Tag Archives: parenting

Cultures and Christians: Book Recommendations

Throughout the approximately twenty centuries since Christ, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth have lived in a variety of cultural climates, both apathetic to their cause and enraged by it. Regardless of the century, language, and environment, the levels of freedom and comfort, Christians have always existed. There has never been a time when they have died out. Christianity’s success cannot be predicted by the right moral culture, nor the most conducive political climate. The Christian confession of Christ as Lord spread like wildfire during the Roman occupation and persecution of the first century. Yet, Christianity was also arguably strengthened during the American Restoration movement as it seemed to enjoy a burst of freedom. So, whether or not our cultural environment approves of us does not seem to indicate a tell-tale sign of how well we will flourish in it.

In recent months I have been reading and reflecting a great deal on culture and the proper response to it as a Christian. My natural instinct, honestly, is to shrink back from the excessive amounts of pop culture and trends. However, much of the books, articles, and podcasts I have been reading and listening to have urged me to think more broadly about our responsibilities and opportunities to engage the people around us. I am feeling challenged more than ever to spread truth and beauty and goodness in His name.

I would love to recommend the following books to those of you considering how to live successfully in this post-Christian culture ( in whichever culture you find yourself) as followers of Jesus, while still making genuine connections with people. We do not need to despair, for we know the end of the story. We do not need to be silent, biding our time.

For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 GNB

We need not fight and rage against the machine, for his light of peace is within us. Instead, we have the opportunity to create a culture which best reflects his beautiful face.

Although some of these books have a more specialized focus than others, there is a striking similarity and continuity of thought among them. I encourage you to read these in communion with others and discuss how you can build a culture that is faithful to Christ and open to loving all people.

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher is a Roman Catholic turned Eastern Orthodox writer and editor. His book, The Benedict Option, received mixed response as some felt it to be too pessimistic and fear-inducing. I found it both challenging and poignant, and a catalyst to aid me in refocusing my purpose. Dreher makes use of both the symbols of Noah’s ark and Ezekiel’s streams of water “issuing from the altar.” In his mind the Church is both the ark and a wellspring.

“The church, then, is both Ark and Wellspring- and Christians must live in both realities. God gave us the Ark of the church to keep us from drowning in the raging flood. But He also gave us the church as a place to drown our old selves symbolically in the water of baptism, and to grow in new life, nourished by the never-ending torrent of His grace.”

p. 238

Dreher uses the Rule of St. Benedict to make application as to how we should order our lives today. He warns against a consumerist society, promotes a certain amount of asceticism, and believes in prayer as work and worship. He advocates for groups of Christians working together for the stability and flourishing of their local communities. Religious liberty, according to Dreher, is of vital importance if our cultures are to thrive. He reminds us of examples in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and China under the era of Communism. As Christians in America today, we have a choice.

“Part of the change we have to make is accepting that in the years to come, faithful Christians may have to choose between being a good American and being a good Christian.”

p. 89

“Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good…ceasing to believe that the fate of the American Empire is in our hands frees us to put them to work for the Kingdom of God in our own little shires.”

pp. 98-99

Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life by Makoto Fujimura

In 2009 Japanese-American artist Makoto Fujimura was commissioned by Crossways to create an illuminated manuscript, The Four Holy Gospels, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It was published in 2011 as part of the English Standard Version. The artist is the founder of the Fujimura Institute and the International Arts Movement, which “creates a new paradigm by lovingly tending to cultural soil and caring for artists as pollinators of the good, true and beautiful.” In his book Culture Care, Fujimura encourages all artists, regardless of media, to produce high quality fiction, film, paintings, sculpture, poetry, etc. in order to cultivate a Creator-honoring culture.

“The God revealed in the Bible has endowed creation with overflowing beauty. There God is not characterized by utility but by abundant love. God desires his creatures-especially those who in Christ are adopted as his children-also to be creative and generative.”

pp. 96-97

As God is the Creator, we are likewise creators, as we bear his image. Fujimura challenges modern-day Christians to move about their spheres in ways they have perhaps not done before. He asks us to look at the entire story of the Bible and to find our place in it today.

