Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thinking Like A Scientist

My friend Chloe loaned me her copy of Science is Simple: Over 250 Activities for Preschoolers; Katherine and I love it.

What I like best about Peggy Ashbrook's approach is her emphasis on helping kids learn to think like scientists rather than merely memorize scientific facts.  Her activities are designed to develop inquisitive habits of mind where students observe, anticipate, and discover for themselves.

I am a strong proponent of classical education (as you can see in the sidebar links), but classical education theories and practitioners can tend to focus too exclusively on memorization in the grammar stage (elementary grades) to the neglect of creativity, imagination, and conceptual formation.

I think we often underestimate what children can grasp and do.  As I've stated elsewhere, I'm pretty sure the stages of child development are permeable rather than rigid and static.  While I do think the grammar stage should be heavy on fact absorption, I would hate to deprive my children of the joy discovery and imagination during those magical childhood years.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dear Mormon Missionaries (A Second Question)

[Note: This letter was written after my first meeting with the missionaries and before my second.  I am publishing it now because many of my questions remain unanswered, not least because we ran out of time (and were distracted by lots of little people wanting attention).]

When you stopped by the other day, in addition to asking for your take on the incongruities between Mormon teaching and traditional Christianity, I also asked how you deal with apparent inconsistencies within Mormonism itself.

Again, I ask in all sincerity and hope I do not give offense.  

From my outsider's perspective, it seems that LDS prophets/presidents have given differing teachings on certain issues.  Two such especially troubling issues are those of ethnic groups and of polygamy, respectively.

Here's what I see from my perspective . . .

From my reading of 2 Nephi 5:20-25, the Book of Mormon teaches that, in contrast to those who are "white [. . .] and delightsome," "dark skinned" people are "cursed," "loathsome," and inferior ("And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed" v.23).

I've also seen some quotations attributed to previous LDS leaders, directing such a sentiment toward African Americans and other specific ethic groups applying the "seed of Cain" doctrine to say that dark skinned people are spiritually inferior and that (white) Mormons should not intermarry with them.  (I know that not everything one finds on the Internet is reliable, but it looks like at least some of the citations given in the link above check out.  Please let me know if my information is bad.)

I understand that current LDS teaching does not endorse the belief that one race is superior/inferior to another, but I am troubled by the fact that blacks have only been able to hold the LDS priesthood since 1978.  I am also confused by the apparent incongruity between the statements of previous LDS leaders and the current position.  The previous teachings are deeply disturbing to me.  

Can you help me understand how you reconcile yourself with the past teachings and policies of the LDS church on the issue of race and ethnicity?

Also, while polygamy is not endorsed for present practice, it was previously an endorsed practiced.  It also seems that the current ban is temporary, that it will one day return, and that it will ultimately be practiced in the highest level of heaven.  At least such is the view I see when reading through Doctrine and Covenants 132 as well as other LDS publications.

In one LDS publication, The Desert Weekly (v.43, p. 540), quotations from the 1890 General Conference regarding polygamy are given along with the following summary of that assembly's decision to suspend the practice of plural marriage:
"Such is the authoritative position of the Mormon Church. Briefly summarized it may be read in this way:
The revelations of God given to Joseph Smith, including that on plural marriage, are binding upon the people, unless 'their enemies came upon them and hinder them from performing that work.' 
They performed their 'work' in establishing polygamy until 'their enemies came upon them and hindered them,' and disobeyed the law of the land until through persecutions and punishments they were compelled to conclude that 'it is not wisdom to make war upon sixty-five millions of people,' nor 'to carry out this principle against the laws of the nation and receive the consequences.' But it is yet to be re-established, for 'all that He has promised in this code of revelation has been fulfilled as fast as time would admit.  That which has not yet been fulfilled will be."
If polygamy is a holy state and one that is central to LDS eschatology, can you help me understand the change in emphasis today which seems to downplay the importance of plural marriage in LDS history and doctrine?

Can you help me understand the LDS position on polygamy?  I find it quite confusing.

Why do only men receive the priesthood in the LDS church?  Is the "patriarchal grip" in the marriage ceremony symbolizing that women have to enter heaven and achieve divinization through their husbands?  From some of my readings of LDS texts, I am uncertain whether women can actually become gods in the celestial kingdom or just men.  What is the official LDS teaching on this matter?

