Singing in a Foreign Land

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The White House

 

I was in a foreign land this past week: the United States of America!  It’s amazing how foreign the U.S.A. can actually feel to a Canadian, even though it’s just across the border. Little things, from the all-green money to different names for common items, remind you that you’re not in Canada anymore.

For example, teachers have to become familiar with the American use of the word “grade”: that’s “5th Grade” instead of “Grade 5”; and as a verb, it’s “grade students’ papers” rather than “mark students’ papers”.

My destination was the state of Maryland, where I attended a teacher training conference put on by Rockbridge Academy, a classical Christian school in Annapolis. It was wonderful to meet and interact with my American colleagues! It was a week filled with both worshipping God and learning, reminding me how necessary these are to one another if we are to glorify Him.

While I am still mulling over the many things that I considered this week, and I’m sure as they marinate I will eventually be able to articulate them better, these three points stand out to me right now:

  1. Our graduates will look like our faculty. Very sobering thought for teachers! (Matthew 10:24 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”) We need to be passionate worshippers and lovers of God ourselves if that’s what we want our students to be.
  2. Our students should be able to hear the good news of the gospel woven in and through and underpinning all that we teach. Our discipline of them ought to be gospel saturated. It’s not about moralizing. It’s about continually pointing them to our need of Christ and His cross.
  3. Stories are powerful ways to communicate truth to our students without moralizing. We want to read them stories that help them to learn to love the things that God loves, and hate the things that God hates. That’s the goal.

Some deep thoughts, and I’m fairly certain the full impact of this week has yet to hit me!

Happily, I also had the opportunity to visit some local sites of interest. Annapolis has a historic downtown area, with many old buildings, brick streets, and a beautiful harbour.

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Maryland State House was once the Capitol of the United States

 

 

 

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One evening in the harbour we were even treated to the sounds of a jazz band made up of men in uniform. The city is the home of the United States Naval Academy.

I set aside an evening to travel to nearby Washington, DC and walk and pray through the National Mall.

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill (United States Congress)

I love the American people! I met so many kind and generous folks on this recent trip. Just one example (of many) was the lady ahead of me in the line up of cars on the interstate in Pennsylvania. We were backed up for miles because of construction, and were at a standstill. She could see that I was melting in the intense heat without air conditioning, even with the windows rolled all the way down in the car. She jumped out of her vehicle and ran over and handed me a frozen water bottle! God bless her!

As I prayed for America this week, my heart overflowed with God’s love for the people. I thought not only of them, but of Christians worldwide who are struggling with how to live Christianly in today’s culture.

Something many Christian educators and parents around the world are pondering is how we can teach our children to be joyful and impactful Christians in an anti-Christian culture. Many might feel like hanging it up and retreating. The Israelites faced a similar struggle in Babylon:

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

    On the willows there we hung up our lyres.

    For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

     How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1-4 KJV)

Should we simply hang up our lyres? Or how shall we sing? Yes, for Christians there will be times of confusion and perplexity, even of discouragement and genuine grief. But in verses five and six, we are told the secret to overcoming even in the midst of those times:

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!”

The answer is to remember. We remember our God and His faithfulness. We remember Jesus and His life laid down for us. We remember the Holy Spirit and His indwelling, comforting, abiding presence. And we remember the Kingdom of God and the promise of the New Jerusalem! If we do not remember, it is like our tongues stick to the roofs of our mouths, and we can’t sing of His goodness and glory. But if we remember, how can we keep from singing?

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:21-23)

Life and Death

life and death

Image: Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

My heart broke over the children in Attawapiskat who wanted to die rather than continue to live in the terrible conditions in their community. It is so unnatural for children to want to die. Everything about a child speaks life!

What is happening in our culture that death is becoming increasingly attractive, even to the young? Death seems to them a better option than continuing to live in despair.

Proponents of assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion use similar logic – death is seen as preferable to suffering.

Death is often merely seen as a sort of “power outage” – fade to black. No more pain, no more suffering, nothing. However, there is no evidence for that fantasy idea of death; and for most people there is much uncertainty about what will happen to them when they die.

Our culture has a love-hate relationship with death. People want it when they think it means the elimination of suffering, but because they don’t really know for sure what happens after they die, they fear it.

That’s why the rich are arranging for their dead bodies to be frozen so that they can be thawed out in the hope of a cure being discovered in the future. Some are even going so far as trying to find ways to live forever by having their human parts replaced with robotic ones. They are scared to death of death.

It’s really all about control. They’d like to be in charge of when their lives end. They want to control how much suffering they experience.

