I have much on my heart to write to you about Literature – so much more than I have time to get down on paper. The topic of Reading has been one of my dearest for my whole life. To actually WRITE about READING from a Literature perspective, rather than a learning to read perspective has been on my heart for several months. Ideas have been stirring, how to get my heart on paper – well in type on screen anyhow – is the hard part. God has put several more resources before me, and I have re-read and re-listened to several others. I’m really trying to get the “Lifestyle Curriculum – Excellence without Textbooks” book done, but it has a ways to go before it’s copyready. Baby, Husband, Children, and Teaching comprise most of my time right now – and these short articles when I can slip them in.
“If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8Virtue is a word rarely heard anymore, nor even seen for that matter. In our society of situational relativism, few are trained in it and few personally aspire to it. True Virtue seems to have pretty much gone the way of the horse and buggy. It’s an interesting relic from the past, but of little value today, only possessed by those that are a little out of step with the world. A recent movie illustrated just this point. All the ladies were intrigued over Leopold’s chivalry, but in the end, “come on Leopold get with it, that just doesn’t work out in real life”.
Truly! “Who can find a virtuous woman?” and are there any virtuous men out there? What is Virtue? The lexical aids in my Bible state that Virtue is the “force or energy of the Holy Spirit”, which easily explains why it’s not found in Godless society. Virtue is strength of moral excellence. It is “in a moral sense, what gives man his worth.”‘ In our society where everyone is looking to find their worth in selfish vain glory, we need only to return to strong moral excellence to find our worth waiting.
God sees Virtue as so important that He tells us to “give all diligence” to add to our Faith, Virtue. It won’t come naturally. It is only developed by diligence. Christian home educator’s seem to be on the forefront in giving diligence to returning to the training of Virtue in their children’s and their own lives. It seems to be one of the most sought after resource areas after the main academics, and in many families even more important than the academics, in following 2 Peter 1:5, to begin with Faith, then add Virtue, and then Knowledge. But regardless of all the programs to teach Virtue available, it only comes by the power of the Holy Spirit at work to transform us as we diligently renew our minds. To renew our minds we must think on such things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, that are virtuous and praiseworthy, as Philippians 4:8 instructs us, because “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23:7. For us to be affected by transforming power, the renewing of the mind must touch more than just our mental thoughts, it must reach our hearts. The mind is renewed when the heart is touched. The God-centered Judeo-Christian philosophy of education demonstrates this in it’s focus on relationships. Where a humanistic Greek philosophy of education focuses on knowledge – the teaching the material to instruct the mind, a Biblical philosophy focuses on teaching the student and to instruct his heart through relationship.
The Hebrew term Mashal encompasses the core method of this philosophy, used much throughout God’s instruction to us in His Word. Mashal carries the original sense of “superiority in mental action,” coming from the primary root, meaning “to rule,” indicating the superiority of teaching by this method. It conveys teaching by likeness, through the use of maxims, comparative and figurative language-metaphors, parables, allegories, proverbs, and through poetry and song. Mashal doesn’t compare only within itself, but forces us to compare ourselves to the story, “compelling the hearer or reader to form a judgement on himself, his situation, or his conduct” (A.S. Herbert), as excellent Storytelling does.
When this comparison is made to the usual fare of worldly stories (in books, movies, or television) that most people read (and watch) today, the tendency is to judge ourselves as “not too bad,” as we (particularly if we’re Christians) “don’t do those things.” We can read and watch these stories and never be moved from our comfort zone–nor be changed into the image of Christ, as we compare ourselves to the lowest depravity of man present in these depictions of “life” and pride ourselves on being “better than that.” It is only when we fill our minds with the excellence of Philippians 4:8, in the form of the Mashal, that our hearts are reached and changed.
Mark Hamby, of Lamplighter Publishing, has a term for these kinds of stories–Life Transforming Literature, stories that touch our hearts with Philippians 4:8 values and transform our lives to the image of Christ. As you probably already know, there is not an abundance of this type of literature being written today. Much on the shelves, even in the realm of “Christian books” by “Christian” authors is written to amuse the flesh and “tickle the ear,” not to challenge the soul. Also much of what is written to challenge the soul, is not written as Mashal, but in the more Greek method of reasoning with the mind.
