Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Best of 2006: One Dangerous Idea

What is your dangerous idea?

Edge.org made this their question of the year in 2006, and invited great thinkers to respond. I found the response of U.C. Davis neurobiologist Leo M. Chalupa to be especially intriguing. His dangerous idea? A 24-hour period of absolute solitude.

Modern life brings with it an onslaught of external stimuli such as cell phones, e-mail, text messages, iPods, news reports, etc. Chalupa says the result of this barrage of information is structural modification of the nervous system. He also suggests that any potential benefit gained by the brain exercises that are currently in vogue may be nullified if not counterbalanced with periods of solitude.

His dangerous idea is to take 24 hours of solitude, meaning no written, electronic, or verbal communication of any kind with another human being. In his opinion, this one act would be conducive to optimizing the brain's performance. (Read the article in his own words here).

Prophets, priests, and poets seem instinctively to know that they must engage in periods of solitude. They guard that time jealously. I wonder how many of the Psalms we would have today if David hadn't lived a period of his life as a solitary shepherd?

I heard once that the best marriage is one in which each partner guards the solitude of the other. Happily, I have that kind of a marriage. My husband and I are always covering for each other so that we may each get that needed quiet. Usually it is not 24 hours at one time, but smaller chunks of time on a more frequent basis.

So have you ever engaged in 24 hours of solitude? I would love to hear of your experience.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Self Esteem: Addicted to Praise?

Julie at Bravewriter has directed me to a fascinating news article entitled "How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise."

Dr. Roy Baumeister, once a leading proponent of self esteem, reviewed over 15,000 scholarly articles written between the years of 1970-2000 on the popular subject of self esteem. In his own words, his findings constituted "the biggest disappointment of my career." Only 200 of the studies met rigorous scientific standards. Apparently, the whole push to eliminate competition in schools, to reward everyone instead of only a few, the eliminating of red-pencil criticisms~~~ this whole scenario has been the result of flawed scientific research.

Should teachers and parents praise children? It depends on how it is done. It is appropriate to praise children judiciously for putting forth genuine effort. But praising a child for intelligence may actually be counterproductive. The wrong kind of praise can make a child reluctant to put forth repeated effort, because failure might jeopardize that "smart" label.

With our modern ability to view the brain via MRI scans, researchers have found that the brain chemically rewards the act of persevering in a task when that task is rewarded only intermittently. But if an effort is rewarded with praise every single time, the praise becomes almost addictive. A person will quit trying when the reward is withheld.

On the other hand, the brain can be trained to persevere when there is hope of reward somewhere on the horizon, but not necessarily as an immediate response.

How can these observations translate into useful action for parents and educators?

  • Make praise specific. Instead of saying, "You're an intelligent kid!" comment on the effort expended. For example: "I'm proud of the fact that you finished that book even though it was not your favorite."

  • Praise the process rather than the result. Not, "You're a great piano player!" but rather, "Your hours of practice really paid off. The dynamics in your music were very expressive."

  • Praise only when appropriate. Don't make it meaningless by over-using this potent reward.

  • Teach children strategies for dealing with failure. They can be taught that the brain is like a muscle, which can be strengthened by regular exercise. This empowers the child to progress, rather than to passively rely on an innate gift of intelligence.

Do take the time to read the article if you have time. I probably have not done it justice; it is rather lengthy but full of insight.

Life in the Language

"And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one of the other people. So I contended with them....."
Nehemiah 13:24-25a

Ben-Yehuda had a dream. Like Nehemiah before him, he felt consternation over the fact that the Hebrew language was not the spoken tongue of his people, the Jews. In the late 1800's Hebrew was the language of the Torah and the language of the prayer books, but otherwise it remained a virtually unspoken tongue. Ben-Yehuda's dream was to revive the language.

Like all good leaders, he began the work by setting an example. Arriving in Palestine in 1881, he required his own family to converse in Hebrew at home. He encountered obvious challenges; what is the Hebrew word for bicycle? Ice cream? Omelet? New words had to be created to accommodate modern life. Ben-Yehuda kept lists of the new words he created and published them in the newspaper.

As an example, the word "menorah" came from the ancient Hebrew word "candelabra" with the modern word for "light bulb" (norah) added on.

It seems that God smiled on Ben-Yehuda's dream. Shira Schwartz, a resident of Samaria, tells what it is like in Israel today:

"Hebrew is read here; Hebrew is spoken here; Hebrew is the language of jump rope songs....and jokes children tell...."

She goes on to speak of Hebrew newspapers, John Grisham novels translated into Hebrew, children text messaging friends on the cell phone in Hebrew.

