Introduction to The Institutes (and a little skunking)

I spent the week, during odd and short moments when I could sneak off alone, reading the various introductions to a couple of different editions of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and have also skimmed over a couple of brief biographies of Calvin.  It’s been extra busy  this week, and once I had to lock myself into the powder bath room off my office so I could read undisturbed beginning at 5:30am.    I hid my running shoes so people might assume I had gone off on the trail, and I got an hour out of that little ruse.
Anyhow,  it’s all so very intriguing to me to see how the direction of Calvin’s  life changed and how he developed as a force for Christ as he responded rightly to the circumstances around him.  I am so encouraged and inspired by his struggles and his tireless labors in the face of sorrow and trials and adversity.

He was born into a pious Catholic family, and according to the Catholic websites and one kind of old and dogeared article from an old Catholic Encyclopedia, he was dutifully trained up by his mother to be a good Catholic.  And so these publications ask, basically, “What in the world happened to our boy?”  There is a suggestion that he developed a mental imbalance which manifested itself for the first time when he experienced what  he called his “conversion” as a very young man… which time he broke all ties with the Catholic church.

After this,  as French Protestants, among whom were  his own friends,  were being arrested and burned daily, Calvin was writing this treatise on Biblical Christian faith.    The idea in view was that anyone craving  a deeper understanding of true biblical  teachings might find them in his book.   There was nothing of the sort  available to them in the church.

What a bold and beautiful living out of the faith that is!  I love reading this book, and knowing why he put it on paper.  He gladly risked the dangers which were so pervasive  in Europe during the 1530s and ’40s, as he knew that he must stand and make the teachings of Christ plain for every man.

I am so thankful it’s still available to read, and as I have read some of this background material, it’s clear that it’s important for all believers to develop some degree of a similar ability to articulate our faith to whomever we may encounter, and we need to be particularly noisy in doing this when there appears to be persecution of the faithful going on all around us.

I was so much looking forward to putting this post together, and I wrote something up ahead of time and had to save it as a document because our internet was out for a time.  Then when I went to find it, it was all scrambled and full of what looked like cartoon character profanity….tell me you know what that looks like.  I thought, Oh….God is sovereign and would prefer that I write a different post on this, perhaps.

So I did.  And then I went to work a bit on this website, but as I am from the wrong generation and am at all times stumbling in the dark on this business of doing tricky stuff on a computer, somehow I lost post #2….it had to do with trying to cut and paste and change the font.

So that was all on Friday, then our weekend was a bit special with many many extra people, perhaps I had a total of 20 extras around my table from Friday to Sunday.

So this post was left until today.
And stuff was going on as it always does on Monday, so an hour ago I sat down to write here.  I put my little doggies outside for the last “visit” of the evening and turned my attention to this little project.  And as I settled into the chair……just at that moment,  both of my dogs were skunked right outside the dining room door.  Since all our windows are open, the aroma made a beeline for the interior of the house.  And of course,  the entire family was immediately pounding down the stairs to inform me that there seemed to be a skunk in the house upstairs.

The reason this happened is clear.  It’s because I said to someone here this morning “Can you believe the dogs haven’t been skunked even ONCE this spring!”    As the words left my mouth, I knew I should have just kept quiet.

Honey For a Child’s Heart

“You may have tangible wealth untold
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold,
Richer than I you can never be,
For I had parents who read to me.”
S. Gililand

This little gem can be found in the introduction of Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. This is a wonderful little book for parents who are looking for some good suggestions for books to read to and with younger children.
There are so many many books for kids, but when I wander among the shelves at the library or Chapters or Barnes and Noble, sometimes I find that there’s a mountain of books there that are obviously junk and then there’s another truck load of books that I have never heard of by authors I have never seen before.  There are too many choices, and for me, it’s  helpful to have a hand navigating that vast ocean of books.  So Gladys Hunt did the research for us, and it’s here in her book.

