Friday, May 31, 2013

Meekness and the Profoundly Stupid

Rehoboam -- anyone heard of him?  Anybody ever heard a sermon preached on the son of Solomon?  I suspect not.  But I'm thinking there are some youth groups out there that could use a lesson on the man.  Let me summarize the story for you.

When King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took over the throne of Israel.  Right off the bat, a group of folks who'd been unhappy with Solomon's treatment of them -- led by one Jeroboam -- came and asked him if he'd cut them a bit more slack than his daddy had.  Rehoboam asked his father's old advisors what he should say to the people, and they advised him to appease the folks.  Be kind to them, and they'll always serve you, they said.

But Rehoboam apparently didn't like that answer.  He went to his buddies he grew up with and asked them their opinion.  And they said to tell the people, "You think my dad was harsh?  You ain't seen nothin' yet!"  Which is what Rehoboam did.  Which drove Jeroboam and his cohorts to rebel against the king, dividing the nation of Israel into two nations . . . and the rest is very unfortunate history.

Now, let's stop a moment and consider how profoundly stupid this advice was and how profoundly stupid Rehoboam was to follow it.  Just what was to be gained by being a domineering, overbearing jerk to his people?  Why should this brand new king start his reign by trying to control his subjects with fear rather than by inspiring them with loyalty? 

But this is a typical response of insecure young men.  I see it even today in my daughter's friends.  Gotta show them I'm the big man.  Flex the muscles.  Spit out the insult.  Rev up the car engine at the stoplight.

Where do our boys get this idea of strength?  Is it inbred -- a testosterone thing?  Do they really have no models in their lives of genuine strength?  My daughter blames the movies and video games they entertain themselves with. Not having raised any boys myself, I suspect all of the above are to blame, but I put the greatest blame on the lack of role models.  Most of these boys that I know have no father at home . . . or a mostly absent father . . . or an abusive father/step-father/boyfriend in the house . . .

Men need to be strong, I think, to have respect for themselves.  Unfortunately, many men have totally whacked-out images of what strength is.  There's a fabulous word in the Bible whose definition has been warped in today's society:  meek.  These days, being meek means being soft and easily imposed on -- a doormat.  Meekness is considered a deficiency in spirit.

But that's not the Biblical definition.  When scripture talks about a person being meek, it means he is able to endure injury from another without having to fight back -- not because he can't fight back, but because he doesn't need to.  Meekness is being big enough to not have to have your own way all the time.  Meekness is choosing to submit to another's will -- not because you have no choice, but because you choose to do so.  "Absolute power under perfect control" . . .  one has to be incredibly strong to be truly meek.

And meekness is a fruit of the Spirit.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Somebody should have told that to Rehoboam and his profoundly stupid buddies.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Many years ago, I studied the history and prophets books in the Old Testament in a Bible Study Fellowship class.  I learned that 1 and 2 Chronicles covers the same historical period as 2 Samuel through 2 Kings.  Our teacher told us that the Samuel/Kings account is from the point of view of the historians, while the Chronicles account is from the point of view of the priests -- that is, it gives you more of an idea of God's view of the incidents.  If that's accurate, then it sheds an interesting light on the story of King Manasseh.

Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, a king who "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord."  He was also the grandfather of Josiah, the king who led a tremendous spiritual revival in Judah.  But Manasseh himself was not a godly king.

In 2 Kings 21, the entire account of Manasseh's reign is about how bad he was.  He not only "did evil in the eyes of the Lord", but he did "much evil in the eyes of the Lord".  It says Manasseh led the people astray "so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites." The prophets of the time linked Judah's coming destruction specifically with the actions of Manasseh.  And the account closes with the remark that "Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end."  This was one bad dude.  Ain't nothin' good to be said about him.

At least in the Kings account.  But the Chronicles account is different.  There, we have several verses telling us the same story of how Manasseh "did evil in the eyes of the Lord."  But in verse 10, the story changes:

10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.

And the rest of the Chronicles account tells us about this life change in Manasseh.  He rebuilds some of the wall around Jerusalem.  He cleans out the temple, tears down pagan altars he built, and begins sacrifices again to the Lord.  He instructed the people to serve only the Lord.

