Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Pursuit of Knowledge

One of the speakers at the conference was Dr. Charles Thaxton, co-author of the book The Soul of Science, a book that chronicles the relationship between religion and modern science down through the last several centuries. Dr. Thaxton gave two lectures on The Church and Science in Western Civilization. I don't have the time or space to go into everything he talked about, but I'll try to hit a few of the high points. It was very interesting to see how science progressed through the Middle Ages in dependence on a Judeo-Christian worldview.

Dr. Thaxton summed up his lecture at the beginning and end with the following quotation:

It is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge, that stands in the way of progress.

The Greeks viewed nature as an eternal, uncreated, self-existent creation. The Greek view of science was authority-based, dependent on the assumptions of authorities, rather than on sensory experience and scientific observation. During the Medieval Period the view of science was much the same, with the addition of God in the mix. Speculations of a geo-centric solar system and the movement of the planets imbedded in crystalline spheres, for example, were accepted without scientific investigation, based on the words of a few "experts". (This authority-based system can also be seen in the Roman Catholic view of the interpretation of scriptures.) Reason was sadly cast aside, as people willingly chose ignorance and blind acceptance.

As Dr. Thaxton was describing the state of education and science during the Medieval Period, I could not help but think of a passage from Les Miserables, a book which has much to say on the matter of knowledge, ignorance, and education. From Saint Denis, Book Seven, Chapter Four:
Intellectual and moral growth is no less indispensable than material amelioration. Knowledge is a viaticum, thought is of primary necessity, not only grain but truth is nourishment. Through fasting from knowledge and wisdom, reason becomes emaciated. As with stomachs, we should pity minds that do not eat. If there is anything more poignant than a body agonizing for want of bread, it is a soul dying of hunger for light.

A major shift from blind acceptance began when the printing press made the Bible available in the common languages of the people. As the Bible was widely read, people discovered that the Bible appeals to reason and sensory experience over and over again as evidence. (See I John 1:1-3, e.g.) As people began realizing that the Bible actually taught the use of sensory experience as an authority, waves of changes developed in what was formerly a very dead scientific age. Dr. Thaxton chronicled the contributions of John Calvin (inductive study), Sir Francis Bacon (the scientific method), Galileo Galilei (astronomy), Johannes Kepler (planetary orbits), and Isaac Newton (calculus), just to name a few of the many, many contributors to this new wave of science that used reasoning and observations to explain the wonders of creation.

As Christians we should not be afraid of knowledge and reasoning, or cast them aside to believe the claims of "authorities". Instead we should recognize knowledge and reasoning as gifts from God to explore and understand His creation. The Christian faith is not a blind faith that requires us to set aside our brains at the door. We are not only allowed to explore and reason and search for knowledge, but we are required to do so. Throughout the proverbs we are entreated to search for wisdom and understanding, and in the gospels we are commanded to love God with our heart, soul, body, and mind. And of course, the purpose of gaining knowledge should be to learn more about God and His creation. I liked this quote by Johannes Kepler:
The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.
Dr. Thaxton also touched on the darker side of the scientific revolution, and explained some of the sad consequences that came out of the new investigations. Isaac Newton, a creationist scientist who revolutionized many areas of science and mathematics, in seeking to explain the omnipresence of God, instead paved the way for many of the heresies and secular views that we are still grappling with in this day and age. Newton sought to explain the Bible, not to discredit it through reason or science, but his theories had quite the opposite effect. To explain how God could be everywhere at all times, Newton theorized that God was actually equal to space in the literal sense, an idea that eventually led to his own doubts with regards to important pinnacles of orthodox Christianity and even more importantly, the development of the Deist movement, the Enlightenment, and the Materialist view.

Isaac Newton's story warns what happens when the pursuit of knowledge is taken in the wrong direction. I found it sad that some of the biggest skeptics of Christianity that I met in college were also the most brilliant math nerds in my higher math classes. How can someone study the intricacies of the system of mathematics without realizing that such a system had to have been created? Knowledge is a gift of God, but a small nugget of knowledge that is not properly utilized can also cause men to profess wisdom, when really they only have folly. Dr. Thaxton's closing quote was powerful:

When a man has a little bit of knowledge, he turns to atheism. When he learns more, he turns back to God.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Which Monster Are You?

