronicles the rise of student activism with tales of anti-war “die-ins,” panel discussions on pacifism, Solidarity Week (“raising awareness of white privilege and challenging the ways people think about race”), and the rise of the creation care movement.

Pledging to care for God’s creation is not a new concept among believers, but today’s creation care movement looks like environmentalism repackaged to be palatable to evangelicals. As climate change becomes undeniable (although the cause is bitterly debated, see link to article by S. Fred Singer) the idea of "creation care" is gaining traction, and not just with students in search of a cause.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article reporting that “creation care” and views on a Christian response to global warming are splitting evangelicals, even in Texas. “America’s Christians are divided on basic questions: How serious is [global warming], what causes it, and what should mankind do about it?” Texas Baptists are arguing the issue as coal-fired power plants are debated in local politics. One the one hand, some feel that Christians have a responsibility that dates back to Genesis 2 to care for God’s creation. This responsibility requires a Christian in good conscience to do all he can to conserve energy, reduce his carbon footprint, and carry this conviction to the political arena. In the other hand, others are convinced that this sort of political environmentalism is off message, a dangerous distraction from the central evangelical call: spreading the Gospel.

Something deeper is going on. Consider this quote from the Journal article:

“The split is also a struggle between generations, says the Rev. Benjamin Cole, a 31-year-old Baptist preacher from Texas. A blogger on Southern Baptist affairs, Mr. Cole says some younger evangelicals are tiring of lock-step loyalty to the Republican Party. ‘We wake up each morning and see an elephant on the pillow next to us,’ he says.”

After evangelicals were credited with tipping the 2004 election in the favor of George W. Bush, most evangelicals were in high spirits. But the situation appears to be changing. Confusion on the war, the economy, and the environment are rising just as a new pragmatism informs evangelical thinking on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. More evangelicals, especially young people, seem to have concluded that the political process is the wrong place to carry out moral arguments. The Bible, these might argue, teaches that we cannot achieve morality (righteousness) apart from the blood of Jesus, so why bother trying to enforce morality on an unbelieving generation?

If this conclusion motivates evangelicals to redouble their commitment to spreading the Gospel and the hope that Jesus gives us, then I say “amen!” But if Christians see creation care as the new moral cause, then I worry they are letting people like Al Gore set their agenda. (Mr. Gore famously declares the environment the chief moral issue of our time.)

What does this mean for home schoolers like me committed to integrating our Christian faith into a classical education? First of all, I’m saddened to see Bible-believing Christians energized into activism by creation care but bored with more basic issues such as parental rights. As the Home School Legal Defense Association has documented, Democrats such as Hilary Clinton are committed to increasing the rights of the state over children, boldly encroaching on the right of parents to influence their children’s thinking. Increasingly the elite of America is concluding that parents do not know best and that raising a child to believe in the God of the Bible is a form of abuse.

Secondly, careful thinkers approach the issue of the environment soberly and unemotionally. In a recent issue of Imprimis (from Hillsdale College, not a Christian institution) S. Fred Singer carefully explains the climate change debate (see link at right) and argues for a rational response to global warming—a response that properly prioritizes the needs of people. Conservation is wise and prudent; draconian carbon reduction measures that harm global economies simply have disregard for humanity. (Mr. Singer does not speak from a Biblical worldview, but Christians should also let their thinking be informed by the knowledge that humans alone are the image-bearers of God. No creation care movement that elevates the needs of nature—even animals—over people worldwide can be reconciled with a Biblical worldview.)

My children, at ages 7, 5 and 1, are not ready to think abstractly about these issues. But I am praying that by studying history in the classical way they will be equipped to think deeply and wisely about these issues when they do wrestle with them. It is very trendy to talk of “thinking critically” but the classical education acknowledges that critical thinking is not possible unless it is well informed. So now, in the grammar stage years, I am doing what I can to pack their minds with the stories of history so that they are equipped to take a very long view of the world around them. With a worldview anchored in the Bible and placed in the context of global history, I hope they can identify the futile thinking that arises from the very short-term thinking that is so prevalent in our nation.

