Archive for May 2009

Purgatory on Earth

May 28, 2009

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with The VeggieTales: A Snoodle’s Tale.  The actual “A Snoodle’s Tale” segment is so poignant and profound; I highly recommend it to young and old.  The little Snoodle is weighed down by the negative ways his fellow snoodles have depicted him.  Then he meets his creator who paints him a picture of how he is meant to be.  Of course the metaphor is that God, our creator, sees our potential even if no one else does.  The show is meant to be a lesson about self-worth.

Sometimes I can’t help but think of the flip side of this metaphor.  Not only does A Snoodle’s Tale teach us not to let the unkind words of others get us down, but it also tells us that there is a more perfect version of ourselves that we should strive to be no matter what obstacles might stand in our way.  This is supposed to be the goal of every Christian.

Of course, not only are we supposed to strive to be the person God wants us to be, but we have a mission to help others be the best version of themselves as well.  In his book For Better…Forever, Gregory Popcack explains that this is one of the primary purposes of the sacrament of marriage, something that most people don’t realize.  We often want to change our spouses to be more what we want them to be rather than what God wants them to be.

And then you have children….I sometimes think about parenthood as Purgatory on Earth. Purgatory is often one of the most misunderstood tenants of the Catholic faith.  Many Catholics will wrongly tell you that purgatory went the way of the dodo after Vatican II, but that’s just because they were never taught anything about purgatory.  It’s just another one of those things that fell by the wayside during the “Kambaya” catechesis that has often run rampant since the early ’70’s.  I never really understood purgatory until I started reading some of Scott Hahn‘s works.  He compares purgatory to smelting fires that purify iron ore, since scripture refers to purgatory as involving fire.  The fires of purgatory purifies our souls so that we’ll be perfect for heaven.

We tend to think of children as clay we must mold.  (And hopefully we are molding them into the image God has of them.)  We often don’t think about the ways that having and raising children molds us for the better.  I often ponder that part in Evan Almighty when “God” says, “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience?  Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?”  God gives me lots of opportunities to be patient with my children, in addition to opportunities to develop other virtues.  It is not a coincidence that many people turn or return to religion after having children, and despite what the cynics say it is not out of some sense of desperation.  It is because having and raising children makes you really reassess what is important in life.  And being a parent really refines your character in ways nothing else does, and sometimes those ways are just as a painful as the fires of Purgatory are described.

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The Greatness of Homeschooling

May 21, 2009

DD#1 was doing her daily dose of home-made reading worksheets when she came up with a very creative drawing for the word “stash”:

stache crop

Now that’s a great ‘stache!!  True, in a traditional school she would have a received a big fat red “X” for an incorrect answer.  In OUR school, though, that drawing received an “A+” for creative and a discussion about  homophones.

Alarm Bells

May 15, 2009

Let me set up some background.  Due to some bending of the rules so that DD#1 could get baptized without having already attended a year of RE (a requirement for those six and up in our parish), our daughter met a few weeks ago with the RCIA director (my husband’s confirmation sponsor) for a short assessment.  She was really impressed with our daughter’s understanding of certain things and felt that our daughter would be ready to receive her First Holy Communion next spring.  To be honest, our daughter cares more about receiving communion than getting baptized.  Transubstantiation makes more sense to her than Original Sin, which just seems so unfair in her eyes.

While we were waiting outside of the meeting (at our daughter’s insistence), we met the director of the Religious Education program of our parish.  For the non-Catholics out there, Religious Education (also known as CCD–Continued Catholic Development) is a weekly religion class for children who do not attend Catholic schools.  She gave us the form to sign our oldest daughter up for RE classes next year.  Then we started talking about what curriculum they use in their classes and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they use the Faith and Life series, which has the orthodox Catholic stamp of a approval.

We had assumed that we would put DD#1 in the first grade class next year, since she would be in first grade next year if she attended regular school.  After talking with the RCIA and RE directors it was suggested that maybe she should go into the second grade class since she already knows more about the faith than most of the students coming in.  (This is especially sad considering that even though we had discussed a few Bible stories in the past we really just started teaching our daughter about the faith about nine months ago, and I’ve documented before some of the struggles we had.)  The RE director gave me the first grade and second grade placement tests as well as copies of the first and second grade text and workbooks, which was very generous of her.  We also discussed the reading/writing level expected at these grade levels.

