Exodus

How many songs do you still know from high school? The old band – cooler than ice cream in its day – revs up the radio and you’re right back, lyrics sure after all these years. Which is why Holistic Boy learns a lot of things through music. He had the optional challenge of memorizing the first 17 verses of Exodus 20 in the King James the past school year and so I went to work. After writing the melody, I found the perfect male baritone (for the voice of God), and recorded countless takes on the piano with Husband and Son on drums. The families in our homeschool community were given the best version to run at home. T and many of his homeschool friends learned it easily as we sang it a verse at a time in our weekly gatherings. The final stage presentation was open to anyone who wanted to perform it this spring, whether they had mastered it or not. Some who made Bible Master were too shy but I was so proud of the kids that night. We had five-year-olds up there. The 17th century diction and syntax were not easy but they got it.

1 And God spake all these words saying,
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

 

Long Live Latin

colosseum

At seven-and-a-half, Tennyson memorized
the first seven verses of John 1 in Latin and
English in the homeschooling with
Classical Conversations, a global home
education program based on the ancient
Classical model of learning. I set each text
to song and he downed them like dessert.

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat
apud Deum,
et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc
erat in principio apud Deum.
Omnia per
ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est
nihil, quod factum est. In ipso vita erat,
et vita
erat lux hominum: et lux in tenebris
lucet, et
tenebrae eam non
comprehenderunt. Fuit homo
missus a
Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes. Hic venit in
testimonium ut testimonium perhiberet de
lumine,
ut omnes crederent per illum.

In the beginning was the Word, and the
Word was with God, and the Word was
God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has
been made. In him was life, and that life
was the light of all mankind. The light
shines in the darkness, and the darkness
has not overcome it. There was a man
sent from God whose name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning
that light, so that through him all might
believe.

This I Believe

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
I am ashamed to claim faith in Jesus Christ, unworthy as I am
to bear that name and call myself a Christian. For my sake he was
crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried.

I love the order and witness of the Christian faith;
the unassuming birth, disarming life, unjustifiable death,
and the deserted tomb that answer prophecy of Scripture.

A burning stick snatched from the fire, I believe I am more sinful
than I could imagine and more loved than I dare hope.*

Yet I worship at the altar of Self, and often insist and want and
worry as though there were no God. As though I were not loved.

I believe in right and wrong, and that I need saving from myself.
I need a God who is wiser than my purposes, deeper than my
hopelessness, higher than my dreams – a God who owes me nothing.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, Resurrection power
in this flesh and in the heart that fails me.

But how easily would I make my professions on a bed of nails,
not the carpet of ease and cultural civility of my times? On my deathbed
I will call myself Christian because grace will have won out in the end.

This I believe.

 

*This line a summation of the gospel by author and pastor Dr. Timothy Keller

The Writing Process II, Part 2: Let the Clichés R.I.P.

RIPWriting is treasure mining, isn’t it? The sifting of options among all that language has to offer. In the process, leave the hollow expressions that lie buried from overkill to rest in peace. Settle on what’s attractive and weighty. Don’t clutter your collection with dry, ossified castoffs of nature that add nothing to your art.

If you’re writing about any of the following, you might wish to tread carefully:

Clouds
Uh oh, yup: here come the tears. Or fluffy cotton. Sigh.

Rain
Please don’t pitter patter. Oh, please. If you’ll die unless you do, just patter.

Soft kisses
*sputtttter* Eww. Wipe off.

Caress
Do you know how many caresses happen to be velvet just like yours?

Something “coursing through” veins (usually passion)
Right. *shudder*

“Take flight”
Driver caution: slippery road.

Whispers of love
*Cringe* I’ll refrain.  Bad enough poor thing made my hit list.

Starlight
This one’s forever Madonna’s: “Starlight, Starbright, first star I see tonight.” Doo roo roo, yeah baby.