Interesting, isn't it?  This change in Manasseh's life apparently was too little too late for the nation of Judah.  The historians don't even mention it at all; as far as they were concerned, it was inconsequential.  But in the priestly account -- in the eyes of God -- it's the highlight of the story.  God's goal for Manasseh's life was for the two of them to have a relationship.  And the fact that this ultimately happened was not only worth noting, it was worth celebrating -- despite everything that happened before.

Nope.  It's never too late, friends.  Ask that thief on the cross beside Jesus.

Monday, May 27, 2013

In Search of a Competent Graduate

Back to Bill Bennett's book  . . . he discusses an institution I've never heard of: Western Governor's University, an online entity founded in 1995 by several governors in the western U.S.  It offers a flat rate of $6,000 a year for as many courses as a student wants to take, although it only offers courses and degrees in four disciplines: teaching, business, nursing, and IT.  But here's what I like about it:  "Instead of advancing and graduating students based on credit hours taken, it focuses on advancing students on their ability to demonstrate competency in a subject."

Competency.  A degree based on competency.  What a novel idea.

Seriously, how is it that this is such a novel idea?  How could our educational system . . . and I'm going to focus on K-12 education now, because that's my area . . . how could our educational system have gotten so messed up that thousands and thousands of seniors can be getting a high school diploma without ever having demonstrated anything resembling a base level of competency in the subjects they studied?  Because I assure you -- it happens all the time.

A young man I know through my daughter passed his junior English class this semester without writing a paper.  He got a low D, but that is passing.  He has not demonstrated any competency in writing ability, but he got "credit" (whatever the heck that's supposed to mean) for his second semester of Junior English.  And we all know that this kind of thing happens all the time.  No wonder a high school diploma is meaningless.

I have a radical idea:  a high school diploma should be given when a student has met a determined set of knowledge and skill objectives.  Graduating should have nothing to do with the amount of time spent on the work (in the classroom or outside of the classroom), with the number of assignments completed of whatever type or function, or (good heavens) with the percentage of random "points" racked up over the course of your studies. 

I'll get even more radical, at least radical for an English teacher.  Consider our study of literature at the high school level.  There are two primary objectives we are aiming for when we teach, say, Shakespeare's Macbeth.  One is knowledge-based. We want our students to know the story and the significant themes therein -- to be able to recognize references to the play in modern culture, to understand and internalize the things it is saying about humanity, and so forth.

The other objective is skill-based.  We want our students to be able to pick up a play by Shakespeare and be able to read it -- to understand the language, to recognize the way the playwright is communicating his message through characterization, symbolism, etc.  And to be able to apply that skill to any other piece of literature they read.

First of all, let's recognize that a student can be competent in one of these and not in the other, and let's teach and assess them accordingly.  But here's where I get radical:  I suspect that the vast majority of our students don't need the skill side of this.  They should most definitely be introduced to it, as many kids will never try reading hard books on their own.  But many of them simply will not "get there" in their literature skills, and many of them who could get there will never use the skill again in their adult life and might be better off using their time developing other skills.  Sure, I would LOVE for every high school graduate to be an avid reader of the classics, but that's not realistic.  I would be content if they have an appreciation for what good literature contributes to society and the skill to look up a book on and understand the discussion of it there.

Now, college-bound kids need more than that -- but as I discussed before, not every kid needs to be college-bound.  And frankly, most people don't appreciate what they can get out of good quality literature until they are older. Some people need more life experience before the Great Conversation has any meaning to them.  Let them demonstrate that they can understand the message of an author when it is explained to them, whether or not they pulled it out of the original writing itself -- and let them move on.  But again -- let's make sure they can actually do that.

Competency.  Seriously.  That's all I'm asking for.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Is College Worth It?

I wrote a post a while back about the idea that not everyone needs to go to college, a post that apparently got more than a few people really thinking.  Now I'm reading a book that is confirming all those thoughts again.

