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Archive for June, 2011

Kevin Bauder is one of the more trenchant thinkers that fundamentalism has produced in recent years. Okay, I realize that it’s a pretty small pool and he has few companions, but the statement is still true. Let’s face it, anyone who headlines his blog in Greek and employs Rembrandt is either really pretentious or worth a second look.

This week he posted an excellent analysis of the problems and possibilities of Christian education. Here is an outline of his article and my favorite paragraphs.

Christian schools have declined in the past decade for 3 reasons:

  1. Christian schools have not typically produced a better academic product than public education.
  2. [T]hey do not generally produce a better quality of Christian.
  3. They consume a “massive amount of resources”.

So do Christian schools still have a place, and what should they be expected to contribute? The nature of the Christian faith helps here:

  1. Christianity is a text-based religion.
  2. Christians are responsible directly to God for, among other things, what they know of the Scriptures.

Therefore, Christianity “can thrive only where believers are skilled readers.”

Biblical Christianity survives only where people read skillfully. Necessarily, then, every Christian church has an interest in ensuring that its members are skilled readers. Unskilled adults, however, usually resist efforts to foster new intellectual skills. This leaves children and teens as the target constituency for fostering the proficiencies that are necessary in order to prepare skillful readers.

What are those skills? The ordinary reading and understanding of serious literature requires, at minimum, a mastery of the disciplines known as the Trivium. Grammar deals with the way that words are connected so as to constitute communicative units. Logic examines the relationship between ideas to determine whether one idea necessarily arises from or gives rise to others. Rhetoric structures communicative units so that the connections between them are readily followed and grasped. The Trivium ought to be the core of a Christian school curriculum.

Over the past hundred years public schools have de-emphasized literacy and skill in handling various literary genre. Unfortunately, Christian schools haven’t done much better, choosing instead to emphasize their own particular belief systems “rather than fostering excellence in those skills without which Christianity cannot survive.”

Christian schools do have a future and they ought to be perpetuated. They have no reason for existence, however, if they merely offer “less of the same” thing that students can get in public institutions. Christian education ought to be different. The difference should not lie in making every course a stale tract for Christianity. The difference ought to lie in the gravity with which Christian educators take their task and in the thoughtfulness that they foster in their students.

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Emma, the day that you were born

was the most joy-saturated day I ever knew.

And when you turned one,

I thought love was done growing.

 

But then came two

and I learned that love changes,

and deepens,

and ripens.

 

At three our lives changed

and so did my love;

it widened and grew even richer

as things were rearranged.

 

Your fourth year has been a delight

watching you grow and learn.

And today as you turn

five, I find that love’s alive

and grows still deeper.

And wider.

And richer.

 

Emma, I love you this much,

and so much more, 

than last year

on birthday four.

 

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The uninterrupted reading opportunity offered by an early morning thunderstorm allowed me to finish An Army at Dawn: the War in North Africa, 1942-1943. Winner of a Pulitzer a year or two ago, AaD tells the story of the American Army’s battles from Morocco to Algeria.

A skilled wordsmith, Rick Atkinson, masterfully weaves together both the overall strategy of the campaign with many individual vignettes. Hence this history encourages both an overall understanding of these events and the individual cost paid by so many men.

Atkinson is rapidly ascending the ranks of WW2 historian/storytellers to stand with Cornelius Ryan and Stephen Ambrose at the summit.

 

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I enjoyed gardening while growing up. I really enjoyed the tomatoes, sugar snap peas, peppers and other things that came right from our ground. Growing up in suburbia, northwestern-Ohio-style, I evidently developed some misunderstandings about what constitutes a garden.

This is my idea of a garden:

And this:

and this:We have neighbors who have somewhat different conceptions of the dimensions of a ‘garden.’ One neighbor, I believe, has made Tim, the Tool Man, Taylor his hero. Anything that can be done, ought to be done bigger and louder and more fun. The other neighbor is a retired farmer.

So when we all talked about ‘gardening’ together, I quickly realized I needed to supersize my vision. This is their idea of a garden:

500' of corn

And this:

220 tomato plants

and this:

75' of onions

My thoughts run from “oy vey!” to “oh wow” to “yum” depending on the work or reward currently taking place.

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My mission in life is to rescue Ruth from fiddle-faddle.

Too many people look at the book of Ruth through western lenses and treat it as a Christian Harlequin (blah, blah, spit, spit). Well-intended preachers tend to treat the book as though it is the fluffy sop given to the women of the congregation, so they emphasize a bunch of fiddle-faddle that just isn’t there, all the while ignoring the richness, depth, and complexity that is there.

I rapidly grow irritated (as Jill will readily attest) when I listen to sermons or read commentaries that find some kind of love-at-first-sight romance when Boaz first sees Ruth in chapter 2, that Boaz treats Ruth kindly because he was trying to impress her and gain her attention. More than one book has achieved a brief, low-earth orbit as a result of the author’s misunderstanding and my resulting aggravation.

Anyway, now that I have that off my chest, in no particular order here are 7  reasons why there IS NO ROMANCE IN RUTH 2.

