Poetry is Good for the Soul

A marbled black and white composition book that I got at the beginning of third grade is one of my most treasured possessions. It is full of hand-copied poems in the neatest handwriting I could muster. Poetry became special to me in first grade. I attended a small classical school and one of the key events of the year was a poetry competition. Every student (from kindergartners to seniors in high school) would memorize a poem to recite to their class. Finalists would be selected from each classroom for a poetry evening. I still remember the poems I learned in 1st and 2nd grade and how hard I worked on presenting them and how fun it was to wear a costume and have props.

In 3rd grade, when my mom began to homeschool me and my sister, we each received a notebook for poetry. We would practice penmanship while copying, talk about vocabulary, meaning, sometimes historical context, and then memorize the poem. We memorized about one a month. I kept it up through high school, memorizing everything from childhood poems by A.A. Milne, fairy tales by J.R.R. Tolkien, and brief poems by Emily Dickinson, to sonnets by Shakespeare and classics by Longfellow, Poe, and both the Brownings. I would sit down and read A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson from cover to cover. Though I have not done much memorizing since graduation, I keep my composition book out and handy. In college and after, I have added poems to it when I read or hear a new one that strikes a chord with me. Recent additions include Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Human Family by Maya Angelou.

This year, I had the privilege of helping my 1st grade students get ready for the same  poetry competition I was in so many years ago. This year’s selection of poems was written before 1840. My students memorized Mother Goose, Eliza Lee Follen, and even John Bunyan. They tackled some challenging words and abstract concepts and, for some, faced their fears by presenting in front of a large crowd of parents and grandparents.

Why should students have to interact with and even memorize poetry? How does it benefit them? Memorization is often discounted today because it is possible to memorize without understanding. It is true that understanding is the goal. However, it is also true that sometimes understanding follows memorization more easily than it follows explanation. This particular form of memory (poetry) has incredible benefits. Poetry uses an economy of words, often expresses emotions vividly, and trains children to listen to the sounds in spoken words (an important skill for reading). Memorizing poetry for presentation further impacts children. It teaches presentation skills, the use of clear diction, and creative expression. Reading and memorizing poems also helps students build up a stock of good examples of literature (from their own memory and those they have heard performed by their classmates) that they can enjoy and apply later on.

I have enjoyed some reading on classical education this month and found this quote by T.S. Eliot. “No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest-for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” Even if poetry is difficult or seems boring to some children, it still has a valuable part in education.

 

 

Photo is my own.

This Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Every morning when I get up and look out my window, I am awed by the beauty around me. The mountains forever call my name and the hues of the bright trees catch my breath. When the sun sets, I again am amazed. Our God is the great God of creation.

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For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

As much as I love the season of spring when all is new, as much as I love the mid-day sun when all is bright, every hour has its place and purpose. No matter the season or time of day, I am thankful for the plan God has for me and how He is teaching to be here now.

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For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child;

Friends on earth and friends above; for all gentle thoughts and mild:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I am incredibly thankful to be with my family during this season of life. I have missed them so much and am glad that I can be present as a daughter and sister. The friends God has placed around me and around the world are treasures to me. For the friends who are near, and far, and those who have gone ahead of me to eternity, I must thank God for His gracious gifts to me for the time I had them close.

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For Thy Church that evermore lifteth holy hands above,

Offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I cannot even begin to describe the great mystery of Christ and the Church. I do not understand why Christ would sacrifice Himself for her that we could have fellowship with Him. Neither do I understand how He allows us this incredible communion amongst each other and how the church can come together out of its many diverse parts to bring a song of praise. He knows that we need this kind of community.

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For Thyself, best gift divine, to our race so freely given; 

For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth and joy in heaven;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Best gift of all, the Giver. Thank You that we can know You intimately and that You are the source of all peace, joy, love, and hope. All that is beautiful and good comes from You. To You be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

 

For the Beauty of the Earth text by Folliott S. Pierpoint

First three photos are mine of Thanksgiving 2016. Fourth photo is Carola Venega’s of part of the Church in Mexico.

Hawaii: How to Ruin Cross Cultural Ministry

As an English major, I have always found an appreciation for literature as a reflection of real life. Ideals are helpful sometimes and often a more relaxing read, but realism also has the potential to teach. Hawaii, by James Michener, is one of the excellently told stories which has many great lessons about human nature. I read this book several years ago, but was reminded of it this week when I watched the 1966 movie version (why yes, that is Julie Andrews). The novel spans the course of 2,000 years or more. It is truly a story of Hawaii itself and the overall development of the land and culture. The movie focuses in on a fourth of the tome and is still almost three hours long. It covers twenty years of the first missionary contact with the Hawaiian people.