It's Is College Worth It?, by Bill Bennett, Reagan's former Secretary of Education.  It's a fascinating book (a little heavy on the numbers for my taste, but the numbers are necessary).  And he makes many of the same points I was making earlier, but with facts and stats to back them up (thus the burdensome numbers).  Many, many people going to college right out of high school -- about two-thirds of them, Bennett contends -- should do something else.  For a number of reasons:

- They are gifted with knowledge and skills in much-needed areas that don't require a college education (although they may require other technical training).  We have made these people feel like second-rate citizens when they are crucial parts of the fabric of society and we need them to do what they do best.  Our society and economy flounders without them there.

- A college degree is no longer the guarantee of a good job.  In fact, there are thousands of people out there with piles of student debts on their hands who are unemployed or underemployed and feeling like they were sold a bill of goods about this higher education business.  And they were.  Many  economists are predicting that college loan debt will be the next big bubble to burst and mess up the country.
- College is rarely worth the money you put into it now -- and Bennett blames the federal government for this.  In fact, he predicted this phenomenon back when he was Education Secretary: the government has made financial aid so easily available to every Joe on the block, regardless of Joe's chances of succeeding in college or getting a job later to pay back those loans, that the market is screwed up.  Instead of becoming more affordable, college has become less affordable . . . because colleges know that students can get the money, so they just jack up tuitions.

This discussion has become very pertinent to me lately because our eldest is a senior next year.  This is when everyone tells you you need to be visiting colleges, deciding on your top choices, sending applications in in the fall . . . but she has no bloody clue what she wants to do with her life.  And it's stressing her out.

Only recently have we finally convinced her that we're okay with that.  We have suspected for a while that whatever she ended up doing, it was not likely to require a B.A.  And we're fine with that. We're not going to feel like she's a failure (or we're failures) if she takes a gap year after high school -- or if she never ends up at college at all -- as long as she is using her gifts to God's glory.

Now to convince others of that.  I'm already bracing myself for the unspoken (and maybe even spoken) condemnation of my seven years of homeschooling with her.  That I obviously didn't instill in her the skills and knowledge and passion she needed to succeed in life.  I reject that condemnation (remind me of that when I'm hearing it).  My daughter is always stunned at the ignorance of her public school peers (You don't know what an adjective is?  And no, New England is not in Europe).  She's an excellent writer, communicator and thinker.  The passion . . . yeah, that's frustrating, but that will come when she finds her calling.

Bennett had more to say that I love . . . especially about K-12 education.  But that's for another post . . .

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What to Let Go Of

Growing up in Kansas, tornadoes and tornado season were part of the backdrop of life.  We did tornado drills in school, a fact that blew the minds of my New Jersey friends but was a "duh" for me.  I remember walking outside a couple times and saying, "It feels like tornado weather" -- and my Jersey friends looking at me like I was some backwoods voodoo practitioner.  It feels like tornado weather?!??  Yep.  And I bet my Kansas friends would agree.  You can feel it in the air.  Probably the barometric pressure or something . . .

Not that we ever got complacent about the things; every time a tornado warning came across the TV screen, I'd stop to see where, when, and how strong . . . and wonder if this was the one that would end my life as I knew it. 

Tornadoes are capricious and bizarre.  One twister tore through a friend's neighborhood in Andover one year, and we drove by a few days later to look.  Her house had some damage, but was still liveable.  Her neighbor to one side was untouched; her neighbor to the other side had a pile of rubble with a chimney still standing. 

The weirdest sight in that neighborhood: a standing, whole tree with a pair of jeans sticking out the middle of it.  I mean, half of the jeans sticking out of one side of the tree and half out of the other.  The wind had whipped that pair of jeans around and driven them with such power that they penetrated right through the trunk of the tree.  Bizarre.

Many friends commented yesterday how the images coming out of Oklahoma were reminding them how unimportant their problems were.  Fifteen minute traffic delay on the way to work?  Nothing compared to searching for your child in the rubble of their school building.  Coincidentally (kind of), our speakers at Mother's Night Out last night spoke about "letting it go".  The things that stress us out and what we can and should let go of -- and what we shouldn't.

I'm choosing today to let go of anxiety.  After all, scripture commands us, "Be anxious for NOTHING" -- and it wouldn't issue us a command that is not possible for us to do in the power of Christ. There's so much I could be anxious about right now . . . but I will let go, as commanded.