***
As an aside, we are all for conservation! But we are motivated more economically than politically, or even theologically. We drive a big SUV not because of an in-your-face attitude to greenies but because our family of six needs the room. I hope that Christians not convinced by the political creation care movement (which describes me) will not cut off our noses to spite our faces! Conservation is prudent and disagreement with Al Gore and the like shouldn't compel us to waste energy simply in rebellion.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Faith of a Child, a book review


Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation
Greg Carlson, Tim Ellis, Trisha Graves, Scottie May (Contributors)
Michael J. Anthony (Editor)

Review by Amy M. Edwards (2007)

Recently I sat listening to Larry Fowler, author of Rock-Solid Kids (2004), present a workshop on the subject of the Gospel. As a staff member of AWANA International, teaching the Gospel to children is Dr. Fowler’s life focus. His workshop covered key portions of his book and discussed the importance of remaining true to the Gospel, namely, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). If this seems to be an obvious exhortation for an audience of children’s ministry workers, think again. While it would be rare to find an evangelical advocate leaving out the Gospel when ministering to children, it turns out that there are widely varying views among evangelicals of what ministry to children should be.

In his workshop Dr. Fowler ominously mentioned a children’s ministry movement that believes that children need not a conversion experience but need only to allow the bit of God within them to be nurtured to its fullness. Attributing the movement to a Wheaton College (Illinois) professor, I was curious. Looking into it, I discovered that this movement might be described more charitably, but that evangelical children’s ministry is in the throes of change.

Traditionally the responsibility of a congregation’s wives and mothers (although Scripture places the responsibility with the father in Ephesians 6:4), children’s ministry has matured to the point that it has become the subject of academic study, research, and publications. The mega-church has accelerated this process by requiring full-time staff to manage the burgeoning size of their children’s programs. Biola University professor Michael Anthony attempts to help us sort out the different views of children’s spirituality that direct the different methods of “doing” children’s ministry, all within the circle of evangelicalism. In his book Perspectives on Children’s Spiritual Formation (2006) he invited the contribution of representatives of four views: Scottie May writes about the “Contemplative-Reflective Model,” Gregory C. Carlson and John K. Crupper present the “Instructional-Analytic Model,” Trisha Graves brings us the “Pragmatic-Participatory Model,” and Tim Ellis, Bill Baumgart, and Greg Carper (the KIDMO team) explain the “Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model.” Mr. Anthony himself contributes an introduction that aims to tell us how views of children’s spirituality have changed over the course of history, giving us a context in which to place the four views that follow. (It is telling that the major publishing houses of children’s Sunday School materials are not represented. It seems that Scripture Press, Group, Standard, Cook, Lifeway, and others are suffering the unkindest cut of all as they are irrelevant to the discussion.)

Dr. Scottie May, a professor of Christian Formation at Wheaton College, describes a model of ministry influenced by high-church tradition and Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education. Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper, both of AWANA International, come closest to the traditional evangelical methods long in use in America’s Sunday Schools, although they more specifically discuss AWANA clubs, which are a mid-week meeting for children. Ms. Graves serves as a children’s pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Her model of ministry is increasingly recognizable to American evangelicals; it is the model of the mega-church children’s ministry (consider Willow Creek’s Promiseland materials). Finally, there is KIDMO. Calling the KIDMO method the Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model dignifies a method that seems to say, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” More on that later.

Dr. May’s Contemplative-Reflective method finds its philosophical foundation in the work of Maria Montessori. Calvin famously said, “All truth is from God,” allowing that any truth discovered by non-believers is still Truth. But Maria Montessori’s conclusions about children make assumptions about their nature that seem to contradict what the Bible tells us about mankind, namely that we are all sinners in need of redemption. Dr. May’s method seems to assume that children need mostly for adults to get out of their way and given the proper setting they will naturally turn their focus to God and instinctively know to pray, worship, and follow Jesus.