The Ellipsis…
It sits in the technical toolbox for a reason. So that we can use it. But all too often it becomes an easy substitute for fuzzy thinking or an attempt to sound deep and contemplative. Let your words – the content – provoke thought. Go back and try removing these emotional markers. Go on. You will sound more crisp, better grounded.

The Holistic Wayfarer’s Lexicon of Clichés includes the exclamation point because it’s often overdone! That point under the punctuation is a drop of neon off the brush! I promise no one will miss your fuchsia, whether it’s your lips or the streak on your running shoes! In preparing to paint our first home to move into, my husband and I delighted in the thumb-sized square of peach pink on the color palette. We went on to secure a tub of the shade from the store and left it in the room for the painter. When he called to report the room finished, we hurried over. Opened the door. And screamed, “AAUUGGHH!” Suggesting itself on a swatch was one thing. Exploding on our walls was another. There was just no way. Husband whitewashed the room, then called me in to present a lovely peach pink trimming around the windows. As he was whiting out the eerie gaudiness, he discovered that just a touch of the color worked like a lovely picture frame in this case and brightened up the room.

Clichés are the balloons that had pepped up the party but in the day-old aftermath lie lifeless, asking for the dignity of disposal. They are the makeup as obviously tired as the woman by the time she resigns the bar at four in the morning. I am not saying there is no more room in the literary world for cloud and tears. All right, I’m trying to be polite. But my Bible is right. There is nothing new under the sun. We all grow in the womb, cry at birth to cry in life, fear to love, love to laugh, wonder, hope, do not know, learn, believe, strive, sleep, sweat, dance and trip, birth children and dreams, eat and forget to nourish ourselves, work and work, and expire. But we want to say what is universal in our own way. You don’t need clichés muddied with handprints of the well-meaning masses. Make each your own description.

Preacher Wife

My husband wondered the other day what kind of style I’d sport as a preacher. I shot up an eyebrow when without thinking it through, he cast his vote for fire-and-brimstone prophet. He had forgotten how much I’ve changed over the years – at least those few days out of the month between cycles. I reminded him how shockingly diplomatic I’ve become with those who test me. And he quickly ran through my writing in his head and realized I am generally very nice on this blog and will pose no threat to dissenting perspectives. Ah yes, he could see his wife the congenial, cerebral teacher and preacher delicately offering what may be unpalatable in a chalice honeyed with reason.

Holistic Husband jumped and burst out, “A stinking lie!!”

It was unfair that I’d get away with it when he doesn’t get away with much at home.

Calling

old-door-handleWriter Elisabeth Elliot has said God’s NO is His mercy.  In this posture of trust I have tasted the goodness of God. Hindsight faithfully reveals that the doors that had shut on me were pointing to portals that would swing wide with blessing.

I had always felt barred from overseas missionary work. The door to service abroad that I tried and tried wouldn’t budge. In 1996, I set foot in California for the first time on a working vacation as a guest contributor to a Wycliffe Bible Translators magazine called The Sower. Through the research and writing, I was in part scouting the missionary landscape and tapping possibilities for my place in it.

Fast-forward about ten years to the night a church leader came over for dinner. I had felt judged by this man who was passionate for overseas missions. I got the sense that he, knowing nothing of the many challenges I’d faced until then, thought me complacent in my little world. He never cared to probe, to discover anything of the work abroad I had pursued but that had never panned out for me. That night, he picked up the copy of The Sower that happened to lie on the coffee table, and flipping through, caught my byline. Taken aback, he seemed to see me in a new light.

A deep, sweet realization emerged in a talk with a friend last week. When she expressed pleasure over my writing, I pointed out that my hands don’t have the creative touch of hers and that I lack the verve and strength to serve people in the way she does.

I suddenly got chills.

I saw, after all these years, that anything I arguably could have accomplished as a missionary would have remained limited in scope. But the words I have put down, here and in global publications, reach more people than I would teaching English or laboring to build a hut somewhere. I heard God’s answer to the misperceptions of the man who had wanted more…activity out of me. I don’t always have to be talking faith. My writing is my art and the art, my worship.

My worship, my calling.

