Thursday, September 30, 2004

Introduction to Summerhill

Okay, I haven't been posting much lately, so I'll put up something for contemplation.

I mentioned Summerhill in an earlier post, its a school in England where the children are free to attend class or not. Its pretty radical. The head of the school, A.S. Neil, also wrote a book about it, Summerhill. From his introduction:

"What is the province of psychology? I suggest the word curing....The only curing that should be practiced is the curing of unhappiness.

"The difficult child is the child who is unhappy. He is at war with himself; and in consequence, he is at war with the world.

"The difficult adult is in the same boat. No happy man ever disturbed a meeting, or preached a war....No happy woman ever nagged her husband or her children....

"All crimes, all hatreds, all wars can be reduced to unhappiness. This book is an attempt to show how unhappiness arises, how it ruins human lives, and how children can be reared so that much of this happiness will never arise...."

Tantalizing, I think. Where is the quick fix to get me to stop nagging my husband and kids? I do know that when I'm feeling happy, I don't nag, I have more patience, I'm a better person to be around. But how do I hold on to that fleeting happiness?

I'm very interested in the intersection of religion/faith and psychology, so I think one's faith plays a large part in their happiness. More on that later...

Amazing Grace

I attended an adult education lecture at my church last Sunday and we had a wonderful speaker. I just wanted to share some of the notes I took on this lecture.

The speaker said that grace is God's love in action and quoted from the passage about Jesus' baptism in the Gospel of John. As Jesus is being baptized in the river Jordan, a dove descends upon him and a voice says "This is my beloved." The speaker spoke of Jesus being the recipient of God's grace, which enabled him to withstand the trials he would face in his ministry and, ultimately, his crucifixion.

The speaker noted that we are also God's beloved and recipients of his grace. He said that its hard for us to accept this because it runs contrary to the way we think; we want to earn our way, not be passive acceptors of an undeserved gift. Its interesting to think about, I know it can be hard to accept a gift -- I want to have one to give in return and if I don't, I feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I don't want the gift I'm given. I know that I've given gifts that were unwanted.

The speaker said that we are often threatened by grace. It doesn't play by the rules of society. The bad are recipients of this grace just as much as the good, who 'deserve' it.

Finally, the speaker said that we need to internalize this grace. I wanted to ask him how.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Big Bad Hospital?

As I continued to enjoy the Metro section of the Washington Post this morning, I read an article about a lawsuit being brought against a large hospital chain.

Interesting questions entered my mind and I recall a Canadian student at college laughing at the U.S. without its universal healthcare. I didn't know what he was talking aboot. Ha ha...

Okay, I've run out of steam and my kids would like some attention. DH, be warned, you will be quizzed about this article this evening.

The Popularity of Spirituality? / Bad Disney

I enjoyed Donna Britt's column in the Washington Post this morning. The Post has little teaser ads throughout the paper for its various columnists with a picture and three random quotes. One of the quotes from Britt's ad is the question "are we all less spiritual these days," or something along those lines. This, of course, strikes close to my heart.

In today's column, Britt mentions Bishop T.D. Jakes. I was quite proud that I recognize that name -- I heard the last few minutes of his speech/sermon at The Black Family Reunion held a few weeks ago on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I was not familiar with him before that, other than knowing that he's an author. He was amazing -- very moving.

Speaking of The Black Family Reunion, I noticed that Disney had a big booth. It was only then that it occurred to me that I wasn't familiar with any black Disney characters. I know The Lion King was supposed to be an Afro-centric tale, both literally and figuratively (I read a Newsweek article about the subtext of the importance of fathers or some such). Anyway, it is interesting to note that the incredible advances they have taken with the hair colors of their princesses have not been matched with the race of their characters. Hey, I thought it was great when they introduced Belle, the brown-eyed brunette from Beauty and the Beast [yes, I know the raven-haired Snow White has been around for quite awhile]. Even Jasmin, who is supposed to be Persian or Arab, looks pretty anime. I guess there is also Mulan, but she's not in the trio of princesses that are hawked at my kids.

Anyway, I mentioned my query to a friend of mine, the lack of black Disney characters (and I may be missing some, I'm purposefully ignorant of most of Disney's offerings), and she noted that in Hercules they did have 3 black women singers -- ahhh, the great empire recognizes the contribution of the Supremes. God save us from Disney.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not the political correctness police, but Disney affirmatively decided to host a booth at The BLACK Family Reunion - thats the part that galls me. It was just too 'in your face' for me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

My Bedroom Fantasy

My DH encouraged me to post this, sick puppy.

My bedroom fantasy begins with my awakening to see the walls a cheery, pale shade of yellow, one that coordinates with my bedspread. There is a border along the top of the walls, magnolias, perhaps even stenciled. I know borders are passe, but I've never been one to be a slave to trends. As I blink my eyes for a clearer look, I realize that my bedroom has expanded, and there is now room enough to fit furnishings other than those cast off my former law school roommates -- maybe even a dresser with a mirror on it. And closets, walk-in, for both me and my DH. Except that I've taken his so he's still stuck using the closet in the den.