She has a good section in the early chapters in which she writes about the benefits of reading to your children, and the role good prose and poetry play in a child’s developing mind.  She talks about how we can learn to understand God better through good books.  And she’s got some things to say about  the memories your family will build as you share the experiences of reading many books together.   And she’s right on the mark when she says that reading books aloud with your kids will build intimacy for your family, and give you rich shared experience.
One of the greatest pleasures we have as a family is when Jon reads aloud to all of us every evening after dinner.  He’s done this faithfully for 15 years, and the shared experience we have as a family of enjoying more than one hundred books together has given us  unexpectedly delightful memories and jokes which, probably,  only a Ween would understand.  They have given us our own family culture in a certain sense, and that might explain a whole lot for some of you who spend time with us.

Mrs Hunt also includes loads of great suggestions for high quality reading for every level  from birth to age 14.  And she offers recommendations for  quite  a variety of interests including animal lovers, poetry, historical novels, and books to nourish their spiritual life.

I found this book 15 years ago at the first homeschool convention I ever attended.  I don’t know if it’s as popular now as it was then, but it really should be.  We have taken quite a number of her recommendations with enthusiastic satisfaction all around.

I want very much for this blog to be a site where reading, and especially challenging reading, can be caught and passed on like a contagious blessing.   But if we don’t get the kids ready to read excellent stuff from the youngest age, we won’t have a chance of catching them up when they are older.  Teach them to appreciate and seek out  quality early!

Flying by the seat of my pants

This post is for all you mothers out there.

Do you ever sit down, probably on Sunday evening, and make a gorgeous plan for your week?

My only real gift in life is  that I can make the most fabulous schedules which are broken down into half hour segments, each with its own little box for a proscribed activity, the accomplishment of which will move  the day along like a Swiss railway.

These schedules are like oxygen to me.  And if anyone wants to hear where I got my itch to create them, see me after the lecture….oh…. sorry….. you can just click on this link to find the program that I love the most.

But anyway, because Monday was a holiday in the country where I live now, and because my husband, an anchor and a rock of northern European orderliness, was in Barcelona, and because I am mothering a baby raccoon in addition to the other six humans, two dogs, two cats, two giant lizards and a snake, and because my mother is here and wants to chat for much of the morning, and because I am by nature a flake…..I am just way off kilter.  I never made a schedule, and it appears that I cannot operate without one.

The garden is screaming at me to pull more weeds, plant more clematis and periwinkle, and divide the overbloated hosta.  So I have spent an outrageous amount of time working on that.
And there is a gigantic neighborhood yard sale this Saturday, and there’s a pile of stuff to get ready to sell.
And next  Monday our backyard will be dug up so that I can have a beautiful new patio, and that means there are plants to be moved, saved, and watered, watered, watered.

And then there was that  two hour badminton tournament yesterday.

It’s as if we have been overtaken by a kudzu growth of paralyzing spring fever.

So the punchline to all this blather is that we have hardly done any schooling at all this week.  Like, almost nothing at all!   I heard Helen tell my mother in law on the phone that we were having spring break this week.  That was a sweet way to put it.   But Helen’s like that, she would be the perfect diplomat.  Some kids might have said “Mom seems to be turning into a hippie surfer dude, please send help.”  But Helen makes it sound respectable.

I would like to open a homeschooling mothers confessional here….I have an idea I’m not the only person  for whom this has occurred.

Next week, we will hit the books hard, and I expect it will be a beastly chore to get those kids back in the house after this week outside.

Grendel’s Den

We have just finished celebrating Victoria Day Weekend here in Canada.  It’s one of those weekends that’s most commonly celebrated with tons of gardening work followed by  flopping theatrically into lawn chairs.  We got to go to a party too.  Even though we are only Americans, we followed all the rules and partied like Canadians, and we celebrated Victoria just right.