“…churches often present the middle two elements (fall and redemption) but rarely connect the whole story of the Bible-that begins in creation and ends in new creation-with the stories of our present lives and communities. We often issue this great book, reducing it to a book of rules, a checklist for earning our way into heaven, or a guidebook for material prosperity or personal well-being. Many churches replace God as Artist with God as CEO of the universe…

Christian communities are thus often busy with programs, but rarely seen as a creative force to be reckoned with, let alone as a power of good that affects whole cities and gives everyone a song to sing.”

pp. 95-96

Fujimura believes in truth telling, but also believes that the Christian has more to tell than just the darkness and grimness of reality. There is more to the real world than brokenness and despair.

“In The face of the undeniable and often unbearable human suffering all around us, we must still affirm beauty and work to make our culture reflect it. This is why a culture care approach will encourage truth telling about alienation, suffering and oppression alongside truth telling about justice, hope, and restoration.”

p. 56

Fujimura invites all artists- and here his definition of an artist or creator is wide and encompassing- to participate in culture care, in creating and restoring.

The third book recommendation, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping our Kids Navigate Today’s World by John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, was just published this year. The authors make a point early in the book of defining culture as morally neutral. There is nothing inherently negative about living within a local culture. On the contrary, some cultures may be extremely moral and beneficial. As creatures, we were created to make something of the world. That is, our culture, not the created elements, the trees, the lakes, the birds, but the art, the cuisines, the sports, the entertainment and myriad of expressions that converge to comprise any one culture. Stonestreet and Kunkle writes particularly to parents, church leaders, youth leaders, and anyone who has spiritual contact with teens. They articulate words of warning and encouragement to both teens and their adults to aid in teaching and training young people to build their faith. They frequently describe us as “image-bearers” in this broken world. Like Fujimura, the authors of A Practical Guide to Culture do not see culture as something to be shunned, but something to take advantage of – a beautiful opportunity on which to construct something beautiful and healing.

“Cultivating is exactly the sort of behavior the Scriptures would have us expect from God’s image bearers… God made humans with the capacity to do something with His world, and that’s exactly what we do. Culture was an integral part of God’s plan for us and His world from the very beginning.”

Celebrating contemporary artists and leaders, the authors give nods to several people involved in various fields who are creating beautiful culture. Educator and Founder and President of Celebrate Kids, Inc., Dr. Kathy Koch, the aforementioned artist Makoto Fujimura, and S.D. Smith, author of the middle grade novel series The Green Ember, and others are all lauded as having accepted the call to be faithful in their sphere, “celebrating, creating, confronting, co-opting, and correcting” in the world.

Addressing contemporary topics like LGBTQ issues, screens and technology, and the media, Stonestreet and Kunkle discuss how Christians should biblically view them. By far the strongest sections of this book are their treatment of racism and Part Four: Christian Worldview Essentials, a final section on teaching our children a Christian worldview. Stonestreet and Kunkle remind us that tolerating racial or ethnic barriers is a sin.

“Do we find our identity in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Have we cultivated a posture of forgiveness and reconciliation or of hostility and bitterness? Do we simply dismiss all concerns about racism without listening carefully to others?

Followers of Jesus don’t have the option of tolerating racial or ethnic barriers. It’s sin. We take our cues from Scripture,not from culture.”

The heart of the book lies in the final section. It could easily be read by an adult to help a teen, or by the teen herself. Stonestreet and Kunkle present the Christian worldview in describing why we believe the Bible to be historically true and accurate, but also why we consider it to be the very words of God. They also help teens navigate other world views, and show them how honest people might disagree with them.

“Classical tolerance actually entails disagreement about important matters, but we ‘tolerate’ those who hold differing opinions, treating one another with respect even while disagreeing.”

In a world that purports tolerance, we see pitifully few discussions which seem to epitomize a tolerant or understanding spirit. How much richer and more beautiful would our cultural soil be if we were able to engage our neighbors with truth, beauty and goodness, all while listening?