The following post is pulled from the lectures Introduction to Worldviews and The Deadliest Monster, given by Jeff Baldwin at the conference last week.

~~~

There are so many different religions today, that to be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us seems like a daunting task. We could go literally insane if we tried to be well-versed in the distinctions of every single major and minor religion under the sun. Of course, it's very good to be aware of some of these distinctives; I've found apologetics classes on Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons to be very helpful, for example. But realistically, we're just not going to be up on every distinctive of every organized (and unorganized) religion that exists. And that's ok.

The best defense is a good offense, so one excellent way to converse with non-Christians is to use the Four Deadly Questions to ask them about their beliefs. In addition, one of the best things we can do as Christians is know the distinctives of our faith. There are really four basic views of God, and it is helpful to categorize the major religions under these four headings:

Atheism - No God
Traditional Buddhism
Naturalism
Humanism
Marxism
Nihilism
Existentialism

(Jeff Baldwin argued that deisms actually fits into atheism, not monotheism, since the deist believes God is now inactive and has no power over men)

Monotheism - One God
Christianity
Judaism
Islam

Polytheism - Many Gods
Mormonism
Jehovah's Witnesses
Zoroastrianism

Pantheism - Everything is God
New Age
Hinduism
Transcendentalism

Right away we can see that Christianity is already pretty distinctive in that she claims there is only one God. We only share this category with Judaism (our "mother" religion, so to speak) and Islam, another offshoot of Judaism. A religion's distinctives are more than just a view of God, though. There are two questions whose answers form the foundation for any worldview: (1) What is the nature of God? and What is the nature of man? (Adrian wrote a good post on this subject a while back.) Christianity answers the two above questions differently than any other religion on the planet.

Jeff Baldwin used the example of two infamous monsters in fiction to explain Christianity's distinction in answering the second question. (I added Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to my already-lengthy to-read list after his lecture.) The two monsters Jeff Baldwin contrasted are Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein's monster. I haven't read either pertinent book, so I'm basing my knowledge of the stories off of Jeff Baldwin's lectures and the Wishbone versions I've seen :). Please correct me if I don't get the stories quite right.

The tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde chronicles one scientist's attempt to separate his good side from his bad side, so he can indulge in his evil side (Mr. Hyde) for a time, then laying it aside to become good as Dr. Jekyll. The problem is that the scientist discovers that, while Mr. Hyde is wholly bad, he cannot fully lay aside his evil in the form of Dr. Jekyll because it is too all-encompassing. As the story progresses Mr. Hyde becomes more and more controlling, and the more Dr. Jekyll indulges his evil side, the worse it becomes not the better. The corrupted nature of the scientist grows more and more unmanageable, eventually consuming him.

The tale of Frankenstein chronicles another scientist and his attempt to create a monster from dead bodies. When first created, Frankenstein's monster is so innocent and good that he sees no need for government to restrain people. He begins as a benevolent monster that seeks to do good for people, but even with his acts of kindness, people continually recoil in his presence and abuse him because he is so frightening. By the end of the story he has been changed from a monster who once saw no need of government because he believed in the goodness of humankind, into a vengeful monster, going on a rampage and killing people. At the end of the story, when Frankenstein asks his monster what happened to him, and why he is now evil, the monster replies (paraphrasing): Am I thought to be the only criminal when all humankind has sinned against me?

The two stories give two very different depictions of the nature of man:

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
man is inherently sinful
the individual is responsible
man does nothing to save himself

Frankenstein
man is inherently good
society is responsible
man can save himself

So the question is, which monster are you? Or, what monster represents the human race? Christianity is distinct in that she claims that humans are inherently sinful, like the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We have no hope of saving ourself, but rest solely in the mercies of God. All other religions view men as some form of Frankenstein's monster, if not completely good at birth, at least neutral or incorrupt enough to in some way help to effect their own salvation. A non-Christian says that ultimately man's problems are external, the fault of society. A Christian says that man's problems are internal, the result of a depraved nature. Even after our hearts are regenerated, a Christian's sanctification is still through the enabling of the Holy Spirit, not merely a work of man. The message of Christianity is the message of the massive gap between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of man.

So, it seems that as a Christian, I should be a rather depressed being given my view of my own nature. I'm inherently sinful and have no help of saving myself from my worst enemy - me. Hmm, I feel all warm and fuzzy now. Of course, that is not the whole message of Christianity. Christianity tells the bad news of the nature of man, but she doesn't stop there. The good news is the nature of God, who is almighty and merciful. We cannot save ourselves, but our Creator can also become our Redeemer.

John 3:16 (ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

And that is good news.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Four Deadly Questions

Two of the sessions for the conference were given by Bill Jack of Worldview Academy. I first heard of Worldview Academy several years ago after a guy from my church went to one of Worldview's camps and came back with glowing reports. Bill Jack and the other man from Worldview Academy (Jeff Baldwin) were among my favorite speakers for the conference.

One of Bill Jack's talks was called Simple Tools for Brain Surgery, essentially a primer in sharing with non-Christians. He started his talk by telling the audience that one thing he wanted to make clear was that he was not a nice guy. He explained that nice is an imprecise word, and originally meant not knowing or ignorant. As Christians we should definitely not fit that description. As Christians we tend to take an extreme, either being over-bearingly truthful to non-believers or (usually) too nice to nonbelievers. We forget that we are to (1) speak the truth (2) in love, and obedience to that command is incomplete unless we attend to both parts. Jesus was not a nice person, and he didn't mince words, but he was also loving.

Bill Jack gave a list of what he called the Four Deadly Questions for conversations with nonbelievers. Rather than cramming Biblical truths down someone's throat, first let them tell you what they believe, and make them do the thinking. The following questions can be used to probe someone for clarifications and to make him think through the implications of his beliefs:

(1) What do you mean by what you're saying?
(2) How do you know that to be true?
(3) What difference does that make in your life? or So what?
(4) What happens if you are wrong? or What happens if you die and are wrong?

The Four Deadly Questions are designed to make non-Christians think about their own beliefs, and to provide opportunity for sharing Biblical truths. As Bill Jack said, they are to be used like a crowbar, not a sledgehammer. Use the questions to pry open a person's brain, not to obliterate him. He gave examples of conversations with humanists and atheists who did not believe in moral absolutes, and tied various conversations to the Four Deadly Questions as examples in how to use them. It is important to remember that ultimately the working in a person's heart is not up to us, but the Holy Spirit, who alone can quicken someone's heart to believe. I really liked what Bill Jack said about this:

Sometimes all we can do is make someone think. Our job as Christians, if nothing else, should be to make an atheist be the most consistent atheist he can be.

We are not supposed to be nice people, but we are to speak the truth to non-Christians in love. We are to be prepared to make a defense for our faith, but do so with humility. One of Bill Jack's closing statements was that as Christians, we are too often soft-headed and hard-hearted. We should be hard-headed and soft-hearted. I liked what another speaker of the conference said:

Never forget that there is always a human made in God's image behind every bizarre idea.

I think evangelism too often takes the form of simply telling people that "Jesus died for them to save them," which is doctrinally unsound, not to mention meaningless to someone who is not a Christian. They're going to think saved from what? That is why it is so important to not just frame the gospel as a "Get out of Hell free" certificate in a rose-colored picture frame. Salvation means nothing unless a person first realizes he needs saving from something. The gospel is not the gospel unless it includes an explanation of the sinfulness and helplessness of man. One of the lectures by Jeff Baldwin (the other Worldview Academy speaker) addressed the nature of man and the nature of God - summary to be forthcoming.

You might be at a homeschool conference if. . .

As a disclaimer, this list is not meant to either (a) poke fun at conservative homeschoolers (I do fit that description, after all) or to (b) uphold homeschoolers as hyper-spiritual people who have it all together. This is merely a summary of things I noticed at this past conference, as well as at others I've attended. Homeschoolers (especially the more conservative ones) definitely have their own subculture ;-).

You might be at a homeschool conference if. . .

You realize you're not nearly as conservative as you think you are.

A very large minority of the women and girls have on long, flowing skirts.

You see stairstep processions of sisters in matching homemade jumpers.

A lot of long hair and braids are present - on the women, that is. The men sport clean-cut haircuts.

The vast majority of the men (including the boys) have on tucked-in, buttoned-down shirts, though there is no dress code.

You do not see a single pair of baggy jeans.

The few "renegades" who are wearing rumpled t-shirts and sporting shaggy haircuts look downright out of place.

The one youth group that is present is segregated by sex.

You know without a doubt that the
Coastal Chamber Musicians listed in the schedule will be a sibling group.

Though the lectures are definitely aimed for adults, a large percentage of the audience is not yet in middle school.

There are many pregnant and nursing mothers present, and no one seems to notice the occasional crying baby.

The public schools are standardly referred to as "government schools" and "The Schools of Pharoah."

A speaker shows a clip from
Star Wars, and you wonder how many people will be offended by it.

A speaker mentions that he and his wife have 15 biological children, and the room errupts into an applause.

There are many families with three generations present.

The conversations you overhear between middle school girls are not about boys, movies, or make-up, but about theology, constitutionalism, and dominionism.

So, I survived the conference, and have begun to recover from my lack of sleep :). The conference ran from 8:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. each day, and we had a 1 hour, 15 minute drive at the beginning and end of each day, so needless to say I took a lengthy nap on Saturday afternoon.

I'm very thankful for the opportunity to attend the conference, and I learned quite a lot. The conference was put on by American Vision, and the theme was on developing a Christian Worldview. The topics included evolution, apologetics, evangelism, Christian education, liberty, constitutionalism, judicial activism, dispensationalism, postmillenianism, relativism, materialism, atheism, journalism, and Christian themes in film, just as a quick summary. It was definitely a lot of information to pack into only 3 days. My hand was so stiff from writing notes, but it was well-worth the effort! Now I have pages and pages to look back over for reflection and for blog post writing :).

What did I take away from the conference? Well, way more than I could write about, that's for sure. I didn't agree with all the views presented, but overall it was a very positive experience. Mainly, it was a refreshing time to retrain my mind to think first and foremost through the lenses of scripture. It was a reminder that Christianity is not a religion, but a lifestyle; the Bible applies to every area of life. It was a reminder that Christians today have a responsibility to understand the times and train their senses to see good and evil. But that is not enough, of course; we then have a responsibility to take action based on our Biblical training, realizing that God has called us ambassadors to a lost world.

I will be posting a few highlights of the conference over the next few days, categorized by a few of my favorite topics like evangelism, depravity of man, and engaging the culture. I'm working on making my posts a moderate length - long enough to be pithy, but short enough so that they're readable. We'll see how that goes :).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I'm Disappearing Until Monday

I'm ducking out of the blogosphere until Monday, so I can get my finals graded and enjoy the conference this weekend. I just posted Chapter One of The Way that Leads to Death, to appease some requests :).

Ta-ta for now!

Chapter One

Continuing with The Way that Leads to Death. . .

Make sure to read the Prologue first.

I'm dividing up the story into two parts, marking the two significant parts of Karl's life. I love quotes, so I'm trying to find an appropriate quote to start each chapter (a la Daniel Deronda) and to intro each of the two parts, though I haven't successfully found all the quotes I want yet. We shall see.

Oh, and please tell me any suggestions or criticisms you have :). They would be much appreciated. One thing I'm working on is a balance in the portrayal of Greta. I want her to come across as angelic, but human, if that makes sense. We've all met young girls who just seem to naturally be sweet and good, but yet they're still depraved like the rest of us!

Anyway, enjoy, and I hope to be back on Monday :).

~~~

Part One

Some beautiful, sacred memory, preserved since childhood,
Is perhaps the best education of all.
If a man carries many such memories into life with him,
He is saved for the rest of his days.
And even if only one good memory is left in our hearts,
It may also be the instrument of our salvation one day.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

~~~~~~
~~~~~~

Chapter One
The Lord's Day

Wilhelm, Germany
June 1929 Sunday

The sun rose over the sleepy village of Wilhelm, Germany, and across the farm fields the crow of roosters could be heard. In one particular farmhouse outside the village, the family was just waking. Franz Altschuler headed to the barn to milk the cows, and his wife Marie started breakfast with the help of her young daughter.

The Altschuler farmhouse was a large, old stone structure that had been in the family for generations, passed down from father to eldest son for over a century. The downstairs boasted a spacious kitchen, necessary for a productive farm like the Altschulers’. Next to the kitchen was the family dining room, furnished with a stately dining room set handcrafted by Franz’s father some 50 years before. The front parlor was used only for guests, but the family room at the back of the house was always occupied by the family in the evenings, where they would gather to pray and read the Bible, do homework when school was in session, and when time permitted, to relax with a father-son game of checkers.

The upstairs of the farmhouse had 5 large bedrooms, full in past decades, but relatively empty now. Franz and Marie shared the largest bedroom at the back of the house, and their two children each had a bedroom at the front. The remaining two rooms were used rarely, when the family had overnight guests.

“Karl, Karl! Time to get up! We’ll be late for church!” Marie Altschuler stood at the bottom of the stairs calling up to her son.

The door to the bedroom at the top of the stairs opened, and the tousled head of a sleepy-eyed 10 year old peeked out. “I’ll be right down, Mother,” came the drowsy reply.

“All right, but hurry, or Greta may eat your breakfast,” Marie replied with a smile.