Of course, my ultimate bedroom fantasy involves me sleeping in my bed, undisturbed, until 8 a.m. I wake and find that my children have been fed and dressed (and their outfits don't clash --my DH is color-blind, he's selected some very interesting outfits in the past) and are ready to accompany me on the outing of my choice.

UPDATE: Sorry for that, it was in questionable taste. Just an attempt at humor and to see if would increase hits to this blog. Oh, I never put that sitemeter up...guess thats why I keep getting reports that no one is reading this blog. Well, its a good dose of humility.

Unschooling works -- my brilliant daughter

Did I mention my problem with pride? A subject for another day perhaps.

This morning I had an encouragement that unschooling works. I was on the floor doing a pilates video with my back to my 4-year-old DD who was playing with blocks on the coffee table. She announces to me that 3 plus 7 equals 10. I asked her now she knew that and she said she counted the blocks. Good job, Mommy, 'teaching' your child so well by allowing her the freedom to learn. Then she says, "but 5 plus 5 doesn't equal 10." I asked her why and she said its because 3 plus 7 equals 10. Oh well, learning is a process. My ego has returned to Earth.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


A couple of homeschooling discussion groups I'm on through yahoo have recently had long threads about gifted children. I haven't really read these threads other than a cursory skim. I have mixed emotions about the gifted label.

I feel that all children are gifted in different ways. I do think that all children are smart and that some get bored, discouraged, or lose self-esteem as a result of the ways school must teach given the number of students they process.

I used to feel strongly in favor of separate classes for gifted children. I was in the gifted and talented ("GT") program from about fourth grade through senior high. Lest you think I'm bragging, I'll be honest about the GT program in my county. The GT program is two-tiered and I was in the 'lower' tier. The higher tier was a class with only GT kids in it -- five days a week, same class of kids. The lower tier was a once a week, pull-out enrichment class (note, this is the same kind of GT program that Washingtonienne was in, but I'll get to that another time).

I view the GT class, especially the higher tier, like a haven for gifted kids, especially those kids who might be called names and made miserable in other classrooms. This is the aspect of the program I wholly support. Why should these kids be ridiculed, bullied, and harrassed? Let them learn in freedom, and at a faster pace or more in-depth, or whatever the GT class does for them.

The reasons I don't like GT is that, from personal experience, I think it encourages an intellectual haughtiness and arrogance. I viewed the kids who weren't in GT as not as smart as myself. Maybe this wasn't the worst thing in the world; in schools, kids are always ranking themselves based on something -- popularity, looks, sports ability, smarts. Well, I don't think this is a very healthy thing to be doing. As an adult, I do not try to measure up another person's intelligence or compete with them. However, I remember high school with the same eyes I had while I was there, still feeling a little better than those who weren't in GT. I need to work on this issue, but since I don't encounter anyone from high school these days, its only a latent problem. Plus, who doesn't have some kind of issues left over from high school?

Now with my interest in homeschooling, the GT program is largely irrelevent to me. Whether or not my child has been labelled gifted, I'm still going to approach her the same -- try to follow her interests, stimulate her curiousity, answer her questions, teach her skills, or find someone who can.

An interesting argument raised by John Taylor Gatto about gifted classes is that it brings the English class system into American schools. An outrageous argument, perhaps, but an interesting one to consider.

Art Appreciation for the Very Young

The following is a list of picture books that are helpful for exposing young children to the world of art.

Story books:
Laurence Arnholt is the author of several books, including The Magical Garden of Monet and Camille and the Sunflowers. These are cute books about a child who meets an artist. The child differs in each book, sometimes its a boy (Camille, hey, he's French), sometimes its a girl. The illustrations are derivative of the painter's style and also feature some of the famous works.

James Mayhew also has a series of books, such as Katie and the Sunflowers and Katie Meets the Mona Lisa. Mayhew uses the same child in the various titles. Katie has adventures that involve going into the pictures she sees at the art gallery. The characters Katie meets are the subjects of the various paintings. Katie sometimes meets the artist himself, though this is only incidental to the story (as opposed to Arnholt's books where the story centers around the child meeting the artist).

You Can't Take a Balloon into the National Gallery by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glasser. This is a wordless book in the format of a comic book about a girl who visits a museum and her balloon that escapes and the adventure that ensues. There are lots of pictures of works of art as well as illustrations of various parts of Washington, D.C. and events (the Cherry Blossom parade, picketing at the White House, a session of Congress, etc.) This book is especially fun for those familiar with the city. This series also includes You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum (New York City) and You Can't Take a Balloon into the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) [I may be a tad off on those titles].

Non-story Art Books:
Julie Aigner-Clark of Baby Einstein has produced a few art books such as The ABCs of Art and Master Pieces. The ABCs of Art is pretty simple, one painting per letter and a couple of simple questions about the painting. Master Pieces is an oversized board book which features only five paintings, each with several questions and answers in a lift-the-flap format. These books are fine, but I'm not a big fan of Baby Einstein, I'm especially suspicious of them since they've been acquired by Disney, that behemoth of children's entertainment. Have no doubt about it, folks, Disney is trying to steal your money and your children's minds.