I wish I could share the entire article Shira has written on the subject; I found it riveting. The article is contained in a newsletter available by subscription through Christian Friends of Israeli Communities.

My mind goes back 30+ years, when I was a student in Bible College. 1974 was a groundbreaking year in that the first woman in the history of the college enrolled in a Hebrew language class. Prior to that, the class had been taken solely by male pastoral students.

How much has changed in 30 years! Now there is a plethora of Hebrew language resources available to children, students, homeschoolers, or anyone who has the interest. I am tempted to incorporate it into our homeschool, but at the moment Latin is all I can handle.

This morning I took the time to re-read Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones. I have reprinted it here. Isn't it a fitting picture of the revival of the Hebrew language?

The Dry Bones Live
The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

So I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.”

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’”

So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD.’”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Inductive Bible Study

inductive |inˈdəktiv| adjective-Reasoning in which general principles are derived from particular facts or instances; a means of studying Scripture which proceeds from the observation of numerous, separate and individual facts rather than beginning with general principles or propositions.

I was first introduced to inductive Bible study as a student in Bible college, in a "Methods of Bible Study" class. At that time I was just learning the disciplines of study and so I never really mastered the inductive method. I just dabbled at it.

Fast forward a dozen years. I was reintroduced to the inductive method of Bible study when I attended a week-long workshop with my husband. The hours of daily, hands on practice enabled me to develop confidence, and mining the scriptures inductively became a passion and a joy.

The wonderful thing about IBS is that it only requires a good translation of the Bible, a pencil, and paper. It is simple to learn and implement, but very effective in bringing out the gems of truth in the Word of God. Junior High and High School students are well able to learn and benefit from this method, making it ideal for homeschool.

In a nutshell this is is what you learn in a workshop:

  • How to break down difficult passages of scripture into "bite size" pieces.
  • How accurate observation of a text clarifies Scriptures and makes the Word come alive!
  • How to develop study tools for effective interpretation and application.
  • How to make simple outlines of entire books of the Bible for easier learning and teaching.
  • How to chart a text once it is outlined to further break text apart and see it's depth.
  • How to teach the Bible in a way that others can follow.

From time to time, we offer an Inductive Bible Workshop at our church for the benefit of of congregation. The materials we like best to use were developed by Intensive Care Ministries, a missions organization that has served to train thousands of pastors and leaders in third world countries. Imagine what this tool means to a man of God who has no access to the commentaries and study materials so readily available to us in the U.S. It means that pastor or leader will have an inexhaustible supply of healthy food for the "sheep", the people of God.

Check out the inexpensive resources~ they would be great to use in a homeschool, learning co-op, or small group study. The program can be ordered on DVD or done as a correspondence course.

As I looked around the room during our workshop last week-end, I saw 50 people of all ages thoroughly engaged and focused on learning. I wondered within myself, "How will this one investment of time change their way of thinking? What changes will be brought to their lives and their homes as a result of actively pursuing the truth contained in scripture?"

I can say "AMEN" to the words of John the Apostle:
"I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth."
III John 4

Thursday, February 15, 2007

In Retrospect: The Best of 2006~~ The Saint John's Bible/ The Sistine Chapel of Calligraphy

"Thus speaks the LORD Good of Israel, saying: 'Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you.'" Jeremiah 30:2

A four million dollar Bible?

Yes, and worth every penny.

The yet unfinished Saint John's Bible is a masterpiece in process. Written by hand in flowing calligraphy, the work has been entrusted to Senior Scribe to Her Majesty the Queen, Donald Jackson of Wales. In his own words, "The Bible is the calligraphic artist's supreme challenge (our Sistine Chapel), a daunting task." This project exhibits book art at its best.

Commissioned by the Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey (Collegeville, Minnesota), the St. John's Bible is being fashioned in the same slow, meticulous way it would have been done in the era before the printing press. The scribe's instrument is a goose quill; hand-mixed ink is laid on smooth vellum. The Bible measures 2 feet by 3 feet and will contain a thousand pages when finished.

The art work is thought provoking; the illuminations are gorgeous with plenty of color and gold-leaf. Yet those features serve only as seasoning. The words of the sacred text remain front and center, the main focal point.

I had opportunity to view this Bible on a high-traffic day at our community's art museum. But in spite of the crowd, people were not hurrying. There was an almost reverential hush as people responded to the invitation of the words to stop, to linger, and to read.

