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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

3 ways of confronting the problem of diminishing attention spans through the Great Books

How many books do you finish? How many blog posts do you really read? I am guessing that you, like me, are busy and are tempted to skim just about everything. In a world of touch screens and endless entertainment, our attention spans atrophy into something that might look like childishness to our ancestors. But how can we build up the attention spans that we need for sustained thought in the modern age. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay said that the audience that they contemplated while writing their masterful defense of the new US Constitution in The Federalist Papers was a farmer in Upstate New York. In our day, it seems that most every time a politician opens his mouth, we find that he could not match that 19th-century dirt farmer. Our attention spans are diminished and might, it seems, be extinguished completely, but I want to recommend a course of treatment. It is simple: read the Great Books [editor’s note: “Great Books” is a term for the classics of Western Literature – for more see the endnote below]. Here are three ways reading these books helps us confront the problem of diminishing attention spans. 1. The Great Books are a mirror that helps us see the problem The Great Books hold up a mirror that helps us see the extent of the problem (which is the diminishment of our capacity for sustained thought). Reading the Great Books is challenging. The first book I teach to our seniors each year is Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is a challenge! Deep concepts, archaic language, demanding expectations (because Milton expects that you have read the other Great Books written before his – particularly the Bible). This is difficult, but we need to understand one powerful fact: people in every generation prior to ours have mastered these books because they are so important! What is the mirror saying about our generation? 2. The Great Books reward sustained contemplation The Great Books reward sustained contemplation where the reading of “chapters” is necessary. Have you ever read a page or two, or a paragraph or two, of a book only to get distracted? You retain almost nothing. Emily and I had an embarrassing situation like this early in our marriage. We decided to read The Lord of the Rings together. So far, so good, right? Wrong! We decided that we would read it to each other when we went to bed. Our first daughter, Maddy, had just arrived. I was working hard at the school. We were both exhausted. It did not go well. We actually dreaded the elf poetry and songs that Tolkien inserts. That knocked us out every time. Because of the brokenness of the reading, we missed so much. The Great Books reward sustained concentration and punish flighty drifting. Each year when I teach Paradise Lost, I tell the students that reading this book is like weightlifting. Reading it grows you. You leave it stronger than you began, but unless you devote yourself to reading a section, book, canto, or chapter your reward is diminished. This means that these books challenge their reader to make them a priority. They grow our attention span and by this they grow us toward fuller humanity. Very few people do things just because they are difficult – and most of those people need help. Hard things should be hard for a reason. They should eventually result in happiness or the hope of happiness. The Great Books can be challenging, but they reward those who discipline both their tastes and abilities. The experience of the Great Books makes everything else better and sweeter. Every time I am watching a movie where a husband stands between his wife and evil men, my mind starts drifting off to Odysseus stringing the bow and restoring order to Ithaca. Your life is richer for reading The Odyssey. So, the discipline that reading the Great Books rewards actually makes life sweeter and better. 3. The Great Books measure us  The Great Books measure us. We need to grow up to read them. We need to do this thoughtfully and with a sense of the frame of our students, but we should celebrate with them when they become men and women who complete the Iliad or the Aeneid or Moby Dick. As they accomplish this, they become a member of a community that stretches back in time to the beginnings of this civilization. They begin to love the same words that their grandparents and great-great-great (etc.) grandparents loved. Of course, the Scriptures are at the core of this “way of viewing the world.” In them, we find the stories that encompass our lives. A number of years ago, Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio was speaking at a conference and he made this point in a profound way talking about music, he said, “Tradition is something we have to live up to.” His point is mine. The great music of the past, measures us. It is not that we cannot add to it, but to add to it, we should first master it. Mastering it prepares us to find our own voice and to find that we have a voice worth heeding. The Great Books are a tradition like this. We speak best when we are disciplined enough to master the tradition. My hope is that you kept reading this post and that, hopefully, this post will encourage you to set aside some time to devote yourself to reading the Great Books. Start by doing the reading. It will stretch you and grow you, but you will find yourself stronger and wiser as you devote yourself to this worthy task.

