Category Archives: Biblical Worldview

Discussions regarding the sufficiency of scripture, the inerrancy of God’s Word, and its application to today’s world. (Just a hint: its application is the same today, yesterday, and forever!)

The “go and preach” paradigm

CoulterConservative columnist Ann Coulter posted an acerbic opinion piece excoriating the two missionary health workers who had been shipped back to the US to be treated for Ebola, which they contracted in Africa.

Her column did not scold them for bringing their disease back to America. She did, however, take issue with the money spent in bringing them back here. But her column spent the most time taking them to task for leaving the US at all in order to bring the Gospel to the people of Africa. “If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia. Ebola kills only the body; the virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies infects the world.”

In one respect Coulter got it right. In another, though, she missed the boat.

Should missionaries leave their home country to take the message of the Gospel to another country? Why leave the US, when there are plenty of unbelievers here?

Answers to the first question can be found in God’s word, where we see a promise and a command. Psalm 96:3 commands, “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (NASV). And Isaiah 12:4 also urges, “And in that day you will say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted.'”

In the New Testament, Jesus specifically combines the directive with the promise: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He directed his disciples again in Acts 1, where in the second half of verse 8 he said, “and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Jerusalem, where those disciples stood at that moment, was the local preaching of the Gospel. Judea and Samaria were the nearer regions, and then, they were directed, take this message to the far points of the earth! Jesus did not equivocate here; he was very clear. Yes, preach the Gospel locally, AND yes, take it to the rest of the world. And we, who have been recipients of the Gospel outside of Jerusalem, can be very thankful that the Gospel did spread! Men and women took that command and promise to heart, and they went forth!

Coulter implies, but perhaps does not mean to say, that people in impoverished third world countries are not “worth” the effort and expense it takes to bring them the Gospel. Truly, not one of us is “worth” it. My sins are no better, nor no worse, than anyone else’s. To rate the value of preaching the Gospel to one people group over another’s devalues the meaning of that Gospel.

The Gospel–the message that Jesus Christ, who is God and Man, lived a perfect, sinless life and died on a cross and was brought to life again so that our sins would be completely forgiven–is not America-centered. No, the Gospel is Christ-centric. God saves sinners to glorify himself, not to glorify any one person, country, or people.

What I believe Ann Coulter did intend in her column was to take American Christians to task for not making their own cities and neighborhoods their mission fields. “Which explains why American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools. They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”

She’s partially correct. However, take a look around the US: there are churches everywhere. The people of this land received the benefit of Gospel-preaching for more than three centuries, and now it has chosen to turn away and pursue its own degradation. Yes, America needs missionaries in its own streets. But I’d venture to guess that most of our “cultural leaders” in Hollywood have deliberately chosen to turn aside from the Gospel.

What about the people in other nations? Some have turned aside, yes, but most have never heard the Gospel.

If anything can be taken from Coulter’s column, it is the cry for the American Christian church to wake up. Wake up, she’s shouting, and see the mission field right in front of your eyes! We are happy to say we have gone to Africa on a short-term mission trip to preach to the lost. Can we be as eager to go to our own “Jerusalem,” our own cities and neighborhoods, and preach to the lost and dying here? It certainly doesn’t seem as glamorous or praise-worthy. But it is so very necessary.

samaritans-purse-haiti-cholera-gods-mercyAdditionally, there is something to say about the importance of doctors going where there is disease in order to work on a cure. The history of medicine is rife with stories of men and women who lived among diseased people and developed a cure: polio, smallpox, strep, leprosy, and more. The health workers who lived among Africans in order to minister to the sick and the dying knew what they were doing, and they believed they could not only bring comfort to the sick, but perhaps play a part in discovering a cure.

So while I find some points in Coulter’s column that don’t ring true to the intent of God’s commands to teach and preach, I also find, hidden in her acid tone, the challenge to the church in the US: wake up! Go, teach, preach!

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Filed under Apologetics, Biblical Worldview

On dealing with pain

puppyA walk with my dogs gives me a picture of two opposite ways to view the world. Digory, the oldest, a terrier mix, is fearful and neurotic. He’s just a mess. Dobby is our cockapoo puppy, just learning how to walk on a leash. I can read their minds.

Digory: “Your feet are scary. Scary leaf. Scary water in gutter. Yikes–a dead squirrel! Eek–another dog. Scary sticks. Watch out for rocks. Ack–a car!”

Dobby: “Watch how fast I can stay ahead of you! Oh boy–a leaf to chase! Mmm, green water tastes great. Mom! Can I take the furry, stinky chew toy home? Look, look–a new friend! Wait for me! I’m tasting this rock! Oooh–a stick! Can I chase this big car?” He found a tennis ball on one of his walks and wouldn’t let me pass it by. Digory has seen many of those fuzzy round green monsters before, since our walk takes us by two tennis courts, and he makes a wide path around those scary things. Not so for Dobby.

Not to wax philosophical for too long about dogs with very little brains, I can see how their human counterparts can tend toward similar, widely disparate responses. My poor neurotic terrier (he really is a sad case) greets every challenge with fear and worry. And the little puppy finds adventure (and things to chew) around every corner. To him, as with many humans, even dark days have a few bright spots.

I’d like to think I’m like the latter, even though I am far from my puppy days. I don’t like dwelling on the negative for long, I don’t carry grudges (not very many of them, anyway), and I’d rather focus on the positives than reinforce the negatives. And in every situation, no matter how grim, I like to find the bright spots and remind myself of them from time to time.

It’s been two years or more since a huge spike in pain from fibromyalgia sent me on a round of doctors, including the Mayo Clinic, to seek answers. I’ve learned so much about pain and about myself. I rarely like to dwell on the negatives, but if my experiences can help a few people, so much the better. This ongoing “journey” through pain–because it hasn’t ended–might be a helpful bit of instruction for someone else. And it might help you to find the positives dotting a landscape that might be full of dreariness.