Karl chuckled with the thought. His sister was one of the sweetest, most angelic children God had ever created. At the young age of six, she possessed a selflessness and goodness that others could only hope would be theirs after decades of Christian life and service. On her fourth birthday she had knelt at the altar of the village’s small church, by far the youngest that had stayed after the service to commune in prayer and repentance as the rest of the congregation filed out of the sanctuary. Yet none had been more serious or more completely committed than Greta had been as she had offered her simple, childlike prayer of repentance and devotion up to her Savior and Master.

At the very moment that she had knelt at the altar, a shaft of light had appeared, coming from the skylight above. The beam of light had rested on Greta’s golden curls, which for a moment had seemed like a halo. An instant later the light had left the sanctuary of the quaint country church, but it had remained in the soul of the small angelic girl at the altar that day.

Karl loved his little sister fiercely and was devoted to her, and she to him. Although Karl was rather confrontational by nature, it was impossible for him to argue long with such a sweet and loving child as Greta. Greta had a gift for soothing his hot temper and wild spirit, often when no one else could.

Karl quickly dressed in his Sunday best: black trousers, a starched, white buttoned-down shirt, suspenders, and freshly polished boots. He tried to wet and part his unruly blond locks, which never seemed to lie quite right. Using water from the basin by his bed, he scrubbed his face, neck, and ears until they smarted. He definitely looked the part of a model young churchgoer as he headed down the stairs to breakfast, grabbing his Bible and catechism on his way down.

~~~

As Karl entered the kitchen, his mother handed him a plate of farm fresh eggs and bacon. “It’s still pretty warm,” she told him, with a peck on his cheek. A typical German farm wife, Marie was dressed in a long flowered dress, over which was tied a clean white apron. Her faded hair, once golden, was coiled into a low knot at the base of her neck.

As Karl sat down at the breakfast table, he ruffled his sister’s golden curls with a smile. Greta looked liked a cherub that morning, with her pretty white dress and rosy cheeks that dimpled when she smiled. Karl would not have been surprised if a harp had suddenly appeared in her hands, and just at that moment, with the sun shining in through the kitchen window, he could almost see a halo resting on her dainty head. A trick of the morning light.

Karl hurriedly ate his breakfast as he studied his weekly memory verse. He was expected to recite it to his Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Schnell, a saintly woman who had invested a lifetime of work in the small fry of the village. The church of Wilhelm held Sunday school every Sunday evening for the children in the congregation.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,” Karl recited falteringly.

“Thus saith Isaiah, the Lord’s messenger,” proclaimed Franz Altschuler, as he entered the kitchen. “And do you know of what Isaiah was speaking?” he asked his son, as he settled his tall frame into a chair at the breakfast table.

“Sunlight?” Karl replied, somewhat dubious.

“No, not the sun that hangs in the sky. The light spoken of in the passage is the Son of God. The darkness is the black of sin, the evil in men’s souls. Just as the sunlight causes darkness to disappear, so the Son of God washes away the filth of sin with his precious blood.” After a brief pause Karl’s father continued seriously, “But you must ask for this cleansing, my son.”

Karl nodded silently. His father had counseled him in a like manner before. Franz and Marie loved their son dearly, and they were concerned for his spiritual welfare. Although Karl was a dutiful son, helping around the farm, making good marks in school, and going to church with the family every Sunday, he did not seem concerned with spiritual matters.

Franz was a man of deep faith, and it wounded him to see his son treat religious matters lightly. He had lived a dark, troubled life before he had finally fallen on his knees before God, and he did not wish the same for his son.

“The Lord will draw Karl to him at his appointed time,” said Marie, breaking the awkward silence in the room.

“Yes, he will,” agreed Greta confidently, as she hugged her brother. Her smile proclaimed the trust she had in both her brother and her Savior.

~~~

The church in the small village of Wilhelm, Germany was a century old structure of brick and stone that had withstood the war and poverty of the past decades. The front of the building had large brick columns and two huge oaken doors on which was carved Wilhelm Lutheran Church Est. 1820. High above the doors, on the granite facing of the building, the words of an ancient psalm were hewn into the rock: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.

Karl’s family silently filed into the sanctuary as the organist began playing the prelude to worship. The sanctuary of the church was small, yet ornate. The sides were lined with elaborate, stained glass windows that reached to the high vaulted ceiling, which boasted a breathtaking replica of Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of Adam, etched into the skylight above the altar. The carving on the humble altar read, Turn to me and be saved, all ye ends of the earth.

Their close friends, the Abrams, were already seated when the Altschulers entered the sanctuary. As there was not room for both families to share a single pew, Karl and David Abram gladly slipped into the pew directly behind their families, as they did almost every week.

The Abrams were Messianic Jews: Jewish by birth, Christian by faith. The family had converted to Christianity three generations back, however, so few of their neighbors were even aware of their Jewish heritage.

The Altschulers and Abrams had been close friends since before Karl and David had been born. Karl and David had been best friends since birth, and among their favorite pastimes was plaguing the lives of their younger sisters. David had three: Leah was 9, Rachel was 7, and Sarah was 2. Karl, of course, had Greta, who was 6.

The congregation stood for the opening hymn. “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing . . . ,” the congregation sang loudly, proclaiming the might of God. Karl knew the words of all the great hymns by heart, and the hymn book in front of him remained untouched as he joined with the congregation in singing the morning hymns. As a lover of music, Karl enjoyed this part of the service.

The sermon of the day was titled The Faith of Daniel. The text was the sixth chapter of Daniel. Karl kept one ear open as the minister preached. He was expected to remember the text of the sermon and the main points the minister made. The minister of the church made Karl’s weekly task easy, however, since he always summarized his sermon at the open and close of his discourse.

By the time Reverend Schlesinger had begun the second point of his sermon, Karl and David were already rather fidgety. They always started each Sunday service as perfect models of decorum, but they gradually grew weary of both the sermon and the hard wooden pew on which they sat.

A fly buzzed nearby, and the boys watched as it circled high towards the vaulted ceiling before coming back down to land on the nodding head of an elderly gentleman in the congregation. Herr Glecht was past 70 and was known to occasionally snooze during Reverend Schlesinger’s longwinded sermons. The boys giggled as the fly buzzed around the old man, finally coming to rest on his nose. Herr Glecht did not awaken, but the boys did receive a few stern glances from their mothers, who turned around, silently admonishing them.

Glancing around it was evident that the boys and Herr Glecht were not the only ones in the congregation who were not captivated by the sermon that morning. Pretty Louisa Libech, just 16, was making sheep eyes at the young man across the aisle from her, who was blissfully ignorant of her existence. Two young scallywags on the other side of the church were sharing a wad of gum, choosing to occupy their mouths rather than their minds.

Not a sound or movement could be heard or seen from the pew in front of Karl and David, however. Their parents faced straight forward, backs straight, listening to the reverend’s every word. Even David’s youngest sister, only 2, was sitting quiet as a mouse. The older girls, also sitting still, each had their hair braided in two long pigtails that hung over the back of the pew.

Leaning forward, David gingerly pulled on the end of his sister Leah’s hair ribbon, untying the bow as Karl did the same to Rachel’s hair ribbon. The boys deftly tied Rachel’s and Leah’s longs braids together with the ribbons, and then leaned back with satisfaction. They knew they would later be punished, but for now they did not care. The present relief from boredom was worth a temporarily sore backside later.

~~~

“Nice sermon, Reverend,” Karl commented, as he reached the back of the sanctuary with his family.

“I’m glad you found it edifying,” replied Reverend Schlesinger with a knowing twinkle in his eyes. “I am always pleased to see the youth in the congregation take such an eager interest in the things of the Lord. What was your favorite part, Karl?”

“Um . . . well,” Karl stuttered, caught off guard. After a brief pause, “I particularly liked your point about the all-seeing gaze of God,” Karl replied smugly, having regained his composure. “It is so comforting to know that God always sees our troubles.”

“Yes, from heaven God does see all.” The reverend paused for effect. “And even from my pulpit I can see much,” he finished evenly.

“Good Sunday, Reverend,” mumbled Karl with a nod as he continued out the door, slightly flustered by the reverend’s remark.

“Karl, Reverend Schlesinger did not talk about the all-seeing gaze of God,” Greta scolded, as she followed her brother out onto the church lawn.

“Well. . . God saw Daniel in the lions’ den, and he helped him, didn’t he?” replied Karl lamely.

“Oh, Karl, how I wish you cared,” sighed Greta, as she turned to wait for their parents, who were still inside.

Greta’s pained expression cut at Karl’s heart. He would do anything to please his sister and raise her spirits. I will try harder, he vowed vainly, as he had often done before. To please Greta, I will.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Religious Freedom in China?


~Addendem from Hannah~

Ashley sent me this link, which I found very interesting. Sadly I was not able to go since I went to my friend's graduation party instead, although that was very fun. :-)

I had this funny feeling reading the website, like they were trying to hide something. They did not speak at all about any of the persecution that Chinese Christians have undergone. Perhaps I am looking into it far too much, but this quote especially shot up warning signs, "the exhibition represents a new era for religious freedom in China." I'll admit that I haven't been up on news in China the past semester, but it would surprise me greatly if China was actually experiencing a new era of religious freedom! Perhaps it is yet another attempt by the government to put on a front of being religiously open? I looked at the list of sponsors and admittedly do not know much about most of them, except the National Committe of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. That is the official Protestant church in China. They submit to the many regulations given them by the government, including never speaking about the second coming, never speaking against anything government-related, not 'indoctrinating' children, etc.

Take that as you will. For my part, I am very skeptical about anything that the Chinese government says about religion.

