"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

29 July 2005


Hunting for home school curriculum is always frustrating at best. It used to be because the choices were so few; now it’s because they are so many. I think I preferred the former problem; at least one did not feel compelled to read five hundred reviews of each potential resource to figure out which would work best for one’s unique children and situation.

So far I’m happy with the choices I’ve made for this year. But the review-reading process once again brought me up against the favorite game of people with strong opinions and little actual experience: overreaction.

The word “process,” for example, appears to have become anathema in many Christian circles. “If it says it will teach ‘process,’ run! It will be relativistic and your child will learn nothing! It is touchy-feely worthlessness! Back to the basics, to rote memorization and the way Laura Ingalls Wilder learned!”


At one time, perhaps children learned a great deal more at home about how to learn. I don’t know. Undeniably, children learned a great deal more than most of us know today, and with a very different kind of curriculum. However, it is simple truth that if one does not know how to solve a problem or write an essay, one will not do so through rote memorization of facts to be used in the problem or essay. How children learned these processes in the past I do not know, but they are not learning them today.

The problem, of course, is that “process-oriented” education has been taken to a foolish extreme by too many teachers and school systems. The process becomes the point, and little Johnny can pass math with an A while missing the actual answers to most of the problems – because he followed the right “process,” though not having bothered to pay attention to minor details such as adding or subtracting correctly. “But he understands how to do it!” the proud teacher gushes. I say the bridge will still fall down if he gets the wrong answers for the building of it, no matter how he arrived at them.

Balance. Where, oh, where is our sense of balance? If a child doesn’t understand the process by which to solve an algebraic equation, he will struggle with the next concept even if he manages to memorize this particular one. But the process is not an end in itself. He must pay attention to the product it leads to, as well. In writing, students for years were left in the dark as to how to create the kinds of essays their teachers expected of them. Because most of them don’t read and never write on their own initiative, they must be taught the process of writing – but not for its own sake. The point of the process, always, is to arrive at a product which effectively communicates a worthy idea to an audience.

My brothers and sisters who despise and demean the methods of education in use today would do well to step back and consider carefully what they might be missing. Some of today’s methods are ill-conceived and should be avoided, yes. But others might be very helpful if appropriately balanced with the legitimate goals of education. We need some education about education in the homeschool movement, I begin to think.

24 July 2005

Excuses, Excuses

Last night I received an email I've been trying not to anticipate. The message, though promising nothing, sent a thrill to my very toes, and I savored the moment I could tell K about it.

Now I have a choice. Following the advice I've been given, will I pour myself into this piece, abandoning all but the true essentials for the next few days, and send it off to its fate on the senior editor's desk? Or will I find myself frozen with the fear of judgment LuCindy posted about the other day?

After all, there are so many urgent things to do. Faculty workshop starts in three weeks, and classes a week after that. I need to finish my syllabi, clear my office of last year's detritus, work with K to set up our trust, create the boy's fall schedule, write some birthday cards, read the other ten books sitting on my desk, maybe clean out a few closets . . .

So many excuses to avoid the finished piece and the possible rejection.

The irony? The topic of the piece has to do with the harried lives we lead and the way we make choices. I have written several times here this summer about wanting to learn how to let go and be guided by Him instead of myself, my desires, my fears, my need for control. I think I've learned a tiny bit, at least. I only pray I can practice it this week, trusting Him that all will be accomplished in His time.

18 July 2005


Yes, we finally got to watch The Incredibles. Yes, we all loved it. A funny, well-created film that wasn’t an all-out assault on traditional values.

Low points:
Okay, maybe I’m a prude, but really – is it necessary in a family film to have one of the characters use God’s name inappropriately as a character tag? “My goodness” would have worked equally well in a film that has no other reference to God, after all. And apparently there was one pretty bad profanity which was equally gratuitous (our muter was on but it looked bad). Why insist on this in an otherwise completely clean film? Other than that, no complaints.

On being special:
When Dash has been chastised about using his super-powers at school to play a trick, his mom tells him that he’s special – that everyone is special. He scowls out the car window and mutters, “Which is just another way of saying no one is.” Later, the villain reveals his plan to give everyone his secret for having super-powers through technology, then says, “Then everyone will be special – which means that no one will be.”