And I'm choosing today to cling to my family, the only thing I have that is eternal.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Blessed Amnesia

My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when I was twelve.  He lived for another 21 years after that, much of that time spent in a nursing home.  I don't need to inform everyone of what a devastating disease Alzheimer's is -- how the victim ultimately becomes someone quite unlike their former self.

Marvin Olasky, the editor of World magazine, wrote a brief tribute to his late mother in a recent issue.  He said she was, as a relative described her, "the unhappiest woman I ever knew".  She had had a cold, hard life.  "She never felt love nor enjoyed its material manifestations."  Olasky describes not feeling any empathy for her ("I'd like to say love, but it was more abstract") until he became a Christian as an adult.  The woman "wore those resentments on her sleeve".  I think we all know people like that.

But an interesting thing happened to her at the age of 87 when dementia set in. Instead of forgetting the good things of life and becoming "mean", she forgot the bad things.  She forgot her fear of poverty.  She forgot her feeling of always being taken advantage of.  She forgot old resentments and anger.  She even forgot her fear of death.

She suddenly seemed to enjoy life and people, even being almost fun and mischievous at times.  The picture included in the article is of her with her cake on her 88th birthday (see it to the right).  She is smiling and radiant, seemingly full of joy.  This unhappy woman spent the last three years of her life finally enjoying the blessings she had been given -- and finally listening in a genuine way to the story of Christ her son had been trying to share with her all those years (though how much she understood and accepted can't be known).

This story really spoke to me.  Lord, in your will, please spare me from the disease, but bless me with that kind of amnesia.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Safety and Formula in Worship

Moving to a new town means finding a new church -- a process I don't enjoy at all.  Hubby has visited two churches now in San Antonio.  One was John Hagee's Cornerstone Church.  He said, "It's quite a performance.  I don't think it's where we want to go, but it's probably something you'll want to experience."  He lost me at performance.

The other we visited with him again last Sunday.  It's a small (by Texas standards) Baptist church near his apartment.  We both grew up Baptist, though we haven't attended a Baptist church for about 20 years for various reasons.  However, doctrinally, I think that's still where we live, so it might be kind of nice to come home to a Baptist church again.

This is not your ordinary Baptist church, though.  They said (in their visitors' materials) that since there are so many churches in the area that offer the high-energy, loud, praise-band style of worship (and I don't doubt that), they intentionally made the choice to focus on the more reverential, traditional style.  They have a full-choir, in robes, with piano and organ.  They sing traditional hymns and sing them with gusto, according to hubby (he said their passion while singing was moving in itself).  Last Sunday was Children's Sunday and the kids choir led the service, so the girls and I didn't get to see the whole enchilada, so to speak, but it was still a breath of fresh air.

Now, here's what threw me.  The pastors wore robes.  I've never seen a Baptist pastor in a robes.  And they apparently follow the traditional "church calendar":  last Sunday was Ascension Sunday -- next week is Pentecost Sunday.  I've NEVER heard of a Baptist church following the church calendar.

And I've never attended a church that followed the church calendar.  And I'm wondering if I want to.  Much as I liked so many things about the church, the teaching aspects of the service felt routine, ritualized . . . safeToo safe.  The Holy Spirit is not routine, nor ritualized, and most definitely is not safe.  (As Mr. Beaver said about Aslan: "Safe?  Of course he isn't safe.  But he's good.")  Not that every other worship style doesn't have their routines and rituals and safe zones . . . so maybe my hesitation is just about the newness, not the formulaic-ness.

I've become rather weary of the mega-church, programmed worship model, so I'm up for something different.  Whether this is it, I don't know.  But I would love to hear from friends who do the church calendar thing and find out how that works for them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dear Mr. Malware Jerk

So, it's Saturday night, and our family is relaxing in hubby's apartment after a long day of traipsing all over San Antonio checking out neighborhoods we might want to live in.  Hubby and I are on our laptops:  he's playing for me songs I don't know from a top 100 Beatles hits list that he found, and I'm playing online Sudoku while I listen.

