In Common – February 9th 2019

I’ve got a great mix of books going on this month, and I love the cross-talk going on.

 

This month I am reading through a new release by Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise. It’s a great read, digging into the history of Africans and African-Americans in this country and their history and involvement with Christianity and the American Christian church. This book looks at the involvement of the Christian church in the development and acceptance of slavery in this country, and the role of the church in establishing slavery (and segregation) as an accepted institution in the country.

 

I shared some notable quotes from this week’s reading in The Color of Compromise on Instagram and am including them here as well:

 

As reliance on slave labor increased, sticky questions about Christianity, race and bondage began to emerge. (The Color of Compromise, p. 35)

 

Over time, Europeans compromised the messaged of Christianity to accommodate slavery while also, in their minds, satisfying the requirement to make disciples. (The Color of Compromise, p. 36)

 

Missionaries carefully crafted messages that maintained the social and economic status quo. They truncated the gospel message by failing to confront slavery, and in doing so they reinforced its grip on society. (The Color of Compromise, p. 38)

 

The gospel message was compromised so that African Americans could still be proselytized but only enough to keep them in their state of bondage. Accepting Christ made us brothers and sisters in Christ, equal in a spiritual sense, but equality did not extend to the physical realm. This narrative was pushed, and not just to the African slaves.

 

I am also reading On Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior. In this book, Prior examines twelve virtues, using a classical piece of literature to explore each virtue. It is a great read, one that I definitely recommend.

 

This week, reading her chapter on Courage, Prior discusses The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn struggles throughout the story with what his conscience, formed by the corrupt society he has been raised in, is telling him, regarding the escaped slave Jim. I LOVE Huck Finn, and I’ve posted on my reading here.

 

Prior points out that

 

“… one main part of Twain’s satire in the novel is the conscience that is malformed by a corrupt culture. Huck harbors distorted views of right and wrong, ones imparted to him by his flawed society. The progress he undergoes that corrects the wrong lessons his culture has taught him is the essence of Huckleberry Finn.” (On Reading Well, p. 97)

 

Prior goes on to mention that

 

Huck, like many in the antebellum South, developed a conscience with a distorted sense of right and wrong.in Introducing Moral Theology, William Mattison uses slavery as an example to show how the conscience can be malformed by social norms such that a slaveholder in eighteenth-century America could ‘genuinely’ believe ‘in his heart of hearts’ that owning slaves was a ‘virtuous act’. (On Reading Well, p. 98)

 

Huck struggles with his conscience throughout the novel,

 

… as he tries to convince himself to do the ‘right’ thing by returning Jim to his owner, Miss Watson. (On Reading Well, p. 100)

 

Finally, Prior describes the courage shown by Huck in making such a monumental decision, one that to him, is a decision between helping Jim and facing eternal damnation, or doing the ‘right’ thing and returning Jim.

 

When Huck hears the call of God’s law on his heart, he mistakes it, ironically, for temptation to do wrong. His decision to help Jim run away is not, in his mind, an act of nobility, directed toward justice. But this is the great irony of Twain’s satire: we know that it is. And despite Huck’s erroneous belif that his intention is unjust, Huck shows courage in his willingness to sacrifice his very soul to obtain Jim’s freedom. (On Reading Well, p. 101)

 

Jemar Tisby, in The Color of Compromise, makes this statement:

 

But if racism can be made, it can be unmade. (The Color of Compromise, p. 39)

 

So how do we as a society, a culture, unmake racism (as well as other moral failings)?

 

I’ve been reading Tending the Heart of Virtue this week, which examines the role classic stories awaken a child’s moral imagination. Children’s stories, and stories in general, are powerful, more than people realize. The author, Vigen Guroian, discusses how ‘how merely giving instruction in ethics yields very little actually being transformed into character-building substance’ (p. 19).

 

I shared the full excerpt on Instagram, but the main point he makes, after quoting Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, is that

 

Mere instruction in morality is not sufficient to nurture the virtues. It might even backfire, especially when the presentation is heavily exhortative and the pupil’s will is coerced. Instead, a compelling vision of the goodness of goodness itself needs to be presented in a way that is attractive and stirs the imagination. A good moral education addresses both the cognitive and affective dimensions of human nature. Stories are an irreplaceable medium for this kind of moral education – that is, the education of character. (Tending the Heart of Virtue, p. 20)

 

We need stories, lots of stories, and good quality stories, to help shape the moral imagination of children. Humans are made for storytelling. We connect to the moral message in stories much more readily that in a list of ethics instructions.

 

Coming back to Jemar Tisby’s statement that racism can be unmade then – what can be done?