I find this most interesting. Of course, every individual is special in the sense of being created uniquely by God and loved uniquely by Him. But in the realm of human affairs, obviously we have different strengths and weaknesses. And Dash sees that the demand to dumb everyone down to mediocrity is a way of trying to stamp out these essential differences. And Syndrome, even in his frantic attempts to become a superhero through his own means, knows that giving everyone superpowers will have the same result. So it doesn’t matter whether we are trying to dumb everyone down or bring everyone up, the goal is sameness, a destruction of the uniqueness of each human being.

This is a problem Richard Weaver commented on at mid-20th century in Ideas Have Consequences. Our country was founded on the principle of equal opportunity – anyone who had the ability and drive and right circumstances could become president, or whatever. But this is not the same as equal outcomes – anyone who wants to can become president was never the idea. I may want to be a pop music star, but anyone who has stood near me in church could assure you that no amount of voice lessons and hard work will ever make me one. And it is simply a fact of life that sometimes circumstances will hold us back from achieving some particular goal we otherwise might have. But the laws of our country do not prevent anyone from attempting to do or become anything they want. Social and financial circumstances are not the purview of the law, but how many people have overcome difficult circumstances to still achieve their goals? When we insist on social engineering, however, we have to make the laws apply unequally (think affirmative action), and then we no longer have equal opportunity and those with special ability will be discriminated against.

I kept thinking of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” I recommend it highly as another view of a society which tries to make everyone equal and prevent special gifts from being exercised. A very funny read while critiquing a serious problem, much like this movie.

On family and working together:
Great, great, great here. Each Incredible has his or her own special powers, and only in using them together can they finally overcome evil. Very realistic family life, with various tensions and frictions that smooth away when adversity threatens. (Love the scenes where Dash is disgusted at waking up next to his sister, but then goes ballistic when she is threatened: “Don’t you dare hit my sister!”) The super-smart kids don’t save the super-dumb parents, but they play an essential role as the family faces each trial. They gain confidence when they have to face danger alone, but they still need mom and dad. And mom and dad need each other. Incrediman’s “I work alone” leads him into danger he can’t conquer, but allowing his wife to be his true partner, and the kids to join in, gives them the variety of abilities they need to win the battles.

On a victim society:
I loved the opening where the people saved by Incrediman sue him for saving them (or not saving them enough). This is a great critique of today’s litigious, victim-laden society. And of course, it’s a great way of showing what happens a) to the individual denied the use of his gifts (Incrediman is continually frustrated by his inability to help people and keeps undermining the system to try to do so anyway) and b) to the society which is vulnerable to danger and death when individuals cannot do what they were created to do. The bottom line, taking care of #1 (or the stockholders!), blaming the real victims for what happens to them . . . a stronger and stronger emphasis on selfishness and coldness.

All in all, a wonderful film. Lots of great lines -- "Go save the world, honey, one claim at a time!" If you haven’t seen it, find it and set aside a couple of hours for some good clean fun. (And that’s from someone who almost never watches movies.)

12 July 2005

Mosaics of Longing

Spring 2002
Today from my front porch I can see the farthest range possible, so often obscured by the smoky haze that earned these mountains their name. My husband and youngest son are on the far side of those mountains, unloading the pickup and preparing to have dinner with our older daughter and her family. A part of my heart longs to be with them, playing with the grandbaby and sharing the joys of new motherhood with the grown child who has become one of my closest friends.

Yet the peacefulness of this moment has been a need for some weeks now, and my regret, while real, is not enough to spoil it. A warm wind blows my hair about my face. The ornamental pears in my neighbors’ yards, solid white three days ago, flaunt their spring green, while our dogwood appears afraid of another late frost, its blooms still closed and brown. A robin hopping beneath its boughs challenges it to faith.

The dense, bright clouds rimming the horizon look almost as solid and unchanging as the mountains and the sky they rest between, reminding me that while change is inevitable, it is not always obvious or immediate. I will look up in a minute or a year and see the difference.

This is where I live, and I love the landscape and, more importantly, the people whose lives have become enmeshed with mine. Yet it will never be home.

Oh, I know that no place here below the heavens will ever fully satisfy heart and soul. I am a pilgrim in the earth, made for something beyond this immediate reality, and I realize that my deepest longings have to do with eternity. But on this peaceful afternoon, looking out over the mountains, I am contemplating earthly longings and the vitality of place.