As soon as we got home, our daughter wanted to take the placement tests.  For some silly reason I started with the first grade test.  The first part was fill in the blank.  Do you know how hard it is to administer a fill-in-the-blank test to someone at a kindergarten reading level?  If she could read it herself she would have found it exceptionally easy since each blank was preceded by the first letter of the term the test was looking for, which they apparently tell other prospective students.  Which kind of tells me that they are not really gauging the child’s knowledge but their ability to match letters.  I decided to just ask my daughter everything in question form.  This quickly fell apart at number one.

I asked:  who are the three persons of the Trinity?  She quickly replies:  God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Which is obviously correct, except the blanks are looking for God the “Father”, God the “Son”, and God the “Holy Spirit”.  Now keep in mind that I’m trying to be a professional test administrator and not give any hint by word or reaction as to what the correct answers are.  However, I did have to reassess my method so that she would have a better chance of giving the answer that the test was looking for.

After the fill-in-the-blank were a few true/false questions (in which every answer was True).  Then we got to the bonus question:  Where is the Eucharist kept in the Church?  I could see my daughter’s brain straining as tried to think of the correct word.  When it wouldn’t come to her, I asked her to describe what she was thinking of.  She said “a big gold cup with a lid on it”.  Now here’s the thing.  The test was looking for the term “tabernacle”.  When I said that, her face lit up making it obvious that was term she was trying to remember.  However, she was confused about to what the term referred.  She was actually picturing the ciborium in her mind, and “ciborium” is also a correct answer to the bonus question because the Eucharist is kept in a ciborium which is placed in the tabernacle.

We moved on to the second-grade placement test which was almost identical to the first-grade placement test down to the bonus question.  It maybe had two or three extra concepts.  There were only two concepts that my daughter was unfamiliar with or confused about between the two tests.  Then I started looking through the two text books and workbooks and seeing where they differed in content.  They were really extremely similar except for the second grade one did include the sacraments.  I definitely feel that my daughter would probably do better in the second grade class.

However, I have to admit that the whole process gave me reservations about putting her in RE classes at all.  First of all, while Faith and Life seems good from an orthodoxy perspective, from an educational perspective it seems really repetitive from year to year.  It’s supposed to be a spiral program but it seems like a tightly wound coil.  I can see my daughter getting very tired of repeating the same material over and over.  (She already gets annoyed about hearing readings at Church that she already knows the story of.)  Secondly, I worry about the narrowness of the activities and assessments.  Will the RE teachers allow for more than one correct answer?  And if my daughter finds the classes boring and tedious will this turn her off the faith completely?  Basically, some of my reasons for not sending my children to school in the first place have started setting off alarm bells in my brain when it comes to RE classes.

Catechesis was not the only reason we decided to send her to RE classes next year.   We also thought it would be a good opportunity for her and us to meet other people in the parish.  I had even considered teaching RE classes in a year or two (and not just because of the money it would save us).  So, we’ll probably go ahead and send her for the first year and then take it year by year after that.  I plan to be completely involved with my daughter’s religious education whether she is in parish classes or not.  After all, I hope that religion is something that my children live and not just something to which they belong or study in a class.  That’s pretty similar to my educational philosophy in general.

Spring/Summer 2009

May 13, 2009

This week is finals week at my husband’s college, so I’m calling this the last week of our semester as well.  From January through March DD#1 and I did pretty well with working two to three days a week on her math and reading.  About mid-March, though, things started getting hectic and our focus changed quite a bit.  So we did not complete all of Singapore Math 1A or get through as many reading worksheets as I had hoped.  However, I think it was really for the best.  I think my daughter needed a little more time to develop before she was going to be ready to tackle addition and subtraction through 20.

Once I looked into getting all three of our daughters baptized, there were some issues because my oldest is so close to the age of reason in the Catholic Church (age 7).    Some requirements were waved, but we were asked to go through a religious education text book with her and make sure she knew some basic prayers.  I decided that saying the Rosary every weekday would be an excellent way to practice the prayers, and I threw in some coloring pages to keep it interesting for her and the three-year-old.  Since my husband was entering the home stretch towards his reception into the Church at the Easter Vigil, we were also required to attend several events during Holy Week.  In other words March and April ended up being a unit study in our faith.

Going through that religious text book just reinforced that we are so not cut-out for “school at home”.  It was so boring for her and for me.  There was a lot of good information in the book, but I would have approached it differently if she had only been accountable to me.  And I felt myself kind of stressing out if we didn’t read every word, if I didn’t feel that she was paying attention, or if the younger two were being too loud.  I realized that my oldest daughter really responds best to a conversational style of learning.  And we hit an incredible number of topics by just being willing to answer her questions–the other night for instance a question about my book and record sets from childhood led to a discussion of the Nazis.