This position assumes that we know what is best for ourselves. But how many of us have ever come to a point of despair in our lives, when we literally thought we’d be better off dead, because we weren’t able to see that relief was just around the corner? Would we now think, looking back, that we should have taken our lives at that point?

Despair and hopelessness can make suicide seem attractive, but it’s only a lie of the enemy of our souls.

What suicidal children need, and what we all need, is hope. And that hope has to be anchored in Someone who loves us, who died for us, and who holds our future in His hands.

George Müller picked up over 10,000 unwanted orphans off the streets of Bristol in the 1800s and lovingly fed, housed, clothed, and educated them, all with money provided in direct answer to prayer. He and his wife took no salary for themselves, and gave away anything that was over and above their basic needs.

Nowadays many of those orphans would probably never have been born in the first place, but rather aborted so they wouldn’t have to suffer poverty.

Yet a man like Müller was willing to lay down his life – his personal gain, his salary, his time, his privacy, his comfort – and give his life for God’s glory in the care of these children. He showed them the love of their Heavenly Father and what it was to hope in Jesus Christ.

We can learn from Müller what it means to give others a reason for the hope that is in us, and a reason for living. Ironically, we do this by dying – dying to our selfishness so that Jesus can live in and through us and bring life to others.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

 

Is Philosophy Making a Comeback?

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Image: Wikimedia

by Tina Olesen

 

“As they look at the church, the world ought to see that a head-on clash is coming between its philosophy and the philosophy of Jesus Christ, and that the one who is going to win is Jesus.”

– Ray Stedman

 

Philosophy seems to be enjoying some attention in educational circles as of late. The Guardian recently reported that “Philosphical discussion boost pupils’ maths and literacy progress” while The Independent stated that “Children from deprived backgrounds benefited the most from philosophical debates about topics such as truth, fairness and knowledge, researchers from Durham University found.”

It seems that these researchers did not understand exactly how the study of philosophy improved students’ performance in school.

Perhaps a benefit of the study of philosophy might be the development of critical thinking skills? Critical thinking is crucial in subjects like math, particularly problem solving. Critical thinking skills are also indispensable in reading, listening, and viewing, in order to be able to evaluate and discern the material.

There’s much I don’t know about this study and how it was conducted, but it leaves me wondering. What kind of philosophy are they studying?

There is good philosophy, but there is also bad philosophy. The type of philosophy we expose our children to matters.

If during a philosophical discussion a child gets a glimpse of the truth, and attempts to follow that truth to the best of his ability, it may result in moral character growth. If a student develops moral character, then that would result in improved academic performance.

The more a student is able to will himself to do that which is difficult for him, but that which he must do, the better he’ll do in school. In “setting himself to do the truth, he is on the way to know all things. Real knowledge has begun to grow possible for him.”[i]

However, the age old question which Pontius Pilate put to Jesus immediately comes into play: “What is truth?” Many philosophers have earnestly sought truth, which presupposes that there is such a thing as truth. The moral relativists in our day would have us believe that absolute truth does not exist (for an excellent exposé of moral relativism’s failures, watch Christian apologist Greg Koukl brilliantly demolish it in this video – it is well worth the time it takes to watch the whole thing).

Philosophy comes from the root words philo sophia meaning love of wisdom. A hunger for the truth, a desire for wisdom – these earnest longings in the human heart are meant to be satisfied in a Person: Jesus Christ, who is the Truth and who is Wisdom.

Jesus perfectly exemplified God’s moral standard. He embodied the highest and most beautiful ideals of truth, love, goodness, holiness, mercy, justice and compassion. While none of us can independently live up to that moral standard, most of us can readily recognise the surpassing excellence of it when we see it.

All that Jesus exemplifies in His perfect character is what we were created for, although none of us can attain it apart from Him, and not perfectly in this life. Yet He honors even our attempts to practice what we know of the Truth. The more we practice what we know, the further He leads us on.

The philosophies of this world have come up against the philosophy of Jesus time and again throughout history, and they eventually all crumble at His feet. Perhaps they enjoy a season of popularity and apparent success, but their shortcomings and weaknesses soon become apparent. The beauty and glory of Jesus and all that He stands for never fades and never fails.

It is the philosophy of Jesus that we want to train our children in. The only way to do this is to live it out before their watching eyes.

When we Christians train our children up in the philosophy of Jesus, to love His Wisdom and to trust Him as the Truth, we are giving them something of eternal value. Children who are planted in Jesus and His way of looking at the world have an anchor that will hold them in the storm of all competing philosophies that will one day blow away with the wind.