The missionaries arrive and one man in particular succeeds in perpetually sabotaging his own ministry with legalism and insensitivity. He sees little fruit, he and his family personally suffer, and he questions God’s purpose. He is portrayed as ignorant and pragmatic. Some Christians would view this portrayal and assume the author is hostile to Christianity and therefore we should disregard his writing and look to the biographies of the fruitful, godly missionaries of history. However, I believe Michener has some very keen insights into the potential dangers of ineffective cross cultural work. He portrays them in a realistic narrative which causes us to weep or rejoice with the characters.

The first lesson we can learn from Abner Hale about how to ruin your ministry is to be ethnocentric. Reverend Hale and some of the other missionaries are absolutely convinced that their culture is sanctified because of its Christian history and therefore they can learn absolutely nothing from the “heathen” Hawaiians. One missionary refuses to let the Hawaiian midwives assist his wife. He goes so far as to drag his wife across miles of terrain to the other missionaries who have no experience and are dependent on the midwifery book. His wife dies as a consequence. Reverend Hale never listens to advice from the Hawaiians on any level and persists in American customs wholly unrelated to the church or moral issues, such as eating similar meals to what he would have in New England and dressing in the same manner, including warmer clothes for “winter”.

Secondly, in fruitless ministry, the important matters of teaching, discipling, and leading are reserved for the missionaries. Abner Hale refuses to ordain the young Hawaiian who first inspired him to come to Hawaii, believing him to be too immature yet. In fact, he is unwilling to ordain any Hawaiian…yet. The young man waits for nearly a decade until he is driven to frustration and reverts to the old Hawaiian beliefs and customs. It is interesting that even the mission board rebuked Abner on this, insisting that the church should have been turned over to native leadership long before. This gave me a clue that perhaps Michener did not think mission work was worthless, only that it could be done and had been done wrong in this case. This part of the book saddened me more than any other death or tragedy. Christ gave us the priesthood of all believers through His Spirit. What a shame to deny that to any believer, especially one willing and able to lead.

Another tip, expect people to change their behavior before they come to God. Yes, repentance is part of submitting to Christ, but there will be many battles with various sins in one’s life throughout life. Abner Hale expected the people to give up their idols, their sexual practices, etc. before they had experienced God’s grace and without knowing His power. We cannot expect the fruit of the Spirit before the Spirit is present.

Finally and perhaps most important, if you want to destroy your ministry, be focused on yourself. In the rough moments, Abner Hale’s true desire showed through. His desire was to build his ministry. He was frustrated by setbacks, not so much because he was burdened for the people or he wanted to see God glorified, but he wanted his church to grow and his converts to be examples of his ministry. Ambition is a deadly fault. There will always be setbacks or struggles along the ministry, but our hearts will reveal if we are burdened for God’s work and for the people he loves or if we are mourning the loss of our own dream.

Thank you for listening to my musings. I hope they are an encouragement to you in regard to cross cultural ministry. Additionally, don’t be afraid of negative portrayals of Christians or Christian workers in literature. The Bible itself is full of all kinds of embarrassing and shameful accounts about the Israelites and the people in the church, some of whom were humble and repentant and others who were not. What can we learn from these examples? Is there truth in the negative portrayal? Better to take heed from a negative example and examine yourself than continue in prideful error.

How the Hobbit Got Back Again

I have been fortunate enough to have a nice amount of free time recently and have been looking for some good books to fill my quiet evenings, so it seemed appropriate to choose a dependable book I could trust for enjoyment. I was not disappointed by The Hobbit. While reading and relishing, I noticed a theme I had not paid much attention to before. Perhaps circumstances have given me a keener insight into this particular theme.

After going home for Christmas break and then returning to Guadalajara, I again began thinking about the balance of the beauty and wonder of the world contrasted by the pleasure and familiarity of home. Or perhaps they really complement each other after all.

Either way, Bilbo’s character represents this tension well. He does not want an adventure, resents the adventure much of the way, and happily returns from the adventure. Yet he does accept the adventure of his own will and completes his purpose in it admirably, and even goes beyond his duty. His Tookish side leads him to accept the appeal of the adventure and when all is done, he is weary, but not regretful. He has friends among the race of dwarves, has been named elf friend by the Elvenking, and been hosted in plenty by many good and wonderful people of various kinds. He has also suffered much, feared much, and sorrowed much for his trouble.

The alternate title is There and Back Again. The “back again” section of the story takes up only one short chapter and an additional couple of pages, yet it seems quite important that Bilbo came back again. The whole story points to his return as he constantly thinks of his comfortable chair, his sitting room, his tea, etc. “not for the last time.” The part of him that thirsted for adventure has been satisfied, well, for 60 years anyway. He is satisfied with home and indeed “the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party.” Yet the adventure has left a strong mark. He began writing poetry and he would visit elves and be visited by them and other “foreign” people. He also loved to share about his times abroad, though most of his stories were discounted by the skepticism of hobbits.