Pain does a strange thing to the body. Neurologists can tell you better than I, but my experience showed me that when a person’s physical pain increases, it affects all sorts of other areas. The brain may not be able to process it all. My memory suffered, my vocabulary shrank (I often couldn’t find the words), I didn’t sleep very many hours at a time, and I couldn’t work. I was dizzy from reactions to medicines (the journey to find the right meds is a whole other story); I became anxious and depressed. I couldn’t hold a pen, carry my purse, lift a laundry basket.

So what did we do about it? One doctor after another threw their hands up in the air and sent me on to other doctors. This taught us to be careful in choosing a doctor, asking questions up front about what they know and are prepared to help with. Some, but not all neurologists are prepared to help. Some, but not all rheumatologists are able or willing to help. Some, but not all chiropractors have a holistic view of fibromyalgia. And so forth. Because fibromyalgia exhibits differently in different people, doctors need to help assess the best path for each patient, and it might not look the same for everyone.

So let me give you a list of what helped me through my “journey.” (I really hate that word. Let’s try to find another.)

1. Carefully search for the doctor who is prepared to help. Ask whether they have many fibro patients, and whether they’ve been able to help many of them. Ask whether they are willing to consider natural methods as well as chemical. I found relief from chiropractics and from a method proposed by the Neurologic Relief Centers. (Anything I recommend medically comes to you with no guarantees. I’m just telling you about what has worked for me.)

2. Some fibro is relieved by eliminating certain foods, and you may want to experiment by using an elimination diet. For me, avoiding wheat and corn helps not only with the digestive issues common to fibro (not-so-pleasantly referred to as Irritable Bowel), but with some level of pain control–some of the time. Living gluten- and corn-free is not easy, but it’s definitely doable, especially when the alternative is painful. One doctor told me that most grains and dairy foods are rough on fibro patients. I can handle some dairy, sparingly.

3. Find a good psychiatrist. Fibromyalgia is often closely related to depression. I don’t know if it is a chicken-and-egg situation; did depression come first, or is it an effect of fibro? At any rate, many fibro patients need an anti-depressant to help manage the pain and depression. While a family doctor can help with some ailments, he or she may not know all the ins and outs of medicines related to depression. Interestingly, my psychiatrist experimented with different pain management meds in combination with anti-depressants, to find the right balance for me. I will not go into the meds that caused me more trouble than they helped, because everyone reacts differently. Just keep working to find the right balance, and find someone who will listen and who is willing to work with you.

4. Find a good counselor.  Sometimes fibro sufferers have emotional pain that exacerbates the physical pain, or vice versa. Talk with a counselor who can help you work through whatever has caused you to suffer emotionally.

5. Read up on fibromyalgia. It’s helpful to find other people who can talk to you about how they manage their condition. The Mayo Clinic has some educational information on their web site. Some organizations like the National Fibromyalgia Association have  newsletters with articles by doctors and fibro sufferers, so you won’t feel so alone.

6. Sleep. Chronic fatigue syndrome is also linked with fibromyalgia. (Isn’t it a delightful condition?) A good psychiatrist will help you with that as well. I learned that long naps are not so helpful, because they will mess up my nighttime routine. But a 20-30-minute nap will refresh me if my pain is running a bit too high.

7. Be willing to say no. I have a tendency to take on too much, whether work, or volunteer, or travel/tourist activities. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t plan on too many things at once. Allow yourself to decline invitations or even say no to other people’s expectations of you. Build some resting times in between the activities. I have to admit, this is the hardest one for me right now, because I have always been a pleaser. I hate disappointing people. So I’m preaching to myself right now: stop thinking you have to do everything/be everything. Say no, and be okay with it.

8. Find rest for your soul. This is the most important point, and I probably should have led with it. You can find all sorts of articles relating to “spirituality and pain” on the internet. But I want to go farther and emphasize that it is God alone–God the Father, the creator of the universe–who provides the answers to those suffering from pain. I encourage you to seek Him, run to Him, and find rest. Psychologist Phil Monroe at biblical.edu encourages sufferers in the following manner:

“The chronic pain sufferer who grieves well

  • asks God for relief
  • stays in community with others
  • seeks relief through human means yet has an attitude of waiting on the Lord, and
  • explores and confront[s] hidden sin in self that the pain may reveal.”

I can’t agree enough with this. Find someone who can pray with you, read Psalms to you, take you to church.

Learning how to wait on the Lord is not the easiest thing. For a very long time I tried to figure out what I had done wrong. Surely, I thought, if I pray the right prayer and show God that I have done all He wants me to do, He will find me worthy and heal me. I finally understood that there’s nothing I can do to seem more worthy, or to heal my spiritual self. My broken condition is also the human condition. Nothing I can do or say, no prayer of mine, can save me or heal me. That’s the bad news AND the good news, all at once, because the other side of the coin is that God alone saves; it is He who sets the captives free, and there is nothing I can do to save myself.

What has this got to do with my chronic pain? Everything. When I learned that I cannot save myself, I also began to learn how to wait on the Lord. The process of waiting isn’t yet another thing to do on a list I can check off. It’s a daily walk–praying, meditating on God’s word, and resting. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 ESV). It’s discovering God will hold you, hide you from the storm that’s raging: “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5). You can read a couple other blogs of mine that address this attitude of waiting on the Lord, here, here, and here.

So there may be something to that earlier analogy of the dogs’ views of the world. Will I choose to focus on the dark and scary side, or will I find the bright and promising side? In all things, even in this long, painful storm, I see promise and hope, and I want you to also.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Health, Pain and suffering

Clouds of dust over a Super Bowl ad

whites_onlyWhen I see narrow-minded bigotry, I think of signs like this that presided over a shameful period in US history. I heard some of my own family members who agreed with that sentiment back in the 70s. It embarrassed me deeply. I was ashamed to hear people I love saying such hateful things.

What a surprise to see similar sentiments rise up over something as simple as a Super Bowl Coca-Cola commercial.