The idea that a proper environment nurtures an inborn spirituality in children is what Dr. Fowler must find so suspicious. I think the spirituality that Dr. May sees in children might be more familiarly described as a God-shaped hole in everyone’s heart, but Dr. May’s confidence in the child’s ability to be their own teacher and her fear of telling the child what the “story” means in case of interfering with the Holy Spirit raise my suspicions. Of the four views, Dr. May’s best understands that it is the Holy Spirit which draws a child into belief and yet her confidence in this leads her to de-emphasize instruction. I would argue that children need concrete instruction in truth to be able to respond to it.

Which brings us to the Instructional-Analytic Model. It is mildly surprising that Dr. Anthony invited AWANA representatives to write this model, given that AWANA is designed to be a supplemental outreach program in the church rather than a primary Sunday School program. On the other hand, AWANA may be one of the only groups left that is able to articulate and defend a model that emphasizes old-fashioned concepts of teaching and imparting a Biblical education to children in church. (Aren’t evangelicals doing all they can to wash their hands of school on Sunday?) Of course, the Instructional-Analytic Model doesn’t instruct for its own sake. A method steeped in Scripture, this view believes that children come to belief after gaining an understanding of the Gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:2-3 along with foundational truths of God’s Word. Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper believe that God reveals Himself to us through creation and through the Bible, so the best way to introduce God to children is to teach them the Bible. It is hard to argue with that and in fact no one appears to. Instead, in response, Dr. May worries about a fact-based instruction that fails to change the hearts of children and finds AWANA’s emphasis one-sided and imbalanced.

This brings to mind that none of these views are formed in a vacuum. In many ways, Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper feel compelled to emphasize teaching Scripture because they worry that popular new methods are neglecting this. If the Contemplative-Reflective Model emphasizes the environment and the Instructional-Analytic Model emphasizes the content, then Ms. Graves’ Pragmatic-Participatory Model emphasizes the delivery system.

The Pragmatic-Participatory Model is concerned that the important message of the Gospel must be delivered to children in a realistic way. In this view, children’s ministry must consider the nitty-gritty realities of the American church. It is difficult to recruit children’s workers; it is difficult to retain the interest of children; and it is difficult to accommodate all learning styles. An effective model, then, must address these difficulties. Ms. Graves clearly feels that the mega-church methods of Willow Creek’s Promiseland and others have found the solution in programming (not instruction) that uses drama, music, energetic worship, and games. This model uses volunteers in a specialized way, parading worship leaders, Bible “communicators,” and small group leaders across the stage, if you will, in contrast to the traditional Sunday School teacher who leads all aspects of a smaller class. Ms. Graves seeks to be faithful to the Gospel (it should be presented three times annually), expects children to experience a conversion experience, and cares deeply about bringing God’s Word to children who have never heard it before, all in a fun, exciting package.

What do we make of this? Ms. Graves’ view is now the primary view of the seeker-friendly mega-church and most other churches patterning themselves after such churches are turning to this model, with varying success. Dr. May’s concept of spiritual formation bristles at Ms. Graves “baptistic theology” and she rightly is uncomfortable with a topic-driven curriculum that fails to give a sense of the overall redemptive message of the Bible. With Bible passages chosen to support an identified principle (rather than identifying principles taught by a passage) the risk is that kids don’t understand the whole Bible. However, the AWANA folks see the Pragmatic-Participatory view as an ally in the battle to protect the primacy of the Gospel and mostly affirm the view.

My own sense is that churches are flocking to this model and method mostly because it is the newest thing to reach “today’s kid.” Buzzwords abound in describing today’s media-savvy, cynical, multi-tasking, post-modern, relativist child and evangelicals are paralyzed with angst over how to reach today’s child with the Gospel. In this, Scottie May does well to remind us that we don’t reach today’s child, the Holy Spirit does. I can’t help but think of Solomon wisely observing that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Evangelicals worry about making the Bible relevant to the new generation, but I’m not convinced this was our assignment in the first place. Must we bear the burden of making the Gospel relevant?

Absolutely, according to the folks behind KIDMO. Their Media-Driven Active-Engagement Model rests on two main principles: ministry is culturally conditioned and God reveals Himself in multimedia. It is hard to take KIDMO seriously when they themselves do not seem to take God’s word seriously, although they claim to be “faithful to the Word of God in reaching kids with the gospel.”