It's possible I'm reading it the wrong way, but when I read Doctrine and Covenants 132, I can't help but feel concerned by the apparent tone and attitude toward women.  It appears that Joseph Smith is informing his wife, Emma Smith, that God "commands" her to "receive all those" her husband "has been given" or else she "will be destroyed." From the context, it looks as though Joseph is being called "a ruler over" all the "virgins" given to him as "his property'; that a man's wives "belong(eth) (un)to him."  Am I reading this right?

There also seems to be some contradiction within the passage.  First it states that a man's first wife must "give her consent" before her husband "espouse the second."  However, shortly thereafter it says that if any man have a wife [. . .] and he teaches unto her the law of my priesthood," and she doesn't
"believe and administer unto him, [. . . ] she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord your God; for I will destroy her; for I will magnify my name upon all those who receive and abide in my law.
Therefore, it shall be lawful in me, if she receive not this law, for him to receive all things whatsoever I, the Lord his God, will give unto him, because she did not believe and administer unto him according to my word; and she then becomes the transgressor"  (Doctrine and Covenants 132, especially 51-66).
From my outsider's perspective, it's difficult to see how this attitude toward marriage and toward women is of God.  Am I missing something?  How does LDS teaching handle this passage and the church's past practices of polygamy?

I have great respect for you and where you're coming from and do not intend to bash the LDS faith.  I ask these questions sincerely.  Understanding that you come to my door to tell me about your faith, I present you with my honest questions.  I would like to understand your position on these important issues.

Yours in Christ,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preschool in a (Tissue) Box

I've discovered a way to homeschool preschool that meets my current survival criteria: (1) It doesn't make me crazy, and (2) Katherine digs it.

On a good day, and those are fewer than I like to admit, it goes something like this:  We wake up and do our morning routines, including morning prayers.  Then "we" start on the chores assigned for that day of the week.  Between chores, or when I've been doing a chore long enough that Katherine is likely to become bored and in need of attention, we pull out the "draw box."  We do an activity from the draw box and then continue on with chores until lunch and nap time, as time allows.

Our preschool draw box is a tissue box emptied of tissue and filled with little pieces of paper each with an activity written on it.  For Katherine, all the activities are games or just fun things to do with mom.  Knowing that she gets to draw a piece of paper out of the box after we complete a chore, keeps her in a state of happy expectancy.  She loves that its a "surprise," and because she's drawing and thus picking the activity, we avoid any power struggles or attitude problems that might have arisen if I had just announced an activity of my choosing.  (Never mind the fact that I chose all the activities to begin with.)

For my part, the activities are designed to meet my curricular or learning objectives for her current development.  Each activity is also easy, simple, and not too long in duration so that I can pull it off without much if any preparation regardless of which one is drawn out of the box.  I like that I do not have to put any advanced thought or planning into the day's "lesson," since I already did it once when I wrote the activities on the pieces of paper.  If I'm really not up for the activity she pulls first, I just ask her to draw again.  If she is uninterested in the first drawn activity, I also let her draw a second and choose between the two.

Here is a sampling of activities that have been in or will be added to our draw box: (arranged by subject area)