 

 

 

[i] From The Hope of the Gospel, by George MacDonald

Ontario’s Controversial Sex-Ed Curriculum

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Image: Wikimedia

By Tina Olesen

Ontario’s newly revised sexual education curriculum was presented at a news conference yesterday by Education Minister Liz Sandals. The curriculum is highly controversial due to the explicit content, causing many parents much concern. While parents are allowed to remove their child from class for some portions of the program, there are other elements which will be mandatory (no opt-out).

The title of this new curriculum is “Health and Physical Education.” Sex is not primarily a health issue, nor is it merely physical. Sex is a spiritual issue.

The unstated purpose of sex education courses is to free students from “ignorance” that could lead to their downfall; i.e., if they are taught how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, then they won’t get sick. Or if they are taught how to use contraceptives, then they won’t get pregnant.

If things were this simple, then why do we still have pregnant teenagers, despite all the education available? It’s definitely not for a lack of sex training in school. Some may even argue that sex education contributes to a teen’s decision to become sexually active, as it is separated from its spiritual and moral context and treated as a physical and emotional decision, like getting one’s ears pierced.

The real engine driving the sex education machine is an attempt to remake society, eliminating biblical morality and paving the way for a neutered anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-happy-and-healthy culture.

The problem with “anything goes” is just that: anything goes. When you toss out biblical morality, where do you draw the line, and who decides where that line is drawn? Child pornography? Bestiality? Pedophilia? On what basis is that line drawn, if it is drawn at all?

Is that really the culture that any of us wants to live in? To have our children live in?

It is a culture of darkness, which pretends to enlighten.

“For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.”

The antidote to darkness is light. As has been said, darkness is merely the absence of light.

“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

Our young people need a vision of light, life, and holiness to captivate their hearts – their moral imaginations.

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

They need a candle in the darkness.

“…the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”

“So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Let us “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God is the one who has the most beautiful and excellent guidelines for sex, because He designed it for His glory, and put His parameters around it for our good.

Mindfulness is Religion in Schools

By Tina OlesenReligious_syms

There is a double standard when it comes to religion in public education. Christianity? No way. Secularists argued that they did not want anyone’s religion imposed upon their children, while ironically fighting to impose secular humanism on all public school children. So why aren’t they up in arms about mindfulness?

The myth about mindfulness is that it is a non-religious practice. This is simply false advertising. The religiosity of mindfulness is self-evident. It is a meditation practice that comes directly out of eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In much the same way as the Lord’s Prayer is tied to Christianity (and was banned from public schools on that basis), mindfulness meditation is unquestionably religious.

John Lennon crooned that we should all imagine what the world would be like if there were “no religion” and many people believe that some sort of place of neutrality really exists when it comes to religion. In the narrowest sense of the definition of the word religion, people might be able to escape labelling themselves as belonging to one of the world’s recognised religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. However, if we look at religion in the broadest sense, one’s religion is simply the outward manifestation of one’s beliefs about the origin, nature, purpose and meaning of life. One of Webster’s definitions for religion is simply “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

Since public schools teach about the origin, nature, purpose and meaning of life, they teach a religion. It is no good to say that they teach no one religion exclusively, because even teaching that all religions are equal is in itself “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

So far, it seems as if the religion that is being taught in schools is whatever one looks to be the most non-offensive to secular humanists. If a religion like Buddhism can somehow be dressed down to look as secular humanistic as possible, then it gets a pass in our public schools. Public funding from taxpayers’ pockets goes to support the indoctrination of all children into a Buddhist or Hindu worldview: how is that acceptable in a public school system that was built on Christian foundations, but now claims to be secular?

A recent article in Maclean’s magazine stated that mindfulness is “a non-religious meditation practice with roots in Buddhism…” This is the kind of doublespeak that the proponents of mindfulness use to try to market their meditation technique as secular. The article goes on to describe how the marketers try to stay away from religious sounding terms and religious paraphernalia like Buddhist chimes in some markets, because some parents may find them objectionable. However, no matter how much they try to strip away any religious connotations, it is obvious that mindfulness meditation fits the definition of a religious practice, in both the narrowest and broadest senses of the term.

“No religion” in our schools is something imagined but never practiced, because education is religious. When public schools left their Christian foundations for a supposedly secular curriculum, the moral foundation began to crumble beneath the school houses. With Christianity banned from our schools, teachers continued to try to provide moral training, but they no longer had the moral absolutes of Christianity to stand on. When students are given license to determine right and wrong for themselves, chaos and confusion results. This lack of moral training resulting in undisciplined students is now being addressed in schools with mindfulness meditation (turning to a different religion) in an attempt to bring order. It won’t work, and here’s why.

