December 27, 2015

Commonplace Monday #14

Commonplace Monday is a series of post wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Here's this week's installment:


No ceremonial provision is to take priority over pressing human need.

Fred Gums


December 25, 2015

Nor Doth He Sleep

'Tis the season. The season of what? Well, of Christmas time, you might say. If you are in the mood for elaboration, you may be inclined to continue in such a way: the season for giving, the season for love, happiness, joy and cheer. Family, friends, good food, good drink, presents, a big fat elf, and maybe a little snow. Aaaaannnnddd, probably shouldn't forget that baby in a manger business. That's good too. If you like basketball, you might add the Christmas day games, but who watches the NBA on Christmas? Or ever? Anyhow.

The sense you get from talking to most folks is that this is a season of joy. And of course for many, it is. Amidst all of the stress and the crunch and the rush, there is an undercurrent of I love spending this time with my family or, I love presents-giving and receiving them! or, Christmas Eve is my favorite church service all year or, what makes the Christmas spirit brighter than Fireball and a Backwoods cigar? There are a lot of things to be happy about this time of year. 

But then, we know that not everyone is enjoying all of these things, don't we? Perhaps you who are reading this aren't enjoying all of these things, or any of them. It could be that this time of year is painful for you because of financial difficulties, a break-up, or the loss of a loved one. Or perhaps you simply resonate with the words of H.W. Longfellow
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
 Longfellow wrote those words in the midst of the Civil War. A nation had split in two and was fighting against itself. Peace on earth seemed a far-fetched idea. For many of us enjoying the warmth of family, Christmas cookies, happy carols, or excitement over a baby being born two millenia ago may seem equally far-fetched. But maybe the pain of Christmas, the aching of the season, if you will, is a good thing. I think it can be. For through this aching at the un-met-ness of our expectations, we may be pointed toward this fact: we need to find our joy somewhere else. We need something more solid than this.

The happiness of Christmas isn't meant to simply be caught up in the passing joy that family can bring. Copious numbers of gifts leave us flat. The Christmas spirit does not consist of mere food and drink. And the story of Jesus the Christ isn't about a quaint little family in a barn. We need things more deep, more firm, more real. This is chief among them:


John 1:1-3, 14, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The thing of most importance at Christmas is the birth of Jesus: but what exactly was the birth of Jesus? The birth of an ordinary child who grew to be an extraordinary man? A fairy tale made up for and swallowed by those of simple mind? I don't think so.

What we see in these opening words of the Gospel according to John is what theologians refer to as The Incarnation. The coming of God the Son, the second Member of the Trinity, into this world and clothing Himself in human flesh. He who is Himself God, who has dwelt forever with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, He who is the Word through whom God spoke all creation into existence: He became a man. He added to His true divinity a true humanity. Ponder with me what a ludicrous idea this is. That He who spun galaxies into existence would take up residence inside of a uterus. That He who commanded the worship of the angels would be laid where ox and ass are feeding, as the old hymn puts it. Who would write such a story? Who would choose such a method of saving sinners? Could God the Father not have sent a mere man, or an angel, or some other form of emissary to bring to us His salvation? 

But our thoughts are not His thoughts, and our ways are not His ways. In times past God spoke in many ways, but in these days He has spoken to us definitively: in His Son, who is the radiance of the glory of God. In the past there was a partial revelation of God, but in Jesus we see the fullness of God dwelling in a human body. (Isaiah 55:8, Hebrews 1:1-3, Colossians 1:19-20)

The Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah, the long awaited one to come and save Israel. They mourned under the yoke of oppressive foreign power after oppressive foreign power. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. They were looking for someone to restore their kingdom, to sit on David's throne. What many failed to realize is that the true oppression, the true enemy, lay within their own breast: a sinful heart at enmity with God. And there was only One fit to conquer such an enemy: One who would be God, and thus able to pay for all men's sins. However, this One must also be a man, qualified to live the perfect, sinless life that each of us owes to God, who would be tempted in every way we are tempted, who resisted all such temptation, and who could stand in our place. Who could die in our place. You see, God the Son came down to earth not merely to take on flesh and be born as a baby. He did not come merely to live as a man, to "see what it's like". He came to die for our sins. It is in Him, and through Him, and only in Him and through Him, that God was reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Corinthians 5:19, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Timothy 2:5-6)

And here is the kicker with this sort of peace, peace with God: it isn't transient. People come and go. They die, they leave, or sometimes we just drift apart, especially in a mobile society like we live in today. Material gifts are often enjoyed for only a short period, and none will mean anything to us when we are laid under. Fairly tales about Santa and Rudolph, or Frosty and his pipe bring nothing but momentary distraction from the reality of this world. Even Bible stories, if separated from their context and significance, can seem to be without meaning. 