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Teaching the Bible story

While I want my children to desire to know God and connect with people on a heart level, I also feel it is crucial for them to have a solid, textually-based knowledge of His Word, the Bible. Even though our morning routine looks slightly different from year to year, it always includes some form of Bible study or learning. In the past, it has been as random as opening the Bible to read a few verses together, to something more systematic like a reading and study of a particular book. One year we covered the Gospel of Luke, another the epistle of James, or enjoyed random readings from Psalms and Proverbs using our Bible verse box. The box is still hanging around on an end table in our basement, but it hasn’t been used in awhile.

This year I have accepted the encouragement from Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason to keep key verses written on notecards and file them in an index box. We use no methodology for memorization. I simply read the verse each morning and my kids say it along with me as they become familiar with it. There is no pressure to memorize quickly. Some familiar verses we have learned pat in 2-3 days. Others, less familiar or lengthier passages, have taken us a couple of weeks or so. Sonya Shafer has an easy system of reviewing old verses so nothing is lost over time. Look here for her easy to implement Bible memory verse system. Oh, and if you are tempted to to shorten the length of Scriptures for the younger ones, refrain! The six-year-old, with his agile memory,  is our leader in this. G usually keeps us on track when we forget a phrase or mix up translations. (The King James version was the go-to translation when I was younger.) Regardless of how well we have memorized the text, I feel good that they are hearing beautiful words, words that they can hold on to for life.

I have also been searching for a way to teach my guys the Bible in a ‘big picture” format. I want them to see the overarching story line through history, to see the Bible as a cohesive text as well as a collection of histories, poems, letters written in their own contexts. I want my boys to see how they also fit into God’s story, and I think I have found one way to do that through Bible book summary cards. This group has Bible study curriculum for both a homeschool or home use setting, as well as a classroom setting. The cards are colorful 8.5″ x 11″ sturdy stock cards with graphic and mnemonic devices to help you and your child learn (and remember!) the main focus, doctrinal points, or narratives for each of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament. While they don’t take the place of reading the text itself, it is a wonderful way to give your child a thorough overview. Because there is a brief explanation on the back of each card, even those of us who can’t remember the main point of Haggai, can still learn and teach our kids. Some of the cards look like this.

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Hopefully, the skull and cross bones don’t distract from Bible learning. Come to think of it, I think we talked about Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones that day!

Can you guess which book this card represents?

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We are only a couple of minor prophets away from completing the Old Testament. I am amazed at how they have already connected with the story lines.

On the back of each card are five or six questions to help review. Each day we name the books already completed and I randomly choose a few for them to narrate back to me based on the pictures. We can’t do all of them every day; it would take too long! Then, we read and learn the next one. All in all, it takes us 15 minutes or so to say our memory verse, and learn our Bible book summary cards. In this way, my boys and I are able to start the day with God’s Word.

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Storms and mercy

Indiana experienced severe thunderstorms, flash floods and even some tornadoes this past week. While my family has remained safe, and our home unscathed, we have known others in power outages, and have seen videos from neighboring towns with storms knocking down coffee shops and flipping homes. They have experienced the harshness of what nature can bring.

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The sky has displayed both the frightening power and the soothing gentleness of its Creator. The LORD is both mighty and tender. He is angry storm clouds, moaning winds. He is a barely detectable sweep of a butterfly’s wing, a placating touch lightly lain on a shoulder. He is all of our talents manifest at the peak of their practice. He is the mercy when we fail in our constant fragility. He is love, and all in between.

This past weekend I went with some girlfriends to watch the Meryl Strep biopic Florence Foster Jenkins, the peculiarly popular opera singing with the infamously off key voice. As she lay in her bed dying tears welling from her eyes, tears of disappointment, she finds a moment of triumph with a somewhat self-deprecating smile. She tells her husband,

Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing.

At the end of the day, as I lay my head on my pillow with eyes either welling with tears, or feeling a sense of triumph, I can say equally well,

Some may say I didn’t parent well, but no one can say I didn’t parent.

And the mighty hand of the Creator will bring power and gentleness to rest in their appropriate places. There will be storms of mercy that fall, filling in the spots where I was off key.

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Take care, little ones: a book review

I love October!

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There is something magnificent about the season as its sunlight filters through the golden and fiery leaves.  There is something breathtaking in the blueness of sky and the earthiness of the russets and bark and dirt and hay.  I know it is not like this everywhere.  I grew up in the Southwest in the desert where you have to measure time and seasons by a different rhythm.  For this reason, I love autumn in the Midwest even more.