 

Earlier this week, someone in one of my online reading groups shared a wonderful post about the lack of living books (in the Charlotte Mason sense) for people of color. The author, blogging at Heritage Mom, shared here about with the lack of living books in this realm, she is including so many life-giving books instead – books for children that include children of color that build a child up, but may not fit the traditional CM definition of living book. There are many books that focus on Civil Rights, segregation, slavery, and the various struggles experienced in the black community. However, there is a noticeable lack of children’s books featuring children of color JUST BEING KIDS.

These are essential for children, regardless of race. Black children (and other people of color) need to be able to see themselves in the characters of children’s books, and white children need to see children of color as characters in books, and not just in books dealing with civil rights and struggles. These are the life-giving books that will help form the moral imagination in children of all races.

 

In a follow-up post she shared a list of resources for choosing books that include people of color. Because this is a topic that has seen a significant amount of discussion lately, I’ve seen other book lists sharing life-giving books, featuring people of color. I’m including some here.

 

Heritage Mom’s Life-giving Books for Black Children

 

Read Aloud Revival’s Diverse Picture Books to Celebrate the Everyday

 

Here We Read – a gold mine of picture books for children, lots of lists. I follow her on Instagram as well.

 

 

Current (Personal) Reads:

Current Read Alouds:

 

The Screwtape Letters Part 1

This is where I admit to having never read any C.S. Lewis.

(hangs head in shame)

I am participating in an awesome online book club, and we are reading several works of Lewis over the course of the year. This month I am reading The Screwtape Letters

I read one or two letters each morning during my early morning reading time. Each letter is only a couple of pages long, but each is so impactive, that I can’t imagine rushing through more than two in a single sitting. I typically read and underline passages that I want to chew on a bit more.

In Letter 4, Screwtape is discussing the topic of prayer. So many passages worth discussing!

“The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether.”

“… this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularized; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.”

“This is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.”

This is such a great description of something that is probably very common, especially among new or immature believers. While I am not one for scripted prayer all the time, I think at the beginning of our walk with God it can be too easy to fall into this vague feeling of communing with what we perceive is God, but we don’t know how to move beyond that to actually communicating with Him. One thing that can be helpful and inspiring is reading the prayers of men and women in the Bible. See how believing men and women poured out their heart to God in their prayers, and use those examples to help shape our own prayers. Another way to help guide our prayers is to keep a prayer journal. Writing out our prayers in a journal can help focus our thoughts and words, and can be a great way to keep track of who or what we are praying for.

In Letter 10, Screwtape is discussing with Wormwood about how a believer can be subtly led astray by the company he keeps and the behavior he first tolerates and then comes to embrace as his own.

“No doubt he must very soon realise that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based.”

“He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and sceptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.” [emphasis mine]

“Finally, if all else fails, you can persuade him, in defiance of conscience, to continue the new acquaintance on the ground that he is, in some unspecified way, doing these people ‘good’ by the mere fact of drinking their cocktails and laughing at their jokes, and that to cease to do so would be ‘priggish,’ ‘intolerant,’ and (of course) ‘Puritanical.'”

This really struck a chord, because intolerant seems to be a buzzword these days. As Christians, we are instructed to be a light in the world, to live in the world, but not be of the world. We can’t hide ourselves away from people who may have different values and ideals, and expect to show the love of Christ. But at the same time, we can’t reflect Jesus Christ to the world if we are indistinguishable from the world.

Okay one more. Letter 12, where Screwtape is talking about how to slowly turn a person from God.

We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however, slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space.”

“As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago.”

“But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Sin and our separation from God does not happen in some grand flash or event, with some monumental sin that explodes and destroys our relationship with God. It often starts as some seemingly insignificant but that takes hold and becomes a habit or a distraction. We may feel not quite right as we know we aren’t living the way we should, and rather than tackle the little habit or distraction, we pull away from God, ever so slightly. “Small” sins are enough to set our relationship with God off balance, to where we don’t want to face Him and pull away. We can get to Hell easy enough with a smooth, comfortable ride. This is why it is so important to not shrug off the little things in our life, that we brush off as insignificant. It’s just a little thing, there are far worse sins that we could be doing. But the little things add up! The little things are significant enough to make us feel not quite right, and to pull back from God. That’s all it takes!

The Screwtape Letters is not a long read, but each letter packs quite a punch. I’m taking it slow, and will put together some notes on some of the remaining letters.

Exodus 30

Exodus 30:15

The rich are not to give more than half a shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.

The atonement offering expected from all Israelites was half a shekel and was to be the same for both rich and poor.

Rich and poor have no bearing on the value of a man to God. One is not more worth (or less) of atonement. God counts us all equally worthy. We should be mindful of that even today.

I am thankful that God sees us equally and does not judge our value the same way we judge ourselves and others.

Exodus 27

Exodus 27:8

8 It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

This is not the first time “just as you were shown on the mountain” is used in describing the Tabernacle plans. I don’t think Moses stood on the mountain and took down notes on the design of the Tabernacle, just hearing the voice of God. I picture God showing Moses a clear vision of the Tabernacle, so that Moses could fully visualize and experience the Tabernacle that God had planned. Only then could he return to the people with a clear image of it in his mind. I imagine him overseeing the work of the embroiderers, saying “No, No, it needs to be ‘just so.”