The song was “Oh Beautiful,” and it is distinctly American. The words, penned by Katherine Lee Bates as she sat atop Pikes Peak looking over the plains of Colorado, praise the beauty of our country. The song was sung during the Super Bowl commercial in several different languages. The meaning is the same regardless of the language used to sing it: “Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple-mountain majesties above the fruited plain. America, America, God shed His grace on thee! And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”

We memorized that song in school, at Katherine Lee Bates Elementary in Colorado Springs, at the foot of Pikes Peak. It held special meaning for me then, and it still does today. It is uniquely American and speaks, interestingly, of American exceptionalism. The rest of the verses are included below.

Why are we arguing over the language used to sing those specific thoughts and ideas? The song praises America for its bountiful beauty–and, remember, for God’s grace on such a country! How beautiful can that be? (Don’t go all first-world on me, folks. Just saying, don’t try using your English-only argument about this song. Regardless of the language used, it still praises America!)

Social media is lit up with ugly comments on both sides about this commercial. Let’s take a step back and think. While one person on social media blasted that “The national anthem should be sung in English” (excuse me, but that wasn’t the national anthem anyway), others are taking Coca-Cola to task for injecting race issues into the Super Bowl.

Seriously. Take a breath.

Once you step foot on American soil, it does not mean you must drop your original language and never speak it again. Don’t get me wrong–I am conservative and want strong border enforcement and tough immigration laws. That’s not the issue here. The reactions to that Coca-Cola ad, though, did verge on bigotry, when people protested that the song should only be sung in English.

How petty and simplistic.

I believe the point of the commercial was to celebrate the mix of people and cultures we have in this country. Aren’t we the melting pot? What other country, when its athletes are marching in at the beginning of each Olympics, has such a mix of ethnicity among its team members? Isn’t that great?

And don’t forget that the song, sung during the Super Bowl, dared to sing that “God shed His grace on thee,” America. How bold, to perpetuate the idea that God is actively blessing people. Does He only shed His grace on people who speak English? (Yeah, that sounds ridiculous to me, too.)

So let’s take a deep breath and consider that while we do live in America, we are a rich mixture of ethnic backgrounds and cultures. Consider that we do indeed live in a beautiful country “from sea to shining sea,” and consider that regardless of the language in which we sing it, that truth remains the same.

Reject bigotry of all kinds. Challenge one another to think more deeply about the media messages out there. This little dust-up was misguided and narrow-minded. There are so many other things to get all riled up about. (Like the fact that I just ended that sentence with two dangling prepositions).

Here is the rest of the song. Pay attention to the words; they are distinctly American, and they also boldly honor God.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Government, Rhetoric

Engage the culture: study the news

9-11On 9/11 all of America watched with a mixture of horror, outrage, and deep sadness the events that unfolded. My husband was stuck in another city on a business trip and could not get home because all flights were cancelled. We were just glad to be able to talk to one another on the phone, all of us safely on the ground on that dreadful day.

That evening I took the children to a restaurant so they could order whatever they wanted and we could talk together. “Are we at war?” “Who would do this to us?” “How many people were in those buildings?” “Are we safe here?” The questions rose up hard and fast, and they looked to me for answers. I had none, and no one else did that evening. We watched with rapt attention as President Bush addressed the nation. As much as we could, we kept up with the events that unfolded.

Suddenly my children were tuned in to world events like never before. We read what we could find, watched the news, and discussed it whenever we could, while driving in the car or sitting at the dinner table. We all became much more conscious of the world around us.

Sadly, I notice how little attention many families pay to what goes on in the world–especially homeschool families.  Some have no TV. Many do not read the paper or news magazines nor surf the web for news. How do I know this? I have talked with many homeschool families over the years and have found that they avoid world news.DADREADINGSON

I will not attempt to argue about the reasons that many families avoid the news–the reasons vary. However, I do take issue with the fact that Christian families–and particularly homeschooling Christian families–do not read about or watch the events that unfold around them.

When the culture begins to shift and ideas start to clash, who wins? When there is a power vacuum, what fills the void? The answers are obvious: the strongest power fills the void and overcomes the weakest. How will Christians react when they do not know what’s going on in the world? Can they afford to continue hiding away from events? Can they ever hope to shape the culture if they are not engaged in it?

The reasons we study history are clear: we need to see what men and ideas have shaped events. We learn what philosophies have impacted the movements and evolutions around the globe. Yet we stop our studies when it comes to what’s going on today?

Perceptive students will read the philosophers and historians who describe the “isms”–the ideas (like communism, socialism, feminism, existentialism, nihilism, etc.) that have shifted and changed events. They study Darwin, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and others whose works declared (or implied) that God is dead. These same students learn about the rise of socialism and the ideas that gave rise to communism.

And yet–contrary to logic–these same students have no idea of what is going on in their world today. Hello! Those astute students and their families could tie a beautiful bow on their biblical worldview studies simply by connecting the philosophies of the past with what they see in the world today! Those issues of ObamaCare, of “spreading the wealth around,” of Common Core implementation, or Progressivism–they all come from ideas promulgated centuries ago.

I have witnessed the effects of the lack of knowledge of current events in the classrooms in which I taught. Students who mixed their study of history and philosophy with the careful observation of current events were much better able to carry on a lively discussion, melding the two beautifully and noting how events of many decades ago have come full circle back into society and government today–just with different labels. Those who do not watch TV or read the news cannot participate so easily.

A part of one verse from the Bible is often quoted by Christians who urge their brothers and sisters to study the world around them: “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…” (1 Chronicles 12:32). The greater context of this passage is a listing of men who came over to David’s side to battle and defeat King Saul. Every generation needs men and women such as Issachar: people who know the times, who astutely observe what’s going on around them and who can lend their wisdom to the decision-makers and the leaders in this world.

