“Now” to me has become a wonderful thing.

September 20th, 2017
I greeted the sun this morning on the crest of the hill behind my 1880ish Mennonite built farm. The foundation allegedly was part of an earlier structure, probably built in the middle 1700s.
I walked on this hill today to greet the sun and also to wrap myself in history. It is on this hill where I remind myself that I am part of something much bigger than my farm, much bigger than my lifetime. From this hill Algonquians braves, perspicuous German settlers, and now this old campaigner greet the dawn. I know my God liveth when I stand on this hill. Behind me is an old wagon trail. An earlier Mennonite tenant threw perfectly sculptured sandstone rocks that I have built stone walls to support perennial flowers and thriving holly bushes. At this point, at this  confluence seven springs join to provide my family with the sweetest, cleanest mountain water that a person could hope to experience. I hear the bubbling overflow from my spring house. Whitetail deer, bear, rabbits, and other critters, are even now gathering to enjoy its bounteousness. No wonder Native Americans fought for this land!
I peer over the horizon.  From this place, or nearby, hay chewing squint eyed dairy farmers peered at the smoke from the Flight 93 site only eight miles away. “Yep,” my neighbor observed, “Them A-Rabs are attacking us.”  Even then I wondered what a terrorist had against our old abandoned strip mining fields.
There was 16 years ago and this is now. “Now” to me has become a wonderful thing.  I am as young (at heart) and full of fight as I was then, when America struck the first blow for freedom, on that beautiful autumn morning in early September. 

No, I am as young as any man alive, at any time. As I am reminded as I serve the Lord’s Supper, I (we) join a cloud of witnesses who celebrate and proclaim the goodness and mercy of our God! I remember again, that I am alive, will always be alive. Not in some smoky pantheistic karma, but in the presence of our Almighty God. In the pens, in the memory of my students, I, and all those who serve one another in Christ, who call Him Savior, shall live. This is not a therapeutic moment; it is a historical moment. An affirmation of the Creator who knows all, the only path to the destination where I am heading someday. 
September 11 has always been meaningful for me.  On September 11, 1975 I fell asleep at the wheel of my Fiat 128, hit a bridge, and spent the next year recovering in hospitals (2.5 months) and physical therapy (9 months). In feverish pain I suffered through Luis Tiant’s near victory in the 1975 series. Knowing I was soon to live in Cambridge, MA, I felt obligated to support the home time. I was discouraged, to be sure. Seemed like God had abandoned me! Here I was going to seminary to serve Him, and pow, look were I landed! And then I remember that my delayed Harvard debut meant that I met my beloved wife, Karen, my life partner of 40 years (so far) and mother of my (our) four children. She is sleeping now, even as I write this blog.  I reach for her in prayer as I peer down into our bedroom window. Even for the hour or so I will be away from her, until she joins me for breakfast (and cooks it too, I might add!), I will miss her.
Yes, I digress  but let me end it by saying, continuing to say, that I am as young and hopeful and full of energy as I have ever me.  No, I have more energy, the way old Caleb looked at the high country and asked only to be granted the privilege to defeat God’s enemies (Joshua 14). I stand again, this morning, look! I see the sun rising . . . its rays are accentuated, not dissipated, by golden and red sugar maples autumn leaves. Brothers and sisters, the promise is as real and alive as ever. “The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly!” (vs. 9).
Let’s roll! Let us take back what is rightfully ours, what belongs to our God. The thistle and the vine, the hill and the flat lands, this is our land.  It is our time. Let us bow down together and thank almighty God that we have been so blessed to be alive, to see the coming of His glory! The vindication of His Word!