But there are Christian authors and publishers committed to providing training in Virtue, based on Mashallic literature. Lamplighter Publishing has a series of books called Rare Collector’s featuring over 40 captivating stories of Virtue, republished from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. We doubt that anyone can read them without being touched. Contemplate this segment from A Basket of Flowers.
“One beautiful morning which succeeded a two days’ rain, Mary and her father went into the garden, and found the first lilies in bloom. They were in an ecstasy of admiration. The flowers were beautiful, but as the garden had long been neglected, Mary’s relentless care had not been able to subdue the weeds. Her beautiful lilies were indeed lilies among thorns. “And so is His church”, said James; “those who have been washed clean, have put on His righteousness; and rising upward like the straight stem of the lily, must grow through the crooked and twisted mass around them. Notice, my child, the reflection of the sun on this petal. So are we to reflect the Sun of Righteousness. The bright lily has no kindred among thorns. It is evidently a plant of a different kind; and one day God will transplant His lily to bloom in the garden where thorns are unknown.”
These stories with the language of times gone by and deep meaning imbedded in the words, that many would say “will go over the heads of children, so won’t hold their interest” are captivating the hearts of our children. They perhaps don’t know every meaning of every word, nor perhaps understand the deeper hidden meanings, but their hearts are enthralled and being changed as they beg for just one more chapter.
As home educator’s, we, with our own humanistic Greek education background, find it difficult to believe that we can teach our children by “just reading or telling them stories,” yet this is the primary way that God has chosen to instruct us. The proof is in the outcome. Lives are changed by Relationships of the heart whether through people directly or through books. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, the great Christian speaker and proponent for great Christian literature, in particular biographies of the Heroes of the Faith, is known for saying, “You’ll be the same today as you were five years ago except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
In one of my latest favorite parenting books, Romancing Your Child’s Heart, Monte Swan, home educator from CO, gets to the heart of this issue and captures your own heart as you read, (although you may not agree with every specific application–we don’t, you’ll find it hard to disagree with his philosophy and conclusions). I’ll begin here as Monte quotes from theologian Vigen Guroian, “‘Our children are in jeopardy and so is the future of virtue and human goodness as well.’ (Monte continues,) The solution to this crisis is not more religious education, with the goal of indoctrinating a child by hammering home yet more dry tenets of orthodox thinking. Nor is the solution to offer more courses, and at a younger age, in “values clarification.” Children do not need a shopping list of character qualities or values from which to pick and choose. They need adult guidance in knowing how to live well.
…. We must keep in mind that children learn almost nothing from abstractions and almost everything from stories. Abstractions are impersonal and detached. Stories are practical and personal. Children learn through stories because they internalize them. …. When the characters live happily ever after, the child is connected, if only for an instant, with the larger Story ….– the Story that promises eternal happiness for those who come to God by faith. ….Stories are our primary method for romancing our child’s heart, first to ourselves, and then to God.
…. Children who grow up hearing and seeing stories are far better prepared to step into our culture. …. However–and this is crucial–we as parents need to select carefully the stories to which our children are exposed. The challenge is to find stories through which the larger Story runs like a thread. …. For children raised this way, their whole childhood and adolescence has been a rehearsal for living as adults in our culture. They are practiced in the art of living in story. ….They do not need to search for meaning–they have found it already. They become preoccupied, enthralled, fascinated, captivated by the larger Story, like deer panting after the water brooks–people after God’s own heart.
…. This desire and ability to live in the larger Story is described in the Proverbs as “the way wisdom.” …. The ability and passion to live in the way of wisdom are best taught to children through stories. Stories bring biblical knowledge, doctrine, character, and virtue to life–they are the process of applying these to life according to God’s will. ….The way of wisdom is not a stuffy, boring religious concept. It is the literal and spiritual path that almighty God has designed for each of us to walk through this life.
…. Everyone has a story. We all live in a story in one way or another. And all our stories are part of the larger Story ….–and all are connected at the heart. The only thing we can do wrong is not try.”