But we had a cute little cherry on top.  And here he is:

This is a five week old baby raccoon which I found wandering on a busy road.  He had no mother in sight, and I really did look for her.  We have named him Grendel   We are having good success feeding him, and he’s living in the old rabbit hutch and doing quite well.  His favorite meal is warm condensed milk with a bit of raw egg yolk.

My ambition is to release him, when he’s old enough to fend for himself, into the wild just a few miles north of us, where there is an abundance of corn, lots of streams, and very few houses.

I have been amazed by the variety of opinions held upon the subject of raising abandoned baby raccoons.
Anybody reading here ever done this?  And if so, do you have any good advice?

Reading through the Institutes

Last year marked John Calvin’s 500th birthday, and I observed on the inter-net that there were many scholarly men who celebrated that anniversary by reading The Institutes of the Christian Religion and discussing this massive piece of work using study questions over the course of 2009.  What a perfect way to celebrate Calvin’s defense of Biblical Christian theology….by making it live again in the hearts of a new generation!

But last year,  I was treading water far out at sea, trying to read 100 books, and to train for and run a marathon.
As I was nearly always going down for the last time in that endeavor, the idea of joining those scholarly men was out of the question.    Tempting… enticing… but beyond my reach.
I did want to read Calvin, and I do want to understand what he had to say.  But, having bitten off more than I could chew last year, I’ve learned enough not to repeat precisely that mistake again.  So I will not even pretend that I could read both volumes in one year.  I have a pile of other books I to read, and I don’t want to rush through this one.   I will also not pretend that I am scholarly.   I’m taking advantage of  every resource I can find to help me understand Calvin better.

I  began reading Volume One on January 1, 2010.  I’m literally crawling through the book and have only covered a quarter of the first volume.

My interest in this book is not to argue about the finer points of Calvinism.  Other people can do that.  My interest is in understanding how Calvin clearly set forth the gospel in an effort to correct the errors of the  Church, and to see how and why his teachings remain relevant so many years later.
I have kids in my home who are preparing themselves for university and for life. It seems to me that, by reading the works of men of faith like Calvin and Luther and others who have written a necessary defense Biblical Christianity  in the face of persecution,  we can all blow away some of the muddled confusions that keeps Christians from knowing how to respond to messy doctrine.  With all the confused teachings in the North American church today, it’s a good idea for us to send our kids out ready to think clearly and recognize nonsense when it presents itself.   If their thinking is clear and un-muddled, then they are freed up to lead in obedience.

And it’s scripture we read  FIRST. Then we read men who have explained scripture well.  Having scripture explained well is a tremendous blessing, and for me, so far, Calvin has been enormously helpful  when I am thinking of how to choose wording in the most simple way for evangelism.  Calvin takes principles and teachings I have read again and again, and he turns them over so that I am able to see a new facet and gain an understanding I had missed before.
Calvin said himself, of the Institutes “My mind was to teach certain rudiments whereby they that are touched by some zeal of religion might be instructed to true godliness.”  So, instruction in true godliness is just what we need.

I am learning so much as I read through his teachings.  I would love to hear from anyone else who’s reading this first volume too.

I am going to work from the notes I have taken and write one blog post weekly, each Monday, working first from the Introduction and prefatory letter to King Francis, and moving straight through to the end.  It may take the rest of my natural life, but that’s OK with me.

So here is an invitation.
Next Monday I will begin with that prefatory material, and the following week will be Book One, the first three chapters.

So if anyone’s interested in joining in, I would love to have  friends along with me.

Well Used

I have an old Thompson Chain Reference Bible that my dad bought for me in 1982.  It has been replaced with a fresh new Bible, and its replacement has also been replaced.    I was a brand new,  rapidly growing Christian when that Bible was new, and it has all sorts of notes in the margins from places like Urbana and K.C. ’83 and one particularly excellent missions conference where  I heard J.I. Packer teach for several days.