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My boys are getting older, and with the privilege of being able to stay home alone, also comes the rarer opportunities for all of my people to be out in nature at once.

While at the library the other day, G found this sweet book.  Although it touches on each of the seasons, it seems to be a great one to read during the fall.

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Miss Maple is a tiny woman who collects lost seeds and matures them into the trees and plants they were intended to be.  She mourns their lost state, plans her action and sees them through their potential.  Wow.  Did you hear that?  This little picture book by Eliza Wheeler works on two main levels.  With its bright illustrations it teaches G about the seasons and the seeds with which he is becoming familiar.  And for me?  It focuses me on my delightful responsibility as a teacher and mom to help my precious child realize his potential.  I even suspect G was able to hear the words of encouragement Miss Maple had for him.

Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small.

G laughed the first time he noticed how Miss Maple transported her seeds:  a boat made from a leaf.  She protects her lost seeds from the elements, cares for them against the weeds, and even tucks them in their cozy beds while she “reads flower tales by firefly light.”  While G talks and jumps almost incessantly, and more often than not, is engaged in tales of light saber battles, there was something about this fairy-like story which held his attention.

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As each season passes, there is a new way in which Miss Maple becomes a care giver.  “Don’t be afraid – raindrops help us grow.”  She tenderly reminds  her charges in the spring.  In this way, I was able gently to remind G of those past fears which brought him to where he is today.  Riding his bicycle.  Visiting a new class.  Introducing himself to someone new.

As we read through this book, it may reinforce G’s knowledge of trees and plants.  We can use the beautifully illustrated seeds to help us match them up with the leaves we encounter as we go out on our October walks.  We may spot different seeds, different ways in which the world is big and we are small.

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Until, finally, one day, Miss Maple sends her seeds out into the world for them to take root.  Sigh.  And this is what G will one day be doing.  In his mind, however, it is an eternity away.  In my mind, I wish it were so.

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A

FORTY-FOUR (or how Scripture can help my children)

IMG_3719His head was bent down and I could tell he was thinking because his eyelids fluttered a few seconds.  Someone had hurt his feelings, and he was trying to gain control of his emotions, and perhaps acquire a bit of understanding.  He had been wounded, and even worse, it was by one of his own.  A brother.

“I didn’t like when he told me that.”  He was playing with his fingers.  “That made me sad.”

Words not particularly profound, yet descriptive and emotionally mature from a five-year old.  His self-awareness impressed me.

I opened my mouth to comfort him, to impart words of solace, or at least empathy.  But once again, my little G spoke first.  Holding out four fingers horizontally toward me, he proffered a wan but encouraging smile.

“Forty-four, Mama.”

“Forty-four,”  I repeated smiling toward him, and I could tell he had already begun the process of healing.  In just two words he uttered greater wisdom than I would ever have given at that moment.

Well, let me explain.

For the last few years my boys have been attending a Tuesday morning gym class for homeschoolers in our area.  The gym teacher is a mom of three public school teens who developed this ministry for her church and community.  Not only does she lead a gym class weekly free of charge, but she infuses the lessons with biblical truth, friendship and Scripture memorization.  Each year she chooses a new theme verse.  In the past some themes have been “Fly like an eagle” from Isaiah 40:31, “Be still [and know that I am God] from Psalm 46:10, and “Apply your heart to instruction” from Proverbs 23:12.  At the close of each class, all the students gather together in a huddle with their hands in the middle and chant loudly the year’s theme as if it were a winning cheer.  It is cute, especially when the three to six-year olds participate.  And yet, watching G hold out his “four” I am aware of how powerful Scripture is even to the mind of a five-year old.  This year’s verse is “Rejoice in the LORD!”  Sometimes we have bad days, sometimes we do not do our best, but always there is a deep reason for rejoicing.  “Rejoice in the LORD!”  Philippians 4:4.

And there you have it.  Four, four.  Forty-four.

“Forty-four, Mama.”