We need only to look at what history teaches us to see the results of religious training in a culture. Carefully examine the cultures that result from the various world religions, and compare them with Christianity. The Christian moral consensus that our society was built upon provided a stable foundation. The law of God (which stands over and above humankind) was the measuring stick or moral absolute that judged society and gave us our concept of right and wrong, providing a foundation for law and education. Truly following the teachings of Jesus Christ results in the cherishing of children, the education of both boys and girls, the care of the sick and the poor, and unselfishly seeking the good of one’s neighbour – all of which work towards the flourishing of a culture. Can this honestly be said of any other religion, philosophy, or teaching?

As Francis Schaeffer, a Christian apologist, correctly pointed out, secular humanism does not provide a strong enough base for human society. If as a society we no longer submit to the truth that the God of the Bible is the authority on what is right and wrong, how then will our laws be decided? By taking a vote? If so, then the majority (51% of the people) seize the power to decide and judge what is right or wrong for everyone else, and get to impose their “law” on the rest of society. If God’s authority is ignored, who then judges the “laws” of the 51%? As Schaeffer rightly stated, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.”

A 51% majority which has absolute power to impose their own preferences which they call “laws” on society is nothing but a tyranny. Consider how students today in our public schools are being primed to be ruled by this 51%. Mindfulness meditation teaches students not to judge between right and wrong. It encourages children to develop “non-judgmental awareness” of their thoughts and feelings. This erodes their ability to distinguish good from evil, and does not train them to make moral choices based upon biblical moral teachings. In order to mature and develop moral character, children have to be equipped to make moral choices.

Our children need sound biblical moral training so that they will be able to distinguish good from evil, and so that they will not be tossed about by every wind of popular culture. As a society, it is time that we recognised we cannot bulldoze our Christian foundations and expect the house to remain standing. Jesus Christ and His teaching provide the only foundation that will allow for our children and our culture to flourish.

Jesus is not merely a moral teacher who requires His followers to obey His teaching in their own strength. With the sacrifice of His life, He provided the only answer to our moral failure. He did what only God in human flesh could do. Jesus led a perfect life, died to pay the penalty for our sins, rose again from the dead and now gives His followers His Holy Spirit to live in them as the power to keep His moral law. This cannot be said of any leader of any other religion. Our hope for our children and ourselves is in Jesus Christ alone.

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Critical Thinking

thinkerby Tina Olesen

Many of our students are wading perilously through the glut of misinformation and propaganda proliferated by the media and internet, without the tools to think critically about what they are taking in. We have the responsibility to train our future leaders to evaluate the credibility, reliability, and quality of information.

Before the internet, mainstream media remained competitive by providing high quality information. Accuracy was valued, and procedures were in place to verify information. To a degree, accountability was built in to the process.

In the internet age, we now enjoy free flowing information and up to the minute news, which is mainly uncensored. Anyone can publish anything at any time, without having to convince anyone to publish it. There is no “gatekeeper.”

This means virtually no earthly accountability – which can be a recipe for anarchy. Scammers, con-artists, crooks, propagandists and predators have made the most of this environment, and many children are unprotected from these outlaws.

On average, children are exposed to 7.5 hours of media a day, seven days a week — that’s more time than they spend in a classroom.  Children watch an estimated 40,000 TV commercials per year (over 100 a day).

The US Department of Education reported that 81% of children aged 2 – 7 watch TV unsupervised. In a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 48% of kids surveyed had no rules about what they are allowed to do on the computer. 71% of these kids had a TV in their bedroom. 66% of them had a mobile phone (about 25% of 9 and 10 year old Canadians have a cell phone). That’s a lot of potentially unsupervised access to media.

Advertising to children is now big business, with American companies spending approximately $17 billion on this in 2009, at least doubling what they spent in 1992. The US Federal Trade Commission reported that 80% of R-rated films and 70% of adult rated video games were targeted to children under 17.

Marketers attempt to shape values, change attitudes, and direct behaviour. While in the past, stories were used for the moral training of our children, in today’s culture, stories are used by marketers to sell their products.

Marketers use media and mind manipulation to sell a moral value system that supports the behaviour that they wish to encourage, creating a “need” for their products. Traditional biblical moral values and character qualities that were once readily recognized as admirable are now out of style.

The change over the last few decades has been dramatic. When I was a girl, a Nancy Drew mystery was considered junk food reading. She solved crimes and helped people. Today’s girls read stories about vampires, who suck the life out of people.

The vampire romance series for young people, Twilight, written by Stephenie Meyer, has spawned several films and much merchandise. The estimated total franchise sales of this series is $5,736,100,000 – no small potatoes.