Racial Reconciliation: The Only Hope is the Church

September 9th, 2017
     My old professor, Harvard University’s Dr. Robert Cole in his book The Spiritual Life of Children describes an interview he had with a young African-American child named Ruby Ridges.  This child was being accosted by angry segregationists as she walked to school. In the face of so much hatred, Cole wanted to know why she was smiling.
     “I was all alone,” she began, “and those people were screaming, and suddenly I saw God smiling, and I smiled.”
     Then she continued with these astonishing words: “A woman was standing there [near the school door], and she shouted at me, ‘Hey, you little —-, what you smiling at?'”
     “I looked right at her face, and I said, ‘at God.'”
     “Then she looked up at the sky, and then she looked at me, and she didn’t call me any more names.”
     In order for reconciliation to occur between races, there must be a profound and sincere acceptance of responsibility for our bad choices.  We must own our responsibility. How blind and judgmental we can be, we religious people!  At the same time, like Ruby Bridges, we must continue to believe racial reconciliation is possible.  To remain hopeful in the face of hopelessness.
     Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life.  And He loves all children, red and yellow, black and white. Period.  I know that this seems simplistic and somewhat chauvinistic. There is no other way to eternal life or present happiness.  And I suppose that is the bottom line in my discussion of racism.  As early as 1976 John Perkins was saying the same thing–only the gospel can transform people (Romans 12:1). The goal was voiced by Martin Luther King, jr.: “. . . the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will sit down at the table of brotherhood together.”  This Christian ideal lost its spiritual moorings and the integration cure began to choke the life out of the very ideal of racial harmony it was intended to save.  I believe that the time has come for all Christians to integrate one another.  But to do so in the name of Jesus Christ and biblical veracity.
       Integration was a clear goal for the early church.  After all, the example of the cross drew all persons into hopeful relationship. Paul had no trouble defining his gospel and his life as `the message of the cross.’  On the contrary, he boldly declared that, though the cross seemed either foolishness or a stumbling block to the self-confident (i.e., modern humankind!) it is in fact the very essence of God’s wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:18-25).49 The cross will be a stumbling block to the white supremist and the black nationalist.  But it will be the Christian’s Hope of Glory.  The world does not need a new religion–it needs Jesus Christ–crucified and resurrected.  And, at risk of sounding simplistic and redundant, as we make Jesus Christ Lord of our lives we will see our racial attitudes change.
      Don’t get me wrong.  What I am suggesting is truly revolutionary, or, as the theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests “subversive.” The church–our church–is called to a higher commitment.  A radical commitment.  The choice for Christ occupies first place, above parents, children, job, and, if necessary, life itself.  The gate leading to health and wholeness in our world is not reasonable size.  It is narrow.  In that sense, I am calling us all to a radical faith, a prophetic faith.  We are called to a major reclamation project of our views of atonement so completely presented in Scripture and in our Confessions.  And racism, after all, is a direct threat to the atonement.
    The challenge for the Church is to be different in a meaningful way.  To be in the world but not of it.  To lead America away from the self-destructive cliff to which racism has brought us.  The call to us all is to find our identity in Christ alone–not in color, creed, ethnicity or any other category. Again, though, I am convinced that racial reconciliation is coming for one very important reason:  men and women and the organizations that they represent are falling down on their knees and asking God to give them strength to change.  Faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ–more than any other single factor–will bring peace.  This outspoken subservience to the Lordship of Christ, the open admission that peace will not come in any other way, makes the present moves to reconciliation to be more hopeful.  Nothing quite like this happened in earlier reconciliation attempts.
In William Faulkner’s The Unvanquished a white boy named Bayard is reflecting about his black friend Ringo: “. . . Ringo and I has been born in the same month and has both fed at the same breast and has slept together and eaten together for so long that Ringo called Granny ‘Granny’ just like I do, until maybe he isn’t a n—er               anymore or maybe I isn’t a white boy anymore, the two of us neither, not even people any more: the two supreme undefeated like two moths, two feathers riding above a hurricane.”
       The Church is called–somehow–to ride above a hurricane.  To be that peculiar people about whom we read in Scripture.  To find a unity that transcends the substantial barrier race represents.  This is no small feat, but one that the Church must undertake. And soon.  By showing American society the way out of racism the Church of Jesus Christ has a unique opportunity to reclaim Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “center of the city.”  Using Augustine’s City of God as a standard, the Church is called to be an efficacious model of reconciliation to a fragmented and broken community.   We are all on a journey–white, black, yellow, and red—whose ending is the City of God.
Finally, Christians are called by God to serve our culture even though our ultimate loyalty and hope is in the city of God. I believe, with all my heart, that the road to Christian revival must pass through the school of racial reconciliation.  There are several examples of racial reconciliation in our country today and I am truly encouraged. But there is much work that remains.  As I have intimated before, until the Church finds a way to bring racial reconciliation in a widespread way into its own camp, American society at large has no hope of doing the same. As we begin the 21st Century this reclamation project will be America’s most valuable gift to the world.
           The whole world waits with bated breath . . .

 

The Homeschool Community

August 8th, 2017

Never in the history of a people, has there been such opportunity for a cultural demographic: the homeschool community, to affect, laudably, culture. Homeschooled students in increasing numbers are being admitted to college and awarded scholarships. To God be the glory!

College graduates assume most of the leadership roles of this country. They make most of the decisions, write most of the literature, and adjudicate most of the court cases. In short, college graduates make most high culture! Christian college graduates can be world-changers for Christ!

The term “high culture” was introduced into English largely by Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1869). Around the same time, German scholars wrote of Kultur, meaning that there is a mystical spirit permeating society, something that is more profound than Western civilization itself. Indeed!