Lucy Micklethwait has lots of art books. Micklethwait has a series of I Spy books about art -- I have I Spy an Alphabet in Art, this is very similar to Aigner-Clark's book, one painting per letter, but without any questions. She also offers a few other themes in her I Spy series -- I think she has I Spy with transportation in art. A Child's Book of Play in Art is an oversized book, with several paintings per page, grouped by a common theme. A fun book for an adult to peruse, though I can't say that my 4-year-old has shown any interest in it yet.

Monday, September 20, 2004

I'm Curious, Purple

I was reading Jeanne Marie Laskas's Significant Others column in the Washington Post Magazine this past weekend. She talks about people's general unwillingness to argue and about polarization among red America and blue America. She muses towards the end of the article that she doesn't know where these fabled undecideds are.

Yoo-Hoo, here I am!

While I'm not interested in a political debate over the various virtues, or lack thereof, of the candidates, I will say why I'm undecided. I consider myself apolitical, in part, because I'm not all that interested in politics. This is because I pretty much don't believe anything that any of them say. Of course, this assumes they ever really say anything. Have you ever read political leaflets? Garbage, mumbo jumbo -- Candidate X is for all that is good and wholesome in this fine country. Or Candidate Y is not for all that is good and wholesome in this country, why, he's even a big, fat stinkin' liar. Well, based on this rhetoric, how am I to decide?

I suppose the honest truth was that I had just assumed I'd vote for the incumbent. I mean, there's a war going on, right? Only I'm not sure its a win-able war and I'm not sure we're doing such a great job. And look at the brutality its spawned among our own citizens and soldiers. Perhaps these are aberrations, statistically insignificant. But I can't shake the idea that we've got it all wrong.

I'm also getting sick of hearing Oz tell us not to look at the man behind the screen but that we must vote to protect ourselves and our right to worry about the this week's color level. I'm so sick of it.

Now, the flip side, then, is if I'm turned off by the red, then just go blue. Well, that's a reactionary stance, I'd prefer to have a real reason for casting my vote. Its the reds (ironic, huh?) that seem to want me to cast my vote based on fear, if its fear of red that makes me vote blue, I'm still voting based on fear.

So, for right now, I'm purple.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Why I'm a Christian -- A Numbers Game

If we choose to be religious, we must eventually choose our religion. Oftentimes, we simply follow the religion with which we were raised, other times, we choose one that is new to us.

I am but a simple Sparky, easily overwhelmed. It occurred to me, that while I'm a Christian by birth, I choose to remain a Christian because its the easiest religion. Don't agree with me? Lets look at the numbers.

Christianity -- 2 commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; love your neighbor as yourself.

Islam -- 5 pillars of faith (I'll leave that to the reader to find them)

Buddhism -- an 8-fold path (courtesy of my friend's link)

Judaism -- 10 commandments

An oversimplification, of course, but those of you who read me frequently would probably expect that from me.

Disclaimer: This post has been presented for your reading pleasure; nothing in this post should be construed as sound religious doctrine.

Why I Dislike Competition

I know that in many of my homeschooling/unschooling posts I rant against competition. When I speak of my disdain for competition, it is because I feel that it essentially pits us against one another; its alienates us for each other and, as a result, from God, for I imagine that in His admonition to love one another as ourselves, competition is not very pleasing to Him. How can I love as myself that which I am trying to surpass or vanquish?

To read more, click on the Xs

How often is the winner of a competition a subjective determination? The Olympic judges don't always come up with the same scores for a particular competitor (nor are the scores always pure, uncorrupt -- reference to scandals of the IOC). What about grades and admission choices made by colleges?

Even absolutes may not be true measures of who wins -- salary, profits... For what profits a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul? For the non-religious, they might recognize that money does not buy happiness, often, it simply buys further concerns about money.

I'm always refecting on the place pride plays in my life. I find it to be a destructive force, leading to competition. I was watching The Question of God on PBS recently (thanks to Rob's wife for alerting me to it). In it, an actor playing C.S. Lewis gives a brief discourse on pride and competition which resonates with me. The excerpt is from Lewis' Mere Christianity, a part entitled, The Great Sin. The link will take you to a fuller excerpt, but since its long, I'll clip the part that is most on point to my ramblings:

"Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive - is competitive by its very nature - while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone."

Crying children tear me from my keyboard, so I'll just leave you with those thoughts for now...

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Learning the States

And now for something completely different...i.e. no rants in this post.

I just thought I'd share some sources for learning about the States and an instance of natural learning; the following took place over a couple of months.