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. Revelations 3:7

Confessions: Mismatching Socks and My Deepest Longing

She doesn’t look for her keys before leaving the house. When you meet her as planned, she’s on time. Out of the car bounds an active kid, shirt ironed, as his mother materializes with a rock of a baby in an easy arm. Of course Mom’s groomed. When did she have time to paint those nails? She greets you with eyes and a smile that say she pulled off a restful night and she’s good to go.

And then there’s me.

Last month on the way out to the park, I realized my socks didn’t match. I had grabbed the white one and the checkered brown from separate piles off the tired path out of bed. I didn’t want to go back upstairs so I shrugged and drove off. The disinterest in the impression I make in public is an offshoot of my young, willful self. I was known for the different-colored socks in junior high – usually one red, the other purple. didn’t see why they had to match. So the asymmetry this time wasn’t so crazy of me, only I am thirty years older. I plainly looked more off than like a trendsetter. The women I know match – even purse to outfit.

And here I am, one of those days. My plans, my body, my emotions don’t seem to…work. I’m a Hyundai from the 70s. Dang ignition’s sluggish and the car gets temperamental when she’s finally on the road. Why the overcast view of the week ahead, the brooding storm clouds in my spirit? My son’s laughter makes its way to me through a thick wall of emotional static. I want to really see him but need to clear my circuits. I pry loose the helpless confession. Discontent and fear. Not sure which wins out but there they are, wreaking havoc. I wish this were different, wish that came easier – and I fear they won’t. I redesign my life in my head.

The nerve. How many people wouldn’t jump for this life? But hold on. Can we say this? Can we compare lives like we do houses? We don’t know all the stuff that goes on in a home, in human hearts. We all have closets we keep shut, some locked. Apparently Superman wasn’t so special – some of us have x-ray vision too. Last week someone who had been very kind and friendly to my family decided I was too imperfect for her and her circle. The ax fell from nowhere. I’d had no inkling I had been under scrutiny, especially because I had not seen her at all this year until a week before she wielded her hatchet. I had never uttered a bad word about her or anyone we knew. In any case, I somehow wasn’t good enough for her. Well Super Woman, here’s some more ammunition for you. Days like this, I in fact do remember my textbook Christian answers. I’ve taught the Bible. I know who I am and Whose I am. And I still feel like a failure, precisely because I know better. It’s not low self-esteem. I believe we are all full of ego. Why is compassion something we have to work on? “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one commandment, not two. We are told to love others as seriously as we take our own needs. If only I were more grateful, really grateful for all I have and for those who love and need me. I could disable the discontent. I am responsible for the perspective I take and how I respond when life seems to move against the grain of my hopes. I ache in my fallenness.

I’ve thought hard, blogging the past year, about what keeps us shuffling forward on the journey. Hope. Without it, tomorrow is nothing and closes in on today. I disagree that love is man’s greatest longing. Unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, all your love for me won’t keep food on my table and put my son through college. Hope is the picture you paint in your head of yourself and those you cherish in a better place. Ironically, hope is what drives you in your plans to kill yourself. Yes, I dare say because I was there as a teen. Bottomed out, you are so miserable you trust that anything will be better than where you are. What gets us through our daily fears is the hope of a good living, a happy family, improved health. You keep on through another round of chemo, holding on to the brighter picture ahead. But it’s a deeper kind of hope we nurse. Assurance of redemption, that our sighs and disappointments will not merely lead out to fresh air that makes the vault of our past feel like a bad dream. But that we will one day see – whether in this life or the next – the storyline to our suffering. We want to see the writing on the walls of our despair, know that we haven’t lived senseless years. We pray God or whatever we trust in will make right the wrongs, show mercy for our transgressions and vindicate us where we suffer. I hate waste, of time especially, and remind myself of the truth that’s found its way as a popular aphorism. I don’t want to waste my sufferings. I listen for the lessons they have for me. Onward and upward? My God makes this possible because He wastes nothing.