High culture creates the best that has been said and thought in the world. It is a force for moral and political good. It promotes and creates the way of life that a civilization enjoys—the art that it views, the movies it enjoys, the books it reads. I am not talking about fads and froth but about the things that determine how we think, govern, and worship. The term is contrasted with popular culture, as well as with traditional cultures. I want you to create a wholesome, godly high culture, something more profound and ubiquitous than anything in Western culture.

To reach this goal, young people need to be the best they can be for our God. Join the high-culture creation epicenters of education, government, entertainment, health, law, and religion; go to those spheres, and make a difference.

The SAT Prep for the Thoughtful Christian will prepare you for college and therefore to be world-changers for Christ, to create a new high culture.
Here are a few nuances of the SAT:

1. No penalty for wrong answers. You and your fellow students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers while taking the new SAT.
2. Revamped essay. Instead of composing a personal essay for the writing section, you will read a passage and then analyze how the author persuades the readers. Although content passages will change, the essay question itself will be the same on all tests.
3. Evidence-focused reading. Just like the essay section, the reading section will also be more focused on content evidence. You will be asked a question about the text and then need to give evidence best supporting your answer. If you get the first question wrong, it could be difficult to answer the second and third questions correctly.
4. Context-based vocabulary. The new SAT will ask you to define a word based on how it is used in context. Sample questions show familiar words that can have various meanings. More than ever, learning Greek and Latin roots trumps vocabulary memorization every time.
5. More graphs and charts. The new test will have an increased emphasis on questions that make students gather information from graphs and charts.
6. More emphasis on grammar, syntax, and dictions. You will also be asked to revise sentences in order to make them consistent with standard English practices.
7. Primary-source texts. The new SAT reading section will include excerpts from U.S. founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. You will not be expected to be familiar with the documents beforehand, but that would not hurt!
8. Stress reduction. Scripture memorization will calm your fears and help you focus!

I am excited! “Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour, and caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping” (Rupert Brooke, who died in World War I, in 1915)

Grievance Mentality

August 2nd, 2017

When conflicts occur, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning observe in an insightful new scholarly paper, aggrieved parties can respond in any number of ways. In honor cultures like the Wild West or the street gangs of West Side Story, they might engage in a duel or gun fight. In dignity cultures, like the ones that prevailed in Western countries during the 19th and 20th Centuries, “insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery,” they write. “When intolerable conflicts do arise, dignity cultures prescribe direct but non-violent actions.”

These affronts, offenses, are called grievances and they develop into grievance mentalities or identities. A grievance is a wrong considered as grounds for complaint, or something believed to cause distress. A grievance becomes a mentality when a person, a culture, or a society begins to function out of that perceived grievance. In the history of Civil Rights, the politics of difference (African-American scholar Shelby Steele’s term) led to an establishment of “grievance identities.” By the 1980s the African-American community gained identity according to grievances committed by the dominant group. They sought to document the grievances of their group, testifying to its abiding alienation. African-American and whites alike were punished for not recognizing and accepting this litany of grievances. They lost their way.

Christians have been taking offenses and participating in grievance mentalities for centuries. Peter, in Acts 10, is threatened by the notion that alien Gentiles, in wholesale fashion, would be welcomed into the Kingdom of God. Peter reached for his Teddy Bear and looked for a safe place in law driven, exclusive Judaism. It would not happen. Paul reminded his friend Peter that all were outcasts, all were saved by grace through faith. Peter would be wise to get onboard.

And so should we, homeschoolers. We live in a threatening, debilitating culture that is opposed to what we believe and know to be true. We celebrate the life of an unborn child; our nation murders him/her. We embrace biblical marriage; our nation legislates that biblical marriage is only one choice. And so forth. In 2017 we are in danger of embracing a grievance mentality.

To do that will subvert the movement. If Peter’s views would have been adopted, the Church would have become a declining sect, disappearing in one generation. The African-American reform movement, after such a propitious start, to a large degree, has become a petty, parochial, ignoble reflection of existential liberalism.

Homeschoolers we do not have to become like the pagan to share Christ with the pagan—we merely need to remain true to ourselves, to our core values, to our God. Peter had nothing to fear from the Gentiles. God had everything under control. We have nothing to fear from secular America or the secular university. We serve an awesome, powerful God!

I understand and I celebrate the veritable stampede of capable evangelical homeschoolers into the 10-20 most competitive universities in the USA. Never in the history of academia has a cultural group—Christian homeschoolers—been so vigorously recruited and lavishly rewarded. God’s favor is truly on this homeschooled generation of youth.