To read more, click on the Xs
I read aloud to my DD a lot. As a result, I sometimes get bored of some of the picture books or juvenile readers we read, so I start looking for themes or books that interest me. One book that interested me was The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller. DD had been playing with a wooden puzzle that is a map of the United States, so she was familiar with the concept of the States and I thought she might enjoy the book, but really, I wanted to read the book myself! The book is a pretty cute story of how the states get bored of their locations and decide to switch places with each other. Perhaps its a bit old for a 4 year old, but you never know what they'll pick up. My DD enjoys this book and it was a good starting point to learn about the states on a very topical level -- what they are and where they're located. Its great for me, too, as an East coast dweller all my life, I used to get a bit confused about the States in the heartland.

Another easy way to learn about the states is to use USA map placemats. Every morning DD chooses the stateon which to place her vitamin pill. We also use this map to point out all the different places where her various friends have moved :-(

A song I learned in elementary school was Fifty Nifty United States (an audio clip is probably available off the internet). In this song, one sings the names of all the states in alphabetical order -- pretty handy. I sang this often to my 4 year old. She's an early reader, so I typed up a list of the states which she looked at whenever she felt like it, it was just strewn around the house (those who know me, know that my house is quite strewn). She learned the song and can name all the States (or at least, sing them all). Hey, why not, she knows the words to lots of ABBA songs, so she might as well learn something useful. Of course, who am I to say that "money, money, money, always sunny, in the rich man's world" is not useful?

One set of books that looks like a good source to learn more about the States individually is published by Sleeping Bear Press. There are lots of books based on the alphabet, such as A is for America, an American Alphabet; L is for Lone Star, A Texas Alphabet; M is for Maple Syrup, A Vermont Alphabet. They don't have a book for every state yet, but it looks like they're working on it. The authors for the various books differ, but the Dewey decimal number is J 977.4. The books have poems that go through the alphabet, noting features of the state, history, and famous people. It seems like a great way to learn some geography and history. In addition to the simple poems, there is additional information on the sidebar of each page. I think my DD is too young for them, but I like them.

Finally, who can ignore the State quarters? My mom bought us lots of books and maps for collecting them before either of my children were even born (yes, she was really ready to be a grandmother). Its fun to look at the different designs and find new ones in pocket change and it just reinforces the learning. Fun for the whole family.

Fear and Loathing in the Episcopal Church

In today's Washington Post, there is an article about local Episcopal churches using a former Archbishop of Canterbury to confirm their parishioners, Va. Episcopalians Enlist Ex-Archbishop's Services.

I am sick of it (note to Rob, another non-expletive phrase I use often with my children).

To read more, click on the Xs
For those who haven't had the pleasure of following this issue, the diocese of New Hampshire elects to consecrate as a Bishop a priest who is gay. All of the Bishops of the Episocpal church had to vote whether or not this priest should be consecrated Bishop. The Bishop of Virginia, for assorted reasons, voted that the priest in question should be consecrated Bishop, in part because the priest's own diocese had determined that they wanted him for Bishop. This has caused much turmoil in the Episcopal church as more conservative denominations have opposed this consecration. Anyway, some of these conservative parishes don't want the Bishop of Virginia near them because they don't agree with how he voted.

This leaves me pondering many things. Though I never thought I'd say it, I must ask, why can't Episcopalians be more like Catholics? My understanding is that there are many of them who reject some of their churches doctrines (they are called Cafeteria Catholics for this), such as the prohibition on birth control. Why, I even had the pleasure of attending a Catholic service where the priest scolded the congregation for not believing in transubstantiation, which was reported by the New York Times.

Yes, I know that this is not a serious response to the problem. However, I think one has to ask oneself why they attend the church they do? Is it because they agree fully with all the doctrine and dogma? If thats the case, find a church where this is possible. Is it because it was the church in which they are raised, part of their identity, 'their' church? If this is the case, perhaps they can find a way to deal with these issues rather than basically flipping the bird to their Bishop.

My favorite part of the Post article is the quote from a parishioner of the Falls Church who indicates that he doesn't really know how he feels about the issue and would probably have consulted with his church's leaders had he realized the implications of his reaffirmation by a former Archibishop of Canterbury and not the Bishop of Virginia. Is this the response of many parishioners? Checking with the clergy or other church leaders to determine how to feel about tough issues? Anyone can read the Bible and from there, they must determine what they think it means, what it means to them. Anyone can make these decisions for themselves, they don't need someone telling them what to think.

Just a short rant, these issues are deep and wide.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Saying No Really Isn't Hard

The cover of the September 13, 2004, issue of Newsweek blares the headline, How to Say ‘No’ To Your Kids -- Setting Limits in an Age of Excess. The article The Power of No sent me into a Sparky rage.

To read more, click on the Xs

The article starts with the story of a mom who tries to resist her 9 year-old son’s request for a $250 electronic gadget. Of course, he eventually gets it, in part, because she asks around the neighborhood and finds that her son’s peers own the same or similar gadgets.

Why do we care what other people own? Why was this an important factor in this woman’s decision to buy something for her son that she didn’t really want to buy? I suppose the thinking might go “he’s a good kid” (its noted in the article that the mother thought this), he deserves to have what other kids his age have. Why? If the parent doesn’t agree with the purchase, why make it based on the fact that other mothers have decided its okay for their kids?