KIDMO, for the uninitiated, is a DVD curriculum for children’s ministry that is meant to provide the primary elements of a church’s children’s program. Johnny Rogers, the KIDMO founder who comes to us from Orbit Church (and before that, famously, Saddleback), appears on screen and in the best Blue’s Clues fashion converses with the children who, in theory, are actively engaged with what he is saying. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; I witnessed KIDMO when it was used briefly at a Wichita church and saw just the opposite. Children sat like zombies on benches while the screen flashed in front of them. (The church has since discontinued KIDMO.) The episode I saw presented the Good Samaritan parable, but adapted the story in such a way as to use fruit for people and to eliminate entirely any reference to a Levite, Priest, or Samaritan. (This is apparently completely irrelevant to today’s child!)

Research actually suggests that media-driven anything results in disengagement. Furthermore, how can any evangelical seriously advocate stripping Bible stories of all historical context in the name of relevancy? Actually, plenty are doing so as KIDMO says that they are adding new churches to their ministry all the time. Johnny Rogers boasts that kids love KIDMO and the implication is that an unpopular kids’ ministry is a failure.

Dr. May responds with dismay. And who can blame her? Certainly KIDMO cares nothing for reverent atmosphere, contemplation or reflection. Even Ms. Graves, who wishes to have a fun children’s ministry, points out the dangers in prioritizing relevancy to the point that the faithful communication of Scripture is sacrificed. Meanwhile, Dr. Carlson and Dr. Crupper, of AWANA, rightly remind us that media is not all that it is cracked up to be.

As children’s ministry workers we must understand the philosophies behind curricula and as parents it is vital that when we entrust our own children to a children’s ministry each weekend we do so with eyes wide open. Michael Anthony has done us all a service by collecting these four views into one volume. I’m disappointed that he did not ask for the input of the authors of Children Desiring God. This excellent curriculum aims to teach the Bible in a God-centered, not man-centered, way. It is my prediction that Children Desiring God will find its own niche in the children’s ministry marketplace, appealing to churches that are not interested in “the latest thing” as much as they are committed to introducing children to GOD whose Son Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith.

***UPDATE 1/11/10: Since this book review I've written a critique of KIDMO in a blog post here. In addition, I've explained more fully why I believe that Children Desiring God is such a great option here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kansas History: Native Americans in Kansas

Kansas History students,
Thank you for all your hard work preparing your report about our capital city, Topeka. I enjoyed reading them. You'll get yours back with feedback on October 9, our next class time.

Did you know that I am from Topeka? I was born there and lived there until I was fourteen years old. One of my favorite places to go as a kid was to the Capitol building with my grandparents. Remember that my great-grandpa moved to Topeka in the 1880s so when I was growing up in the 1980s my dad owned the feed stores that my great-grandpa opened way back in the 1880s. Some of you wrote about the F5 tornado that hit Topeka in 1966. That was before I was born, but my dad remembers it very well!

We will be taking a field trip to Topeka in January or February and you will get to see the Capitol building in person then.

In the next two weeks begin working on your Native American reports. This time, instead of answering questions you will organize your thoughts into three paragraphs. Remember to use either the clustering diagram worksheet or the outline worksheet to assist you in planning out your work. In the planning stage just write down KEYWORDS, not complete sentences. After your plan is in place, all you have to do is write complete sentences for each point, and put the sentences in order on the page!

Good writing takes a lot of practice. Be patient and remember that you are training your mind as you go--it is never a waste of time!

I've added some Native American links which might help. Some of these sites will be helpful, some are not very helpful. Glance through them all and skip over what isn't useful. I especially like the Osage Indians website.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Casey Jones


Today I read "Casey Jones" to my five-year-old son, Lane. Earnestly he listened to the tale of the brave engineer and tenderly he cried as I read about poor Casey, calling to his fireman,
"Jump, Sim! Jump!"
as he pulled the whistle and the brake, saving the train and passengers but paying with his life.
Such a hero! Lane was inspired and ran off to make his own illustration of the story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Matthew's Begats


Kansas History Students: Scroll down for my Kansas history posting!