Charles Martel watched the culture and the events around him, in the early Middle Ages, the 8th century AD. He saw an evil influence marching his way. Islamic invaders were spreading across Western Europe, conquering territories and threatening the Christian world. Martel rallied his forces and stood fast, stopping the invasion and (in a simplistic nutshell) keeping Western Europe from becoming Islamic.

bonhoeffer2Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany, noted what was going on in his world. He saw the evil of Hitler’s reign, saw Jews being rounded up and sent to concentration camps, saw Hitler’s quest for a master race that would conquer the world. He went to America in 1939 but regretted having left his homeland. He wrote,

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” (Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Eine Biographie, p736)

He returned to Germany and sided with those who tried to defeat Hitler. He was imprisoned and hanged just days before Germany was defeated.

Sticking your heads in the sand–not watching current events unfold–leaves you vulnerable. (It also leaves your hind end sticking up to get wallopped.) Christians, start becoming students of history AND of current events!

Does your child need to see everything that goes on in the news? Of course not–that’s not what I am arguing. However, as he gets older, he needs to be able to handle the reality of the world in which he is living. Have you protected him from the world by isolating him from current events? No–you have left him unable to engage the culture.

Christian parents, raise your children to be men and women of Issachar. Teach them (or find people who will teach from their fount of wisdom) how to connect the ideas and movements of history to what goes on today. Talk with them about the truth, and about where truth is sadly lacking. Help them and watch them form opinions about events. Sit with them at dinner, walk with them, pray with them, and show them how they can be shapers and engagers of the culture, rather than ostriches who hide their heads and leave their backsides vulnerable.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Classical Education, Education, Government, Homeschooling, Parenting

Everyone needs a superhero

If you had told me thirty years ago that I would be following the heroic antics of Marvel superheros in movie form, I would have laughed and walked away. The closest I ever got to comic books while growing up was a stack of Archie and Richie Rich back issues left behind in the mountain cabin we bought when I was little. I read them again and again until I was bored with them, and I never sought out any more comic books.

Superman_by_iGamerBut having raised geeky kids, and lived with a geeky husband, the superhero and his super deeds have become regulars in our lives.  Sitting through the latest Marvel super movie, the literary critic in me noticed once again that these stories usually run along a similar theme, and the characters in these movies (and perhaps in the comic books, though I haven’t opened one) follow similar archetypical patterns. The beauty of these patterns is that they reflect the deepest cries of the human heart. A biblical worldview perspective shows how universally appealing the superhero tale can be.

The story of the superhero follows a similar pattern, even though there are large variations from time to time.

The struggle between good and evil. The moral tale becomes very clear. Good and evil are clearly depicted. Even the colors, the setting, and sometimes the music that accompanies the good and the evil get treated very differently. Evil is dark and brooding; the lair of the evil ones is sinister, ugly, sometimes cold. Evil is depicted in such a way that the audience hates it, rejects it, finds it vile and wants it to lose. Evil, in short, is not pretty.

We identify with that theme, the great struggle of good over evil. It is one of the most universal, and one of the oldest, stories of all time. We want good to win. We recognize that good MUST win in order for us to survive. So good, as depicted in most superhero comics, does ultimately win. Our hearts are satisfied with that kind of an ending. It’s how we were wired.

Genesis lays out the ancient struggle between good and evil–the serpent and the human. Yet not too far into Genesis we learn the promise: evil will be trampled in the end (Gen 3:15). That promise was fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who dealt the blow to Satan by defeating death itself.  And the promise carries forward to the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the age, when Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20). This moral victory, etched deeply on the human heart, is satisfying to experience over and over again in the superhero tale.

Bystanders are innocent and get caught up in the moral struggle. We laughed until we hurt when we saw the crowds of people in Superman 1 and 2 (1978 and 1980) get in the way of the epic battle between Superman and General Zod (or whatever villain got in the way). The cheesy bystanders  got tossed around; they cried for help in typical “woe is me” melodramatic fashion.

However, even this is part of the moral tale of good versus evil. The innocents need protecting by a powerful hero, and he does protect them, as promised! He keeps the bus from crashing to the ground; he prevents the mother’s baby carriage from getting crushed, and more. Again and again through superhero literature, we live out the need for someone powerful to save us because we are not strong enough to save ourselves.

The Superhero has incredible powers. He has huge muscles that seem barely contained by the clothes he wears. (In the case of the Incredible Hulk, his clothes cannot contain his overgrown muscles.) He is able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, spin a web to snare an enemy, throw his massive hammer over long distances to defeat a foe, to name a few superhuman skills.

He is a protector. He saves even those cheesy bystanders from the evil plans of the enemy.superheros

The earliest superheroes were found in the Bible, in people like Samson, whose long hair gave him the power to pull an entire building down on his enemies. Some have argued that the gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman tales were also early types of superheroes. Sometimes that works, although those gods and goddesses were pretty petulant and self-serving most of the time. They only saved someone if it made themselves look good, or perhaps ticked off a rival god.

Loki-Thor-2-loki-thor-2011-35584736-500-800The Villain is dark and brooding and pure evil. His world is dark; his demeanor is just as dark and brooding as his lair. Loki, from the Thor movies, is the antithesis of Thor. To Thor’s strapping muscles and long golden locks, Loki has black hair, wears all black, is of normal height and build (scrawny in comparison). Loki is all bad, all the time, even if he pretends to help Thor. In short, you can depend on the stereotypes most of the time: evil is evil, and good is good, all the time.

Batman seems to break the stereotype in several ways, since he is dark and brooding and often skulks in the darkness to hunt down the evil. As we saw in The Dark Knight, however, no matter how dark Batman is, his foe is always darker and more sinister.

Though some of you may find fault with my overt generalizations, you will have to admit that the human longing for good to vanquish evil is nearly universal. We work out our own longing by cheering for the good, urging them on to fight the good fight.

Why do we create a superhero, and why does it appeal to us so much?

We recognize the truth about ourselves–that we are weak and vulnerable, and we need someone greater than us to win on our behalf. Or perhaps we even place ourselves in the position of the superhero and live out that epic battle in our minds. We are still longing for evil to be conquered.