The article says, “[t]his generation of parents has always been driven to give their kids every advantage” from classes to college acceptance. To me it seems that the advantages conferred are those that the parent determines. Maybe a true advantage would be time for the child to dream and explore, rather than being shuttled from class to class and activity to activity.

The article notes that recent studies show that “[k]ids who’ve been given too much, too soon grow up to be adults who have difficulty coping with life’s disappointments. They have a distorted sense of entitlement that gets in the way of success both in the workplace and in relationships.” I ask, who is to blame for this excess? The article suggests lots of possibilities – TV commercials, marketing in schools, product placement in TV shows and movies.

A big factor in all of this is the issue of time. The article notes that many parents give in to the material demands of their children because the parents are attempting to buy peace by giving in to the demands rather than wasting family time with conflict. This is a very real issue, especially for those double income couples that don’t need the second income for survival but want it for the luxuries they can buy. Why wouldn’t a parent give in? They are working to earn the money that allows them to give in to these demands. The time the job takes away from the family helps create the guilt that makes the parents want to give in. Ultimately, what is the money for, if not to give in?

The article asks, “[h]ow do well-intentioned parents say no to all the sports equipment and arts and language lessons they believe will help their kids thrive in an increasingly competitive world?” Well, who is asking for these activities? A recent article in the Washington Post Style section chronicled a family’s efforts to ensure that their son would score high enough on the new SAT to allow him entry into the college of, presumably his, but most likely their, choice. The article suggested that the young man would rather be surfing in Maui and not reviewing vocabulary and whatever else he was being forced to do. The parents were quoted as saying that they would do whatever it takes in terms of tutors and review. Why are they doing this? I can only assume it is because they define success as a high SAT score ensuring entry into a prestigious college. And then what? When is that young man going to be allowed to live his own life and have his own dreams? I imagine that they think a college education will equip him to do these things and perhaps it will. In the meantime, however, he is being denied the freedom to choose how to live his life. When he finally gets the chance, will he be prepared for it, or will he act out against the pressure and control he’s lived under for years?

While placing limits on the material demands of the child, the parent should also place limits on the pressure he exerts on his child.

“Children need limits on their behavior because they feel better and more secure when they live within a certain structure,” says family therapist Laurence Steinberg of Temple University. “Parents should not make the mistake of projecting their own needs or feelings on their children.” Of course, if they don’t give them enough time or attention to learn what the child's desires are, what else can they do but project their own needs and desire on their kids?

On the issue of whether requiring a child do household chores helps instil values, the article notes that “[f]ew parents ask kids to do anything around the house because they think their kids are already overwhelmed by social and academic pressures; [adding chores] almost seems cruel.” Perhaps the parents should focus on these pressures that are overwhelming the kids – can the parent do anything to alleviate these pressures or support the child? Is the parent creating or adding to these pressures, perhaps by asking why aren’t you more popular? Go to more parties? Talk to more kids? Why aren’t your grades better or your test scores better? Why don’t you become more involved in sports or debate or yearbook?

Where does the pressure come from? Parents can do a lot to add to this pressure, but they can also do a lot to relieve it. Instead, it appears that most parents want to put on the pressure in order to compete with the neighbors and then buy off any ill-effects of this pressure, or ill-will of the resentful child, by buying the child things.

Parents don’t want to nag their kids into doing chores anyway, the article asserts, again, quoting from a therapist, this time Irene Goldenberg. “When parents have so little time with their kids, they don’t want it to be filled with conflict.” The time issue rears its ugly head again.

The article discusses people looking for hard and fast rules for setting appropriate limits for their kids. They complain that it is the other parents who erode these limits. The proposed solution is to discuss these issues and “create your own village.” To me, this is bunk. The key to determining appropriate limits for each child resides within the child – his reactions and attitude toward what he receives and how he treats others. This is suggested earlier in the article when Eve Gagne, talks about her 3 year old daughter and says, “when it comes down to it, nobody really notices the outfit. They notice her behavior.”

“Parent’s still feel they have a lot to learn about how to work with their neighbors to enforce the same values.” Why do they have to have the same values? To me, it smacks of both socialism and fascism. Take the responsibility, accept being the bad guy – sure, your kids will be mad at you for awhile, but they would be mad about some issue or another anyway.

The issue is control. You’re controlling them in the ways you’ve chosen (by pressuring them to achieve academically and socially) and they are controlling you in the only way they can, by demanding material things.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Problem with the Creeds

I was reading in The People Called Quakers by D. Elton Trueblood that "[t]he Quakers have never had a creed as something to be repeated or as a standard of admission to membership. This deliberate omission is not to be understood as an indication of the judgment that convictions are unimportant. The deepest difficulty with a fixed creed is that it inevitably becomes formal, and, consequently, can be repeated without conviction. Even with the best of intentions, the formula is artificial and external...."