Suddenly, my game disappears and a different scary-looking, official-looking screen pops up.  It informs me that the FBI has been tracking me on the web and caught me visiting child pornography sites.  They've shut off my internet access and the only way I can get it back is by clicking on this handy link here and paying a two hundred dollar fine within 72 hours.

Yeah, right.

My techie husband immediately gets on his own unaffected laptop and finds a site with instructions for three possible ways to get rid of this malware -- none of which work.  He spends much of our free time in the apartment the rest of the weekend trying to free up my laptop for me (much to my chagrine -- I had plenty of other things I was interested in doing with that time).  In the end, I had to take it in to Dakota PC on my return to Siouxland for them to fix.  The man there said half of the computers he had in the back to work on were infected with the same malware.

Now, here's what I wonder: who's getting fooled by this scam?  Who is actually clicking on that link and paying these jerks two hundred dollars?  Do people see this and say, "Darn it!  They caught me.  Better pay my fine"?  Do people see it and think, "I know I haven't intentionally looked at anything like that -- did I do it accidentally?  Gee, I'd better just pay the fine. I don't want to have to deal with the FBI"?  Are people just willing to pay two hundred bucks, whether they've done anything wrong or not, just to get back on the internet quickly?  (And surely they realize that doing this just opens them up to more hacking from the malware jerks.)

Are there really enough stupid people out there that would fall for this to make it worth the while of the jerks who created the stupid virus?  Are they seriously making a lot of money?  Or do they just have a lot of time on their hands and a grudge against modern society that makes them want to disrupt random innocent people's lives just for the fun of it?

If that's the case, Mr. Malware Jerk, you lead a sad life.  Seriously, dude -- get a hobby.  Might I suggest Sudoku?

Monday, May 13, 2013

San Antonio: First Impressions

The girls and I have spent the weekend in San Antonio with the hubby -- neighborhood browsing, school shopping, and generally sight-seeing.  Our first introduction to our new hometown. 

I'll admit, part of me was a bit wary of moving to a big city.  I've really enjoyed the size of Sioux City -- big enough to have just about anything you need there, small enough to not have to deal with bad traffic, gangs, etc.  And the traffic here was a big daunting when I first started driving around in it Friday morning. 

But I tell ya . . . San Antonio knows how to manage traffic.  All the streets are wide (a big difference with the other major urban area I've spent a lot of time in, South Jersey).  Hubby's office is right off of "loop 1604", a big highway that loops around the outskirts of town, so we've spent a lot of time around the north stretch of that highway.  A six-lane highway . . . with three-lane frontage roads.  I mean, this thing is huge.  But it is amazingly efficient to travel on.  Those wide frontage roads are the key: you have the right lane for turning in and out of businesses and such, the left lane for merging onto and off of the freeway, and the center lane for through traffic -- which, except for the stoplights at crossroads, can flow almost as smoothly and quickly as the freeway.  And the entrances and exits to the freeway are far enough from the crossroads that you have plenty of time to get into the lane you need to be in.  Really, it's pretty darn slick.

And my thought was, they had to have put this huge highway in long before the businesses popped up, because otherwise, adding the frontage roads would have required tearing down all the businesses and moving them.  And apparently they did build the highway first ("if you build it, they will come . . .").  Hubby says the highway is just as wide around the south end of town, where it kind of seems like a waste because it's not nearly as built up in the south.  Optimism.  Planning ahead rather than catching up.

My other initial observation:  San Antonio is very green.  Much greener than I expected.  I've always imagined Texas, particularly west Texas, as vast tracts of empty, dry land.  I mean, in my head, I knew they had ranches and stuff down here, so they must have enough green grass to support all their cattle. 

But San Antonio is beautiful.  Lot of lovely trees and rolling hills.  The mall we went to yesterday afternoon had an open courtyard throughout the center with trees and water fountains.  And the River Walk downtown . . . oh, my goodness!  Just gorgeous.  Not only green and natural, but with stone bridge built for walkways over the river. 