So what do we fear? Whom do we fear? Only God and we reverence and love Him because He loved us first and sent his only Begotten Son to be our savior.

Finally, in the 40 years since I matriculated out of Harvard University I have watched my classmates assume the most powerful positions in the world. This I have learned: failure and success is not measured by accumulated wealth or human accolades—no what really matters is what God thinks. The most grievous indictment of my generation was that we learned much knowledge and we applied it to our life situations. Somewhere along the line, however, we lost our passion. We forgot who we were and Who He is. We need to raise this generation to be madly in love with Christ. We need to get them to take their eyes off the problems and look to the solution to these problems! You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Strange Fire

June 15th, 2017

The normal life of a movement/organization like this, the homeschool movement, is 25 years. Organizational theory tells us that we are in the status quo phase moving to the decline stage. At this point, we have more invested in the infrastructure of the movement than we should. We are after profits to pay for our substantial investments in the institution. I say this with no prejudice. For profit and not for profit–all are forced to hustle to make ends meet. This quells the prophetic spirit and invites sensational–to use homeschool patriarch Steve Lambert’s word “strange fire.” We have to draw the masses so we invite the dilettante, the unusual, the opinionated to fill our keynotes. The purpose is to invite more people and pay the bills. Period. This sort of thing ultimately generates a sort of mediocrity on one hand and outright heresy on the other. We see this in our penchant to promote Doug Phillips and David Barton, the latter, especially, curry favoring to our monolithic vision of everything. This is normal. Richard Hofstadter, a historian, warns us that in a democracy leadership often moves to the mediocre and existential, instead of the confessional. For instance, can you imagine ugly Abraham Lincoln being elected to the presidency today? Ironically, in our pursuit of the sensational, the generalists, people like myself–with the most credentials and education–are often frozen out of the mix. I have rarely been asked to be a keynote because I discipline myself to presenting the facts, not hazy inflammatory conjecture. Facts, let’s face it, bore most people. So . . . what next? We must regain a prophetic, confessional (vs. existential) voice. We must return to squeaky clean excellence in everything we do. Unless the movement can regain this, we might very well sink into the social history cesspool, and be an interesting footnote that historians mention. I repeat: this is a fish or cut bait moment: either we discipline ourselves and stop promoting aberrant “strange fire” speakers or we disappear as a major sociological, culture-changing force in the next few decades.

How to Teach History

June 1st, 2017

History is a light that illuminates the present and directs attention toward the possibilities of the future. The history is only the “past” however, without a study and assessment of the written record of events as well as the events themselves. History is a social science–a branch of knowledge that uses specific methods and tools to achieve its goals.

Historians examine archival footprints. Some of these are written records: diaries, letters, oral histories, recordings, inscriptions, biographies, and many others. At times history seems merely to be lists of kings, of wars, and of other significant things. As a result, history seems like a study of a bunch of dead people. Who cares? Like Huck Finn we quip, “After supper the Widow Douglas got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”

But history is alive and full of interesting, glorious, and useful things! And it is terribly relevant to all of us.

There are lots of different histories. The Earth, the world of nature, and the universe all have pasts, but they have no histories. Histories have to do with real, alive (or once alive) people. Only human societies have histories, based on collective memories from which they reconstruct their pasts.

Not all attempts to reconstruct the past have resulted in histories. My Uncle George (not a real uncle but just a family friend), Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had an entirely different view of African History than I, a father of three African-American children. Uncle George had a delusional “history” that was very much like a Nazi propaganda film, but it was not a “history.” It was a “past” made up of venal images, obscured remembrances, and visceral prejudices that stewed in his poor, conflicted mind.

My history was big enough to love Uncle George—and I did—may he rest in peace—and my three children. And in my life, these four people were brought together into eternal rest. Perhaps that is the best thing one can say about this world history. It brings everyone together in one history.

To be a true history, an account of the past must not only retell what happened but must also relate events and people to each other. It must inquire into causes and effects. It must try to discern falsehood in the old records, such as attempts of historical figures to make themselves look better than they really were. It must also present the evidence on which its findings are based.

It is clear that all our information in regard to past events and conditions must be derived from evidence of some kind. Some evidence is better than other evidence.

To that end, I do not expect students to be completely neutral about historical sources. While I know that my students can never be completely neutral about history, scholarly historical inquiry demands that they implement the following principles:

  1. Historians must evaluate the veracity of sources.  There must be a hierarchy of historical sources.  Primary source material, for instance, usually is the best source of information.
  2. Historians must be committed to telling both sides of the historical story. They may choose to lobby for one view over the other, but they must fairly examine all theories.
  3. Historians must avoid stereotypes and archetypes. They must overcome personal prejudices and dispassionately view history in ruthlessly objective terms.
  4. Historians must be committed to the truth no matter where their scholarship leads them. At times historians will discover unflattering information about their nation/state.
  5. Finally, historians understand that real, abiding, and eternal history ultimately is made only by people who obey God at all costs.