Literacy/Language Arts
  • Do a "Little Book to Read and Color" from A Beka Book (sent us by Grandma)
  • Read a (library) book; work on literacy basics such as introducing/using book vocabulary (front/back cover, title page, author, illustrator), showing how print is read left to right by following the words with your finger while you read, having child predict what will happen next, discussing literary elements (character, setting, events), etc.
  • Select and rehearse a poem, story, song, memory verse to recite/tell/perform for Dad when he comes home
  • Match capital letter flash cards with lower case flash cards; when a match is made, sing the corresponding sound song to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell," as in "The alpha says 'ah,' the alpha says 'ah.'  Every letter makes a sound; the alpha says 'ah.'"
  • Play the card game "War" (to learn "more than" and "less than" concepts)
  • Do our shapes puzzle (and rehearse the names of all the shapes) and other puzzles (from Grandma)
  • Do a page from her time/clock coloring book (practice telling time)
  • Play games with the Hundreds Chart such as "can you find [#]?" and simple addition/subtraction such as "What is two and two more?"
  • Play the card game "Go Fish!"
  • Play store with an assortment of coins—she puts things from around the living room in her shopping bag and then checks out with the checker (me) by paying me the right change as requested (e.g., "That book costs 30 cents; that's a quarter and a nickle).  When we're done playing store, I have her sort the coins back into piles by kind and put them away.
  • Play the card game "Uno."  
  • Measure things around the house or on our person with various measuring instruments such as yard stick, tape measure, scale, etc. (We've also previously made our own hand measuring tape by dipping Katherine's hand in paint and pressing it down over and over again, tips to wrist, so that we can see how many hands tall or long something is.)
  • Read Animal Baby/Ranger Rick magazine (subscription from Grandma)
  • Put lots of different objects in a paper bag or cardboard box with a hand hole cut in it.  Without looking, take turns feeling one object at a time, describing it's weight, texture, shape, and size, and then guess what it is.
History/Social Science
  • Color a print out of the United States flag (say the Pledge of Allegiance)
  • Color a printout of the U.S. bird(bald eagle)/flower(rose) (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring)
  • Color a printout of the Statue of Liberty (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring) 
  • Color a printout of our state flag/flower/bird (discuss its significance/symbolism while coloring) 
  • Color a printout of the icons on U.S. coins/bills (penny, nickle, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar)
  • Color a printout of a map (house floor plan, neighborhood, city, county, state, country, world) and locate familiar places and people on the map
  • Look at a calendar and count how many days, weeks, or months until child's (or other family member's) birthday and/or the next feast day
  • Read a library book (plan ahead and get books related to holidays and/or specific people, places, jobs, or time periods of interest)
Dexterity/Arts & Crafts
  • Sew a Cheerio/Joe's O's/Kashi Heart to Heart necklace; eat it or give it to a friend.
  • Sew a felt purse or pupet with yarn (thanks to Jen Marie for getting us a couple of these at the dollar store)
  • Paint (outside on the patio)
  • Make a collage
  • Make rubbings of various textured objects (e.g., leaves, coins, corduroy, etc.)
  • Make a card for an extended family member or friend and send it in the mail
  • Draw a self portrait 
  • Role play characters from a favorite story (or professionals in society such as firefighters, police, doctors, bakers, Daddy, etc.); use props and/or costumes if you want; put on a little play for an audience of dolls
  • Make paper bag or sock puppets and put on a puppet play
  • Dance and improvise instruments (e.g., pencils on paper plates for drums) to music from different genres or time periods and/or poems
Health & Fitness
  • Talk about what kinds of foods are healthy; make a collage of healthy food and a separate collage of not-so-healthy food using a saved supermarket mailer
  • Talk about the different food categories and have your child sort food photo clippings into the various categories.  Make collages.
  • On a place-mat-sized paper, trace a plate, fork, spoon, knife, and cup where they would be set for a meal.  Have child make a menu (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) by drawing or pasting pictures of healthy food on the plate.
  • Read a library book (plan ahead and get books related to health, safety, and the body)
  • Play "Simon says."  For one variation, play with a large, saved, cardboard box, have child and parent take turns playing Simon—e.g., "Simon says get in/on/under/over/in front of/behind/beside the box."  For another variation, focus on movement such as skip, gallop, run, jog, walk, dance, hop, jump, slide, roll; add slow, fast, etc.
  • Play ball games (catching, kicking, hitting); drink water during and stretch afterward
  • Have a dance party (drink water during and stretch afterward)
  • Sing and act out songs like "Father Abraham" and "The Hokey Pokey"

What would or will you put in your preschool draw box?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dear Mormon Missionaries (A First Question)

Thanks for stopping by the other day and taking the time to talk with me.  I appreciate your zeal and commitment to your faith that leads you to dedicate your time to telling others what you believe.

I am glad you took down my phone number and look forward to meeting with you again soon.  While I am not looking to convert, I do have genuine questions about the faith that you profess.

When we spoke, I explained why I have a hard time considering the Mormon faith as an option.