~~~~~

After much encouragement. . . a guest post by Sister Dear :-D!!! This post is adapted from a research paper Hannah wrote a few years ago.


Disclaimer: Some of the descriptions and pictures in this post are not warm and fuzzy, but then neither is the whole Bible and neither is persecution. Read and view the pictures with your own discretion. There is nothing very graphic, but a warning is appropriate.

~~~~~

Persecution of Christians has been going on ever since Jesus Christ died about 2000 years ago. Though the method has differed, from having rights taken away to being roasted on coals or fed alive to wild animals, persecution has always existed on many parts of the globe, today even more than any other previous time. According to Gospel Communications’ website, more Christians have been martyred in the past century than in all other centuries combined. The same website gives the statistic that around 167,000 Christians are being martyred every year, and that number is increasing. Here in America, such a figure is hard to believe. Where are these horrible deaths of our brothers and sisters taking place? What about in China? What is happening to the Christians in that country?

The exact number of Christians in China is unknown, but rough estimates on Christianity Today’s website show that there are as many as 28 million followers in registered protestant churches, and as many as 80 million followers in unregistered, or ‘illegal,’ protestant churches. The other main religions in China are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholicism.

The topic of persecution of Christians in China is very controversial and has been widely discussed in the political arena and in many homes. It is hard to find much solid information about Christians being persecuted, so does that mean that the government is hiding information or just that the information is not there and some people have made a huge fuss about nothing? In order to find the truth, the testimonies of two basic sources must be researched: the Chinese government and the Christians in China.

The government in China is run by the Communist party, whose current leader is President Hu Jintao. The government in turn controls the Three Self Patriotic Movement Church (TSPM), China’s official protestant church, and influences the appointment of its leaders and regulates its activities. The house church movement in China began when Christians were dissatisfied with staying within the restrictions placed on the TSPM and decided to go underground, starting illegal churches. But why would Christians break with the legal church and become ‘criminals’? From what the Chinese government leaders say, there seems to be no reason to do so.

According to the website of the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the U.S:

Religious leaders and leading organs of the various religious bodies are selected and ordained in accordance with their own regulations. Religious organizations in China run their own affairs independently and set up religious schools, publish religious classics and periodicals, and run social services according to their own needs.

In other words, the government says that it does not interfere with the Christian church. Christians are free to do as they please and free to have whatever leaders they want.

This same sentiment can be seen on the front cover of this Beijing magazine (left), which was shown in The Voice of the Martyrs’ September 2002 magazine. The Beijing Review is a magazine for English tourists to China. The caption on the front cover reads “All the religious affairs are run independently by the religious groups” (p. 4).


The website for the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the U.S shows Article 36 of the Chinese constitution, which even prohibits discrimination of citizens because of their religion. According to Ye Xiaowen, Director of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, all religions and religious people coexist together in harmony in China and any “claims that China practices ‘religious persecution’ are totally groundless and are quite simply based on ulterior motives” (Carlson).

Zhao Kuangwei, director of the Center for Religion Research, says that American people who think that there is religious persecution are simply misinformed and need to check the facts:


...in China no individual has been arrested or sentenced because of religious belief... [the] persons involved in cases which certain Americans made use of to accuse China of ‘persecuting religion’ are, in fact, criminal offenders. Punishing criminals has nothing to do with religious beliefs. (Carlson).

This man brings up a good point. What if Christians in China just whine when their fellow Christians are arrested, claiming they are being persecuted, when in reality justice is just being done? It is very possible and can only be refuted by doing what he challenges: checking the facts.
The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) is an organization that helps persecuted Christians around the world. They are very active in China and have visited on numerous occasions to offer support to Christians there and to work with the Chinese government to lessen restrictions on Christians. The information they have uncovered is quite shocking and eye-opening, particularly the following revealing photos shown in VOM’s magazine from June of 2003.

A Christian working with the Chinese government took the following pictures and shared them with VOM so the world could be shown how Chinese Christians are treated (3). In order to be “allowed” to take the pictures, he assured the police in the photos that the photos would go to their superiors, who would probably give them a promotion for what they were doing. The ‘crime’ of the believers being tortured in the photos was merely worshipping outside of a TSPM church.

In the picture at left, Aizhen Miao, a Christian, is kneeling on bricks while being tortured with an electric prod (3).



Her torturer is Shanlong Meng, policeman of the PSB for Yu Zhou City.






At right, Suhuan Shi is forced to kneel on bricks in mock prayer while the guard watches (4).




The Christians who handed these pictures to VOM said that beatings and torture like this are weekly occurrences. The photographer, who is now in hiding for fear of his life, merely photographed one of the instances (3).

The lady to the left is Dongyun Jiang. She says, “This officer was standing on my feet and twisting my feet. It was so painful I started screaming, and then he used his shoe-polishing cloth to block my mouth for about three hours. Then he started to touch my breasts and make sexual advances” (5).



On the right, Xiangdong Cai is being tortured by having water forced into his stomach (6).






The picture to the left shows Xikai Huang at the detention center being hung from a pole (7).







The information regarding these photos has been verified, including the names of the policemen (3).

From the same VOM issue, Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times who has researched China’s treatment of Christians and supports what VOM has been saying, says, “[Chinese], whose only crime is worshipping God, are burned with cigarettes, beaten with clubs, and martyred for the faith” (4) Is this ‘freedom of religion’?

VOM’s recent November 2004 newsletter reports that earlier this year, on June 17, Jiang Zongxiu was taken to the police station for handing out Bibles in a market place. The police pronounced her dead the next day, reportedly by a ‘sudden disease’. An autopsy, however, showed that her hair had been pulled out and that she had been brutally beaten. A member of the police department even stated, “She (Jiang) doesn’t need an autopsy, because it’s very obvious she was beaten to death” (13). She left behind a husband and a 4-year-old son.

In 2000, Pastor Li De Xian was arrested by the Chinese government and for three days was chained in a painfully bent over, unnatural position, which put great strain on his back. He was given no food during this time, no trial, and no reason for the treatment. Soon after he was unchained, he was forced, along with other Christians, to work in a manufacturing plant for 17 hours each day, making Christmas lights for Americans. If he did not reach his quota each day, he was whipped. When he was released after two weeks, he was ordered to stop his preaching. There are many such “reform through labor” camps in China, which hold 6 to 8 million prisoners. This is the very reason that so many cheap products in American stores, especially around Christmas, are made in China. The prisoners in these camps have been given no trial and are living under the worst of conditions; prisoners are often encouraged by authorities to beat political prisoners (Marshall 100). VOM’s 2003 special issue magazine reported that there are more Christians in Chinese prisons than in all other prisons of the world combined.

The Empty Cross, a pamphlet produced by VOM, details many things happening in the church in China, including laws that have been passed restricting activity. In May of 2000 alone, 69 laws were passed restricting religious activity (22). In September of 2000, a document containing 22 Articles Governing Religious Activity by Foreigners in China was issued, greatly restricting any activity of foreigners within churches without government approval, which is at times almost an impossibility to obtain (24). Article 17 alone forbids foreigners from “preaching or explaining Scripture without permission, conducting religious gatherings outside of approved sites, producing or selling religious books... or other religious articles, distributing religious propaganda materials, and performing missionary activities [evangelism]”(25). Another Chinese law prohibits children from being educated in religion and from attending any public worship services (Marshall 102).

According to The Empty Cross, just one day after a TSPM leader spoke in California about religion in China entering a “golden age of freer expression,” 130 Christians in China, including three Americans, were arrested at a revival (24). VOM’s November 2003 magazine reported that in August of that year, police raided an orphanage run by a Christian woman and told the woman that she could no longer operate the orphanage. Their reasons? “The orphanage used books from abroad; they teach the Bible to children under 18, which is illegal in China; and the orphanage is not registered with the government” (13).

Such stories of oppression and arrest are not uncommon, and if researched long enough, possibly thousands of such stories could be found. Just a handful of stories are outlined here, but they represent millions of Christians in China.