I love to travel. I love to experience new things and talk with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds. I like to see beautiful and unique things in person and not just through a picture on Pinterest. I am enjoying my overseas experience now and hope I will be able to travel to many more places in my lifetime. However, something about my little city makes my heart happy and contented. I hope that I will also get much more time there and that it will be said of me, she “remained very happy to the end of [her] days, and those were extraordinarily long.”

Photo from unsplash.com

Farewell, My Pelf

            I still do not understand how a suitcase that was not even full could be 25 pounds over the weight limit. I had to open it up again, transfer some essentials to another bag and reluctantly put away about 15 pounds of the non-essentials. It seemed so hard to do that. I was going to Mexico and leaving friends, family, and comfort and I could not even take my favorite mug or my hymnal with me? I felt like some inherent right had been violated. That was when I remembered how American it is to claim rights, while how Christ-like it is to deny yourself your rights for the sake of another. And then I realized I was being just a little ridiculous. Not only am I very blessed to have so many material possessions, I am also blessed to have a safe place to keep them for the time I am gone. If I cannot have all of my favorite clothes with me in Mexico, at least I know they can stay in my closet and will be there when I come home on break. I do not have to permanently say goodbye to all of my books and keepsakes. I do not have to make the decision about if I am going to pay to store my great grandmother’s antique bedroom furniture or if I need to sell it.

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            It makes me think of the sacrifices that so many missionaries made throughout history and are still making today. Even though our culture today offers so many options and conveniences when it comes to travel, shipping, and storage, there comes a point for the committed Christ follower to part with some possessions. If I end up serving as a Christian worker long term overseas, will I be able to justify having a storage unit full of possessions at “home” as well as all my possessions in my host country? When so many people around the world have so little? And when the lure of possessions is so strong? When an American sense of entitlement takes a stronger hold the more things I have? My sacrifice at this time is small, but I do not know what level of sacrifice I may be called to one day if I choose to live overseas long term.

            I am reminded of Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Upon the Burning of Our House”.  Her house was burned to the ground in 1666 and most of her possessions lost. Though this was not a voluntary sacrifice of possessions, her attitude was as if she had come to the place that she would willingly have offered her things as a flaming sacrifice. She notes that, “He might of all justly bereft/ But yet sufficient for us left”. She acknowledges that even were all possessions destroyed or willingly sacrificed, God in his fullness would be enough. This is important for every Christian to consider, though many American Christians do not have to face the realities of this in daily life. Bradstreet concludes by dwelling on Christ’s sacrifice for us, in which he gave all, and says, “There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,/ Farewell, my pelf, farewell, my store./ The world no longer let me love,/ My hope and treasure lies above.”

            I desire to learn to sacrifice with willingness and joy, knowing the reward that lies ahead.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/geishaboy500/2579826661/”>geishaboy500</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

An Ideal (yet real) Relationship

 

            In literature, it is so often difficult to find a balance between the ideal and the real. The division might also be described as the balance between classic storytelling and contemporary storytelling. Contemporary books, often more realistic, can tend to be so close to life that they are boring or are too base and graphic to make an enjoyable read. Inversely, the older style which embraced more idealism can seem too predictable or be resolved so perfectly that it cannot be taken seriously. I find that this balance is especially hard to achieve when it comes to stories centered around love relationships. However, I discovered the perfect blend of classic and contemporary in Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor. The professor is William Crimsworth, a gentleman cut off from his relations and means of support in England, who becomes a teacher in Belgium to earn his living. Frances Henri, whose only relation is her sickly aunt, teaches lace mending at the same school, but becomes William’s student in a desire to improve her English and broaden her opportunities. The plot is very simple and takes no unexpected twists, but the relationship between William Crimsworth and Frances Henri is beautifully done.

            Their relationship seems to embrace all of the good concepts of both historic courtships and modern engagements. They are realistic about each other’s shortcomings, yet charmingly choose to focus on one another’s best points. For example, William acknowledges that his fiancé is not the greatest of beauties, yet he is attracted to “the graces of her person” still and enjoys her beauty. In fact, at one point, he cannot contain himself and pulls her into his lap to first declare his love. He does, however, exercise control in waiting until she has confessed her own love and promised to marry him before he asks if he can kiss her. In fact, he frequently begs kisses from her even after their marriage. Aside from this physical attraction, he is an intellectual sort and makes clear that Frances’ mind is not only what first attracted him to her, but also the bond that holds him to her the strongest. This sweet holistic blend of loving both mind and body of a sweetheart is another characteristic I rarely find. Many old books treat true love as an ethereal, intellectual substance which shuns the carnal desires of flesh and is content with a mere look or spoken word from a lover. On the flip side, many new books focus on the physical, sexual drive that unites a couple’s bodies while minimizing the meeting of minds.