The truth is this isn’t the first time G has made use of this nugget of truth, not the first time he has laid claim to this promise of treasure.  I have been reproved previously during a bad day, when I was displaying less patience and empathy than I should.  His short fingers in the shape of a four brought me right back to where I needed to be.

This, however, was the first time he had turned it on himself.  Applying Scripture to his own heart at five – I couldn’t be prouder.  Or more grateful.

Forty-four to each one of you.

Back to School

There was a great deal of complaining last year.  Math was too difficult.  We had too much work.  The dreaded ‘B’ word was bandied about.  You know, as in, This is (gasp) boring.  

After addressing each subject separately, I began to gain some clarity: the problem did not lie with the challenging subject matter, nor the words my kids – one of them in particular, let’s be honest- chose to use.  It didn’t even primarily pertain to the unwanted behaviors.  It was a deeper, yet simpler problem.  A problem of the heart.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,  LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19:34

I have often wondered why David mentions his words before his thoughts.  Jesus calls out his would-be followers, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and “where your treasure is, there the heart will be also.”

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My children needed to change their thinking.  Controlling my heart, my tongue, and my thoughts are not easy for me as an adult.  How much more difficult will it be for my children? They need to see me model a desire to do so, however.

Our first week of school has passed slowly, with low expectations, incrementally adding topics and subjects.  We have read, journaled, watched the news, completed some map work, and generally re-introduced the habit of sitting down to work again (as well as introduced what it will look like in our new house.  We moved in less than two weeks ago.)

Charlotte Mason’s motto has helped us in approaching this new school year with positive guidelines.

I am.. I can… I ought… I will…

I am hoping to instill in my children a proprietary sense of their education and spiritual life. You can read here for more information about Charlotte Mason’s motto and educational philosophy.

Each day we have added to our understanding of the motto with the Bible verses suggested here.

 

I am….a child of God.  I am a person of great value because God made me.

Ephesians 2:8-10  “…For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

I can…do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  I am capable of accomplishing all I need to do.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I ought…. to obey God, my parents and all those who are in authority over me.

Mark 12:30-31 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”

I will…decide to keep watch over my thoughts and tongue and choose what is right even if it is not what I want.

Psalm 119:30 “I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.”

We have discussed the significance of each of these points and used the verses as copywork.  We are slowly incorporating them as memory work as well.  The heavy responsibilities and expectations of the school year lighten when we are reminded how loved we are, along with an encouraging reminder that we are, indeed, capable.

Looking at bark

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Are you able to discern this variety of tree simply by its bark?  Could it be a sweet gum?  There are certainly a number of sweet gum pods, or the fruit, about the ground nearby.  Why are you uncertain?  Are you not familiar with trees?  Can you more readily recognize them by their blooms or leaves?  is the photo simply too close?  The closer we study something the more difficult it may be genuinely to see it.

Is it a beautiful tree?  Perhaps.  It is hard to tell now.  I am merely examining one small part of it. It is nearly impossible to see your hand half an inch from your face.  As I cannot even remember if this really is a sweet gum, I cannot be sure.  I know it is not a beech, which has a smoother bark.  What I do know is that if I were to take a few paces back I would see a thing of fractal beauty, an example of a social yet stationary giant.

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This is how my son appears to me, day after day.  Rough.  Bumpy.  Craggy.  Too close. There are too many petty fights, too much time spent on incidental worries, and certainly not as many moments appreciating where he is now.  When I look exclusively at the details, become hyper-focused on the minutiae in the necessities of the day to day, it becomes increasingly difficult to see him as he truly is now, in all of his beauty.  I need to step back a few paces every once in a while, smile at him and take in all of him at this stage –  bark, leaves, limbs, branches, shaggy hair…..

 

…Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;

they will sing before the LORD…

Psalm 96:12b-13a

Resources: “What is that in your hand?”

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What is the mightiest tool I possess?  A keyboard?  A recipe for spaghetti puttanesca?  A seemingly pointless master’s degree in Slav(on)ic  studies?  These meager resources seem insufficient to tackle the task at hand- namely, raising three boys from childhood to boyhood, and eventually to manhood with grace, strength, consistency and wisdom, turning their hearts solidly toward God.  It is more than I could do on my own.  It is more than any of us can do.  As I sigh over bread crumbs kicked into distant kitchen corners, or over another petty squabble between my boys, or even a missed opportunity to encourage someone, my impoverished resources appear pathetic.  As I focus on my weaknesses, I largely see problems and never solutions.  I get bogged down in the now and forget to rejoice over the future’s victories.