  1. Boaz could have just bought her. Let’s use a reductio ad absurdum to show the silliness of the romance-angle. Let’s suppose that Boaz was attracted to Ruth, that – as many preachers say – she was really good looking (even though the text never says a blessed thing about her appearance), and that – as a former student crassly put it – he really wanted to ‘bust a move’ on her. He wouldn’t have wasted all the time and effort to ‘impress her’; he would have just bought her as a concubine. That was the cultural norm.
  2. Boaz is a worthy (ESV) man.  That reductio is rather disgusting, isn’t it? But why? Abraham had a concubine. So did David. So did Solomon. Why is this idea so discordant about Boaz? Because chapter 2 is filled with example after example of Boaz’s godly character, that he is not the typical man-of-his-time, that he is the man after God’s own heart. The Hebrew synonyms that describe Boaz (2.1) gibor chayil) as well as the remainder of chapter 2 emphasize his godly character. A man of godly character recognizes and appreciates other godly people (ie. Ruth), but is not controlled by his emotions.
  3. Boaz is an older man. (Ruth 3.10) Dominique Strauss-Kahn notwithstanding, most older men are not governed by their hormones the way a 14 year old boy is. Boaz is depicted as a man of great godly character, and one of those qualities is self-control. Boaz is not Jacob.
  4. Boaz is a man of the ancient near East, not the modern West. Until quite recently and almost exclusively here in the West, romantic feelings were considered to be something that came after marriage, or at least after the wedding was arranged. Human nature being human nature, no doubt the order  was often reversed (ie. Jacob ‘falling for’ Rachel), but that was not the norm for finding a spouse.
  5. Boaz is a godly Jew. Moabites had a distinctly unsavory reputation because of their incestual origins (Gen 19), and their use of immorality to draw God’s wrath onto the Israelites (Gen 25). God also forbade Moabites from entering His presence to the 10th generation (Dt. 23). A godly Jew would be far more likely to look at even a Moabite proselyte as “one of them” than prime marrying material.
  6. Boaz is a man of standing in the community. Marriages were matches between social equals. The romantic story of the rich older man rescuing the young, destitute woman is distinctly western.
  7. Boaz is loyal to his family obligations. He cannot pursue a marriage because there is a “redeemer nearer than” him.
Why does Boaz do all the kind things for Ruth in chapter 2? Not because he is trying valiantly to impress her. He does what he does because he is who he is. He would have done the same thing if she weighed 400 pounds and looked like a bar of soap. He would have done the same thing for Naomi.
Is Boaz impressed by Ruth? Definitely. Does he develop feelings for her? I believe so. By chapter 3 (2 months later) he is quite eager to marry her.
Is there romance in Ruth? Certainly. But it is a far deeper and richer romance than the shallow piffle so often attributed to the book. It is a godly romance.

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I love to read, and I love to read good books. Occasionally I find a book compelling, once in a while fascinating, only rarely riveting. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is all three and more. This is easily the most riveting book I have read in years, and I read a lot of good books.

Unbroken is the life story of Louie Zamperini, a Olympic-caliber distance runner during the 1930’s who endured Japanese POW camps during WW2. Growing up hard-scrabble in California, as a teen Louie discovered he had a rare gift of speed and endurance.

In the 1936 Olympics he competed in the 5000 meters, an event he had raced fewer than a half dozen times prior to qualifying. When WW2 broke upon American shores he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned as a bombadier to the Pacific theater.

The majority of the book traces his trials as a Japanese POW, and reading this is not for the faint of heart. The Japanese enslaved and tortured their American POW’s, and as a world-renowned athlete, Zamperini was targeted for particularly harsh treatment. I told Jill that reading this lengthy portion was akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion: you didn’t want to watch, but you couldn’t pull your eyes away.

After being liberated and repatriated, Louie like many returning veterans, faced extreme battles with bitterness and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is at this point that the book takes a wholly unexpected turn that changes it from simply compelling to truly worthwhile.

Hillenbrand’s writing fits well with this story. I don’t read especially quickly but I could not put this down, and I finished the book in less than two days.

If you are looking for Father’s Day gift, this is then book to give. Just get it early so that you can read it first. If you are looking for a beach book, wear a lot of sun screen, because you will not realize how long you are in the sun as you become absorbed by Unbroken.

 

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moonshine

My Mom made Moonshine.

How many kids can say that? I guess I was destined to live in the Southeast.

Here’s the recipe:

  • Mix a couple packages of jello (we usually used cherry) according to directions. Refrigerate it till soft-set. At that point, drop banana slices into the jello and let it set completely.
  • Mix up a couple packages of lemon pudding and pour that over the jello. Use the same number of pudding packages as jello.
  • When that sets, spread whipped cream over the pudding.
  • Top with whatever strikes your fancy. M&Ms, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and shredded coconut have all had their rightful place. But it is especially good if salted peanuts are included.
Now here is the story behind the name. My Mom grew up in England and was a little girl during the Blitz. She and her siblings were among the children evacuated from London to escape the German bombing raids.
When the American soldiers began filling up Great Britain in advance of invading the continent, many British families hosted them for dinners. Mom’s family made this simple dessert because it was one of the few that could be done with the available ingredients. One of the soldiers saw the bananas peeking through the jello and said it reminded him of the moon shining at night back home. The name stuck.
It would be ironic if that soldier happened to be from Tennessee, but I guess we’ll never know.

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