To read more, click on the Xs

I agree with this -- in my church, we use two creeds. I don't have a problem with them, tend to agree with them, but haven't spent much time examining them or questioning them. However, I've spoken with several people who don't agree with them and must choose whether to say them or remain silent. For some who don't agree ith the creeds, its a troubling choice, for others its not. Regardless, it makes me wonder what happens to the personality that feels coerced to repeat something with which it does not agree. I cannot help but wonder if it will ultimately become an obstacle to faith. It would for me, I think.

This leads me to my past musing on the issue of 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance. You'll recall that the 9th circuit took it out (or upheld its removal, sorry I don't remember the court history. Should've briefed the case -- law school humor). Anyway, I remember various articles and editorials both for and against the removal of the words and the reasons for it. One argument that really struck me was the argument that 'under God' should be left in the pledge because it is 'ceremonial deism' and/or that the words don't really have any meaning anyway, so agnostics/atheists should not be offended. Though I want 'under God' to remain in the pledge because I love God, if the reasoning for leaving it in is because it doesn't mean anything then I say take it out!

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The pun that won't go away

I was reading some of Larry's commentary on Church History and was inspired to get some books from the library about The People Called Quakers (an actual title). Unfortunately, I have this pun in my head that won't go away:

I'm not a Quaker, but I'm a friend of a Friend.

hahahahahaha. Sorry.

Speaking of Friends, I'm enjoying Ken's blog as well.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Getting radical with kids

I have a tattered, mildewy copy of Summerhill, A Radical Approach to Child Rearing by A.S. Neill that I think I'm going to have to toss. Summerhill is a school in England where children are free -- free to go to classes, free not to go to classes -- and self-governing.

To read more, click on the Xs
The forward is by Erich Fromm. The following are excerpts are from this forward.

"Our economic system must create men who fit its needs; men who cooperate smoothly; men who want to consume more and more....authority...has been transformed from the overt authority of force to the anonymous authority of persuasion and suggestion...[which is also] employed in progressive education. Parents and teachers have confused true nonauthoritarian education with education by means of persuasion and hidden coercion."

"A.S. Neill's system is a radical approach to child represents the ture principle of education without fear...authority does not mask a system of manipulation."

Several summary points for this system are listed, but a couple, in particular, strike me:
"Discipline, dogmatically imposed, and punishment create fear; and fear creates hostility. This hostility may not be conscious and overt, but it nevertheless paralyzes endeavor and authenticity of feeling."

"Guilt feelings primarily have the function of binding the child to authority.
Guilt feelings are an impediment to independence; they start a cycle which oscillates constantly between rebellion, repentance, submission, and new rebellion....All guilt feelings create fear; and fear breeds hostility and hypocrisy."

"[F]ew parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children's happiness than for their "success.""

Hmmm...I got sort of confused with those summary points, was Fromm talking about education or religion? Or is it all the same?

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Grrrl books

As the mother of 2 girls, I like books with female characters doing interesting, non-gender-stereotyped sorts of things (never mind my law degree gathering dust while I play house with my babies -- feminism is about choice and this is mine. Wearing a tiara is fun).


Loud Emily by Alexis O'Neill. A picture book set in a seaside town in the mid-1800s. A fun story about a girl with a loud voice, viewed as a flaw in many circumstances, but for which she ultimately finds an important use. Cute story about turning weaknesses to strengths with a tad of history thrown in through the setting and in a few endnotes.

Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie by Peter and Connie Roop. A juvenile reader with lots of illustrations. Also set in the mid-1800s at a lighthouse. A young girl helps her father maintain the lighthouse and must take full responsibility when a storm hits.

Clipper Ship by Thomas P. Lewis. Another juvenile reader with lots of illustrations. Mid-1800s again. Set on a ship sailing from New York to California, the captain is accompanied by his family. An interesting story and the grrrl part is when the father becomes ill and mama takes over sailing the ship.

Abigail Takes the Wheel by Avi. Juvenile reader. Another sailing book set in the late 1800s. In this one, a girl takes the helm of a steamship boat in New York harbor.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Great children's book -- counting and more

I plan to do longer lists in the future, but I ran across a book at the library today that I've checked out before and love.

Swan Harbor, A Nature Counting Book by Laura Rankin. This is a beautiful picture book but its more than merely a counting book. The illustrations are detailed and the setting is lovely. What I really like about this book is that, in addition to counting, it takes you through the seasons of the year, so there are plenty of details to notice and discuss. Also, one quickly notices that as the pages progress, a hint of the next picture is given. For example, one sees a bird flying to a nest in a tree, 2 shows the baby birds in the nest in the tree and you can see a squirrel peaking out. For 3, you see 3 squirrels, and so on. There is probably a term that succiently describes this...I'll have to look for it. Alison Jay also does this in some of her picture books -- there is an alphabet book, I'm thinking of specifically....

Eschatological Humor

Every now and then I see a car with a bumper sticker on it that reads:

Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.

It always sounded a bit scary to me (I'm not very interested in the end times, I've got enough to concentrate on in the here and now), but I generally regard it as a profession of faith and don't dwell on it all that much.