A Biblical Perspective of Achievement

These thoughts emerged as a personal response to the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Yale Law professor Amy Chua who pushed her daughters to excel in ways that earned her praise and censure. She writes: I do believe that we in America can ask more of children than we typically do, and they will not only respond to the challenge, but thrive. I think we should assume strength in our children, not weakness. My grapplings found their way into a magazine article that studies the Biblical roots Christians might do well to lay down in their quest for achievement. The question that I realized has been little discussed in the Church applies not just to parents or homeschoolers but to all Christians seeking excellence in their calling.

Achievement-page-001

Before the Homeschooling
Homeschooling opens a family to freedom in style and pace not viable in schools. Free rein in hand, I watched my boy full of joie de vivre opine at three-and-a-half years, “obla dee, obla da, life goes o-o-o-n, la la life goes o-o-on,” and wrestled with the unsophisticated question I had trouble answering. So how much do I push this little guy?

Hard work is a practice and philosophy I still struggle to keep in the balance. As a workaholic who has let work tip my life even to the compromise of my health, I found myself picking through what were defining cultural, educational, professional, even physical experiences to sort out a theology of achievement as both parent and home educator.

A walking paradox, I am a product of Asian culture and the academic zeitgeist of the East Coast, a former teacher of the gifted and talented program, and an eventual coast-to-coast transplant converted happily to the gentler lifestyle of California. I’m also a Christian. These thumbprints converged on the table where I set out to homeschool Tennyson and pulled me in conflicting directions. Discipleship would define our schooling but the West Coast Hippy whose educational goals for her son were relaxed and unhurried caught the Tiger Mom from New York encroaching on her plans.

There is a cost to anything worth achieving. The building blocks of accomplishment are sacrifice. How much of that was I willing to exact from my son? My parents immigrated, and raising me here by the sweat of their brow, bequeathed to me the firstfruits of something American culture offers so wonderfully: the assumption of choice. The freedom to pursue my passion with no obligation beyond itself. I say firstfruits because while I did not have to study and work to stay alive at the level my parents did, my drive to excel academically and professionally was not entirely free of constraints. There was an element of spurn against the prejudice my parents faced and a mission to redeem their suffering.

My child, however, remains at liberty – even at leisure – to dream and indulge his gifts. In short, to enjoy his work when he’s grown and to explore the options along the way. Will this freedom weaken him or his character in any way? The fact that he is under no compulsion to be or do something? That he is, well, comfortable?  After all, comfort does not soldiers make. We build muscle by defying resistance. And the higher we set the bar, the more we gain in the reach. We gain by the stretch up as well as the one down into the resources of the spirit where character is forged. All to say some measure of trial is good for the soul. So what should we be straining for in our studies, and why?

A Portrait of a Pupil
Working these questions through, I was reminded of a sermon I heard in college. Dr. James Boice in Pennsylvania pointed out that Jesus will not commend, “Well done, good and successful servant.” Our Lord looks forward to declaring, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And in Genesis 39.3 I see “the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered…his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did…”  Joseph concerned himself to keep faithful. Success was something God saw to grant.

As we are to pursue faithfulness rather than idolize success, excellence should mark our endeavors.  The imprint of this distinction ought to be evident in the work of Christians to bring God honor as His image-bearers, showing forth the beauty of His excellence. Achievement ends up the sweet fruit of labor. Consider the Scriptures:

Ecclesiastes 9.10  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.
Colossians 3.23  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Proverbs 22.29  Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.

My graduate degree in education says I mastered learning in 1997. It was only in the the baby steps toward homeschooling, however, that I really got it. Sure, I had worked to foster critical and creative thinking in my public and private students. But here I was with a budding life entrusted entirely to my nurture. The stakes couldn’t be higher. What were my hopes for this mind of his? His soul? Yes, we’ve got our road map for strong SATs. But while a reputable college is an admitted temptation of a goal in the schooling, is this really what skillful writing, creativity in the arts, becoming a well-rounded adult should be about?  I am assuming the glory of God that should predispose the studies and am seeking to trace the functional role of formal learning. Days he doesn’t feel like it, why should Tennyson tackle the books?