Mind manipulation’s aim is moral sell out. Marketers want you to lust after their products. If the manipulators can move you away from making moral choices, they’ve done their job. The aim is to have you choose not to delay gratification, put another person’s interests ahead of your own, or discipline yourself to do something that you don’t want to do. Lust was defined by Oswald Chambers as an attitude of “I must have it at once!

Moral choice making, on the other hand, results in moral character development. Children who do not make moral choices and act on them do not morally mature. This arrested development affects every aspect of their lives, including intellectual progress; but especially their relationships with others.

We can help our children develop a taste for good literature and worthwhile media by cultivating in them a love for that which is beautiful and true. We have to feed their imaginations on the good and honourable, so they will recognise the counterfeit. We need to help them to rejoice with the truth, both in our words and in our actions toward them.

Moral premises function as a foundation for all rational thought. The wise man builds his house upon the Rock of Christ. Without this foundation, thinking and conclusions will not be whole or coherent. As Ray Stedman said, “In the secular realms of knowledge there are great missing elements, great blanks, that the people of the world try to fill up in a dozen different ways, but only the church possesses the truth, the bread that can feed the hungers of life.”

We can expose the aim and tactics of marketers to our children. They can be trained to recognize faulty logic, invalid deductions, bias, lies, propaganda, and over-generalizations that do not line up with the biblical moral truth they have been taught. We can show them examples of mind manipulation and advertising strategies and give them the opportunity to practice uncovering the errors in thinking. With training and repeated practice, I have witnessed twelve year olds do this with skill.

It is important to embed critical thinking in everyday learning. When watching a program or reading an article together, stop and question it out loud. Ask them to uncover the writer’s bias, or any errors in thinking. Require them to evaluate any sources that they select as reference materials for their papers, and give them guidelines and checklists for evaluating the reliability of those sources.

We can equip our children to recognise what is morally good, and teach them to defend themselves against mind manipulation; both are needful.

Click on comment(s) to read comments or to leave a comment.


“The Miracle Worker”

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by Tina Olesen

Annie Sullivan was a young teacher from the Perkins Institution who demonstrated exceptional courage and tenacity in moral training. The story of how Annie broke through to her famous pupil Helen Keller as a child is so remarkable that it bears examination (although this is not an endorsement of Helen’s highly controversial views in religion and politics as an adult).

Helen lost both her sight and her hearing after a babyhood illness. Her father, Captain Keller, and his wife hired Anne Sullivan to teach their blind and deaf daughter. Up until the time Annie came, Helen was undisciplined and pitied. Her parents felt sorry for her and mostly let her have her own way, which resulted in her behaving like an animal and having a tantrum whenever she could not have what she wanted. In her autobiography, Helen admits: “I was strong, active, indifferent to consequences. I knew my own mind well enough and always had my own way, even if I had to fight tooth and nail for it.” [i]

In the 1962 film “The Miracle Worker” (based on the true story) Annie’s character bravely protested Helen’s treatment by her parents:

“Pity for this tyrant? Is there anything she wants she doesn’t get? I’ll tell you what I pity… that the sun won’t rise and set for her all her life, and every day you’re telling her it will. What you and your pity do will destroy her, Captain Keller…

“Mrs. Keller, I don’t think Helen’s greatest handicap is deafness or blindness. I think it’s your love and pity. All these years you’ve felt so sorry for her you’ve kept her like a pet. Well, even a dog you housebreak… It’s less trouble to feel sorry for her than it is to teach her anything better…” [ii]

Not only was Annie up against Helen’s moral rebellion, but she had to stand against Helen’s parents and their indulgence, which harmed Helen terribly. In the film, Annie’s character pleaded with Helen’s father:

…To let [Helen] have her own way in everything is a lie – to her You’ve got to stand between that lie and her.[iii]

Annie took Helen out of the family home altogether for a time, so that Helen’s parents would not be able to interfere in the disciplinary process. At first Helen objected vehemently to Annie’s discipline, and they had many battles. Annie would appear severe to Helen because Helen had neither experience nor understanding of moral authority. Her parents had abdicated their responsibility to discipline her, and their pity of her encouraged her to pity herself. In her dark hole of self-pity, Helen lashed out at everyone around her and trampled over people to get her own way. Thankfully Annie did not abdicate her responsibility, however, and she held Helen accountable for her actions. She did not pity her or allow her to pity herself. She had expectations of Helen: “I treat her like a seeing child because I ask her to see, I expect her to see…” [iv]

Annie proved the more persistent of the two, and when Helen began to obey her it was not out of love, but out of resignation. This obedience, however, paved the way for Helen to learn language. Annie tirelessly finger spelled words into Helen’s hand, teaching her a finger alphabet, but Helen did not immediately understand that these symbols had meaning; that they stood for something.