The couple also commands my admiration because they can communicate without trying to dominate each other. Each desires to yield to the other and so they work through situations together.  One important discussion they have is if Frances should continue her new position as teacher in an English school after they are married. Frances expresses a very modern opinion of desiring to be working and making profit even though they could be supported on just William’s salary. William, on the other hand, speaks of how precious the idea is to him of “becoming the providence of what he loves- feeding and clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field” and requests of her that he be allowed to give her rest from the hard work she has been doing to support herself. In a more modern or feministic story, Frances would have asserted herself and William would have been humbled. Instead, Frances acknowledges his superiority and gently persuades him that people who work together, even suffer together, esteem each other more highly than those who only interact for the purpose of pleasure or comfort. And so William yields for the sake of her happiness and agrees with her that she should continue working.

Later on in their marriage, Frances shows an entrepreneurial side and suggests that she begin her own school. William takes her suggestion seriously and supports her in it. Even though the school is her endeavor, she insists on his teaching at her school at least an hour daily. Why? Because she wanted him to be a part of what was significant in her life and because she wanted him to know how her day was filled so that what was important to her could be important to him as well. He was not allowed to fall out of touch with her school and he was always applied to when anything difficult arose in the school. As William words it, “it was her pleasure, her joy to make me still the master in all things”.

And so, unexpectedly, in a lesser known work of one of the Bronte sisters, I find the perfect model of a couple that I have always been looking for in literature and never quite finding. Here is a couple that complements each other and defers to one another in love, even in the modern context of a working family. A couple where the man is decidedly masculine in providing for his family and leading his wife and the woman is sweetly feminine, industrious as the woman described in Proverbs 31, yet deferring to her husband and looking to his support. What was their secret? Perhaps William is right when he says, “Frances was then a good and dear wife to me, because I was to her a good, just, and faithful husband”. 

The Call of the Child

Take a wild guess which book I read last. If the title was not enough to give you a clue, my last sentence hopefully made it clear. Yes, I recently read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild for the first time. Aside from the setting, I did not know anything about the book as I began to read (always the best way to start a book) and I enjoyed this short little novel. I really liked the unique perspective of the story being told through a dog’s eyes. Stating it briefly like that kind of makes it sound like a Disney movie, but it was not tacky or unbelievable and every emotion Buck portrayed and everything he observed and understood was perfectly in keeping with what you can observe in a real dog’s behavior. For example, you can observe that dogs feel loyalty and affection to certain people and other animals. The general plot of the book is a pet reverting back to the wild, becoming stronger and fiercer until he forsakes human company and joins the wolf pack.

            It is very evident that London was heavily influenced by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Buck is described as going through a process that stripped the tame generations from him. It is also observed that Buck learns that nothing matters except survival and only the toughest survive in the wild. The Call of the Wild is a great piece of literature, but I admit that I do not agree with the bleakness of the evolutionary outlook. In this case, I am not even so concerned with where this theory says the earth came from, but where it implies it is going. I recalled Romans 8:19-22 which describes creation being subjected to futility because of the sin of man and that it longs to see the full redemption of man because it too will be redeemed at that time and set free. In the meantime, it groans, as if in the pain of childbirth, waiting for the coming hope. I want to read a story that keeps the concept of using a creature’s perspective that reflects this worldview. I want to read a story that subtly shows a dog (or other animal) longing for peace and for the redemption of man. One day, according to Isaiah 11:6-9, the wolf (even as cruel and selfish in its desire for survival as described by London) will live with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, the calf with the lion. These animals are described as grazing and eating straw, no longer requiring death to satisfy their hunger. And sweetest of all, a little child will lead them. Creatures small and large will listen for the call of a child and follow his leading peacefully. Verse 9 specifically says “They will not hurt or destroy”. Why this change from their “natural” behavior? Because “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord”.  Knowledge of the Lord is not limited to humans! Amazing! Just as the curse on the caretakers ruined the creatures and gave them selfish, destructive natures, the healing of the caretakers will also bring peace to those under their authority.

As a clarification, I do not believe that animals have souls or that they can share in God’s Spirit. And I do not thing Scripture is clear enough to say that animals’ spirits are eternal. However, I do think that God does love animals because they are also a part of his creation. And I think that those who believe in a God who created all things for his glory will treat animals and the earth with respect and seek to hasten the day when the WHOLE earth will be made new.