In the Southern literature I love, place seems almost a sentient being, a character, not mere setting. Raised in Kansas by Southern parents who longed for home and returned almost the day my father retired, their sense of place took root somewhere deep inside me, to blossom only after home was no longer the place I lived.

I love the Smokies. Majesty clothed in towering pines, laced with the delicate pink and white of innumerable dogwoods, punctuated with sudden bursts of wild color in every clearing and valley, they tell me much of nature, God, and man. But they are perhaps too rich for me, too lush. Raised in the gently rolling hills and austere plains of Kansas, I was made for a life more grounded in the astonishing vastness of the ordinary.

I learned the majesty of God in expansively variegated sunsets and endless starlit skies, in swaying fields of ripening wheat and golden sunflowers stretching to the horizon, in redbuds and poplars and dutch elms, in solitary oaks centered in acres of roughly woven pasture lands. These images have shaped in me a sense of limitless possibility and unexpected beauty in the midst of the most mundane and simple affairs of life. I do not experience heights and depths of emotion so much as immense rushes and minute intensities. I move easily from focus on a particular face to awe at the magnitude of friendship. A single daisy expands to hold the universe; the universe exquisitely contracts into the welcome-home hug of my son as he eagerly describes his day.

As beautiful as these mountains are, as much as I love them, still they enclose me, cut me off from the horizon. Perhaps my longing for home is simply my need to be surrounded by possibility again, to physically see the horizon expanded beyond eternity . . . to remember and embrace my own unique perspective without comparison to others that may seem richer and more desirable merely because they are not mine.

The day is closing, one more day spent in a bittersweet exile. The clouds have stretched and grown to mosaic the sky, the farthest range once more obscured by their haze. Yet I somehow find myself content to know that the distance contains home even as it lives within me, that home, however far away, is inevitably part of the ever-changing, ever-growing mosaic of my life.

05 July 2005

The Simple Life

Advice to young folks who wish they weren't treated as such:

Life is pretty simple, really.

* If you don't wish to be treated like a child, act like an adult.

* If you don't wish to be disciplined, obey.

* If you wish to have a sense of positive self worth, a) understand your relationship to the Saviour who died to redeem you; and b) work hard to accomplish your goals.

* If you wish to feel a sense of personal satisfaction, serve.

Think on it. Life's too short to be continually concerned with perceived complexities and injustices. You are the only person you have any control over, and your choices moment by moment will largely determine your future. Your choice of attitude towards those things you cannot control will determine how much joy you experience. No one can rob you of these choices; only you can determine to be miserable and bitter.

And note: I said life's simple, not easy. But the right choices unleash God's power to work in us through whatever comes.

Did I say advice for the young? How I need to remember it every day myself!

04 July 2005

Fourth of July

I have just read the most insulting web log post that pretends to be grateful to our troops, past and present -- the sacrifices they have made so that the writer could call America a "whore of war." I'd sure send that note of appreciation to my son . . . NOT. Criticism is one thing, but unmitigated hatred is quite another. Some folk really ought to go live in whatever countries they think are so much better than this one (and believe me, I see our flaws quite clearly) and discover what tyranny and warmongering really are.

So, to get the taste out of my mouth, here's what John Adams wrote to Abigail on the third of July, 1776, after the Declaration was adopted in principle on the second. (Hence the reference to the second instead of the fourth -- the fourth was when the final form was approved.)

"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

"You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction [. . .]."

My heartfelt thanks to all, from that time to this, who have made the sacrifices of toil and blood and treasure that have kept us a free nation. Especially, today, I am grateful to my grandfathers all, my daddy, my uncles, my father-in-law, my brother, my son.

May God bless and protect our troops, and may we never, even in our legitimate criticism of true flaws, forget our heritage and fail to see that it still glows in the sacrifices so many are willing to make, that it is worth fighting for, whether by the sword, the pen, or any unstinting service to man for the sake of liberty.

02 July 2005


One who longs to write but honestly has not the time and resources to complete anything at a standard of excellence which would make it worth even sending out should not read biographies of famous writers.

We hates them, we hates them, we hates them forever!

I'll be better tomorrow when the effects have worn off. :)