The church I attend now is not the church I grew up in.  I was raised in a cultish house church that identified itself as a non-denominational Christian community; it was in a vein similar to what is commonly called Evangelical Protestant with loose roots in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition.

While not a full-blown cult, it was cultish in several ways.  There was a powerful "them versus us" attitude toward all other Christian communities that bred judgmentalism, feelings of superiority, and proselytizing zeal.  This attitude kept us closed off from interacting with others in a genuine and open way and thereby limited our ability to learn from them or see ourselves in a true light.

The definitive theology of the group was largely the invention of one or two leaders whose sway was established through power, charisma, and manipulation; their personal histories and (lack of) education did not recommend them.  The theology preached had significant holes and incongruities; when questions were raised about these holes and incongruities, the leadership became defensive, dismissive, or patronizing.  The group was controlling and emotionally incestuous.  Uniformity was often equivocated with unity.

I accepted the doctrines and disciplines of my childhood church wholeheartedly and did not question or test them until they started to collapse around me when I was well into college.  In high school and as a freshman and sophomore in college, I was a hot-handled proselytizing zealot.  I was probably about your age when, like you two, I went about trying to convince other Christians of "the fullness of the faith."  I believed it was my righteous duty to enlighten the benighted.  (The zealot is still in me—old habits die hard—but, by God's grace those habits no longer rule me.)

Later, in a graduate psychology class I learned the technical term for what I had experienced: foreclosure.  It's what happens when a child makes a premature commitment to a life identity.  The problem is not in adopting the beliefs of the parents but rather in defining the direction of one's adult life on a trajectory that has not been sufficiently tested against the alternatives, that has not been given time to mature into an adult belief system.  Directions are chosen too soon and without sufficient exposure to alternatives.

After taking a class in child development, my college roommate wondered what would happen if you taught a child the opposite names for all the colors so that they believed red was green and so forth. She thought it would be an interesting experiment (one that, of course, she would never really undertake).  I think I know what would happen because it is similar to what happened to me.  When I learned that what I had been taught about the world and the church was false, my world turned up side down and I was disoriented and depressed for a quite a while.

I eventually joined the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church because it offered an essential ingredient which my childhood church lacked: secure moorings in truth evidenced by two centuries of doctrinal and pastoral continuity.

That brings me to my first question about the LDS faith: I would honestly like to know how you explain the disjuncture between the doctrine and discipline of the LDS church, on the one hand, and traditional Christianity on the other hand.

While Mormons and traditional Christians use some of the same words, we do not mean at all the same thing when we speak of Jesus Christ being the begotten Son of the Father.  Your own president/prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, agreed that we define our terms differently when he said, "The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak."

Before Joseph Smith, no one taught or believed the set of beliefs taught by the LDS, especially (among other beliefs) that God the Father has a body, that Jesus and Lucifer are brother sons of God, that we pre-existed as God's spirit children in heaven before we were born, and that we will have our own planets to populate (in polygamous marriages) and be God over in heaven if we are properly sealed and sufficiently righteous in this earthly life.

One of the watershed experiences in my conversion process was reading the works of the Apostolic Fathers—the generation of church leaders, such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who were discipled and appointed by the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ—as well as successive Church Fathers, such as Saint Athanasius and the Capadocian Fathers: St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

From my reading of the historical documents—the letters, cannons, teachings, scholarship, and creeds of the Church—it seems that the teachings regarding church leadership and hierarchy, the sacraments, the eternal Triune Godhead, the two natures of Christ, the incarnation and passion of Christ, and the nature of salvation and sanctification have all remained consistent over the Church's life being affirmed by the seven Ecumenical Councils of the "one, holy, universal, and apostolic faith."

Can you tell me what the Mormon church teaches regarding the Church Fathers? I've not been able to find a specific date as to when the apostasy is supposed to have begun—do you know of one? Are there any explanations offered as to why the apostasy would have lasted so long, and, if so, what has been offered to support this interpretation of events?

These are honest questions I have; I do not mean to personally attack you or any LDS faithful. I am always open to discussing religion or any other topic that brings us closer to understanding the truth.  Jesus claimed to be the Truth, and it is my joy to seek and conform myself to Him.

Yours in Christ,