This Bible is completely ragged  now.  The leather cover has  chunks missing, and my embossed name on the front has just about worn off, so I don’t use it for daily reading any more.  The pages are about to all fall out.  But I was looking through it the other day, and it brought back so many rich memories.   And while  I was meandering around in the notes scrawled all over the blank pages at the back of this Bible, I found a little prayer there.  I don’t know where it came from, but I know that it was a prayer I prayed almost daily for many years, and here it is:

Lord, You are the Sovereign and Gracious creator of everything I am and everything I see.
Your Son  died to save me when I was your enemy, and I thank you for this gift of salvation which is so entirely undeserved.
Please use me today, because if You use me, I will have been very well used.

It’s pretty simple, but it’s a good reminder to me of who I am and who God is, and how I should get myself organized with the Lord each day,  before I get myself tangled up in my own foolishness… as I am prone to do.


On the Jewish Calendar, today is the celebration of Shavuot,  or the Festival of Weeks.

Shavuot marks the fiftieth day on the Jewish Calendar after Passover,  this is believed to be the anniversary of the day God gave the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai.  This marks the time when God made them a Nation with the purpose of serving Him.   Shavuot is also the celebration of the Jewish harvest. And it just happens that, as we are reading through the Bible around here, we arrived at the book of Ruth this week.  And the book of Ruth is a story which is set almost entirely during the barley harvest in Isreal, and this story has strong associations with Shavout among Jewish people today.

Jon had some good insights  that I wanted to share here.   Ruth, the Moabitess widow who has come to Isreal, meets Boaz, the wealthy Jewish landowner.  The Moabites were outsiders and were certainly not well-loved in Isreal, yet Boaz attentively cared for Ruth as if she were one of his own.  When he hardly knew her, he invited her to share bread and wine with him, and then he sent her home weighed down with gifts of food.  As it turns out he is a kinsman redeemer with a duty, under Jewish law, to protect her.    But this  detail was unknown to Ruth…. at first.

But,  as Ruth responds to her mother in law in humble obedience (in ways I might have balked at..) she is ultimately redeemed by Boaz.  It always amazes me how beautifully Ruth obeyed, without any arguing, and was later blessed for her obedience.  Boaz takes Ruth as  his wife and she later has a lovely baby boy and ultimately  becomes a grandmother of king David, and  a part of the lineage of Christ.

And just as Boaz rescued her from poverty and a life of degradation, so we are rescued by Christ.  And he offers us wine and bread, and he  lavishes us with gifts.  Christ is our kinsman redeemer, and I can see the relationship in new ways here in the book of Ruth.

So, Rejoice, and have a Happy Shavuot!

Grace and Peace

It comes to my attention, more and more, that the apostle Paul in all his letters to the early churches always greets them saying “Grace and peace to you…..” along with mention of how he’s always remembering them in prayer with great thanksgiving.

So, I’m aware that I have a bit of a tendency to be something of a peace disturber at times.

So the challenge for today, tomorrow and every day is then to use these greetings as an example for myself.  To set a filter of grace, peace, and thanksgiving on all my communications with my husband, children, neighbors, telemarketers, receptionists…….everyone.
Before I open my mouth  to speak, I need to ask myself if what I’m about to say is consistent with praying with thanksgiving that the person before me will enjoy grace and peace.
And whatever God sets before us to do, he will enable us to do it.

Peter Leithart always has something good to say….

And this article on parenting is no exception.  He has some very good thoughts on parenting with joy and thankfulness.  Here is his opening, just to get you hungry for more….

“Joy is prominently placed in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit, second only to love (Galatians 5:22-23).  If Christian homes are little outposts of the new Eden, green with the fruits of the Spirit, we should expect joy to be one of the main crops.  Joy should be the dominant tone of a Christian home.

Often it isn’t, and that’s hardly surprising.  After all, children are time-consuming, frustrating, demanding.  Children can be a nuisance…………

………And yet parents are to be joyful.