So, all in all, I'm flying out today with a good impression of our upcoming stomping grounds.  Now, if we could just find a home . . . and sell our home in Sioux City . . . anyone interested in a two-story on the south edge of Morningside?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Marriage and Maturity

Homeschoolers are an interesting crowd, really.  In our co-op in New Jersey, one woman told us, “I remember the day I joined this group, I was so relieved that you didn’t all wear denim jumpers and tennis shoes!”

 . . . and you might have to be a homeschooler to get that one.
In any case, one of the interesting things I notice about homeschoolers is, as a group, they tend to marry younger than the rest of us.  I’m not exactly sure why.  They are often more mature at a younger age than their peers; that’s probably a good part of it. 

The rest of us in society encourage kids to put off marriage until they are older, more ready, more mature.  Of course, nobody has a really clear definition of maturity in this context.  Mature enough to . . . hold down a job?  Raise a child?  Communicate patiently and effectively with your spouse?  Stop partying every weekend?  Achieve self-actualization and have a good sense of “who you are”?  Such qualifications would eliminate a good chunk of the population, and the species would start to die out.
I wonder, though, if we’ve got this thing backwards.  Maybe part of the purpose of marriage is to bring us into maturity.  Maybe this is why, historically, people have married young, and parents have had a hand in choosing the spouse – so the mature parents can ensure a good match.
One of the first things I learned after I got married is how selfish I was.  And then I had kids – and then I learned how selfish I really was.  Maybe, for some of us, it takes being married to realize how far we are from maturity.  Maybe we can’t learn to communicate patiently and effectively until we have someone in our face all the time whom we have to figure out a way to communicate with.  Maybe it’s easier to get a sense of who you are when you have an intimate companion there to contrast yourself with.  Maybe some of us will never be motivated to become a good, mature person until there’s someone we love who desperately needs us to be good and mature for them.
I read a book once with the subtitle, “What if marriage isn’t about making us happy, but about making us holy?”  Exactly.

Monday, May 6, 2013

When "Love" is Too Strong a Word

The Greek language, as I understand it, has different words for different types of love.  “Eros” is sexual, erotic love.  “Phileo” is friendship love.  “Agape” is something else entirely, the love God has for us that is purely unconditional, part of his nature, not at all dependent on who we are or what we do.

I’ve often thought we need to be able to make such distinctions in English because our language not only communicates our thoughts, but our thoughts are shaped by our language.  I read recently: “When the same word can be used to describe feelings toward a dog or a daughter or a deity, it makes no distinction between our latest enthusiasm and our deepest commitment.”  I’ve started trying to pay attention to the words I use.  I enjoy HuHot.  I appreciate high-speed internet.  I love my family.  There’s a difference.

On Good Friday, I attended a performance of Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion”.  I performed in this a couple times many years ago, but this year, the words hit me powerfully, as did the music.  I enjoy music.  I appreciate a well-turned phrase.  I feel satisfaction at an expression of profound truth.  But I found myself meditating that night on a thought I read in a book sometime recently: that everything God created reflects a little bit of Him.  I loved this performance not because of it itself, but because of what it reflected to me of the nature of God.  God is truth.  God is the Word.  And God is the grandeur of the music.  And I love God.
He intends us to enjoy the things he created for us . . . but always with the fact in mind that this thing we’re enjoying is a counterfeit, a poor reflection, of the real thing – the real Him, who we will get to enjoy in full someday.  Earthly blessings are never meant to satisfy our appetites; they are meant to whet them for the real feast we have coming when life here is done.  We enjoy things He’s given us on earth, but our love is reserved for Him.
And the immediate application of this truth for me is that He is to be grasped tightly while every else is held with an open hand.
The goodness and sweetness of a fresh, hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie is a blessing from God that he means for me to enjoy.  It reflects his own goodness and sweetness.  But the cookie is a temporary thing – I eat it, and it is gone.  I can’t expect it to continue to satisfy.  It is only there to remind me of a greater sweetness I get to experience in full someday, and to make me long for it.
Writing these dramas for the homeschoolers and putting them on the stage has been a blessing.  To watch words and ideas fall together that communicate truth . . . to see the words lived out on stage like I imagined it in my head (or sometimes better than I imagined it) . . . to see students internalize the truths . . . to see them grow in their confidence before people . . . has all been tremendously satisfying.  But it has been a temporary thing.  It is over now – and there’s no guarantee I’ll have an opportunity like this again in San Antonio.  This was not meant to fill the hole in my soul; it was meant to give me a taste of the real Word, the real Truth, the real One we will someday stand before with confidence, feeling his pleasure.
God has given us many things to enjoy.  But our LOVE is reserved for him and those we bring with us to live with him.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Getting Your Commas Right