After everything is said and done, historians are only studying the past. They cannot really change the past. Theories about the past come and go, and change with each generation. However, the past is past. It is over. Historians will debate about history, but they can never change history. Only God can change history.

God alone can change history. When persons are reborn in Christ, their present, future, and, yes, even their past is changed. History is literarily rewritten. They are new creations. That bad choice, that sin, that catastrophe is placed under the blood of the Lamb, and everything starts fresh and new. A new history for new people.

Let me illustrate. 150 years ago my great-great-great- grandfather, whose passion was to kill Yankees, was a slave owner in Eastern Tennessee. With that inheritance, like most white Southerners who grew up in the 1960s, I grew up to mistrust African-Americans. Like so many people captured by their history and culture, present and future became my past. However, when I was a senior in high school, I was saved. Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior. My attitudes changed. It took time, but prejudices disappeared.

Ultimately, I married my New Jersey wife, Karen, and we adopted three African-American children—whose ancestors, by the way, may have been owned by my great-great-great-uncle!

Three of my children are African-American. Imagine! Quite literally, my history was rewritten. It has been changed irrevocably by my decision to invite Jesus Christ to be Savior of my life. In a real sense, family prejudice and death existing for generations ended in my generation. The destructive historical cycle that was part of my history has ended. No one, nothing can do that but the Lord. History has been rewritten!

My prayer is that if you do not know this God who can change history—even your history—these history texts might encourage you to invite Jesus Christ into your heart as Savior.

Online College Degrees—Pray About it!

May 23rd, 2017

The best approach to going to college is to present a terrific SAT/ACT score and offer a great transcript. The SAT/ACT is by far, without a doubt, the most important credential that you bring to college admission and college scholarship determination.  Absolutely.  Can I make myself any clearer!  In an age when schools are so different—schools even in the same zip code—when an A somewhere would be a C in another place—colleges MUST rely on the ACT/SAT score to determine admission. It has been that way for a while. It will be that way for years to come, if not forever.

Take the SAT and/or ACT junior year.  And then apply during your senior year. That is the ticket!

One question that I’m often asked, is, what about an online degree? Should I do that? No, you shouldn’t.

I want to define terms a little bit first. An online degree is a college degree of sorts, a sort of Bachelor of Arts, a sort of Bachelor of Science degree.  A sort of sort of. It purports to be like any other degree (never is a claim that it is better than a four year, resident degree!). But it is not. I know of no employer who would prefer an online degree employee over a four year college degree from a recognized university.  Do you? Would you hire an online degree graduate from Liberty University before you would hire a resident graduate from Liberty University?

Online college students stay at home and take all course work via the computer.  The course work plus CLEP credit equals an online degree. Occasionally they spend a week or two on site, but most of the work is at home.

This is different from taking some course work online.  A lot of people do that.  A lot of people get AP or CLEP credit. But most do not complete a degree that way. Taking a few courses is fine. There’s no question that you may take one, two or three courses online—or get some CLEP/AP Credit–but you should know that many colleges—the best colleges—will not give you credit for any online courses. Usually they’re basic courses that are essentially the same everywhere. Most general online course, or CLEEP credits, are not in your major area, and, they might save you some money.

Or not. Remember if you have a high ACT/SAT score the university/college that admits you will give you a nice financial package. Let them pay for your education. Besides, as I said, colleges that I attended will not give you credit for online courses. Period. No credit at all.

As I advised, don’t do it. I have some real questions about an online degree. You should too. If you don’t, call a few employers and ask them if they prefer online degree employees or employees who went to Vanderbilt or the University of Texas in Austin. Ask them if they would rather have an online degree graduate from an online program or a four year, resident graduate.

Another reason I have questions about an online degree, is that the best graduate schools, will not admit online degree students. And what good is a degree, online, if you can’t use it, to go where God is calling you?

Another thing is, online degrees are terribly expensive! I know one online program that costs about $15,000 and you have nothing when you finish. If you don’t believe me ask people who have online degrees.  Ask them if they were able to go to graduate school.  Ask them if their degree is viewed the same way as a degree from the University of North Carolina or Messiah College. Ask them if they would do the same thing again.

You are hit both ways. You are ineligible for merit scholarships, ineligible for need based scholarships, ineligible for scholarships period. But you have a huge bill.