I count myself richer for having had an opportunity to view the Saint John's Bible. Not rich enough, however to purchase a reproduction with a price tag of $115,000!! I do hope, however, that many museums will do so and bring the beauty of this lovingly worked project to greater public attention. It is wonderful to see scripture honored for what it is: the Living Word of God.

Read more about the Saint John's Bible and view pictures here.
More about Donald Jackson at this site.

"Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help....
Who keeps truth forever." Psalm 146:5-6

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Men of the Breaking Hearts.....thoughts from A.W. Tozer

"Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to nor understood by common men. They habitually spoke with spiritual authority. They had been in the presence of God and they reported what they saw there.

They were prophets, not scribes, for the scribe tells us what he has read, and the prophet tells what he has seen. The distinction is not an imaginary one. Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are overrun today with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God. "

Take me into the Presence, Lord, that I might tell others what I have seen and be a prophet for today, not merely another scribe. Amen

The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How a Woman Thinks

Blue Car
Yellow Car
Red Car

My husband and son make fun of me because my observation skills seem to go out the window when it comes to describing cars. I usually describe them by color. Period.

I laughed out loud when I read the following sentences in the book, Wandering Through Winter by Edwin Way Teale. It seems I am not the only woman who describes cars in this way!

"It was in this section of the trip that Nellie began concentrating on the "fieldmarks" of automobiles. It was a mystery to me, I had pointed out, how anyone able to note slight plumage differences in sparrows and warblers and shore birds had difficulty telling a Ford from a Rambler or a Chrysler from a Buick. Her explanation, not without logic, had been:

'The trouble is automobiles keep changing their plumages.'"

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Our Town by Thornton Wilder

"We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being."

That is my favorite quote from the classic play, Our Town by Thornton Wilder. On stage we see ordinary moments lived by ordinary people; events which slip by so swiftly that they are not savored or appreciated until death disrupts the routine.

The three acts portray three different passages in life: birth, love and marriage, and finally death. Act I starts out slowly, and the events of the small-town residents are SO mundane as to be almost boring. We see moms fixing breakfast, Dads off to work, children hurrying to school, the milk man delivering the milk. But as the 2nd and 3rd acts unfold, we look back on those same mundane activities with new eyes. Everyday connections are the very stuff of life, and they are precious, as summed up in this quote:

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?"

Throughout the play, the hymn "Blest Be the Tie that Binds" is sung repeatedly. The words of the hymn encapsulate what I believe to be the theme of the play: human connections are precious. Take time to appreciate them.

Our Town was a Broadway success back in the late 1930's, at the time of its release. It earned Wilder a Pulitzer prize and remains a classic because of its timeless message. I first saw the play as a teenager and its poignancy left a deep impression on me. So it was with pleasure that I was able to see the play again, some 35 years later. I believe the pathos and the death of the young mother in childbirth was what struck me as a teen; now in middle age I relate more to the older mamas who discussed their unfulfilled dreams and wept as their children left the nest. That change in perspective is a shadow of the very thing that the play portrays: the transient nature of life.

Originally, the setting of the play was at the turn of the century~~ 1899-1912. In the performance that our family viewed today, the time frame was changed to 1951-1963. I thoroughly enjoyed the vintage clothing, especially the house dresses and little hats with veils that the ladies wore. It was a fun little departure from the original.

I am anxious to discuss this play in-depth with my teens, but I want to give them a little time to let it percolate before talking about it too much. It is the kind of a story that needs to be contemplated and mulled over.

Highly recommended!


Saturday, February 10, 2007

In Retrospect: the Best of 2006 ~Greensburg, Kansas

Hunters Drug Store Soda Fountain

Have you ever driven a 10-hour stretch with 4 children in the car? If so, you know that you look forward to lunch and dinner breaks! Just getting out and enjoying a short respite from the van is a pleasure.

Alas, my husband and I are old parents and cannot settle for a "McDonald's break." Our children don't quite understand that; McDonalds suits them just fine. But our well being depends upon better things.

Our search for the right stopping place paid off last winter as we traveled home from our Arizona vacation. We happened upon a cute little cafe in the small Kansas community of Greensburg, population 1,574.

While waiting at table for our food to be served, a white-haired gentleman approached us with a friendly greeting. I found out later that this man is something of a local celebrity. His name was Richard, and he encouraged us to step across the street after lunch and have a dessert at the drug store, where he worked as the soda jerk.

We did so and were immediately charmed by the old-time atmosphere of Hunter Drug Store. It transported me back to my own growing-up years, where we sipped 5 cent cokes while swiveling on high chrome stools at the soda fountain.