We desperately need to feel as if there is a remedy. We realize, somewhere deep in our hearts, that we are not the superhero. We live in a sick world, and we long for a cure. In fact, if we were to take a careful look inside, we would realize our desperate need for a superhero because we are trapped by our own evil, not strong enough to save ourselves.

We recognize that in our desperate need, mere man cannot overcome the evil out there. On our own we are weaker than the evil one, and like the innocent bystander, we need an advocate, a hero–someone stronger than ourselves. That superhero–that savior–is the only one strong enough to save us.

We need someone with powers that exceed our own meager abilities. The cry for help comes from deep within our hearts, at the mercy of an overwhelming evil.

Human imagination draws upon the universal archetypes of the superhero and villain, and of the war between good and evil, in order to work out the battle that rages inside. The story is as old as time and as universal as all humankind (and the fables of gods and superheros from many cultures around the world speaks to that universal theme). The human imagination replays, again and again, in its vast creativity, the epic struggle and the eventual victory of the superhero. The characters may shift and change, but their types remain essentially the same.

Though the authors may not have intended it to happen, I rejoice when I see these archetypes and themes. I see the universal story that the human heart depicts again and again, and it is overwhelming evidence of the human cry for a savior.

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Filed under Biblical Worldview, Literature

Read my lips…period. The use of the emphatic in rhetoric

Sometimes speakers (in politics, religion, and other public venues) forget the power of their words to move an audience. Sometimes they capitalize on it. Words strung together to project a thought or an idea–they have meaning. Words have permanence. And words, misused or abused, will sometimes swing right back around and smack the speaker in the mouth. Words have meaning.

A few years ago George HW Bush made a promise: “Read my lips: No new taxes.” When shortly thereafter he raised taxes, his recorded words proved that he had not carried out his pledge. That broken promise effectively lost his chance for reelection. How do we know it was a promise? He used the emphatic: Read my lips. He didn’t need to say “I promise you.” His emphatic rhetoric, “Read my lips,” was his vow. And the country knew he had broken his promise.

clintonEmphatic rhetoric can take place not just with words but also with physical gestures. Bill Clinton pointed at and looked directly into the cameras, and jabbed his finger with every sentence: “I did not. Have sexual relations. With that woman.” His physical gestures, along with the emphasis he made as he spoke (including the fact that he effectively looked us in the eye), implied a promise or a vow, almost daring the reporters to prove him wrong. As the world knows, he had lied to the American people, and he was impeached not long afterward. He lost credibility, and he is now a joke among late night TV hosts. His reputation is forever tarnished.

Richard Nixon, like Clinton, looked into the cameras and made his famous avowal: “Let me be perfectly clear.” He averred that he was not a crook. As the world found out, Nixon was up to his eyeballs in the Watergate scandal. He left  the office of the president shortly thereafter. He too is a byword; his name will forever be associated with the scandal he launched.nixon-gun-control.jpeg1-1280x960

Promises are made with the use of the emphatic, and they can be words alone, or words and gestures together. We as the audience understand the emphatic. We remember it. We hold the speakers accountable to it.

This is why President Barack Obama has found himself in such hot water. He used the emphatic, time and time again (one news outlet counted 26 different speeches), to promise that if Americans like their current health insurance plan and liked their doctor, “you can keep them. Period.”

The use of the emphatic “period” is what has ensnared him. He cannot get away from it. The “period” was his promise. His audiences saw it as his pledge to them, and they held him to it. Upon finding out that they indeed could not keep their plans or their doctors, Americans registered their outrage. The president’s reputation, and his opinion polls, have been on a downward spiral since. Not only did he break his promise, but documents are beginning to show that he knew this was a broken promise a couple of years before his health care law was launched in October of 2013. Yet he continued to repeat the pledge time and again.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this emphatic promise was a mistake, that he misspoke. Presidents do not often make impromptu claims or commitments, and certainly not 26 times in a space of three or four years. Whether his supporters want to agree or not, he made a pledge–a promise–using the language of the emphatic, and he cannot excuse it away. He also cannot, as he tried in the weeks afterward, “unspeak” his promise, or re-interpret it. In an age of video recordings available to anyone, anytime, people can see the speaker and hear his words for themselves; the promise cannot be erased.

The use of the emphatic is intentional. The speaker does not have to say “I promise” for it to be understood as a guarantee. The speaker pledges his reputation on such an emphasis, and the audience reads it as a serious promise.

Jesus used the emphatic with his “verily, verily I say unto you,” also translated as “truly I say to you.” He effectively said to his hearers, “listen up: what I am about to say is true.” He did not prevaricate; he did not equivocate. What he said could be taken as true because he led up to it with such a pledge.

The fact remains that people will believe you if you use emphatic rhetoric, both in word and in gesture. God’s word reminds people to take words seriously. “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation” (ESV, James 5:12). In other words, understand that the implied promise of the emphatic word or gesture will be taken as truth, and you have staked your reputation on it.

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The Perfect Parenting guidelines…do not exist

harried momAn old friend likes to say, “I was the perfect parent–until I started having children.”

You know the story. The idealistic 20-something sees children acting up in the grocery store and thinks to herself, “I will never let my children act like that.” And then, as if to mock her own words, her children became THOSE children.

The one guarantee I can share with you is that there is no guarantee–no manual for raising the perfect child. It does not exist. Why? Because the perfect child does not exist. He’s just a myth.

I read them: Those books about raising children. Meant to give you the formula for The Perfect Child, those books only deepen the guilt.

I read them, looked at my own children, and the guilt deepened. I must be doing it all wrong. My children not only opposed those perfect parenting formulas, they stomped, shredded, chewed, hit one another with, and tore into little bits those guilt-inducing instructional books.fighting children

And my guilt grew exponentially. This is all my fault. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I do this better? Make me a solid list of rules I can follow so these children can become perfect (and so I, by association, can become the Perfect Parent). No such list ever appeared. But boy, the publishing houses have tried!