I’ve also realized that we may be hitting a point where we may need to switch from night schooling to afternoon schooling.  Or we may just need to switch to afternoons during the Spring.  When things started getting crazy mid-March, we were doing our Rosary and religion text in the afternoon and regular school work after dinner.  But when tee-ball, Holy Week, and American Idol started taking up so much of our time, the night schooling fell by the wayside.  (I know, I know, priorities, priorities.)  The point is that once our nights got crazy I had a hard time mentally adjusting to the idea of doing our schooling earlier in the day, so I just didn’t do it.

Despite falling off the formal schooling wagon for the last two months of our semester, as always, I can see that the children continue to learn.  Besides our religious education, DD#1 became the co-manager of her dad’s new fantasy baseball team and started up with tee-ball, so she’s been learning more about the intricacies of the game and decision-making (to trade or not to trade?).  DD#2 has started writing her numbers in addition to composing her own songs.  We also learned that she likes swimming but not swim classes. Our life continually offers up new opportunities for learning, like dinner the other night at a local restaurant where the Muslim staff and friends were doing their ritual prayers in the back of the dining room.

That being said, I am thinking about using my husband’s three week summer session as an intensive homeschooling session for us as well, at least as intensive as we get.  I’m considering five days a week of afternoon work consisting of two reading worksheets each day.  I think I’ll also put together a review of her math concepts so far:  addition and subtraction through ten and number bonds.  She’s about a quarter of a grade level ahead in math, but I really don’t want to fall behind with her reading vocabulary.  Then we might pare down to two to three days a week for the rest of the summer.

The Year of Living Biblically

May 11, 2009

This book by A.J. Jacobs follows “One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” as the sub-title says.   (When did sub-titles become such an omni-present thing??”)  Jacobs basically considered himself an agnostic who seemed to have a mild abhorrence for all things religious at the beginning of the project.  However, at the end of the project….he still basically considers himself an agnostic but with a greater respect for all things religious.

The first thing I found interesting about this book, besides the pictures of his big bushy Biblical beard, is the acknowledgement that the word “literal” means different things to different Bible believers across the Judeo-Christian religious spectrum.  He goes on to explore this concept by talking to various clergy, scholars, and sects from Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews to Appalachian Christian snake handlers and everyone in between.   He makes a good point that all denominations who claim to take the Bible literally, whether Jewish or Christian, tend to cling to certain Biblical rules and ignore others.  This is why Catholics feel that we need the Magisterium to use the oral tradition passed down from the Apostles to interpret the Bible correctly as well as flesh out concepts not actually in the Bible that were believed by the Apostles and other early Christians.

Since the Catholic Church does not use the Bible as its only authority and Jacobs’ experiment revolves about using the Bible as his only authority, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox positions on various topics are largely missing.  Despite this, I enjoyed watching Jacobs discover some universal religious philosophical gems, like chukim.  In Judaism chukim refers to “biblical laws that come without explanation” or laws that don’t seem to make sense (p. 25).  Modern Logical Man tends to believe that he shouldn’t have to follow any law that doesn’t make sense to him (and hence with which he does not agree).  But Religious Whackos believe all sorts of things that don’t make logical sense.  Why do the poor dumb suckers do that?  Because maybe chukim make sense to God in ways that our limited human brains can’t fathom.  I personally have experienced the grace of chukim as I’ve embraced Church rules that I didn’t really agree with only to find blessings that I could have never expected.

Next is the issue of accountability.  Jacobs knows that he was a fairly good person from the beginning, but he begins to realize that God, through the Bible, calls us to be an exceptionally good person.  It’s like the old saying: “God is in the details”.  He starts to redefine things like lying and stealing in more specific ways than he ever had before.  He basically admits that it is easy to rationalize doing anything that you know is wrong when you don’t have a higher authority to whom you have to answer.  Some could argue that “rationalization” is the great modern day ethics code.  “It’s ok to do whatever you want as long as you have a good reason and it won’t hurt another person too much, or at least if you don’t/can’t see how it hurts someone else.”

Many people say they are “religious” but they don’t like “organized religion”.  Jacobs begins to realize that this is because as a society we are obsessed with “freedom of choice”.  Of course, from a religious standpoint “freedom of choice” is what gets us into most of our messes in the first place.  God’s greatest gift to us was free will.  We tend to forget, though, that just because we can doesn’t mean that we should.  And Jacobs also begins to understand that having too many choices can overwhelm the human brain, often leading to bad choices–like a two-year-old allowed to pick his outfit for the day from his entire wardrobe.  Religion often offers freedom  from choice, making our lives simpler and easier.