Finally one day, Helen had a break through. She understood that W-A-T-E-R spelled into her hand stood for the wet substance flowing out of the pump. Annie described it:

“We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled “w-a-t-e-r” in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face. She spelled “water” several times. Then she dropped on the ground and asked for its name and pointed to the pump and the trellis, and suddenly turning round she asked for my name. I spelled “Teacher.” … All the way back to the house she was highly excited, and learned the name of every object she touched… She has flitted from object to object, asking the name of everything and kissing me for very gladness. Last night when I got in bed, she stole into my arms of her own accord and kissed me for the first time, and I thought my heart would burst, so full was it of joy.” [v]

When it dawned on Helen what Annie had been trying to teach her all along, she embraced her as “Teacher.” Helen understood that Annie’s actions toward her were loving, even though she had not recognized them at first as being loving. The little girl was filled with gratitude and love in return. By her treatment of Helen, Annie modelled unselfishness and introduced Helen to the joy of caring for others.

Annie wrote: “I have thought about it a great deal, and the more I think, the more certain I am that obedience is the gateway through which knowledge, yes, and love, too, enter the mind of the child.” [vi]

The book of Proverbs bears witness:

  • “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)
  • “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
  • “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Children experience love and security when they are lovingly disciplined. Moral training paves the way for all other learning.

[To comment or read comments, click on comment(s).]


[i] From: “The Story of My Life.” Parts I & II by Helen Keller (1880-1968); Part III from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936); edited by John Albert Macy. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, , c. 1902, 1903, 1905. Accessed at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/keller/life/part-I.html

[ii] From the film: “The Miracle Worker”, 1962 Playtime Productions, Inc.,USA.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] “Part III.” from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936), edited by John Albert Macy.
From: “The Story of My Life.” Parts I & II by Helen Keller (1880-1968); Part III from the letters and reports of Anne Mansfield Sullivan (ca.1867-1936); edited by John Albert Macy. New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, c. 1902, 1903, 1905. Accessed at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/keller/life/part-III.html#L386

[vi] Ibid.

Sexual Health

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by Tina Olesen

“Sexual Health” is the name that sex education courses are often given in schools. Why health?  The focus is on the body, especially its sexual parts. But the truth is that sex is about more than our bodies. While our bodies are intimately involved, sex has a spiritual dimension. Sexual health classes are always communicating a message about spirituality, whether or not that is their intent.

Who are we worshipping with our bodies? What do our sexual practices tell the world that we believe about God? These are questions not usually openly addressed in sexual health classes, yet these questions are fundamental to our understanding of sexuality. Sex education is never neutral. It either teaches the students to honor God with their bodies, or it doesn’t. Students are accountable to God for what they do with their bodies, whether or not they hear the truth about that in sexual health classes.

Even when a sexual health curriculum focuses primarily on the human body, i.e. anatomy, physiology, pregnancy, hygiene, diseases, etc., this does not mean it is spiritually neutral (see the BC Teacher’s Federation’s sexual health education guidelines posted here). Beliefs about sexuality are intricately tied to one’s beliefs about God. Many parents disagree with what their child is being taught about sex (see an example from the United Kingdom here, and the BCTF’s advice to teachers, here). The battle looks like an ideological one, but really it is spiritual.

We either believe what God says about sex (as described in the Bible) or we do not. Our sexuality and our worship of God are inextricably connected. Dr. Peter Jones, in his book One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (2010) writes, “Our thinking, our worship and our sexuality are fundamentally related… Mess with your sexuality, and you will mess with your worship. Mess with your worship and you will mess with your thinking about God. Mess with your thinking about God and you will mess with your sexuality. No matter which exchange you make, you will begin to adopt a One-ist spirituality and ultimately expose yourself to the judgment of God,” (p. 154). (Definitions of One-ism and Two-ism can be found here on the truthXchange website.)

Biblically, a marriage between a man and a woman is meant to be a Two-ist picture of the one flesh love relationship between Christ and His Bride, the church. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthian church: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” He wrote to the Ephesians, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” The beauty of the distinction between the masculine and the feminine coming together to paint this picture of the Bride of Christ and her heavenly Bridegroom is glorious.

This portrait is so precious and so vital to the gospel. For this reason, Paul strenuously warns us against sexual immorality. He entreated the Corinthians to “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Paul is telling us that our bodies were meant to glorify God; they do not belong to us – if we belong to Christ, our bodies belong to Him: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” In Romans, he beseeches us to “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” What we do with our bodies demonstrates who we worship.