There are two very different views on persecution of Christians in China; the government clearly states that there is no persecution in China, just punishment of criminals. The Christians, however, report that there is more happening than just due process of law. Not only does the interpretation of the law seem extremely harsh at times, but beatings and imprisonments also occur frequently without explanation or good reason. Instances of such happenings, too numerous to name, have been documented and confirmed by reliable sources.

The Chinese government claims to be entering a new golden age with freedom of religion. But how is that possible when so many Chinese Christians are still crying out from under the brutal heel of oppression? Though repeatedly crushed and silenced, their cries must be heard. Who will stand up and be their voice?

Works Cited

Carlson, Darwin W. “Understanding Chinese-U.S. Conflict Over Freedom of Religion: The Wolf-Specter Freedom from Religious Persecution Acts of 1997 and 1998.” Brigham Young University Law Review. 1998. GALILEO 4 Nov. 2004.

“China: Children’s Home Closed for Teaching Bible.” The Voice of the Martyrs Nov. 2003: 13.

Christian History Institute. What Happened in the Twentieth Century – A Few Prominent Trends. 2004. 11 Nov. 2004. http://chi.gospelcom.net/centuries/cnt20.shtml.

Embassy of the People’s Rep. of China in the US. White Paper--Freedom of Religious Belief in China. Oct. 1997. 6 Oct. 2004 . http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zt/zjxy/t36492.htm.

Fu, Bob. “Chinese Police Record Their Torture of Christians.” The Voice of the Martyrs June 2003: 3-7.

Fu, Bob. “Martyred in China.” The Voice of the Martyrs Nov. 2004: 13.

Lane, Gary. “Partakers of One Bread, One Body.” The Voice of the Martyrs Special Issue 2003: 5.

Morgan, Timothy. “China Arrests Dozens of Prominent Christians.” Christianity Today 18 Feb. 2004. 11 Nov. 2004 . http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/107/31.0.html.

Nettleton, Todd. “Friendly in Public, Fierce in Private.” The Voice of the Martyrs Sept. 2003: 4.

The Empty Cross: The False Doctrine of China’s Official Church. Bartlesville: V.O.M., 2003.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm Almost Done for the School Year :)

I'm almost done for the school year! I taught my last classes for Heritage five days ago, and now I just need to proctor and grade the final exams this Wednesday. I only have four more tutoring sessions (one today, three tomorrow) for my public school students. Yay! No more tutoring until 7:00 p.m. - until maybe next year, that is. I already have a few requests for tutoring through the summer, but scheduling will be more flexible, and it will be more relaxed.

I was typing out my summer schedule last week, and it's very full! What happened to relaxing this summer? Ah well. I'll have fun. I'm planning much reading and sewing and baking in my free time :).

Just a run-down of the next few weeks:

On Wednesday I come home from proctoring finals and scramble to grade them before leaving for Toccoa for the conference that starts that evening. The conference goes from Wednesday evening until Saturday noon this week, which will keep us plenty busy, since we opted to drive the 90 minutes to and from the conference center each day. I'm looking forward to it, though :).

We're hoping to see Ashley and Paul on Sunday or on Memorial Day, since we haven't seen them since chess lessons ;), and since we really need to iron out the menu for her wedding reception. We'd really like to know what we're preparing :). My uncle also is visiting for a few days around that time.

The following weekend (the 4th) Mother Dear and I are driving up to Indiana to spend a week in Southern Indiana with her parents. I know you all must be insanely jealous, since Southern Indiana is the best place in the US :). My grandparents live in the itty-bitty town of Hanover (40 miles NE of Lousiville), that only still exists thanks to the small college of the same name. I love visiting Hanover, and it's full of family history, as both my mom's parents were raised in Hanover, and they, along with several other relatives, are Hanover alumni. I get to spend a whole week (literally) overlooking the Ohio River. It's absolutely gorgeous! While there I have the opportunity to comb through my grandfather's library, which is being cleared. He was a Presbyterian pastor for over 30 years, so I expect to find some treasures :).

We return the following Saturday (the 10th) and have a day to rest up before VBS the following week :). And the madness will continue. . .

Friday, May 19, 2006

'Rithmetic

Make sure to read my other posts on The Three R's:
The Three R's
Reading
Reading Comprehension Test
C.S. Lewis on "Literary" and "Unliterary" Reading
'Riting
A Few Samples of Past Writings
Prologue to the Story I'm Writing

'Rithmetic - the last of the Three R's, and probably my favorite. As I mentioned in my first post on The Three R's, I really think it would be more parallel to list mathematics with reading and writing, but I'll try not to be too picky :).

I'm guessing that most if not all people reading this post know by now that math is a major part of my life. It may have something to do with the fact that I was raised in a heavily math environment - just a hunch ;). My dad has taught high school (and some college) math for close to 20 years, my mom and I both teach math to homeschoolers, and I also tutor math to a number of public school students. Brother Dear and Sister Dear are also very gifted in math (in fact, both scored higher than me on the math portion of the SAT), though they use it less on a daily basis than Mother Dear, Father Dear, and I do. Especially given the growing problem of innumeracy in our nation, I'm very thankful for the mathematical background that I have :).

I've already blogged quite a bit about math, so I'll try not to muse too long in this post, instead just give a brief overview of some of the antics of my math family.

You see, when it came to liking math, I really didn't have a choice in the matter ;). My parents gave me bedtime math problems growing up. We also played a lot of math games like Muggins, or games that encouraged quick mental arithmetic, like Yahtzee, and we watched math-oriented TV shows like Square One TV. It has been rumored that we sometimes debate the coolest number, but there is little evidence for that ;). We do make sure to celebrate an important mathematical holiday every year, and note the mathematical significance of ages and license plates. I admittedly enjoy doing problem-solving exercises just for fun, and I'm not above occasionally participating in a mathematical duel. And yes, I occasionally have random mathematical thoughts, I admit, but if someone tells you that I purposely bordered a quilt with golden rectangles, don't believe them, and if someone refers to my family as those weird math people, it's a gross exaggeration! Okay, okay, on occasion my family does enjoy giving mathematically-themed gifts, and completing mathematical color-by-numbers. And even Brother Dear has written some clever mathematical sweet-nothings that are sure to win any girl's heart.

Hmm, maybe we are a bit abnormal. . . or just special :-D.

Oh, oh, in related news, we recently acquired a slide rule, so I'm going to play around with that this summer :). Yay!

To tie this post into my previous post on reading, I really must recommend an excellent book that relates to mathematics. It's not a textbook, but a juvenile biography on Nathaniel Bowditch. If you haven't already, you really need to read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham! It's an excellent true story of a child with a hunger for knowledge and a strong self-determination to excel, even though that often meant teaching himself. Forced to leave school at a young age, he continued his education on his own, and managed to teach himself French and Latin, in addition to excelling in the sciences of navigation and mathematics. He was instrumental in the improvement of many aspects of navigation, through his knowledge of mathematics. Nat Bowditch's advancements in navigation were instrumental in the popularization of "book sailing," or sailing by mathematical charts and tables. If you want to know why precision in mathematics is so important, you need to read this book!

Okay, I'm almost done, but I cannot close this post on math without sharing with all of you my absolute favorite mathematical proof:

Theorem: All positive integers are interesting.

Proof: Assume the contrary. Then by the well-ordering principle, there is a lowest non-interesting positive integer. But, hey, that's pretty interesting! A contradiction. QED

:-D

Happy Birthday to Mother Dear!!!!

That's right. Yesterday was Sister Dear's birthday, and today is Mother Dear's. It's always a busy few days for birthdays in our house :). Hannah and I just did a Mother's Day post on Mom on Sunday, so we won't sport with her intelligence by making her endure another round of *ahem* poetry :-D. I just wanted to say happy birthday to her, though!

Happy Birthday, Mother Dear!!!!

(She's turning 25, for anyone wondering.)

. . . Okay, not really, but people do mistake the three of us for sisters on occasion. Mother Dear loves that ;).

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sister Dear is 20!!!!

Happy Birthday, Sister Dear!!!!!!!!!

That's right. . . today is Hannah's 20th birthday! My baby sister is getting so old! Mother Dear was lamenting yesterday that she now has no teenagers. She says she's too young for that :). It is weird that we're all 20+ now.

Hannah and I have always been best friends and worst enemies :). We spent over 13 years sharing the same room, which had its benefits and drawbacks - poor Sister Dear had to endure being a roommate with Miss Psycho-Organized. For years we dressed alike very often, well-supplied with matching outfits by our grandmother. We always wanted to be identical twins, and though I was a full head taller for years, we still regularly got asked if we were twins, even when we weren't dressed alike. Even today, we occasionally get asked that. Of course, there was also the time at Hannah's graduation when someone asked me if I was her mother, but we won't go there!

In honor of your birthday, Sister Dear, I give you a very special treat - a poem! (Aren't you proud?) Note to others: there really is a story behind almost every line of the following poem :).

A Poem for Sister Dear

Now that you're twenty, you're really, really old.
In fact, you're approaching old-maid status!
But that's dandy, because as yet you bear no mold.
Nor do you have need of a breathing apparatus.

Oh, Sister Dear. Oh, Sister Dear.
How lovely are thy branches.
Or - how lovely are thy arms, or ear?
Anyway, may you be void of romances.

May your life be filled with wide open space.
And a hollowed-out tree to keep you warm.
Of course, I wish you clothing without lace.
And a shed to sleep in, but only in a storm.