My hope is that he grows to enjoy the challenge of learning to learn. Not memorize for grades. And what he is required to retain, that he takes up as the opportunity to understand more of his Father’s world. That he will become a self-directed learner so he can be motivated to develop whatever new skills all those opportunities beyond school will call for. That he will appreciate the freedom to discover the person that God is making him. For education begins and ends with Him, the source of all that is true. I want Tennyson to think for himself in keeping with God’s truth, independent even of pundits. I want him to learn how to live, to know he is a glorious creature made in the very image of God. Talk about self-esteem! In other words, education is more than academics.

A Success Story
As a parent, I now am taken with the Daniel of chapter one even more so than the hero of the subsequent stories I learned of in Sunday School. Daniel was about 14 when he was kidnapped to Babylon, uprooted from his family and the rich life of the worship of Yahweh. What if my son were wrested from me like this? What if the worship at church last Sunday were the last such fellowship he would enjoy, songs sung in the English he’d taken for granted? What will enable him not only to persevere but flourish and impact his captor country with the gospel?

In what we today would call very stressful circumstances in a foreign land, Daniel remained unmoved in his convictions. How deep the reservoir of the knowledge of his God, how intimate his fellowship with his Creator, how reverent and fearful of the Lord was he. He knew whose he was and which King to fear. His roots not only ran deep, he grew fruitful with “aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed….God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning…At the end of the time set by the king…he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service.”

In mastering the writings of this pagan culture during his three years of study, Daniel came to understand its psyche as conveyed by the literature. He clearly discerned truth at critical junctures in the years that followed, but engaged the language and the art of writing that were part of God’s creative enterprise. Outperforming his peers, he so excelled in his secular education that he ended high up in government employment. Daniel was not charmed by the fruit of his labor: grades, status, three-chariot garage. He worshiped God alone. All his accomplishments brought him to speak into the lives of kings and help order the affairs of an empire in the strategic outworking of redemptive history. Note his honorable friends, like-minded men who helped one another stay the path. And we have 19-year-olds in America who blow time and money on campus, even Christians without the discipline and integrity to get up for morning class.

So let us be faithful like Daniel.

Is this exhortation our final word, the way to urge our children to excellence? The Scriptures Daniel had absorbed in youth were replete with God’s injunction to remember His faithfulness to Israel. This Daniel did. What his memory served him from the last 10 years before his exile were the lessons of spiritual posterity. When the Lord saved Daniel from the threat of execution by revealing to him the king’s dream, Daniel prayed, “I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers…” The unchanging God Who had been true to Abraham had come through for him. In his regular prayer life, he also was accustomed to the disclosures of his God.

If ten years were all I had left with Tennyson, what should remain central in our home instruction, the discipleship?  A whole lot of preaching that he stay true to God, to keep doing better?  This well-meaning moralism would be one great way to raise a spiritual drop-out. William Butler Yeats said, “Educating is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Many who decide down the road that Jesus never was for them began with knowledge. But they had not been kindled by the gospel of grace, by the truth that with His blood Jesus purchased for them the abiding, unremitting favor of the Lord.  Apart from the assurance and taste of this immovable love, our resolve of allegiance will — to borrow from the wife of CS Lewis – fall like a house of cards.

It is in the irreversible work of the Cross that I want to teach my son to rest. In the gospel truth that no one and nothing can pry nail-scarred Hands loose of that grip on him. I pray his journey will be no toilsome climb up the ladder of achievement but a pursuit of excellence marked by joy and freedom that flow from gratitude.

Breathless

th

I wrote the poem as a student at University of Pennsylvania.

When You find me breathless
from Time’s relentless
marching orders
would You
still my heart
and incline it to
Your gentle whisper?
Make me to climb the depths
of Your quiet words of wisdom
so to know that
You are God.

John 10.3,27
1 Kings 19.12
Eccl 9.17
Ps 46.10