While it is vitally important that as Christians we protect our young people from the lies and seduction of immoral sexuality, we must also shine the light on the Truth, so that they can see it in all its glory. Our youth need a cosmological [1] understanding of God’s wondrous plan for sex within a marriage between a man and a woman. I thank the Lord for those couples who faithfully live this out, to the glory of God. They are providing a portrait for our youth (and the watching world) of what God intended in His created order of relationships. At the same time they are pointing to the spiritual reality of the relationship between our Bridegroom, Christ, and His Bride, the church.

Our children need to know what their bodies were created for: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. They need to be taught the beauty and wonder of “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Colossians 1:26-27).


[1] Thanks to Dr. Peter Jones for this word!

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The Moral Imagination

storytime

by Tina Olesen

“Imagination is seeing with the eyes of the heart… Because being follows imagination, the battle is always for the mind… Imagination that is based on truth is tremendously powerful.” [i] Let’s not underestimate the power of the imagination in moral training.

Last year I attended a teacher training workshop on the subject of internet social media and our young people. After taking us through all kinds of sad and sordid internet train wrecks, where teens had posted things so outrageous that one just wanted to look away, the workshop presenter gave us his assessment of “why” this is happening. It is not because teens need to be taught how to have more shrewdness with the internet. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) it is because now that religion has been taken out of public schools, these youth no longer have moral training and so they lack moral judgment. I wanted to give him a standing ovation.

Think about what is feeding and forming the imaginations of our young people in today’s culture. Imaginations are no longer fed with truth and goodness, but with perverted fantasy that calls good evil and evil good. We have libraries full of books praising vampires, werewolves and witches. Zombies are celebrated and humor is often crass. Minds that continually dwell on what is vulgar produce vulgarity.

The problem with much of the so-called moral training curricula offered in our public schools is that it is not anchored in anything. It has no biblical basis and therefore it floats away on an ocean of moral relativism. Children are encouraged to do “whatever is right for you” which competes with whatever is “right” for their classmate, parent, or teacher. Moral absolutes are shied away from, and so children are set adrift on a stormy sea without an anchor. We wonder why we have so many shipwrecks!

Another difficulty with these supposed “character building” programs is that they are often obviously directive and trite, and our students resist the leading that resembles lecturing. Truth that impacts our hearts often comes to us indirectly; for example, in a story rather than a speech. The reception of the truth by the imagination can topple the prideful intellectual barriers to truth that we so often put up. Jesus’ use of the parable is the model for this method.

One of the finest things that a story can do is to awaken in its reader a hunger and thirst for holiness. By holiness, I mean that quality of character that only Jesus Christ perfectly exemplifies. Jesus was the master storyteller. He knew well the smug intellects and hard hearts of his listeners, and He used parables to circumvent their predictable rejection of His message. Concealed in a parable, His hard hitting Truth would either bounce off the stone cold hearts of His hearers, or slice like an arrow straight to the unsuspecting heart, bypassing the self-righteous intellect and penetrating the depths of the conscience. Some listeners responded by hardening their hearts further and walking away from Him. Others experienced the unexpected relief of conviction, humbled themselves, and submitted to His conquest of their hearts.

In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis wrote, “…the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate…” Children have to be trained even in the right responses – to rejoice in the triumph of good over evil, to be disgusted at that which is disgusting, to recognise and love that which is beautiful.

Our children ought to have more than warnings against moral evil; they should be given a captivating vision of moral good. The tale of Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey illustrates this well. Ulysses was commanding a ship of men sailing near the cliffs when up ahead, they spotted the Sirens. These Sirens could enchant the men with their song, bewitching them into crashing the ship on the rocks. Ulysses acted quickly to have the men plug their ears with wax, and made them tie him to the mast of the ship. The enchanting song of the Sirens reached only the ears of Ulysses, who begged his men to untie him, but they did not heed. They safely sailed past the Siren’s song and the rocks. In the Argonautica on another ship, we see an entirely different approach. Orpheus also knew of the dangerous song of the Sirens. Rather than having the men block up their ears, Orpheus wielded his own weapon: his music. He played such a beautiful melody that he captivated the men’s attention (and hearts) away from the song of the Sirens. [ii]

What makes a story, or characters within a story, beautiful? A story is beautiful if it is morally true; that is, true to the holy character of God perfectly personified in His Son, Jesus. If a story stimulates a desire for that holy beauty, perfect order, satisfying justice and gracious humility that is exemplified in Jesus, then the story is imparting a hunger and a thirst that can only be truly satisfied in Him.

The beauty of Jesus Christ is captivating. He said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Let us lift Him up, not only with our lips, but with our lives.