Bible Study Fellowship is beginning the study of Matthew this year. This week BSFers all over the world are delving into Matthew, chapter one. Last year I discovered the music of Andrew Peterson (thank you, Kathy M.!) and heard for the first time his album, "Behold the Lamb of God." If you haven't already discovered Andrew Peterson take a minute to listen to his song, "Matthew's Begats." Click on the link at right, find the "Behold" album, and choose "Open Player." Then select the song and enjoy!

We also love "High Noon" from Peterson's "Love and Thunder" album. Our son can often be heard singing softly to himself,

"So long, you wages of sin go on,
Don't you come back again . . ."

All Glory to God!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Greetings Kansas History Students!


(I teach a Kansas history class for our homeschool group, GRACE. GRACE students and moms, check back here each week for homework support and resources.)

This week's class (Sept. 18): Great Plains Indians in Kansas

Assignment for next week (due 9/25): Topeka report

To complete your assignment you need the "City Report" assignment sheet that we reviewed in class. On a separate sheet of notebook paper, answer each of the five questions about Topeka, the capital city of Kansas. The Kansas History Links to the right on this screen will get you started. Don't forget about using library books!

Did you enjoy listening to "Tree in the Trail" by Holling Clancy Holling? This book and others by Holling are available from the library. Click on the library link to the right.

Next week's topic: Europeans arrive in Kansas.

Gallaudet's Faith Hidden from View

Jesus said:
"For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks . . . But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Matthew 12:34b and 36-37

I read this verse as a part of my morning quiet time and it seemed to me to serve as a warning for this blog. There is so much blather posted online and as the overflow of the hearts of bloggers, it is a rather discouraging indicator. So much grandstanding to gain readership in the hope of fame or fortune. May my words never be careless and only be useful.

The Faith of Gallaudet
This week my second graders read about the life of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851). Our source was the Creative Minds biography "A World of Knowing" by Andy Russell Bowen. This was an engaging book telling about the man who developed deaf education in America and my daughters enjoyed it very much. And yet Gallaudet's faith which defined him was glossed over in the book with this statement: "He was going into the ministry, where he could teach people and help them to find a better way of life."

But ministry was more than helping people find a better way of life. Thomas clearly served his Redeemer and his 1818 book "Discourses on Various Points of Christian Faith and Practice" (this primary source is available for viewing through Google book search:
he writes:

None who are engaged in the pursuits of the world
can lay it aside; and it is grievous to be borne.
He who sustains it toils for what must perish in
the very using. He knows that, after a few short clays,
what has cost him so much labour and
anxiety, so much self-denial, and so many sacrifices,
must inevitably, like himself, be laid in the grave
of forgetfulness. Not a century will elapse before
his very name may never be mentioned, except
by the passing traveller who reads it on his
tomb.
But the Christian—for what does he toil? For
what does he take upon him the yoke of his
Divine Master ? For what does he practise a self-
denial, which, it is not to be denied, is, at first,
irksome to the native propensities of his heart,
but which the grace of God renders more and
more easy, and even delightful, and which is often
actually less than that of the worldling himself? For
what does the disciple of Christ bear this yoke ?
For an inheritance that is " incorruptible, undefiled,
and that fadeth not away;" for an admittance
into the mansions of everlasting rest; for an
imperishable treasure; for unalloyed pleasures;
for an endless state of being, in which he will
mingle with the spirits of the just made perfect,
in which he will be admitted to the presence of
God—to the ineffable manifestations of his glory —
to the sublime delights of his worship—to the
solution of the mysteries of his providence—and,
in fine, to an unceasing progress in knowledge,
in holiness, and in happiness. What are the
petty cares and anxieties, or even the deepest
sorrows of life, when compared with this weight of
glory?

(Discourse II, page 25-26)

This amazing devotion to our Savior must be sadly minimized for the public school student. This is why we are homeschooling! To shine light on history, that the work of God might be exposed.
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