But the Good News of the Word taking flesh, of a Savior born in Bethlehem, of God bringing peace to men: this is the kind of truth which, if embraced, will radically alter our outlooks, our lives, and our eternity. Because Jesus has come, and He has crushed death to death by experiencing death-and rising again. Death now has an expiration date, because the Lord of Life has mastered it. And all who place their faith in Him will one day enter His everlasting Kingdom, where peace will not only be an internal reality, something we enjoy with God, but an external reality. There will truly be peace on earth, because of the Savior who was born in Bethlehem. This is Good news. This is a Solid Joy on which we can bank our lives and our souls. This why Longfellow could not stay in despair:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Amen. Merry Christmas. 

December 21, 2015

Commonplace Monday #13

Commonplace Monday is a series of post wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Here's this week's installment:


I wasn't looking for someone perfect. I was looking for someone I could love.


Unknown



December 18, 2015

Speaking With Your Kids

How should we speak to and with our children? Realizing that a) I'm no expert and b) I'm mostly thinking aloud, I think we need to ponder these things. That is the intention of this blog, after all. To think aloud, and to invite you to join my thinking.

On Conversing:

Some form of this post has been stirring in my mind for many a moon, but what finally kicked me over the edge to put finger to keyboard was this article in The Atlantic. The focus of the piece, if you have not read it, is on early childhood education, preschool specifically, and the fact that though children are being taught more information than every before, they are in fact learning less. The author, a professional in the field, discuses various reasons for this, but then points to a number of things that provide a genuinely healthy learning environment for children. Here is a section:

As an early-childhood educator, I’ve clocked many hours in many preschool classrooms, and I have found that I can pretty quickly take the temperature from the looks on kids’ faces, the ratio of table space to open areas, and the amount of conversation going on in either. In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.
The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them. Sometimes, to be fair, what children take away from a conversation is wrong. They might conclude, as my young son did, that pigs produce ham, just as chickens produce eggs and cows produce milk. But these understandings are worked over, refined, and adapted—as when a brutal older sibling explains a ham sandwich’s grisly origins.
Teachers play a crucial role in supporting this type of learning. A 2011 study in the journal Child Development found that preschool teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary in informal classroom settings predicted their students’ reading comprehension and word knowledge in fourth grade [emphasis added]. Unfortunately, much of the conversation in today’s preschool classrooms is one-directional and simplistic, as teachers steer students through a highly structured schedule, herding them from one activity to another and signaling approval with a quick “good job!”
Consider the difference between a teacher’s use of a closed statement versus an open-ended question. Imagine that a teacher approaches a child drawing a picture and exclaims, “Oh, what a pretty house!” If the child is not actually drawing a house, she might feel exposed, and even if she is drawing a house, the teacher’s remark shuts down further discussion: She has labeled the thing and said she likes it. What more is there to add? A much more helpful approach would be to say, “Tell me about your drawing,” inviting the child to be reflective. It’s never possible to anticipate everything a small person needs to learn, so open-ended inquiry can reveal what is known and unknown. Such a small pedagogic difference can be an important catalyst for a basic, but unbounded, cognitive habit—the act of thinking out loud.
Conversation is gold. It’s the most efficient early-learning system we have. And it’s far more valuable than most of the reading-skills curricula we have been implementing: One meta-analysis of 13 early-childhood literacy programs “failed to find any evidence of effects on language or print-based outcomes.” Take a moment to digest that devastating conclusion.

The sentence I placed in bold struck a particular chord with me.  How we speak with children matters. In fact, it apparently matters far more for their learning than what sort of reading curricula that we decide to train them with.