Besides a love of rationalization and an obsession with never being denied a choice, us humans are obsessed with “fairness”.  Of course, we are usually more obsessed about what is fair for ourselves rather than to other people; it is the root of sibling rivalry.  Look no farther to the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Bible story most likely to raise the hackles of every fair-minded person; never mind that the point of the story is about the relationship between the Father and the disobedient child, and not his whiny brother.  Fairness is also the root of the misguided (in my opinion) Prosperity Theology and abhorrance at its disowned cousin, “generational retribution theology”.

Jacobs begins to realize through his own life experiences that “generational retribution” in the Bible is not a curse from God but rather an observation of fact.  It’s like an early psychological observation about the cycle of abuse, that there are always at least six people in every marriage bed (the married couple and both sets of in-laws), or that nurture is often more important than nature.  Retribution on future generations is not usually a punishment from God for misbehavior but a natural result of bad habits being continually passed down from generation to generation.

I think Jacobs did really good job of balancing respectful religious discourse with being aware that there are some extreme interpretations out there (extreme being in the eye of the beholder obviously).  He could have easily made  a lampoon of his quest to live Biblically.  I really enjoyed his explanation of Jewish midrash and its role is Jewish Biblical interpretation.  I wish he would have discussed his trip to the Holy Land a bit more.  And I must admit feeling a nagging hole where Catholic interpretation could have shed new light on certain concepts, but I understand why Catholic interpretation was not included since it is not strictly Biblical (although it is not contrary to the Bible from a Catholic point of view).  I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants a fair, funny, and throught-provoking look at Biblical teachings from someone discovering them for the first time.

April 2009 Reading List

May 3, 2009

1.  Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston:  This books was a re-read.  Faux sequels to Pride and Prejudice about these days, but I think that Aston’s are some of the best.  It really feels like an Austin novel, but with a bit more exposition about the customs of the day.

2. Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak:  This is a comical look at the Catholic liturgical year with celebratory suggestions, recipes for foodies, and a bonus sections about the sacraments.

3.  Ten Sisters by Virginia Ruth Waggoner Rackley & sisters:  I just kind of picked this book up on the fly at the library.  This non-fiction book tells the story of the lives of ten sisters that were separated by the Illinois court system in the 1940’s.  Each sister has her own chapter with her own point-of-view, which seems neat in theory but ended up being tedious and confusing.  I didn’t finish all ten chapters.  It may have been better if the chapters had been arranged in birth order to make it easier to keep people straight and develop the story.

4.   Forever Princess by Meg Cabot:  This is the tenth and final book of the Princess Diaries series.  Fans of the movies might enjoy the books as long as you realize they are really separate entities and are not quite as G-rated.

5.  The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas:  This classic proves the old adage “revenge is a dish best served cold”.

6.  Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume:  I actually don’t remember reading any Judy Blume as a child.  When I was eleven like Margaret, my friends weren’t talking about crushing on boys or getting our periods.  Of course, most of my friends at that age were boys.  I can totally see how the average girl between eleven and fourteen could relate to Margaret’s life;  I could have in 7th grade.  I really hope, though, that my daughters will not be able to do so for a variety of reasons.  Margaret’s religious quest is particularly interesting with the avid and opposing faiths of her grandparents and complete lack of interest in faith that her parents share.

7. Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon:  This is a book I’ve wanted to read ever since I received a NFP Home Study Course from the Couple to Couple League International as a gift four years ago.  It offers many tips for women trying to get their menstrual cycles have normal pattern as well as dealing with PMS , miscarriage, and other menstrual issues.  While the book repeats a lot of diet information I had already read other places, it has made me think again that zinc deficiency might be a recurring problem in my life.

8.  Know Your Declaration of Independence and the 56 Signers by George E. Ross:  It inspired its own post.

9.  Star Wars Outcast by Aaron Allston:  I have finally reached the point where I am no longer willing to shell out the money to read the latest Star Wars sequel book.  I usually only read those books that follow Han, Leia, and Luke after Return of the Jedi.  Let’s face it, though; the books are pretty much like watching a soap opera- very entertaining but usually lacking very deep themes or much re-readability.  To be honest, I am considering donating most of the ones I already own to the library system instead of having them clutter up my closet.

10.  The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs:  Too much to say about this book in a small blurb.  Hope to give it a post of its own soon.