A few years ago, while I was visiting my brother at his fairly liberal seminary, I heard some seminarians talking about either a bumper sticker they had either seen or think should exist:

Warning: In case of rapture, I want your car.

I chuckle to this day...

Monday, September 06, 2004

Parenting thought for the day

When I was potty training my eldest, I recall reading in a book about the subject that you can't make a child eat, sleep or use the potty. After my education and homeschooling reading, I'd add that you can't make a child learn. Considering a bit of psychology, I've formulated today's pithy parenting tip:

You can't make a child eat, sleep, use the potty or learn...but you can make him crazy.

Commentary on Gospel of John and more questions

In preparation for a lectionary Bible study on John 10:22-30, I read The Cambridge Companion to the Bible:

The Gospel of John combines the cultural factors of the wisdom tradition and a religion that offers the possibility of a direct experience with God. With the growing sense of the vast difference between God and humans and the awesomeness of God, there was a yearning for some way to have contact with God. For some, it was through Wisdom, viewed as the first of God's creations (Proverbs 8) and the channel through which knowledge of God comes to humans (Sirach 1). Others hoped for the more direct experience of the prophets. This resulted in the search for a religious experience that would combine the traditions of wisdom with a direct and immediate experience of God. The Gospel of John combines these factors.

Focus of John on the narratives of miracles/signs of Jesus and extended discourses by Jesus ("I am" statements).

I think this next part also came from the Cambridge Companion....

Are you the Messiah?
Whenever Jews asked Jesus who he was, he always gave answers by which he hoped to broaden their narrow conception of Messiah's work and deepen their shallow conclusions.

Instead of receiving his words and moving forward, they mentally stood still. Now they raised the question again (8:25).

Perhaps they were moved by the festival in hoping he'd declare himself the Messiah they wanted and expected, one who would deliver them from Roman rule and oppression.

The answer to their question can be seen in his works and his words -- to the spiritually discerning. Sheep metaphor: you do not believe because you are not one of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice -- they understand and they believe; they have discernment.

What is eternal life? To me, it begins now with the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Its abundant life on earth and eternal life after death. Of course, this view of mine comes directly from the Reformed view espoused by the Bible Study I've been taking. I know enough to see those who don't accept Christ as Messiah having abundant life and serving God and I would never condemn can I hold to a theology that would? But where do I go from here?

My beef with Borg -- ICEBERG!!!

As I prepared to lead a session of the lectionary Bible study at my church in the beginning of May, I starting reading a bit of Marcus Borg's Reading the Bible Again, for the First Time.

These are my notes from the few pages of Borg's book that I read (I did not read the whole book and will probably go back to it one of these days...):

-- speaking of the New Testament, Borg differentiates the historical Jesus from the canonical Jesus (p. 190) and warns that we must not confuse one with the other or we risk confusion...."when Jesus becomes an unreal human being, we lost track of the utterly remarkable person he was." Reference to Jesus' miracles as historical makes Jesus "not a credible human being. He is not one of us."

-- p. 202 notes that Luke 4:16-19 "is not history, or course...[but] the whole scene is a thematic construction created by Luke."
This raised the following questions for me:

?what harm is there in believing this is a historical account?
?How do we differentiate the historical from the canonical?
?How do we even know that this is the way to read the Bible?
?In our freedom and liberalism aren't we just as contained as in literalism -- just under different terms?

When I wrote the above questions, I was feeling hostile towards liberalism. I no longer feel this way and would invite anyone to suggest answers to these questions. They are not meant as an attack, but as a voice crying out to understand.

ICEBERG refers to the colliding of my more conservative Bible study and beliefs with my more liberal beliefs. I've been encouraging (haranguing) my friend to study the Bible, to focus her spiritual search on God and Jesus, and this has been an on-going dialogue for 3 years now. At one point and in response to my voicing my uncertainties about my own beliefs, she suggested that I consider embracing fundamentalism/conservatism to see where that leads me. I rejected this idea, I've seen enough of that point of view when I read homeschooling books that are conservative Christian in orientation and I know that its not for me. I countered by asserting that I need to explore liberalism more, so that I could understand why Borg feels this way, how one can reject the idea of Jesus as God (assuming that's what he's done, and I haven't read enough of him yet to know that he has) yet still value the Bible. I didn't get very far with this until recently. Its so hard to sit and read a book when you're tired from raising your kids, its so much easier to have a dialogue.

Religious Ramblings - seeing what sticks

Strange title, perhaps. I feel like I'm cooking spaghetti and to see if its done, I'm throwing pieces of it at the wall to see if it sticks...or perhaps this simply describes the chaos in my mind as I try to make sense of my faith.
To read more, click the Xs...

Last year was a pretty busy year for me, religiously speaking, and I've been trying to sort it out for a while. The theme running through my head, to which I constantly returned, was that I was spiritually off the rails. Something was wrong, but I couldn't define it and didn't know how to fix it. Some things were certain, I love God, I love the Bible and I want, through my life, to glorify God and serve others. Sounds simple enough, right? Only the problem begins when you think you are doing things that will glorify God, only you get them terribly wrong, realize that you have not glorified God and that you have, in fact, alienated others from yourself, or worse, from God -- perhaps thats too melodramatic, suffice it to say, that I became concerned that I was not encouraging others but that I was a stumbling block instead (this concern of mine is only beginning to work itself out).