It no doubt would be cheaper for you to go to a four-year orthodox college on scholarship. And that will happen to you, if you have a high SAT and ACT score. You may, think you’re saving money by doing an online program, but if a regular college is, giving you a huge scholarship, it’s really cheaper then why not do that?

There are a lot of convention speakers who are vilifying big name schools and talking about how expensive they are. Well, did you know that homeschoolers receive more financial aid as a population group at Harvard and Stanford than any other population group?

$15,000 is a lot of money. You could spend $15,000+ and then need to pay for 2-3 more years in another college (if this college will accept your CLEP credits) because all you have is a bunch of CLEP credits (which are much less respected than AP credits).

If you really feel God is telling you to get an Online Degree, why don’t you do it on your own? Really, the entire Online Programs can easily be replicated by your own efforts.  Online agencies (except colleges—colleges do help you sign up for online courses) do nothing more than what you could do for yourself—FREE.  I could pay someone to get my social security for me. I see Ads on television all the time.  But why would I?  For a little bit of effort I could write and get one for myself FREE.  Don’t pay someone $15,000 for something that could cost you nothing if you would do it yourself!

You can also lose your health insurance if you are not a resident student.  That could cost another $400 a month for some students.

An online “degree” might cost $15,000. Texas A & M costs $7,500/year tuition. The University of North Carolina $5922.  You might spend $15,000 only to find that you need to spend another $28,000 because you do not really have a college degree!  Unfortunately, too, you might have taken yourself out of the running for scholarships because typically four year students do not give scholarships to transfer students.

How to Choose a Curriculum

May 21st, 2017

Venerable pioneers, those of you who have faded photographs of jean jumpers and paint chipped Flexible Flyer red wagons, do you remember those days? We had three—just three—curricula choices or we wrote our own. Incidentally, that is really why I wrote my first curricula—I did not like what was out there.

Those days, however, are over. Attend any home school convention and you will be inundated with flashy curricula.  They are everywhere. Hundreds of choices. In fact, success in homeschool teaching these days is determined more by what we don’t buy that what we buy! Effective homeschoolers have to learn to say no, or, we will have what I have in my home: a couple of bookcases of unopened curricula that “we thought” we would use or “it looked so nice.”  Right.

So how does one choose curricula? I would use the following checklist:

  • ·        Inquiry Based (Does the curriculum invite the student to engage in critical thinking, student-centered activities?)
  • ·        Age Appropriate (Does the curriculum reflect a vocabulary and sentence structure appropriate to your student(s)?)
  • ·        Colorful and Interesting (Does the curriculum appear in column? Are there pictures? Graphs? Is if printed on sturdy materials?)
  • ·        Answer Key (Does the curriculum provide an answer key?)
  • ·        Propagandistic (Does the curriculum reflect objective scholarship?)
  • ·        Need Based (Does the curriculum meet your needs?  If your child is going to college, is it preparing him to go?).
  • ·        Authorship (Check the credentials of the author of your curriculum).
  • ·        Organization (Is the curriculum organized in a user-friendly manner?)

These are exciting and important days in which we live. Never have a more critical generation—homeschooled or otherwise—grown up in America. It is important that all homeschool parents take seriously its duty of providing the best curricula to educate their children!

Our Young People Bring Possibility

May 1st, 2017

A transplanted Arkansas boy who now lives in the often-frigid Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania, I like my apple cider to be steaming and my house to be about 78 degrees. An anthracite coal-burning stove does the job, but there is one problem with coal heat, and it occurs about three o’clock every morning: the fire dies down to the point where the house is dangerously cold.

Is the home school movement growing cold? I think not.

Old Testament Levitical priests had a duty to tend the fire in the tent of meeting, to keep it roaring and bright. The fire on the altar, the eternal flame on which sacrifices were offered to God, was not to go out. Other tasks could be deferred. But the fire on the altar was never to go out. (Leviticus 6:8–13)

Through the centuries believers have served well as fire tenders. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever . . .(Deuteronomy 29:29). This is a gathered inheritance kept alive by men and women of faith. In our own home school history the honor belongs to Hulsey, Harris, Ferris, and countless others.

Truth is restated; more than that, the reader will observe that saints throughout the ages have built on the faith of those who preceded them. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: that is true, and truth is the same, forever. Revelation of truth, though, is forever becoming better understood, we hope. The previous generation of believers passes the torch to us, and we pass it to the next, and so on. Each generation builds on the illumination of the previous generation. We trust that the world is better for it.