Joy in parenting is a gift of God.  It doesn’t come naturally.  It’s not the product of the flesh.  Wherever you find a joyful Mom, you can be sure you’re seeing the Spirit at work.

What can we do to ensure that our families bear this fruit?  First, cultivate thankfulness.  Instead of laughter, some homes, including Christian ones, are dominated by shouting.  Instead of the fullness of joy, some experience the fullness of bitterness and resentment.  Ingratitude is at the root of many an angry, joyless home.

Head over to Credenda Agenda and see what else he has to say.

I’m spending the day pulling weeds, folding clothes, cramming history, and being so very thankful for my kids.

Audrey’s Thoughts on Machiavelli

Here is a post written by Audrey.  I hope this will be the first of many. It’s our ambition here to make this a forum for our kids and  some other young friends to share  their good insights on their literature assignments.  It’s our hope that some comments will be generated  and that we can improve our ability to think about the world from a Christian perspective.

Concerning New Principalities

‘A wise man ought to always follow the

paths beaten by great men,  and imitate their ways, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, he will at least savour it.’

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

Niccolo Machiavelli was  an Italian realist and political thinker during the early 1500’s who has maintained an infamous reputation throughout history for his  teachings on Political conduct, and for The Prince, a book he wrote as a practical guide for ruling in 1513. Machiavelli thoroughly studied great rulers of old and described their different ruling tactics. He wrote The Prince as a tool  aspiring rulers might use to learn  to govern effectively. The tactics he describes in his book have been used by many rulers throughout history, and have earned the title “Machiavellian”described by the Old English Dictionary as  “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct”.

Machiavelli put great emphasis on was the importance of following previous ruler’s by example. In one way or another, we all have individuals whom we imitate and strive to measure up to. Machiavelli wrote that rulers should do the same. He said that a man should follow in the foot steps of a great ruler of history, so that if that man’s ability does not fully measure up to his ideal’s, he will still grasp it to some degree.

Machiavelli refers to several historical figures and one of the most prominent of these is Alexander the Great. Alexander was merciless as a conquerer, but when he had successfully conquered the Persians, he allowed them to live in the manner to which they were accustomed. This  type of strategy is exactly what Machiavelli recommends. He writes that a ruler should be ruthless at the beginning, in order to show the people that he will not tolerate rebellion, and that he should adjust to the peoples way of life, so that they would not have a reason to rebel.

Another ruler who used this tactic was Charlemagne. Although he was not mentioned by Machiavelli, he used the same strategy as Alexander the Great.

When he conquered the Saxons, he forced them to convert to Christianity, and brutally tortured and killed those who did not. When he had gained their complete compliance, he worked hard to make sure all the people were treated well and followed the laws accordingly.

Rulers throughout history used Machiavellian tactics. Another more modern example is Adolf Hitler who was a ruthless combatant, killing millions of people in order to achieve his goal. One quote from him elucidates this perfectly:

‘I have given orders to my Death Units to exterminate

without mercy men, women, and children belonging to

the Polish speaking race. It is only in this manner that

we can acquire the vital territory which we need. After

all, who remembers today the extermination of the  Armenians?

This is almost exactly what Machiavelli encourages in his book.

Though Machiavelli’s teachings are generally deemed violent and extreme, he does have some ideas that we can use for good. He writes that a ruler should adjust to the comforts of the people, rather than have them adjust to his. His teachings in chapter VI, on following the example of an ideal, can also be used when as Christians, we  apply this to ourselves by striving to imitate Jesus Christ.   Even though we can not possibly reach his standards, we can set an example for fellow and non-Christians. By imitating him, we set a goal for ourselves to walk with Christ and Glorify him in all things.

So though Machiavelli’s ideas were corrupt, we can still, with caution and wisdom, apply some of them to our lives. God uses even the greatest evil to bring Glory to himself and to teach us to do the same.