Richard Huckried, the soda jerk, served us with alacrity. As he did so, he filled us in on a little history. Richard had been a soda jerk at Hunter Drug Store since 1953! Someone from the news media had recently "discovered" him and placed his picture along with an interview in a national magazine. The community of Greensburg raised money to place a cardboard likeness of him in the Kiowa County Museum. It seems Richard has the honor of being the soda jerk King!

We were urged not to leave Greensburg until we had checked out another local attraction: the world's largest hand-dug well. We did so, and that little side trip led us to yet another delightful diversion. An architecturally beautiful building across the street housed 10,000 square feet of antiques. We enjoyed both the antiques, and our visit with the owner, who was a recent transplant from Las Vegas.

"What possessed you to move from Las Vegas to Greensburg?" we asked.

"We fell in love with the place", was the immediate answer. "Besides, the night life is great." This was said with a wink.

My husband inquired if there were any used bookstores in the town? He is always looking for old volumes for his pastoral library. No, was the reply, but you might find a few books at the thrift store.

I can honestly say the Preacher hit pay dirt. He bought a brown grocery sack full of wonderful, old books for the price of 10 cents each! The only downside was trying to stuff ONE MORE THING into a van that already resembled the "Beverly Hillbillies" in its abundance.

Just as we were ready to pull out of Greensburg, Joy's eagle eye spotted another place too interesting to pass by.

"Daddy, we can't leave yet! There is a vintage clothing store, see! Snootie Seconds!"

"OK, OK, one more stop, but then we must get back on the road."

Snootie Seconds was the epitome of vintage clothing stores. Rows and rows of sweet little hats with veils, old purses in mint condition, and gorgeous dresses and shoes artfully displayed. I bought a purse. Joy bought a hat, which she had to wear in order to conserve space in the van!

FOUR HOURS after pulling into Greensburg for lunch, we reluctantly got back on the road.
About ten miles later, we hear from the backseat, "Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom!"

I was tempted to go back to Greensburg. There was that quaint little Bed and Breakfast that we didn't have a chance to investigate. Maybe we should just spend the night?

That didn't happen, but I really, really want to go back to Greensburg. It is America at its best.

The Servant King

In the state of half-consciousness that comes between sleep and wakefulness, I was aware of the fact that my back was exposed. On it were welts and stripes forming a network of crisscrosses. Along each stripe were tiny words, cruel words; the very words that have haunted me for the past year.

But then I became aware of His radiant presence. He was standing beside me, holding a bowl of clear, cool water and holding a towel.

"I have come to wash your wounds," He said.

"Lord," I answered, "Not just my back, but all of me!"

"You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken. It is enough that I wash your stripes."

And then I awakened (?), or came to full wakefulness. A hymn of praise was running through my mind, praise to the Savior who girds Himself with a towel and serves the one whose wounds are so insignificant compared to His own.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

What is a Family? In Time of Sickness.....thoughts from Edith Schaeffer

Artiste, age 7

As he left the house Thursday morning for work, my husband commissioned our youngest daughter, Artiste, to "take care of your sisters, your brother, and your Mom". The four of us were violently sick and unable to even get out of bed. Artiste took her commission seriously, flitting from room to room bringing ice chips, popsicles, 7up, and little get-well letters written in her best, newly-learned cursive. On a couple of occasions, she popped her head in and asked, "Mom, can I pray for you?"

When I began to feel better, I was prompted to pull out one of my old Edith Schaeffer books entitled, What is a Family? In it she devotes a whole chapter to the subject of caring for family members when they are sick. Here are a couple of quotes I found meaningful:

"What is a family? A family is a well-regulated hospital, a nursing home, a shelter in time of physical need, a place where a sick person is greeted as a sick human being and not as a machine that has a loose bolt, or a mechanical doll that no longer works--to be shoved aside because it is no more fun, nor is it useful! A family should be a training place for growing human beings to know how to care for a great variety of sicknesses and for people who have just had accidents or operations because each one has received both knowledgeable and loving care and has watched it being given to others. The knowledge of what is necessary for basic care ( and what is added thoughtfulness to make the time more bearable) should be absorbed through years of living in a family."

and this:

"When illness hits we should remember that this period of time is part of the whole of life. This is not just a non-time to be shoved aside, but a portion of time that counts. It is part of the well person's life, as well as part of the sick person's life."

I find so much comfort in those words, especially the part about not viewing sickness as "just a non-time to be shoved aside". Certainly God ordains lessons in the midst of every circumstance of our lives, and seeing the little acts of compassion develop in my daughter more than compensated for a miserable day of illness.

"...I was sick and you looked after me...
The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for Me.'" Matthew 25: 36, 40