On my farm grows an oak tree that began its life 30 years ago full of potential, and it was beautiful in its own right. Today it is so much more beautiful than it was thirty years ago. It is the same tree, but oh, how much larger and fuller are its branches and fruits! Diurnally I remove acorns and leaves deposited on my truck. It is the same tree, still full of potential, but producing more fruit than ever. A vicious blight or uncaring gypsy moth may kill it someday, but I already see a new oak seedling growing in its redolent shadow.

I look at this new generation of home schoolers and I know that we are not going to run out of fuel. The Holy Spirit is still here to encourage, to inspire every generation. There is, I have no doubt, a new C. S. Lewis or Oswald Chambers alive today.

Fear is dissipated by promises; evil is overcome by good. A gathered inheritance. We again recognize that the secret things belong “to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). A gathered inheritance!

Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “The lightning illuminates all and then leaves it again in darkness. So faith in God grasps humanity, and we respond in ecstasy. And the darkness is never again the same, . . . but it is still the darkness.”

All of God’s saints—past, present, and future—are flashes of lightning in the sky. And the darkness is never the same again because the light reveals what life can be in Jesus Christ. “Memory allows possibility,” theologian Walter Brueggemann writes. A gathered inheritance. We bring memory. Our young people bring possibility.

Moral Persons, Immoral Societies

April 26th, 2017

For the first eight years of my life I stood in front of an ancient oak tree in front of my family home on South Highway, McGehee, Arkansas, and caught a big yellow school bus to McGehee Elementary School. My buddies, Craig Towles and Pip Runyan, wickedly violated school bus riding etiquette and abandoned their boring bus stop two doors down and joined me so that we could surreptitiously deposit acorns AKA pretend “soldiers” in the middle of the road to be squashed by speeding autos AKA pretend German Panzer Tanks. The old oak tree liberally deposited brave acorn Wehrmacht African Korps recruits on the crab grass carpet that my grandmother had futilely tried to replace with St. Augustine grass.
We made the most of the oak’s munificence. Those little buggers made a wonderful chartreuse stain on the already steaming South Highway concrete crown. This was innocent enough—no one would miss a few acorns from a stupid oak tree—but before long, you guessed it, we—more precisely Pip—who was always full of errant but terribly interesting pretend scenarios—that boy always worried Craig and me—suggested that we abandon the acorns and started throwing grenades AKA rocks at passing cars (Pip will deny this of course but you must corroborate this story with Craig). We finally hit (blew up) a few Tiger Tanks and got into big trouble (were captured by the enemy—the Gestapo—and were thoroughly punished–our parents beat the crap out of us).
The truth is Jimmy, Craig, Pip alone would not do such a depraved thing (well maybe Pip would do it—he tortured cats too). In a group, together, however, such a thing not only was plausible, it was downright desirable. Jimmy, Craig, and Pip did things Jimmy or Craig or Pip would never do alone. In a crowd we did things we would not do as individuals.
A Christian theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr said as much in a book he wrote called Moral Man and Immoral Society. Niebuhr insisted that public politics is concerned with correcting, balancing as it were, the sinfulness of human nature, that is, the self-centeredness of individuals and groups. But he understood that while little boys, and political despots might behave nicely if they are alone, in groups, they became monsters. He suggested that moral men became immoral men when they were together in a social group.
Niebuhr fervently hoped that a person would experience redemption and thereby redeem his society by a Hegelian, reductionist struggle with sinfulness. Hegel said, in short, that folks changed as they struggled with life. Hegel hoped that people came through a struggle, hard times, as better people. Just like my mother hoped that my whipping for throwing the rocks with Craig and Pip would cause me to be a better person too. In my case, the mental dissonance, combined with physical pain, worked! I have never thrown rocks at cars since then. I still relieve myself outside behind another oak tree once in a while—another terrible thing that Pip and Craig taught me to do and my fussy mother told me not to do—but, hey, I live on a farm! But I have never thrown rocks at cars.
Niebuhr advanced the thesis that what the individual is able to achieve singly cannot be a possibility for social groups. He believed that Jimmy Stobaugh would be a good boy alone but inevitably, without a doubt, once he was with Craig and Pip or his other buddies he would indulge in chicanery. It was inevitable. Thus, Niebuhr believed in moral individuals and immoral societies or groups. He called it “the herd mentality.”
In other words, Niebuhr correctly saw the immorality of systems in society (e.g., social welfare) and its futile attempts to ameliorate individuals and their needs through systemic interventions. In other words, Niebuhr was not naïve — he knew that systems and cultures change and individual hearts change. But it was much harder to convince a group to change than an individual.