In the course of editing the writing of several friends in the last couple years (and just reading random stuff on the internet), I have found a certain punctuation error that seems to be quite common.  And the English teacher in me, having a platform for instruction here, thought some of you might be interested in a short lesson.  (Because I have intelligent readers who care about such things.  Yes?)

So, here we go.  Suppose you want to combine the following two sentences:

He lay in bed all morning.
She read the newspaper to him.

Notice the comma that is necessary:

He lay in bed all morning and she read the newspaper to him. [WRONG]
He lay in bed all morning, and she read the newspaper to him.

When you are combining two stand-alone sentences (two independent clauses, each of which has its own subject - verb relationship), you need a comma before the "and" (or "but", "or", "so" . . . whichever conjunction you use).

Interestingly enough, the reverse error is also common.  Consider the combination of the following two sentences:

He lay in bed all morning.
He read the newspaper.

He lay in bed all morning, and he read the newspaper.

Most people would rightfully note that the second "he" is redundant and want to take it out to make it sound less awkward.  But note the punctuation change that must happen:

He lay in bed all morning, and read the newspaper. [WRONG]
He lay in bed all morning and read the newspaper.

Once you take out the second "he", you no longer have two independent clauses; you have one clause -- one subject with two verbs.  In this case, a comma is incorrect.  Usually, a writer will catch this in a simple sentence like the one above.  The error will happen when the sentence gets more complicated.

He lay all morning in his king-sized bed his parents had given him for a wedding gift twenty years earlier, and read the newspaper with his morning cup of joe. [WRONG]

So, here's the rule.  When combining two independent clauses (stand-alone sentences) with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, so), you need a comma before the conjunction.  When you have one independent clause -- one subject with two verbs -- you do not need a comma before the conjunction. 

Clear as mud?  I thought so.  ;)  I hope you were taking notes; there will be a short quiz next period . . .

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

And We're All Slaves to Something

The youngest and I have been reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography about his life as a slave.  (Our homeschool studies often lead to blog posts . . . one of the reasons I love homeschooling.)  Kind of overwhelming at times.  Slavery was just so horrendous.  So many observations and thoughts about it all.

Douglass talked about how it was preferable to be owned by a master who was not religious -- that the slaveowners who proclaimed the strongest religious fervor were also, generally, the most cruel.  Amazing -- absolutely amazing -- that people can be so deceived.  That they can believe they are so close to God and so right in their convictions and be so clearly and obviously wrong . . .

Oh, how we are able to justify sin to ourselves.

I remember when we read Booker T. Washington's autobiography how he talked about slavery being a wrong done to the slaveowner as much as to the slave.  That when the slaves were freed, the slaveowners were helpless to take care of themselves.  They didn't have the basic skills needed to survive without someone serving them.  Not to mention the spiritual poverty they were brought to by having such an immoral condition being presented to them from birth as normal and right.  (I greatly admire Washington's being able to view his oppressors with such objectivity and compassion.)

I was also struck by Washington describing the slaves who grieved leaving their masters when slavery was abolished.  Not every master was cruel.  Some were pretty good to their slaves, at least as good as one can be in such a situation.  Some slaves were devoted to their owners, felt genuine affection for them, unable to even conceive that they could be treated any better, that their lives could be any better.  This was all any of them knew.

Any right-minded outsider could look at their situation and see the chains that bound them, figuratively if not literally.  Yet they sat in their state of oppression and wanted to remain.  It felt natural.  It felt comfortable.  It was safer than that unknown state of freedom the abolitionists out there kept telling them was so great.  This was all they knew.

And, you know, we are all slaves to something.

So many applications here . . . for myself . . . for others I know . . .