And then I encountered grace. While I was so bent on following the law, I failed to see the truth of grace: that I could never do it right. That they would never become perfect. That every day, in every way, we all fail. And at that moment of realization, law in all its sternness became balanced with grace in all its sweetness.

That I can never match up to the obligations of the law is abundantly clear. In his essay “The Chronicle of an Undeception,” Michael Bauman says, “The tragic vision of life arises from the fact that we are flawed—deeply, desperately, tragically flawed—and we cannot be trusted. We are broken at the soul; our defect is life wide and heart deep.” I am in desperate need of One whose perfection can fill all those empty places of failure.

And what I so desperately needed to teach my children was that they, too, were flawed and needed the sweet sacrifice of a Savior to cancel all that. Once I–and my children–can learn, really internalize, that truth, then redemption can take place.

You see, I was trying to impose a set of laws on myself and on my family, and by sheer force of will make them abide by these rules, these formulas.

But what all those parenting books never told me was the ugly truth. Sets of rules imposed upon sinners won’t save them from their sins. The rules (or laws) only deepen the sense of failure, as the book of Romans so beautifully tells us.

What I need, and what my children need, is the truth of the gospel, taught daily. Only then can we be free from the guilt, the shame, the failure.

Did I then become the Perfect Parent? Not at all. I still fail, and I continue to fail, and so do my children. But at least now I know why I have failed and how to address it. I rest my failures at the foot of the cross, thank my Savior for covering me with His redeeming grace, and live to fail another day. Where that thought may have discouraged me mightily 10, 15, 20 years ago, now I can smile, because I know I am forgiven, covered, and guilt-free.

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! (See Romans 7: 1-25)

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Homeschooling Momma Bears

mama bear

What are you teaching your children?

I called the home of a student I had been tutoring to tell the parents that their son had plagiarized his paper. Never entering into these conversations lightly, first I do my most careful work to document the offense and make certain of my accusation. I hate this kind of conversation, but it is necessary. Yes, even homeschooled children sin.

I asked for a meeting with the parents and the student so that we could look at the work together and talk about a plan for getting him back on the right track. After a pause, the mother said, “I have to tell you I am really angry right now.”

“I understand,” I began. “I have teenagers myself–”

She cut me off. “No, you don’t understand. I am so angry at you right now, it’s a good thing we are not talking face to face.” Shocked, I took a few seconds to respond. We agreed that waiting a couple of days to before we met would be a good idea.

Mom and Dad came with their son, an eleventh grader. I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that she was furious that I would accuse her son of plagiarism. When I showed her the bald facts, she still protested. “No one cares about plagiarism. It doesn’t really matter these days,” she argued. “It’s just another way to use research.” Even her husband looked sideways at her. What was she teaching her son at that moment?

It is admirable that a mom wants to go to bat for her son, no matter what. But there comes a time when reality dictates that the child must take responsibility for his own actions, and the parent must let those consequences take effect. This mom wanted to protest everything, including giving her son a zero on the assignment without the chance of making it up. When I told her that colleges will toss out a student who plagiarizes, she finally sat still. I have heard of Masters degree candidates who are summarily kicked out, unable to continue at any other college because of the blackened reputation they now had for the plagiarism on their record. And we could talk about the authors and journalists whose reputations have been ruined when their plagiarisms were revealed. That is reality.

I suspect–though I never had another conversation with that mother–that she was so wrapped up in her son’s schooling, mama bear with babiesshe took great offense at anything negative said about his work. I suspect that she took it very personally.

Being a momma bear is not a bad thing. Every child needs someone to be their best advocate. However, momma bears must know their limits, and they must realize that they are always teaching their children, in the words they choose, their attitudes toward others, and in the way they deal with failures and successes.

So I have some helpful advice for those momma bears out there–and you know who you are.

Help your child to own his responsibilities and his mistakes. Be realistic about the fact that  you are the parent of a sinner who needs your instruction and loving guidance. You will do him no service by covering up, excusing, masking, or downplaying his slip-ups. When will he learn from his mistakes, if it cannot be under your roof? Better that the plagiarism happened to my student at age 16 and under his parents’ authority, than while he is at college where his record could have been permanently affected. Or perhaps when he is on a job and falsifies or plagiarizes a report, and gets fired. Use that opportunity to discipline, correct, and point him in the right direction.

Be your child’s best advocate. Fight for the very best for her. Don’t settle for less. Investigate the options and be ready to change gears if something is not working. However, remain consistent with your child. I know a family who used three different math programs in one year because their child couldn’t “get” the math. That set the child behind considerably, and it took them a couple of years to catch up.

Be realistic about your expectations. Set attainable goals each year, or perhaps each semester. Review your goals. Set long-term ones as well, so that you know where you are aiming from year to year. Those long-term goals become more and more important the older your child gets. And by high school, your child needs to own those goals himself. If he does not, you both may be in for a load of trouble each year you try to homeschool him in high school.

Realize you cannot do everything, so instead do a few things well. The older your child gets, the more important this becomes. Over-committing your child to all sorts of seemingly good activities may look like fun at first, but it will only complicate your high school student’s life as he tries to study the basics and manage a half-dozen extra activities. Choose carefully, allow him time for studying, and give him time off to breathe. You do not need to fill all of his moments; help him to find a healthy balance of study and activities. This is especially important in high school when you must give him his basics plus an elective, build in time to study, and provide opportunities to serve others or develop leadership skills or sports. There isn’t a lot of time for all the extras you used to do when he was younger. This will teach him balance and perspective.

At some things your child might not be a shining star. Be okay with that, but continue to push for excellence when reasonable. Not every child is gifted in every area. Each child has his own special talents and gifts. If your child is only average academically, that’s fine. Encourage him to do it well and to learn how to work hard. Help him through some of the disappointments, and point him toward those things in which he does excel. Reality parenting means acknowledging the situation.