I see my puttanesca recipe only as a means of getting dinner on the table until I remember a couple of loaves of bread .

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?

John 6:9

My arms seem weak and tired until I recall a shepherd’s staff.

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

Exodus 4:2

A random and ancient oxgoad.  A slingshot and a smooth, well-chosen stone near running water.

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.  He too saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

Could they be synonymous with a pen’s scribblings?  A healing conversation?  With words of truth spoken in earnest?

What they have in common is their negligibility.  They are nominally useful things in human hands.  Yet in the hands of a foreign judge, backed by the LORD Almighty, an entire nation gains freedom by way of a farm tool.  Guided by the Jewish Messiah, surrounded by crowds, a boy relinquishes his lunch and feeds thousands, highlighting deity in human form for all in the vicinity.  Leaning on a staff a shepherd strikes fear in the world’s leading ancient empire.  Alone in a remote town, among an insignificant tribe, a married couple turns construction and home design into a powerful sanctuary for a holy prophet.

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.  Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

2 Kings 4:10

Whatever we find in our hand He infuses with power and substance and relevance.

And there are times that as we search about us we may discover that we have inadvertently dropped whatever had been in our hands.  There is no longer a shepherd’s staff or even a small stone.  Or maybe we had never even grasped anything at all.  A flash of light, a midnight escape in a basket, (Acts 9:23-25) a couple of Roman floggings, and we no longer possess our prestigious diploma in the Torah.

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And that is when we fall, only to take up the most powerful tool of all – prayer.

Why Atticus Finch could have raised a child on the autism spectrum

DSC_0002Lately I have been spending time within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.  It’s not my first time to read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.  This might be my fourth or fifth.  Between reading the novel for a book club and reading it in preparation to make use of it as a read aloud with A and S early next school year, I am reading for curriculum – for historical setting, thematic elements, symbolism and life lessons- just as much as for narrative enjoyment.  From spending time in quiet reflection adjacent to Atticus and the Mobile Register to racing past the Radley place behind Scout with my jeans rolled up, I have been reflecting on the significance of Harper Lee’s story for myself.

Jem.  Calpurnia.  Mr. Heck Tate.  Maudie Atkins.  Tom Robinson.  Reverend Sykes.  Mrs. Dubose.  Lively characters with much to say to us even today.  While it is widely recognized that Atticus Finch was a good father doing his reticent best in solitary and difficult times, I have also come to a more personal conclusion: Atticus Finch could have successfully raised a child with Asperger’s.

Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-a-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life.  I suggested that one could be a ray of sunshine in pants just as well, but Aunty said that one had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year.  She hurt my feelings and set my teeth permanently on edge, but when I asked Atticus about it, he said there were already enough sunbeams in the family and to go on about my business, he didn’t mind me much the way I was.

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 9, p. 89

The beauty of Atticus’ statement to Scout is in his acceptance of her.  No only does this make me smile for its understating qualities but also for Aunt Alexandra’s usage of the word “sunbeam.”  Atticus’ connotation of the word seems substantively different.  Not only did Atticus “not mind” her differences, but he did the hard work as a parent to help her stand out against her society insomuch as she was standing on her own two feet.  He didn’t mind her wearing overalls.  He didn’t mind her being addressed as Scout, instead of her given name Jean Louise.  He didn’t mind her running around half wild with an awkward neighbor boy and no girls for friends.  He didn’t mind her swearing, not really, because he understood it was for attention and want of expression (and incidentally a last-ditch ploy to avoid school).  These were unequivocal traits which made Scout stand out as an oddity in polite, accepted Maycomb society.