May you never ever have to marry,
Because of course you'd get bored.
Maybe I could find you a linguist named Tim or Jerry?
Someone else, perhaps? (If he'd make sure you'd be ignored?)

May you see lots of points of exclamation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And lampposts, 144, Spanish, and French.
And may you never recover from your Narnia fixation!!!!!!!!!!
But may you sit on many a park bench.

Okay, okay, I'm almost done with this rhyme.
May hearts always float on the wind as you walk.
And while I'd like to wish you children in your prime,
Instead I'll wish you a nephew named Samuel Enoch.

Happy Birthday, Sister Dear!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Prologue to the Story I'm Writing

For those interested, I've copied the prologue to my story-in-progress, titled The Way that Leads to Death, below. Yes, yes, it's about people unfavored by the government, in hiding. Old obsessions die hard :). Well, actually it's more about those connected with the government searching out those who are unfavored by the government, in hiding. *shrugs*

I find the history of the Nazis to be very interesting, albeit depressing. Many people don't realize that the Nazis did not just target the Jews, but many other groups as well. Definitely not a bright spot in the history of my German ancestors :(. I highly suggest Cindy Martinusen's books on the Holocaust for some really good historical fiction on the subject. She wrote Winter Passing, Blue Night, and North of Tomorrow. Anyway, on to my prologue:

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The Way that Leads to Death

There is a way that seems right to a man,
But in the end it leads to death.- Proverbs 16:25


Prologue
Nuremberg, Germany1948

“Guilty!” The judge’s words rang in Karl’s ears. The sentence echoed through his mind, as if everyone in the courtroom were chanting the words: “Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty! Karl is guilty! Karl is guilty!” The voices in his head jeered like young children in a schoolyard, though these voices were not from Karl’s childhood. These were the victims of the Nazi holocaust – Karl’s victims.

Karl saw faces before him. Ghosts of the past. They had troubled him for years; they never left his mind. He woke up in a cold sweat almost every night. They haunted his nights, and they haunted his days. As Karl walked down the street, the face of a small girl would remind him of a young girl from his past; emaciated and racked with disease, she never knew the joys of growing up, of marrying, having children. Because of Karl. A young boy in the marketplace would remind Karl of a Jewish youth he had shoved into a gas chamber, never again to see the light of day. Because of Karl. An aged man outside Karl’s cell window would remind him of the scores of elderly he had mercilessly shot in the head, their bodies thrown into a mass grave. No headstone would mark their final resting place. Because of Karl.

He remained stone-faced after the judge’s announcement, though the jeering continued in his head, and the images filled his mind. The verdict was no surprise; the evidence against him had been overwhelming. The Nazis were obsessed with meticulously accurate records, an obsession that had led to the convictions of many in the party, Karl among them. Karl had known he would be convicted.

“The court finds Karl Altschuler guilty on count three and count four: war crimes and crimes against humanity. He is sentenced to death by hanging.” As the judge’s gavel dropped, the ancient city tower chimed the hour. Twelve long tolls. The tower seemed to be tolling Karl’s death sentence as he was led from the courtroom.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. . .

As a bailiff approached, Karl stood up and calmly allowed himself to be led from the courtroom. Early death was almost a blessing; he would not have to grow old, conscious that he had deprived so many others of the same right. He had long ago decided to calmly accept his own doom. Unlike many of his comrades, he had not resisted capture after the war, nor had he attempted to take his own life. His guilt weighed heavy on him, and he knew he deserved his fate. Unlike my victims. Karl would allow the scales of Justice to measure his crimes and deal him his due. He had never considered suicide. Suicide was an escape for cowards who were not willing to face their own guilt. Karl was ready for justice to be served.

Glancing back, Karl caught the glance of the young Jewish man in the front row of the courtroom. Was that . . . could it be pity in his eyes? The glimpse was brief, as the heavy wooden door of the courtroom banged shut. Surely I am mistaken, Karl thought, as he was led back to his cell. Only twenty four hours before, this same man had testified against Karl, providing vivid details of Karl’s actions as the director of a Nazi concentration camp. His crucial testimony had sealed Karl’s conviction. If this Jewish man had been looking for revenge, he had certainly exacted it. The court proceedings had allowed him a chance to avenge himself and his family. He had dealt a blow to Karl, and his aim had been true; justice would be served. Yet just now, with Karl safely convicted, David had looked far from accusatory.

Why did I think his name? Karl struggled with his own thoughts, trying to regain proper control. He has no name. He is simply one of millions like him. As an inferior race, the Jews do not deserve names. A farmer does not name his beef cattle before he slaughters them. Why should the Jews be treated any differently? Karl reminded himself of the Nazi ideal: total dominance of the Aryan race and extermination of the Jews.

Yet as the door to Karl’s cell clanged behind him, the mental picture he carried of prisoner #55412 was replaced with the image of David Abram, the young Jewish boy who had been Karl’s loyal childhood friend. Karl could not stop the flood of memories. David had always been there for him growing up, even when everyone else had left him.

Karl recalled a time when his world had been crumbling around him, and he could not, or would not, turn to his family – or God – for comfort. The bitter memories surged within him as he relived the lowest time in his life. David had been there for him. He had found Karl at their old trysting spot by the creek - he had known exactly where to go - and he had just sat there with Karl for hours, not speaking a word. He had known exactly what Karl had needed. Faithful, dependable David.

Karl struggled, trying to regain composure. David is a Jew, a member of the most inferior race on earth. He is a Christ-killer. He is a threat to the Aryan race. . .

Like an old memory, the words of his mentor came flooding back to him. The Jews are not fit to live. They are lower than slime. They deserve to die. Karl knew the words well; they had been hammered into his brain until he lived and breathed them. When he had entered the Hitler Youth he had been molded into the idyllic Aryan man. He had been told what to act, think, and feel. Karl had poured his heart and soul into the Nazi ideal, and for a time it had seemed to bring fulfillment to Karl’s otherwise empty existence. The Nazi movement had given Karl a purpose and had helped him to forget his past. It was better than remembering; that brought only pain.
Karl played the words of his mentor over and over in his mind, willing himself to believe in them again. He tried to recite the Hitler Youth handbook: the pledges, the statement of purpose. Yet these words seemed meaningless now. The Nazi regime had fallen, and Karl was to be executed for his role in the Nazi party. Karl had lost, and David had won. Growing up, Karl had usually triumphed in their good-natured contests but now, when it mattered most, he was left with no emergency plan. The outcome of their final game had been decided.

Later that night, as Karl sat alone in the dark of his cheerless prison cell, he heard the strains of a traditional German lullaby wafting up from the street. Someone was playing the gentle tune on a violin. The melody seemed strangely out of place in Karl’s dreary surroundings. He shivered from loneliness as a wave of nostalgia swept over him. As a young child, his mother would hum the lullaby to Karl until he fell asleep.

Sleep, baby, sleep.
I'll give to you a sheep.
And it shall have a bell of gold
For you to play with and to hold.
Sleep, baby, sleep. . .

Although the tune outside ended, the lullaby continued in Karl’s head. Even now, years later, the traditional melody still reminded him of his mother. My dear mother. No lullaby would reach her now.

Leaning back on the hard prison cot, Karl closed his eyes, losing himself in yesteryear. He was no longer a convicted Nazi; once again he was the sweet innocent child of his boyhood. His childhood memories began playing over and over in his mind, like a motion picture. There he was picking flowers for his mother in the back field of the family farm, taking long walks through the woods with his father, fishing with David. His angelic younger sister came into view, her golden curls bobbing as she ran to meet him. He reached down to pick Greta up and swung her around and around in his arms. . .

The images faded and Karl was once again alone in the dark, cold cell of the Nuremberg prison. He was thoroughly shaken. What happened to the innocent youth, the carefree lad I once was? At what point in time did I change? How does a little boy turn into a war criminal, a murderer?

Karl began sobbing uncontrollably. Eventually he drifted into a deep sleep, but tonight his dreams were different. Instead of the gaunt faces that usually haunted his dreams, he saw before him the faces of his loved ones now separated from him, some by death, and others by Karl’s own hunger for power and fulfillment. Mother, Father, little Greta, and David.

A Few Samples of Past Writings


Mother Dear had Ben and me keep journals when we were in 3rd and 2nd grades, respectively. I burst out laughing every time I read through mine. I've kept the original punctuation and spelling in transcription here, though you can't get the whole effect without the lovely handwriting ;).

Here are a few entries that show my ability to skillfully connect sentences into a common train of thought:

tuesday Sept. 10, 1991
My favorite sport is Jump rope. I like to read the Bobbsey twins. Somtime this week my grandparent's come back. My sister is coloring. I'm Home schooled.

Wednsday Sept. 11, 1991
I'm reading Little women. Were going to have a party for my dad. What I want for christmas is a sewing kit.

Any guesses as to the answer to this riddle? I'm not entirely sure myself:

Oct. 22, 1991
I come from a tree! I can give you splinters! I have a nice smell! Only babies would have no sense of humor and taste me! I'm sort of brown!