Don’t cheat your child by inflating her abilities. If your child is earning a low grade, leave it at that. One mom asked me, “If the tutor I hired gives my [high school] child a C, can I inflate that if I think she put forth good effort?” As the homeschool parent you are free to put whatever grade you want on your child’s transcript. However. Just ask yourself if the C was an honest representation of your child’s actual work. How would your child benefit from your inflation of that grade? Sure, she might get into that college, but based on whose grades and on what work? Does her SAT score reflect the C or the inflated grade? And have you done your child a disservice by falsifying what was the actual grade? Finally, what lesson did you just teach your child when you inflated her grade?

When you hire a professional tutor/teacher, seek excellence. Use your money wisely. Find someone with a reputation for excellence. Ask to see samples of the syllabus he or she has given students before. Look up reviews of the textbook he or she will use. If you are using an organization to teach your child, examine the organization’s reputation. Read reviews online if they are available. Talk with other parents who have used that organization, if you can.

Be firm. Be ready to accept tears and pouting faces on occasion. Work done well is often difficult, and the process can be painful or unpleasant at times. Schoolwork is not always sunshine and roses. The outcome, though, can be satisfaction of a job well done. Remember, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

I contacted the parent of a student who was barely passing my class, and with just three or four weeks of class left, I wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could to help this student to finish well. “That’s okay,” said the mom. “I’m pulling my child out of your class.” With three or four weeks left of class? “We want people to build strong character qualities into our children, and that is more important than a letter grade,” she said.

Is this an either/or situation, either you get character or grades? How about building character through the application of hard work? What about the lessons the parents taught their child by pulling him out of a class instead of allowing him to press on through the difficult circumstances into which he had gotten? What about finishing the job well, running the race to its completion, all of that? What about the character qualities of persistence and strong work ethic?

Be aware of what you are teaching your children, through those things you DO and what you AVOID doing. Both can send a very strong message to your child. And you know he is watching.

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Homeschool: Plan the High School Career

graduateIn my years of advising and teaching, I have met some parents who seemed to be surprised that they had older teenagers who actually needed to finish high school with enough credits to enter college.

However, for as many poor planners I have met, I have encountered just as many parents who deliberately plotted out their students’ high school paths so that they would be ready for college.

It’s important to set out your student’s junior high and high school years, to know what is required for graduation in your state and for entrance to college. Some high schoolers do not intend to go to college, but isn’t it wise to aim them there, in case they change their minds? Better to be prepared than caught off guard.

Check with your state’s requirements for graduation. As a homeschool parent you should know these things, since your state may require reporting of you each year they are homeschooled. Go to HSLDA to find your state’s requirements.

Plan out those six years

While a transcript only needs to report the four years of high school, it’s best to start planning in junior high or earlier so that you know what to expect. Plot out the progression of math, science, English, history, and foreign language you want him to take. Carefully regard what is considered high school versus junior high curriculum.

For instance, Physical Science and General Science are not considered high school courses; they are for junior high. Colleges want to see high school science courses (some with labs) on the transcript. Those would be Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Anatomy & Physiology, and so forth. Plan accordingly.

Math, too, must be dealt with carefully. A transcript should show an upward progress in Math. Algebra 1, for example, is a junior high class, so make sure your student is aimed toward Algebra 1 then, not in high school.

On the reverse side, some parents want to give their children high school classes while in junior high. Be careful with this. You can cover some high school subjects earlier, such as Math, if your student has an aptitude for it. But there are some subjects, like science, English, and history, that require maturity in all areas of thinking and are therefore ill-advised for junior high. Let your child be a child for a while. I covered this in an earlier blog.

What does my child need to get into college?

Each year of study is one credit. A one-semester class is a half-credit. Meet the requirements  for your state, but also keep in mind that colleges may have more stringent demands. Contact the colleges of your choice or browse around at College Board to see what colleges are looking for.

My own polling of colleges–including military academies, Ivy League, state universities, and Christian colleges–shows that on average these are the credit requirements for entry:

  • English–4
  • Foreign Language–3
  • History/Social Science–3-4
  • Math–4
  • Science–3-4
  • Electives, including art–1 to 4.

Included in that Social Science category is 1/2 credit of Government and 1/2 credit of Economics. Those are usually taken at the junior or senior level of high school. Keep in mind that the college you’re looking for may have other numbers, so take a careful look for yourself.

A word about English, since it is a passion of mine. Don’t just think that a few books and a couple of essays a year will suffice for High School English. An English class must teach literature, grammar, and composition purposefully. (Grammar can be left behind on or about 9th grade if your student’s understanding is sufficient.)  One incredibly popular writing program used by many home schoolers is sufficient up toward junior high, but it will not do as college prep for high school. Its formulas help set the foundation for good writing, but your child needs to grow beyond that formula very soon. See my past blog on writing well. You do your child no favors if you try to take shortcuts with his writing.

In addition to a good transcript, colleges have their eye on a few other criteria. Of course they will look at your transcript. Then they will, in essence, say, “prove it to us.” They want to see if your student’s SAT and/or ACT scores match up to what you say he has taken on his transcript. Some colleges may also require some placement tests upon entry. I have known students who had to take a foreign language placement test on the first day of Freshman Orientation at college. Just because the transcript said there was a foreign language, didn’t mean the student had met their standards.

Colleges also want to see a few other things when looking at the transcript, application, recommendation letters, and college essays:college pennant

  • Excellent academics
  • Special talents
  • Community service
  • Leadership
  • Initiative
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Jobs held

I often recommend showing some of that by attaching an Appendix to a student’s transcripts, listing the curriculum and books read each year, as well as extracurricular activities, honors, sports, community involvement, and so forth, so that colleges can see your student is well-rounded.

What about CLEP, AP, and Dual Enrollment?