How is all this important to me?  Because he wears the baseball cap 24/7.  Giggles uncontrollably at things no one else finds even slightly amusing.  Uses archaic phrases.  Recites stories from memory that at times have little to do with the flow of conversation.  Interjects tidbits of trivia on baseball, presidents, car models, world countries, etc. apropos to goodness knows what.  Why should I find this difficult or offensive?  Like Atticus I am learning to accept.  Whereas he fought the battle of Aunt Alexandra and Maycomb County, I fight my own internal battle.  Hard pressed between how I feel others may perceive him and how I should just let him be.  My own quirky sunbeam.

“First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.  You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – ”

“Sir?”

“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

chapter 3, p. 36

Atticus teaches Scout and Jem to take stock of another’s perspective multiple times in the novel.  He offers this advice concerning those he genuinely cares for like Miss Caroline or Mr. Cunningham, and for those he does not, such as Bob Ewell.  We need more empathy, more walking around in each other’s skin, more children who can say, “I don’t agree with you, but I understand why you think that way.”  More people who are strong enough to wield grace and patience.  Not condoning immoral behavior but a loving spirit and empathy for someone else’s struggle.

Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.

chapter 15, p. 164

Empathy and theory of mind can be difficult for people on the spectrum.  Difficult, but not impossible.

Atticus pushed my head under his chin.  “It’s not time to worry yet,” he said.  “I never thought Jem’d be the one to lose his head over this – thought I’d have more trouble with you.”

chapter 11, p. 113

As a member of our bookclub noted, Atticus never blatantly tells the children when it is time to worry.  He teaches by example through a forbearance that supersedes worry and despair.  Through these words he gives credence to the seriousness of the situation, but allows them to know that someone is sharing their concern.  He is listening.

Isn’t this what we all desire, for someone to say, “Yes, I hear you are scared.  Yes, those are legitimate worries.  Let’s deal with this together.”?  Unfortunately, fear and anxiety can be the primary emotion for people on the spectrum.  Atticus might have been able to successfully parent his way through these daily struggles with an Aspie son or daughter.

Certainly I am not proposing that Jem or Scout were intended to have Asperger’s.  They were precocious, yet neuro-typical.  Nor am I proposing that acceptanceempathy and anxiety are things exclusively children with Asperger’s need to learn, but as I have often heard expressed: People with Asperger’s struggle with the same issues everyone else does, only more so.

Summer, and he watched his children’s heart break.  Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him.

Atticus was right.  One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.  Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

chapter 31, p. 294

Pulling Tolstoy off the shelf

Pulling Tolstoy off the shelf one day I flipped through Anna Karenina while waiting for my son to collect his shoes. The hefty volume opened easily, and I was a little surprised to discover the following:

“You’re very, very funny,” Darya Alexandrovna repeated studying his face tenderly. “Well, all right, it will be as if we never spoke of it. What is it, Tanya?” she said in French to the girl who had just come in.

“Where’s my shovel, Mama?”

“I am speaking French, and you should do the same. ”

The girl wanted to do the same, but forgot what a shovel is called in French; her mother told her amd then proceeded to tell her in French where to find the shovel. And Levin found this disagreeable.

Now everything in Darya Alexandrovna’s house and in her children seemed less nice to him than before.

“And why does she speak French with the children?” he thought, “How unnatural and false it is! And the children can feel it. Teaching French and unteaching sincerity,” he thought to himself, not knowing that Darya Alexandrovna had already thought it all over twenty times and, to the detriment of sincerity, had found it necessary to teach her children in this way.

My thoughts instantly applied these words to my own parenting and home education. Living and teaching educational and moral integrity are a great concern to me. So often I fall prey to comparing myself to others, or even worse, comparing myself to unrealistic ideals, which live solely in my own head. In the end, my children may be the ones to suffer. Instead of allowing them to explore their own, genuine interests, I demand standards which do not honor who my children really are. I want to be authentic, full of integrity. I want to love my children for who they are, allowing them to pursue their own fields of study, despite the fact that they may be far from my own. Relationships before arithmetic. Sincerity and strong moral character before chemistry. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8.

What parent doesn’t want their child looking to them with love and respect? First, I need to show them the same love and respect, perhaps in even greater quantity. Even if it entails encouraging the compilation of Hogwart’s spells. Or let’s say, baseball statistics.

As I speak and live for my children, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14.

Sliding Tolstoy back on the shelf, I help G tie his shoes.