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[i] An Affair of the Mind, by Laurie Hall, 1996, Tyndale House Publishers, chapter 10.

[ii] (Note: I first heard of this story in a retelling of it by Eric Ludy, titled A Sweet Song Beckons.)

The Self-Regulation Trojan Horse

trojan horse

by Tina Olesen

The latest all-purpose solution being celebrated by the experts in educational circles these days is self-regulation. Self-regulation doesn’t mean that a child learns to control his impulses; it means he learns to control his stress. The Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative [i] proposes the theory that children misbehave because they are stressed out, and recommends teaching children how to self-regulate their stress levels so they will be calm and alert. Self-regulation is presented to teachers as something that will help students, but hidden within the belly of this Trojan horse are occult spiritual techniques. Friends, don’t trust this horse… beware of experts, even those bearing gifts

The self-regulation Trojan horse rolls up to the gate of the school, looking impressive. It speaks its first instructions: “Reduce the clutter in classrooms!” (This sounds alright, but you question it. We all know that a messy classroom is uncomfortable, but would that give a student an excuse to smack his classmate?)

The self-regulation horse then opens its mouth with its next demand: “Allow the children to use self-soothers in class, like stretchy bands or squishy toys.” (Hmmm, you wonder as you inspect one of the attractive toys, wouldn’t those be a distraction?)

Finally the horse booms its last directive: “Use mindfulness meditation and yoga to help kids reduce their stress.” Jumping suddenly out of the belly of this self-regulation Trojan horse are the occult invaders of mindfulness and yoga!

That word occult might conjure up images of wizards or Ouija boards, but it also has a broader meaning. Occult knowledge refers to that which is secret or hidden, revealed only to the specially initiated. Those involved in occult practices manipulate and bypass their minds to enter an altered state of consciousness, in order to perceive the one-ness of everything, or universal divinity. The joining of the opposites is the essence of occult philosophy. Eventually all distinctions are erased – the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, male and female, creature and Creator. Practices such as meditation and yoga fit into this description of occult, but they are now being re-packaged as secular self-regulation techniques.

Famous psychologist Carl Jung pioneered the re-branding of occult spirituality as “scientific” psychology. Jung himself was heavily involved with occult practices such as alchemy, astrology, Tarot card reading, Ouija boards and séances, and even acquired a spirit guide.[ii] Jung saw Hindu yoga as a means by which people could release themselves from the bondage of opposites. In the same vein as Jung, some psychologists have started experimenting with occult religious practices. Although they market them to children as a way to reduce stress, these occult practices pose a threat to the child’s innate moral conscience and carry the risk of spiritual dangers.[iii]

“But,” the self-regulation Trojan horse objects, “What will you do about the child’s stress?” Children do have a lot to be stressed about these days. When a society turns its back on God and His law, you’d better believe there is going to be moral decay and family breakdown, and that has a harmful impact on children. For example, if a child’s father has a drug habit, you bet that’s going to be stressful for her. Her stress makes a lot of sense in response to her dad’s sin (rebellion against God). But it’s not the child’s stress that’s the problem; it’s the sin that is causing the stress. The child ought to be heard in the truth of her sad and scary situation, and affirmed in the validity of her morally sane response to it. The last thing she should be taught is to go take care of her stress by meditating it away.

What should we do about children’s misbehaviour, then? We ought to teach them self-control, not self-regulation. Self-control means the child learns to restrain her impulses in obedience to God and out of consideration for others. You can acknowledge the wrong that has been done to a child while still holding her morally accountable for controlling herself. You can teach her the truth that someone else’s sin, however wrong and however hurtful, is not an excuse for her to sin.

Self-regulation is seductive because it does not involve the hard work of teaching the child self-control. What’s faster and easier, giving a child a squeeze toy, or training him to be able to sit still without it? A child who is permitted to squeeze away to his heart’s content is being trained in the art of self-gratification. He is being taught that he always has to feel good in order to be able to behave himself. While he might look as if he’s behaving himself, he’s not learning to delay gratification; he’s learning that he must be gratified at all times. This will have a devastating impact on his moral character development.

Children need a safe place to express their fears about their heartbreaking situations, and a trustworthy adult ought to affirm the right moral response of their conscience to sin. They need to be safeguarded from being seduced into the lie of occult practices like mindfulness and yoga. They need to be told the truth: that sin causes suffering, and that Jesus Christ saves sinners. Friends, leave that self-regulation Trojan horse outside the gate.

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[ii] For information about Carl Jung and the occult, click here

[iii] For more on mindfulness, read my guest blog post at Scientific American Mind – click here

To read about the spirituality behind yoga, read this post here or this article here