My sensitivity to this began, to my recollection, in a doctors office as a rather young child. I have always had fairly sever hay fever, though as a child it was worse than it is now. This of course led to a yearly visit to the local doctor to see what medication was supposed to work magic in that particular year. In the year of this visit I have no recollection of what medication was prescribed, but I do have one very clear memory: being disgusted with the doctor for talking to as if I were a little child. Some of this, I'm sure, had to do with a large of amount of conceit and the mega-sized chip I used to wear on my shoulder. However, the point has always stuck with me, that children comprehend far more than we give them credit for, and it is frankly insulting to treat them, to speak to them, as if they were imbeciles. Children don't need everything broken down into small words or simple sentences. Of course we need to strive for clarity, and understand that many things do need to be explained to children. But how often are we short cutting this process of helping children learn by simply coming up with an oversimplified, "childish", answer?

Children are capable, from a very young age, of high levels of thinking and learning. Obviously this varies from child to child and does grow with time, but how we converse now has lasting repercussions. We need to take the time to listen to our children, ask them questions, and interact with their answers.

I've seen this beyond just small children, and into teenagers and adults. I used to spend most of my Monday nights working in a church youth group. To paint with a broad brush, there are generally two kinds of youth worker: those who genuinely want to interact with students and their questions, and those who want to shut down the questioning and expect students to simply accept everything they have been told. While I thankfully was primarily working with the former, to my great horror I had numerous experiences with the latter (and can slip into that mode myself far too often). Instead of expecting and desiring feedback, push-back, and questions, there were people who would want to spout off a platitude of some sort, and expect that to solve the issue. 

One thinks in parenting of the ubiquitous, "because I said so." Now, let me be clear: the fact that I have said something does mean that my children need to listen. But what if, when my daughter asks, "why?", I answered with the actual reason for whatever instruction I have given? She would not only be learning bare bones conformity to an external standard, but she could begin to internalize the truth behind the instruction. We can discuss (to the degree that discussion with a two year old happens) why it's not okay to push brother, why Mommy and Daddy make rules, and why God gives authority figures to us. On the outside her behavior may not be entirely different than if I had simply told her, "because I said so", but the difference on the inside, where it actually matters, may be profound. She will be learning true obedience, not mere conformity. 

This is but one of many possible examples. But it does illustrate what I think may be the rub: this takes time. Oh, so much time. Why do you think it doesn't happen in many of the preschools laid out in the article? It isn't simply a matter of educational philosophy, though that is surely involved. But how can an overstretched teacher build that kind of relationship with 20 or 25 kids? Pretty difficult, even for the best of teachers. Well homeschool, then! some will say. But this isn't happening in most homes, either, regardless of whether they are homes where public, private, or homeschooling is being utilized. 

Why not? Because we are busy. Oh, so busy. We work. We have church, school, and other community activities. We get home and we want to relax. In front of the TV, in front of the computer, or with our smartphone. And children interfere with this. They come of wanting to play, wanting to talk, and how quick we are to shoo them away. "Go play in another room." Half answers to questions we were not listening to. We wonder why children seem at times incapable of listening, when they are merely following the model laid out for them by their parents. Conversing with your children, like most anything worthwhile, means there will be much saying no to selfish desires for ease, laziness, and quiet. But you know what? You are responsible for bringing these children into the world. You chose them, they didn't choose you. So you owe it to them. So quit talking at your kids. Quit yelling at your kids. Quit ignoring your kids. And start listening to, and conversing with, them. Their future depends on it.

December 14, 2015

Commonplace Monday #12

Commonplace Monday is a series of post wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Here's this week's installment:


Church discipline is almost impossible in the era of the automobile.

Carl Trueman


December 07, 2015

Commonplace Monday #11

Commonplace Monday is a series of post wherein, on Monday mornings, I share short quips, sentences -perhaps as much as a paragraph- which I have collected in my various commonplace books and files. If I wrote down or recall where it came from I will certainly give attribution. However, sometimes I write down things and not where they came from. So if you see anything like that here and recognize it, that's what comment sections are for. Anyhow. Here's this week's installment:

Most love is not expressed sexually--nor should it be. 

Fred Gums




About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com