The following entry makes it sound like Mom regularly drugged me as a child. I told Mother Dear that I would make a disclaimer that she did not readily hand me over Tylenol, as the entry seems to indicate! I think I took a total of about 5 tablets of Tylenol in all of elementary school, not counting severe illness:

Oct. 23, 1991
Story's name --> My Head Still Hurts
Hello my head hurts. It still hurts Mom. Susan, what's the capital of Ga? I don't now mom but my head still hurts. Hunny, I now it hurts, here's your pill. My head still hurts tho I had my pill. Hunny, go lay down. Okay but it still hurts. Zzzzzzzzz
The End!

And here we have evidence of my early fascination for history and the reformation:

Oct. 31, 1991
Today's Reformation day! Do you now what this day is about? Well, if you don't you will soon I will tell you. It happened 474 years ago, Martin Luther nailed a note on a cathalick church. The note said what he thought should change in the church. The people then threw him out of the church.

As mentioned in a previous post, I've dabbled a bit in writing poetry over the years, though I've had mainly bad attempts :-P. I wrote some sonnets for a college assignment that I rather liked, but my early attempts were *ahem* interesting. Besides, Sister Dear is the poet in our family ;). See some of her best works here and here. I thought I'd share a few samples of my early poetry here, for the amusement of my readers :).

A number of my 2nd grade journal entries were very amusing attempts at rhymes and poetry. Here are a few gems:

Yellow is the sand on the beach.
Yellow is the shirt with bleach.
Yellow is the pine apple I eat.
Yellow is the plastic feet.

The following poem is rather disturbing for a number of reasons:

Everyday I bow before the family sow and plow her brow.

My friend Lydia really wasn't as ugly as I described her here. She was (is) quite nice-looking, in fact:

I spy Lydia's eye and it is very plump and high.

And a few more:

I went down to the bay for I had to say that I wanted to stay inless I wanted to be sent away.

I wanted to find the coat room but found the boat room. Wanted to find the ball room but found the tall room.

Yes, all in all it's probably best that I've chosen not to pursue a career in poetry ;). I'll leave that to Sister Dear.

Monday, May 15, 2006

'Riting

Make sure to read my other posts on The Three R's:
The Three R's
Reading
Reading Comprehension Test
C.S. Lewis on "Literary" and "Unliterary" Reading

I really admire authors who weave words in a delightfully charming way. It is one thing to write something, and quite another to really express thoughts and feelings in a moving way through words. L.M. Montgomery is quite possibly the author I most admire in that respect. Every time I pick up one of her books, I am awed by the skill with which she weaves together words. Many of her passages send shivers down my spine from the beauty and truth she reveals in her writing. I can never hope to come close to the skill with which L.M. Montgomery wrote her books, but that doesn't mean I can't still enjoy writing! Most of my pursuits I manage to enjoy even with the firm realization that I will never be deemed really accomplished in them.

Mother Dear made sure that I had a good number of writing assignments growing up, and that I was properly schooled in grammar and composition (read "drilled"). I was taught early on that the word "it's" is only to be used as the contraction for "it is," not as a possessive pronoun. I also was warned against ever making the dreaded error of referring to a group of family members incorrectly in the singular possessive: The Smith's are coming over for dinner. *shudder* Granted, even Mother Dear's rigorous training did not guarantee my perfection in the area of grammar and composition, as evidence by my frequent typos in blog posts and comments. They keep me humble :).

I was assigned a variety of writing assignments during my el-high life, including short compositions, stories, research papers, poetry, book reviews and reports (there is a difference!), et cetera. Mother Dear was even so cruel as to once assign a short story writing assignment with a non-mystery stipulation! *shocked look* As I was then in a heavily-mystery stage in my reading activities, that was an extremely difficult assignment for me to complete! In my mind, mysteries carried the story: they opened it, they forwarded the action, and they ended the story. Without a mystery, how does a story end? - or so I wondered. It was a good writing exercise, though, and I've since been able to write a few more non-mystery works of fiction.

I'm a type A personality, so there is something very satisfying to me about sitting down and organizing my thoughts into words on paper in a satisfactory and aesthetic manner. I also like to debate, and I find writing (especially blogging) to be an excellent outlet for that. I've never hated writing (though I definitely detested some assignments I was given), but I don't think I realized just how much I liked writing until my Freshman English class in college. We wrote a lot for that class, and most of the assignments were controversial subjects *grins*. By the end of that semester I was hooked on writing. My assigned "8-10 page position paper" ended up exceeding 22 pages, and I've been long-winded (er, typed) ever since. From then on I've genuinely enjoyed sitting down to compose something.

Non-documented (i.e., no parenthetical citations and bibliographies), non-fiction writing has always come easiest to me, though it's also hard for me to keep such writing to a decent length. *grins knowingly* I started blogging partly just to have a place to record my mental musings. I find it enormously helpful to organize my thoughts onto paper (or monitor), and I find that I learn so much in the process. Writing (or typing) out my thoughts is an integral part of how I learn. This may sound weird, but sometimes when I'm asked an involved question, I feel like telling the questioner, I'm not sure how to answer that. Let me write about it and get back to you.

I've dabbled a tad bit in poetry, though not much. Mother Dear gave me occasional poetry assignments growing up - primarily diamantes, haikus, and limericks - so I have a little background in that regard. I wrote a number of very amusing short rhymes in my second grade journal, some of which I will share in a follow-up post. I've also written a few sonnets and similarly structured poetry. Poetry is definitely not my writing forte, though!

Growing up, Hannah and I started many short-lived "story clubs" with our friends, reminiscent of Anne Shirley et al :). I mainly wrote mysteries - most of them never finished - since I was so fixated on that particular genre. I always had grand plans for each story, but rarely followed through with an ending to the story :(. My habits in this regard are little better today, at least with regard to fictional writing. About three years ago I was motivated to begin an historical fiction story. I'm excited about the plot, and I've sketched the entire story, complete with beginning, middle, ending, and even some plot twists. I've just not made much progress *sigh*. In three years I've only completed the prologue and four chapters, along with significant progress on four other chapters. The words just don't come, it seems! I really would love to finish the story at some point, because the story interests me greatly, but I may well be eighty before it's done! *frustration*

Does anyone else have this problem? What types of writing do you most enjoy, and which come the easiest to you?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day!


This post is a joint effort by the two Garrison Sisters Dear :) to show appreciation for our wonderful Mother Dear, whom we love very much! Happy Mother's Day, Mother Dear!

A few reasons we especially love Mother Dear (not meant to be an all-encompassing list):

She birthed us.
She loves us and Brother Dear and Father Dear.
She loves God, and taught us about God.
She stayed home with us when we were little.
She homeschooled us.
She read to us a lot growing up.
She taught us to love math and to love learning.
She'd rather give than receive.
She's just as content (or more so) with a gift of flowers or a hug than with a diamond necklace.
She likes to spend time with us.
She taught us (and modeled) modesty and manners.
She is a really patient shopping companion (and a good advisor), especially when it comes to fabric quests.
She taught us French (Hannah's idea, of course).
She gets really excited about important things (like math) and littler things (like a solar eclipse or jellyfish at the Chattanooga Aquarium)
She's a good cook, and taught us to cook also.
She made sure we knew all sorts of other homemaking skills.
She's a really good listener (seriously!). She's especially good for sharing frustrations about college classes.
She endured many battles of WWIII over the years, as fought by the Garrison Sisters Dear, who have always been both best friends and worst enemies (we're trying to major on the former role now).

Of course a dedicatory post co-authored by Hannah would not be complete without one of her *ahem* inspiring poems:

An Ode to Mother Dear

Our Mother, dear Mother,
With hair of curly delight,
You are a shepherdess of the white sheep of the fields.
Your tender heart soars on the wind before your lambs, your children.
Their hearts follow yours, red and beating,
As they are bleating.

The grass green parts before you.
Your feet walk always with Reebok shoes as black as milk.
At night your lullaby reaches the ears of your lambs and comforts them.
Your song is a song of wonders of numbers, and the travels of x over the sine curve.
Into the void, you call out,
"Where is x? What is x?" and your children answer you.

Asymptotes, functions, and circles adorn your mind.
They float about you in the breeze through your fingers and hands.
At the end of the day, the sweet grass is there.


We love you, Mother Dear! :)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

C.S. Lewis on "Literary" and "Unliterary" Reading

I recently finished reading All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, by Kenneth Myers. In his book, Myers summarizes part of C.S. Lewis' work An Experiment in Criticism, in which Lewis discusses reading. I thought it an interesting passage in the book, and appropriate given my recent post on reading.

This morning I was reminded of this passage from Myers' book when I was purchasing a book at a garage sale, as the lady from whom I was purchasing the book was surprised to hear that I had already read the book. You're going to read it again?, she asked, explaining that she doesn't reread books because she would get bored. I responded with a "probably," and then clarified that I reread many books - some as many as 20 or 30 times. Admittedly, at times this has proven a waste of time, but with really "good" books, I have found successive readings to be very beneficial. Anyway, this passage from Myers' book came to mind after this morning's encounter:

What marks the different ways of reading? Lewis lists four distinctions between what he calls "literary" and "unliterary" reading.

"The sure mark of an unliterary man is that he considers 'I've read it already' to be a conclusive argument against reading a work. . . Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the course of their life."

Lewis's second point is that unliterary readers generally "do not set much store by reading." Reading is something they do when there is nothing else to do, or to relieve boredom on a train, in a doctor's office, or on nights when they can't sleep. Literary people, on the other hand, "are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their who attention."

The third distinction is that a book for the literary can be a deep, profound experience, "an expereince so momentous that only expereinces of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their whole consciousness is changed."

Finally, "what they have read is constantly and prominently present to the mind" of "good" readers. They remember and savor favorite passages. "Scenes and characters from books provide them with a sort of iconography by which they interpret or sum up their experience." Unliterary readers "seldom think or talk about their reading."

I think I'm a mixture of Lewis's two categories, with a heavy lean towards his "literary" category. I break the "literary" mold in a few areas, mainly in that I often read in an occupied room, while pausing to speak with others. I do occasionally wish for solitude in reading, but in general I read with others present. Though I didn't fit one of molds perfectly, I still found it an interesting passage to consider.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reading Comprehension Test

To go along with my post on reading, here is an amusing tidbit from Hannah's school files for the semester:

Reading Comprehension Test

Traxoline

It is very important that you learn about traxoline. Traxoline is a new form of zionter. It is montilled in Ceristanna. The Ceristannians gristerlate large amounts of fevon and then bracter it to quasel traxoline. Traxoline may well be one of our most lukized snezlaus in the future because of our zionter lescelidge.

Questions:

1. What is traxoline?
2. Where is traxoline montilled?
3. How is traxoline quaselled?
4. Why is it important to know about traxoline?


Hannah's professor gave the test to show just how brainless reading comprehension tests often are nowadays. Actual comprehension is not required, just regurgitation. When I read the above reading comprehension test, I was transported back to the time I took the Board of Regent's reading comprehension test, a test required for all Georgia public college students. Yes, there really were many questions on the exam that were as easy as the ones above. I thought I was misreading the questions because they came directly from sentences in the text, with no actual comprehension required. Sad.

Reading


Make sure to read my first post on The Three R's:
The Three R's

My name is Susan Garrison, and I am a bibliophile.

It really does help to make that confession. I feel all warm and fuzzy now :).

My infatuation with books really must be blamed on Parents Dear, who first taught me to read, and then surrounded me with books to devour :). We've always had a good selection of books at our house, and we've read books as a family, on our own, and for school. For years Mother Dear devoted the first hour of our school day to reading aloud, a homeschool memory which still remains among my favorites. Many of the books she read aloud to us I would not have tackled alone, so I was exposed to a wider variety of literature as a result. Sometimes we read historical books that went with our current history studies, other times we read adventure books or Christian classics. My love of books was doubtless begun and forwarded by the hours Mother Dear devoted to that pursuit during my childhood. If you want your children to love to read, then read with them and to them!

Among the first books I remember reading to myself were the Little House books, and for years those remained in my top list of books. I read These Happy Golden Years, in particular, countless times. From the beginning of my reading journey, I've loved books of times past :). Little Women and its sequels were early favorites, as were the Anne of Green Gables books. With Laura Ingalls, Jo March, and Anne Shirley as my childhood companions, it is no wonder that I turned into an Old-Fashioned Girl.

I've gone through various stages of reading over the years. Elementary school consisted of a heavily mystery diet; I was rather engrossed in the world of mysteries and had fantasies of finding a secret room in our house (a la Mandie Shaw. . . ) or uncovering a spy ring in our neighborhood (following the footsteps of Nancy Drew. . . ). I read about every juvenile mystery book our library and used book sales had to offer: The Boxcar Children, The Bobbsey Twins, The Mandie Series, Trixie Belden, and Nancy Drew, just to name a few. I might add here that perhaps such a heavy diet of mysteries was not healthy for a young, already-imaginative girl :).

Much of middle and high school found me with my nose buried in an historical fiction book. My particular favorite eras of American History were the Civil War and World War II, with an emphasis on the Underground Railroad and the Holocaust. Brother Dear says I must have had a fascination with people unfavored by the government, in hiding ;). The best non-fiction book on the Holocaust that I can recommend is The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. It is such a beautiful testimony of God's faithfulness and providence amidst suffering.

In high school and college I dabbled a good bit in inspirational fiction, but I find that genre to be iffy as to the quality, and the overly-detailed romances in the vast majority of the books of that genre really just leave me feeling dirty. I have found a few gems among the smut, though. I love Beverly Lewis' books on the Amish and Cindy Martinusen's books on the Holocaust. The latter, especially, are absolutely fascinating! I've read my share of inspirational fiction over the years, and after reading close to none over the past year, I have to admit that I don't really miss it as I thought I would.

My love of classic literature all started one summer in high school, when I decided to find out why Pride and Prejudice was such a famous book. I didn't personally know of anyone that had read the book, but I thought, "Why not? If nothing else, I'll be able to say that I tackled the famed volume." So, I checked a copy out of the local library, cracked the covers, and began to read. And I loved it! It was brilliant, it was witty, it was intriguing, it was thought-provoking, it was romantic. And I was hooked on Jane Austen. From there it was just a matter of time before I delved into more classic literature. There was something new to be gleaned from the pages of each classic literature book I cracked open! Within those pages I found complex plots and intricate characters that demanded careful study; classic literature uncovered a whole new layer of fictional reading to me; reading that demanded not just enjoyment, but analysis as well.

My interest in theological literature started a few years ago. Theology - especially reformed theology - is an area near and dear to my heart; of all subjects, it is really the most important, as all other areas of reading and study should flow out of our knowledge of God and our desire to see Him glorified. In fact, I believe that theological studies alone are a compelling reason for rigorous educational training. I am so thankful that Christianity is not a blind faith, and we don't have to leave behind our reasoning when we enter God's family! They more I study theology, the more I come to appreciate God in his infinite wisdom and sovereignty. As I try to forward my knowledge in the area of theology, though, I am constantly struck by just how little I know! Furthermore, it is important to realize that knowing about God is not the same thing at all as knowing God. I am particularly prone to forget this, so I speak primarily to myself.

Good reading materials are all well and good, but reading is so much more than deciphering the words on paper, as I continue to learn. It is so easy for me to read a good book, enjoy it along the way, put it down, and promptly forget most of it - much like Paul's description of the man that looks in a mirror and then forgets what he looks like as soon as he walks away. Reading is only profitable if the words read are internalized for reflection. I once heard a quote that I thought rather interesting: In a year you will be the same person you are today, except for the people you meet and the books you read. I can't find the reference, so any help there would be appreciated. I can't say I completely agree with the quote - there is no direct acknowledgement of the working of God, which does not always come through those two channels - but I found it interesting to consider, nonetheless. It is true that books have an enormous impact on one's life, especially for those who read a great deal. I feel at times that I know certain characters in a book better than I even know some of my friends. I've learned many lessons in life from a fictional character between the covers of a book. Books are that real to me. Reading has always had a great effect on me; while I have never wept over a movie, I have been reduced to weeping by many, many books. The written word has a great impact on me.

It is rather interesting the different approaches people take to reading. Some absolutely hate reading or find it an unprofitable pursuit - very sad, I think - but even amongst avid readers there is such a difference in ways to approach reading. I've decided that I'm definitely an active learner. I learn by doing, which in reading means hand-copying interesting portions and turning the words over and over in my mind to make sense of and analyze them. It also means underlining and making notes in my books. I only started really doing this to a large degree about a year ago (after I finally got over the I'm-going-to-ruin-my-books syndrome), and it is amazing how beneficial it is for me! I remember and understand things that I underline, summarize, and copy so much better than things that I only read. I only wish I had started doing that long ago!

Interestingly, other avid readers I know find underlining and highlighting to be disctracting. *shrugs* We each have our own methods of internalizing information, I suppose. So what are your own habits and particular interests in reading? What is your favorite genre of literature?