By all means have your student take the CLEP exam upon entering college if it is offered. The tests cost, but if a student earns credit you will save money in the end. AP exams are a good idea, if your child is prepared for them. Some homeschool programs offer AP courses. They are a lot of work, but they are excellent preparation for college. The growing trend these days is more toward AP in homeschoolers, and I welcome it; just make sure your child is well-prepared for the AP classes. Don’t pile them on; two a year is sufficient, and honestly, the junior and senior year is the time for those classes–no earlier. Again, we are talking about maturity of the student as well as maturity of the subject matter.

I have written about Dual Enrollment before. There are hazards inherent in such programs, including the fact that your little darling will be spending part of his day in the presence of countless adults on a college campus, while he may not be old enough to drive. Be sure your child has the maturity to be there. Also, be sure that the college he plans to attend will accept the dual credits he is earning.

Also understand that a college-semester math or science class will not cover everything that very same high school class covers. In essence, then, your child will not be learning the same amount as his peers. Whether that sets a strong foundation for college is up to you to decide. Sometimes the “free” tuition in some dual enrollment programs may not turn out to be so advantageous when looking at its down sides. Be wise in your decisions. Yes, Dual Credits seem like a good thing, but there seem to be some risks involved, so just be cautious.

Excellence is the key

In all you plan for your child, do not settle for less than excellence–in curriculum, in classroom opportunities, and in results. If your child is not headed to college, it doesn’t hurt to have a great transcript anyway, because in a few years your child may change his mind, or be required by his employer to take some classes, or just be ready to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive work force. Choose excellence for your child no matter what.

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The Pitfalls of Classical Homeschooling

You’ve done your homework, made your preparations, and purchased all the Great Books you plan to read during this year of Classical Homeschooling. What could possibly go wrong?

In previous blogs I lauded the merits of Classical schooling. I have worked in the Classical realm for 20 years and have watched many, many children move through their high school careers. I maintain that this is a marvelous method for educating young minds. And yet there are still some reservations to keep in mind as you go along.

glasses kidFirst, this method is not for everyone. It entails a huge amount of reading, and not every child has a natural bent toward reading. For some, reading takes a lot of work, whether from a mild to moderate learning disability, or because his mind is always on some activity he would rather be undertaking, or simply because he hates it. If the reading is just taking too much out of your child, then consider 1) testing him for a learning problem and/or 2) finding another path of learning for this one child.

Second, some in the Classical model have a tendency to overemphasize one area at the expense of others. For example, Classical is more heavy on the humanities; that’s just its nature. However, do not think that since you are “doing Classical” you can just put off math and science for another time, or minimize its importance. No, remember that all things are connected, and that we do not just separate out the subjects. All of this is part of one well-rounded, well-educated child. In fact, learning math and science helps a child to think more logically. That can help him to make connections during his Dialectic and Rhetoric stages. This is important in higher level thinking.

Third, some in Classical figure that this kind of program is only for the humanities kid, and not for the math/science student. That too is wrong. It’s not just the English major who needs to think well, to write well, and to learn history. Science and math students–yes, and engineers–need to know how to write reports and studies. All of them also need to make logical, compelling, and beautiful defenses for their faith. Don’t let your math and science kid convince you that he doesn’t need to go very far in his humanities. That’s just not correct. In fact, when Rhetoric is taught well, the math guy will like learning how to write for Rhetoric just as well as the humanities kid. (As the author of Biblical Worldview Rhetoric and the teacher of that class for many years, I can attest to the number of engineering guys who passed through my classes with flying colors. There’s something about the formulaic method in Rhetoric that they seem to love just as much as the potential English major!)

Fourth, the Classical method is not necessarily THE only way to educate. It is, in my opinion, superior in many ways. But it does not give a parent or teacher license to brag, boast, or snobbishly declare that all other ways are rubbish. That’s just irritating, unkind, and wrong. I urge all parents to educate their children WELL. Use what methods you can afford and what you have the time and inclination for. However, Classical schooling does not give you license to rub other people’s faces in it. Don’t let me catch you doing it.

In fact, in some places I have witnessed overemphasis on the METHOD of Classical and Christian education, rather than on the HEART. Once Christ has been abandoned as the center of all things, it will all fall apart quickly. Keep perspective, knowing that Christ is at the center, holding all things together. Never make Classical THE THING in your lives more than Christ is.

Fifth, some people will try to sell you on Classical models that 1) might not truly be fully Classical or 2) may be wrongly administered or 3) might just be low quality. Inspect the material well. Does it include answer keys, supply links and lists of extra reading? Does it cover enough material for 9 months of deep study? By high school, your child should be able to spend one to two hours per day on each subject. Is the curriculum providing enough rich materials for that kind of study? Or does it skip around from here to there, not focusing for very long? Does it offer opportunities for students to reflect on what they read and make connections to their studies?

One popular Classical set of studies, selling from Ancient to Modern syllabi, piles the reading on to the students but does not supply any kind of teacher guide so that the parent or tutor can help the student make connections throughout. That’s unfortunate. Some programs I have seen will provide classes for 8 weeks and then encourage parents to give their students full credit. I beg to differ; no 8-week course can give the kind of breadth and scope necessary for a full high school credit (hardly even for a half-credit). Nor should you, for example, award an English credit for some curriculum that has you read a few books and write one or two essays. Be reasonable. That’s cheating your child of valuable and necessary learning.

Sixth, and this is very important, the student in Classical all the way through high school may tend toward arrogance if not carefully balanced. existentialismAgain, some of this has to do with the exclusivity that one might feel about having done this wonderful thing called Classical. But much of it comes from knowing that you are reading and studying some very difficult material at a very high level of thinking and writing, and that just makes you superior to your peers. Arrogance has no place in Classical and Christian education. This kind of learning may cause you to think deeply, write beautifully, stand up and speak well for yourself, and you may be able to hold a conversation about existentialism with the best of them, but that does not make you even one small step better than others. Parents, do not let your teenager take that unwise step. May your child grow into a humble, patient, wise, and caring young man or woman, groomed by Classical education.

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