Anne-girl

“…Fiction…communicates indirectly by inviting us into a reality that we live by means of imagination… Literature creates a world, and the writer invites your participation: you will not understand what the novel is about unless you step into that created world and live in it.” (Victor Shepherd)

The world that my Grade 5/6 class is currently inhabiting is the world of Anne of Green Gables. I didn’t know when I chose to read this novel with them that a new series based on the book would simultaneously appear on TV. As the students began to come into class talking about the series, I wondered if I should ask them to critically evaluate it against the book. As it happened, I didn’t need to say anything about that at all; they independently began making the comparisons and concluded that the series, although entertaining, was not true to the book.

That world depicted on the TV is another world, but it isn’t the world that L. M. Montgomery created. Somehow I didn’t expect that my students would be loyal to the book at all; in fact, I was almost dreading starting the novel with them, because I wasn’t sure that the boys would receive it enthusiastically. But I was wrong.

As we open the book together day by day and step into Anne’s world, my boys are the ones who laugh the loudest and longest at Anne’s exploits. While there is some eye-rolling at her flowery language from time to time, and some remarks about her extended monologues (“Was that whole chapter just Anne talking?”) on the whole, they are rooting for her.

What is it about Anne that endears herself to us? She is inexplicably relatable, while simultaneously unique and even eccentric. As we chuckle at her hapless, head-in-the-clouds ways and the scrapes she gets herself into, we’re actually laughing at ourselves. Her vanity, her pride, her stubbornness, her failure to control her tongue and temper – in all her failings, we see our own, and we’re invited to see the frailty and humor in the human condition.

Anne’s so-called heathen ways are an affront to Marilla’s stiff religious sensibilities. Her stiffness in the light of Anne’s child-like questions calls us to examine our own rigid ideas about God and their source, and invites us into the freedom of Anne’s childhood wonder and delight.

Anne has been like a familiar friend to me for decades. In my mind’s eye I see myself at eleven years old, sprawled out on a quilt beneath the blossoming tree in our front yard, an open box of Girl Guide cookies beside me. I’m stomach down, a cookie in one hand, Anne’s House of Dreams in the other, oblivious to all but the scent of the blossoms above me and the scene unfolding before me in my book.

Like Anne, I was fairly red-headed and freckled, and loved learning, nature, and romance. The descriptions of her Prince Edward Island home were not unlike my Vancouver Island home; apart from the red dirt, of course. In Anne, I felt I had found what she called a kindred spirit.

My grandmother also loved Anne. I once spent the evening with her, watching the Sullivan movie based on the book. Grandma delighted in Anne’s escapades, and it brought back memories of her own childhood on a farm in Star City, Saskatchewan. She vividly recalled to me her own one room schoolhouse, a hub in their small community, and farm life with both its charms and hard work.

Not long before Grandma suddenly passed away, the women in our family had taken her on a special outing to see the Anne of Green Gables production at the Chemainus Theatre. My sister pointed out afterward that Grandma had never stopped smiling at any point in the performance.

I brought the memory of that smile with me to Prince Edward Island last summer. Over thirty years after my first reading of the book, I was crossing the long bridge to the land of Anne. Part of me was resisting the association with Anne, wanting to enjoy the island for its own sake. Of course, PEI has fully embraced Anne devotees, a boon to its tourism industry. Yes, there’s a lot of kitsch (like gaudy straw hats with fake red braids attached) but you can almost completely avoid the tackiness if you try.

The spectacular scenery only improved upon the loveliness I had imagined while reading Montgomery’s descriptions of the island. Seeing the real-world PEI did not spoil my ability to live in Anne’s imaginary world, but rather enhanced it.

In Friday’s Literature class, my students were debating why Anne had such a fine imagination but Diana appeared to have none. One student put forward the idea that your imagination is a product of the family you grow up in, and perhaps Diana’s family didn’t encourage it; another argued that you don’t get your imagination from your family because Anne didn’t always have a family – her imagination developed because she had to survive somehow as an orphan. Another student thought that Diana should have a good imagination because she read so much, but another commented that some people just like to see things as they are and they don’t like to imagine otherwise.

I hope that in reading the novel, my students see the right use of the imagination as a good thing.

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.

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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)