Niebuhr warned that one should try to change individual hearts first, but, in a last resort, power could and should be used to stop societies from harming its members and then other societies.
Once Craig and I were melting down Mr. Chilcoat’s discarded tar shingles to make spears. We were full of bad ideas but they always exhibited élan and ingenuity. We carefully placed the tar shingles in empty discarded metal pork and bean cans sitting in a roaring fire. Once the tar was bubbling we placed old broom handles in the mixture and, once the broom handles were removed, and the tar somewhat cooled, we place stone heads–carefully chiseled as surrogate Indian spear heads–into the warm tar. Thus, we created a alligator killing weapon that we used to kill pretend reptiles in Mrs. Beck’s water garden.
My dad, observing our behavior, and, furthermore, discerning the obvious dangers of placing boiling tar and eight year old boys in the same vicinity, prophetically warned, “Jimmy, stop or you will burn yourself badly.”
Well, he was right. Within the next hour I spilled burning tar on my right hand causing painful third degree burns. I spent the rest of the day in Dr. Parker’s waiting room. Even looking at lovely Jane Parker, Dr. Parker’s oldest daughter, my first heartthrob, only to be replaced by perennial goddess Jamie Fraser the following year, could not mitigate the pain. It was a Sunday afternoon and Jane had accompanied her dad to his office, which was normally closed. I longingly lobbied for curative sympathy from this exquisite beauty but Jane, always the pragmatist, simply thought I was stupid and resented that her dad had to waste his time on such a dope.
The thing is, I always wondered, why didn’t my dad STOP me from burning Mr. Chilcoat’s roof shingles and, more pointedly, from burning to the third degree his accident prone, stupid middle son’s hand? What if I had killed myself or something? I imagined Dad saying, “Well Jimmys dead—I told him it was going to happen.” Or “Well, now what am I going to do—there is no one to take the trash out in the morning!” My dad would have been sorry, I was convinced if the fates of burning tar had snatched me from this world
Or, worse, what if I hurt Craig—something I was always doing. Poor Craig, more times than not, got hurt more often by my dim-witted choices than I did. Craig got four stitches in his chin the next year when I caught his face with an army surplus shovel as we dug fox holes to escape the inevitable Japanese Banzai charge that would be visited on us at Guadalcanal. Didn’t Dad at least want to protect poor Craig? It would have been pretty embarrassing to tell Mom, and Mrs. Towles, “Sorry to tell you—Jimmy and Craig were killed while making tar spears to kill pretend alligators in Mrs. Beck’s water garden.” Pathetic parenting.
I once asked Dad and Dad with an iconic grin responded, “Jimmy, even at age eight, you manifested an obduracy that I could not overcome. In the presence of Craig, in order to maintain your pride, I knew you would never listen to me. You needed to experience the consequences of your actions before you would stop the action.”
Especially as I look down right now, as I type this digital magazine, and I look at my scarred right hand I realize my sagacious father was right.
Dad’s point was, individuals may be sincere in their understanding about several issues. In fact, they may be right about some issues. But they are wrong,
too. But when that group gains political hegemony, it can lose focus and direction and can do immoral things—like throwing rocks at cars—and stupid things—like making tar spears.
Individuals can be moral in purpose and in actions. But combining a bunch of individuals into a coercive group can cause the group to become immoral. For example, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was initially a pretty good thing for Germany. However, as he gained power, the good was replaced by the bad. This may not be inevitable, but it happens so often that we should be cautious in giving so much power to groups. As an interesting sidebar, Niebuhr is directly contradicting the liberal Dewey who applauded the notion that the community, or larger society, created the greater good.
The answer to this apparent contradiction is, of course the Gospel. Societies and groups change as individuals change. Niebuhr stressed the role of the Holy Spirit (what he calls the “religious imagination”). In a sense the group remained moral because the individuals in that society answer to a “higher power,” not to the coercion of the group or to the agenda of the group. Dietrich Bonheoffer, a German
World War II martyr, for example, was perhaps the most patriotic of Germans because he loved his God and his country enough to obey God and His Word above all persons. This was the only way, Bonheoffer understood, that his nation could be moral and right before the God he served. Unfortunately, he was a lone voice in
the wilderness!
We live today in a world that is full of the tyranny of the majority. The world tells us to relax, be happy and do what is right in our own eyes. We do things as a group we would never do as individuals. But judgment comes not to groups but to individuals!
The truth, then, is change—real change—is a “God” thing. Only God can really change persons. And as he changes persons, families, then he will change communities and nations. I believe this with all my heart and anxiously wait for God to change our individual hearts, then our nation, and then the world. For the time we have left, with all the effort we have, I wish to do exactly that: share the Gospel with one person at a time so that the world will change and God’s Kingdom will come on this Earth as it is in Heaven!