God can give us a clear vision of what he has in store for us. He can let us see it clearly, visualize it, experience it so that we know to plan, down to the ’embroidery’ details.

My prayer is that God gives me a Tabernacle vision too, so that I have a clear image of what he wants for me and what he has in store for me.

Exodus 23

Exodus 23:4-5

4 If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it.

We are called to help our enemies in a proactive way. If there was someone who despised me, and I happened to witness their ox or donkey wander off (or some modern equivalent of troubles), I could easily do nothing. It’s not like I let them escape or personally caused this trouble to happen. I am under no obligation to help them with their troubles. I could rest easy knowing that I didn’t do anything wrong by not assisting since it had nothing to do with me.But God calls us to do something, even for people who are our enemy.

We are to be proactive in helping them. While it would be simple enough to just “not do anything” if their ox or donkey wandered off, we are called to bring their animal back to them. If we see their donkey fall down under its load, we could easily just keep on walking since it’s not our fault, but instead God calls us to stop and help our enemy with it.

This is difficult!

In reading Russ Reznik’s essay Messianic Jewish Ethics in Introduction to Messianic Judaism, he writes “the divine image is obviously not a physical resemblance, but neither is it an abstract spiritual resemblance. Rather, it entails representing God through active engagement with the creation.

This understanding of the image of God gives rise to the Jewish idea that God does ethics before we do, that our ethical behavior is not just a matter of obedience, or even of pleasing God, but of reflecting God and his nature, fulfilling the assignment to bear the divine image.”

It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if God treated us like we treated our enemies. Even when we despise God, God loves us and blesses us. We are called to proactively bless our enemy, not just passively “not” harm them. We aren’t called to do this so much for obedience, but rather as a reflection of the divine image of God. God does ethics first.

Bible Study with Good Morning Girls

I have been reading the Bible following the Good Morning Girls schedule for a couple of months, and it’s been a real blessing. It is one chapter a day, with the intention of really getting into the scripture one small piece at a time. Courtney at Women Living Well promotes the SOAK method. The SOAK method is simple:

Scripture – Focus on one or a couple verses from that day’s chapter. Even in a chapter as “mundane” as one detailing the measurements of the Tabernacle’s curtains or listing off the geneology of one of the tribes of Israel, we can find a gem, a nugget of wisdom from God.

Observation – What is the selected verse talking about; what are our observations?

Application – This one is a little harder. How does what we observe in the selected verse(s) apply to our life today? How can we use this scripture to grow in our spiritual life?

Kneel in Prayer – Previously P for Prayer in the SOAP method. How are we moved to pray following our bible study?

The new year started with the reading of Exodus, and will be wrapping up this month. I’ll be sharing some of my SOAK notes for the remainder of Exodus, and then move into Matthew in March.

Religious education

We are Christians. We are homeschoolers. We are NOT Christian homeschoolers. Rather, we are secular homeschoolers who are Christian. What I mean by this statement is that we do not homeschool for religious reasons, we do not use a Christian-themed curriculum or teach from a Christian worldview. We do not (or rather will not, since we are still only at the kindergarten/1st grade level) teach Creationist science. Our reasons for teaching at home are academic – we believe that we are better equipped to give our children a thorough education at home rather than let them get an average (at best) education in the public school setting. We can work at our own pace, we can give individual attention and be aware when something is not working for our children. We can spend time learning about subjects that are important to us, rather that teaching to an annual test.

Even though we are not “Christian homeschoolers,” our Christian faith is still important to us. More importantly, it is important that we teach our children about our faith. We have not had a church home since we left Florida. We really clicked there, and we have struggled to get plugged into another church since then. Kyri’s Sunday school experience has usually been limited to supervised playtime due to her age, and so she has not had a strong foundation layed – we talk to her about God and the basic tenets of our faith, but she hasn’t learned a lot of the stories and details she might get in a Sunday school class.

I have started introducing some Christian activities during our weekly lesson plans to teach Kyri basic Chrisian concepts – memory verses, stories about Jesus’ parables and miracles, etc. We have devotional books that we read at bedtime to work on character issues. My feelings about religious education are in line with my feelings about academic education – its my responsibility as the parent to take charge of this.

I wanted to share some of the resources we have found.

Five-Minute Devotions for Children: Celebrating God’s World as a Family

Listen to the Animals: Devotionals for Families with Young Children

Read and Share Devotional

Jesus of Nazareth: A Life of Christ Through Pictures

The Miracles of Jesus

The Parables of Jesus

Creation

Jesus Saves! Take-Home Mini-Books, Grades PK – 2: His Life, His Love, His Promises, and Why Kids Can Trust Him