Back to last year -- I was taking a non-denominational Bible Study one night a week; serving as the teacher coordinator for my church's Vacation Bible School (we started planning last Fall); taking a course at my church called Disciples of Christ in Community (DOCC); co-facilitating a Sunday Bible study at my church; all in addition to my regular commitments as a lay reader and Altar Guild member. As you can see, my eggs are pretty much all in one basket -- religion and church. Yes, I was also succumbing to the cult of busyness -- the "I'm doing so many things, I must be so important" sort of thinking. Perhaps it was clear that I was headed for some trouble. Let me first say, the trouble I found is all trouble within myself -- the spiritually off the rails thing -- there was no mayhem, no felonies, not even something scandalous like a sin of the flesh. Perhaps, though, these troubles contributed to my lack of patience with my children -- I definitely tend to yell at them when I'm unhappy with myself, whereas I can roll with the punches when I'm centered.

Why am I saying all this, did I have a point? I guess my point is the collision that inevitably occurred in my thinking between the liberal and the conservative, pride and humility. I made a mess of my involvement with DOCC and I guess I'm trying to learn from it. I found it a bit formless, I wanted more references to the Bible. I found myself feeling superior to those in my group who seemed unfamiliar with what the Bible says. I knew this feeling of pride on my part was a sin -- was not the way God would want me to feel and act. That made me feel guilty because I wanted so much to be someone who might inspire others to read the Bible -- I was hoping my enthusiasm would be infectious, not off-putting.

I've lost my train of thought on this...I'll come back to it if I get 'back on the rails...' In the meantime, I'll see what sticks.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

When Do You Start School?

I just love Back to School time and the Fall. The crisp air, the excitement of renewal -- new notebooks, new classes, new football season.
To read more, click the Xs...
As such, I enjoy asking people about the back to school orientations they've been attending this week [the school year starts after Labor Day in my county]. Knowing I'm interested in homeschooling my preschooler, they ask me when I plan to start homeschooling. Sometimes they even ask me what we'll be doing. This stumps me -- to me learning is living, so we started when she was born and we do it every day. How do we do it? We are alert and curious and we learn whatever strikes our fancy. This is perhaps a bit too abstract, so the most I can say is 'well, we read lots of books.' There are lots of ways to homeschool -- boxed curriculum/school at home, workbooks, literature based, unschooling. I tend toward a literature-based/unschooling approach.

I consider that I began homeschooling my eldest daughter last year, when she was 3 years old, only because so many 3 year olds go off to preschool that it seemed an apt time to 'begin.' While her younger sister napped, we'd cuddle up on the couch and read lots of books. If she didn't want to read books anymore, we'd play cards or with puzzles or playdough or I'd leave her alone to her pretend play.

If there was something I would like her to learn, I'd select books with this in mind. I tried to think of typical topics preschoolers might learn about [I really hate ending sentences with prepositions, but its a debatable practice, so I'll just say I fall on the side of it being okay, but it does make me cringe]. Topics we've steered towards include the seasons, the months, days of the week, various holidays, counting, community helpers, colors, shapes, alphabet, and the states. As I find the time, I'll start to post lists of some of the books we've really enjoyed. If she's not interested in the topic, we leave it, she can learn it later.

As far as socialization, we have one planned playgroup a week with several other homeschooled preschoolers and their moms, as well as playdates with other friends, both homeschooled and preschooled. We visit her grandmother once a week, go to the grocery store and library and area playgrounds. The nice thing about homeschool socialization is the range of ages of the people with which we interact -- its not 15 or so 3 year olds and a couple of adults -- its a variety of ages.

Its funny as I look back of our homeschooling journey [short as its been at this point] and I realize that my in-laws really got us started [unbeknownest to them!] by buying us books about the alphabet and counting and opposites and shapes. Seeing how much my daughter learned from reading these books again and again started to show me that traditional school might not be necessary.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Quittin' the Family

Dear Husband, Daughter, and Daughter:
To read more, click the Xs...

It is with mixed emotions that I tender my resignation from the position of full-time wife and mother. While I've generally enjoyed my work over the past several years, for some time I've been considering whether my abilities and talents might be better applied in a different environment. I feel as if I've reached my potential in the areas of meal planning and preparation, toddler negotiation, and playground politics.

Therefore, I have accepted a position with the firm of High, Tower and Peak in their Womyn's Rights and Rehabilitation department. I am looking forward to phone conversations uninterrupted by children eager to speak to the caller and any conversation or activity uninterrupted by a child needing discipline, direction or diplomacy in resolving conflict. I also look forward to styling my hair on a daily basis. Most of all, I look forward to sitting around the office and drinking coffee all day.

Very truly yours, Sparky

.....huh? where am I? blink, blink (eye rubbing)...I just had the strangest dream.