Ty Fischer's article first appeared on the Veritas Press blog and is reprinted here with permission. Veritas Press has a number of homeschooling resources built around a Great Books curriculum. 

Editor's endnote What are the "Great Books"? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances. So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example: The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul Macbeth by Shakespeare Beowulf The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom The Heidelberg Catechism Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Time Will Run Back by Henry Hazlitt The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther The Epic of Gilgamesh Divine Comedy by Dante The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Animal Farm by George Orwell The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Christianity and Liberalism by John Gresham Machen Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Gilead by Marilynne Robinson Lord of the Flies by William Golding Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer Desiring God by John Piper Aesop’s Fables by, well, Aesop Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie City of God by Augustine Here I Stand by Roland Bainton The Prince by Machiavelli 1984 by George Orwell Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne 95 Theses by Martin Luther Knowing God by J.I. Packer The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain The Republic by Plato The Koran by Mohammad The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn The Odyssey by Homer Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe The Westminster Confession of Faith Competent to Counsel by Jay Adams Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis John Adams by David McCullough Hamlet by Shakespeare A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Ivanhoe by Walter Scott Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

Theology

The problem with "pan-millennialism"

“I’m not amillennial, postmillennial, or premillennial. I’m pan-millennial.” “Huh?” “Yep, I’m pan-millennial—I believe it will all pan out in the end!” I’ve occasionally heard this humorous remark made when the end times are discussed. Technically, if we believe in the biblical gospel, we should all be panmillennialists. The risen and ascended Christ will return and everything will “pan out” for believers who will ultimately enjoy “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). But the person who tells the “panmillennial” joke, and really means it, isn’t interested in details about the end times. He realizes that eschatology (the study of last things) is loaded with difficulties, and says, “I’m not going to think much about end times doctrine anymore. Jesus is going to make everything right when He comes again, and that’s good enough for me.” This man hasn’t just given up on figuring out what “a thousand years” means in Revelation 20, but has decided that thinking about the end times beyond generalities is just too hard and ultimately fruitless. There’s a major problem with the panmillennial mindset. The Bible does speak about the particulars of the end times, so to ignore those verses is to disregard what the Holy Spirit made sure was included. Furthermore, when we skip over those passages, we lose more than just knowledge. God has spoken in understandable ways about the end times to give us hope and joy Transforming grief The Thessalonian believers enthusiastically awaited the return of Christ (1 Thess 1:9-10). But after Paul was forced out of town by persecution, some believers died, sending the remaining Christians into a state of hopeless grief (4:13). They didn’t just miss the deceased believers, but apparently thought the dead believers would miss out on some blessing at Christ’s return. Paul addressed the Thessalonians’ ignorance by speaking of some of the details about the day of Christ’s return. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, he gave an order of some of the events of that day:

“The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.”

In the first frame of a Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is looking out the window and says, “Boy, look at it rain… What if it floods the whole world?” Linus responds, “It will never do that…In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” Lucy replies, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind…” So Linus concludes, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in order to give them sound theology so they could take a great load off of their minds. They needed to know that their beloved sleeping believers (4:13) wouldn’t miss anything when Jesus came back. Instead, they would have front-row seats! With that kind of information, their grief would undergo a dramatic transformation. Paul refused to ignore the details about the return of Christ in addressing the Thessalonians, because he understood how relevant and encouraging that information really was. He even charged them to “encourage one another with these words” (4:18). What words? The specific words about the believers who had died and their participation in the events surrounding Christ’s return. Blessed is the one… Revelation is full of end times information, yet it is one of the most neglected books of the Bible due to interpretive difficulties. However, in his opening comments John promises, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (1:3). We should humbly admit when we are confused about certain aspects of Christ’s return. Yet, not everything that God has said about the end times is puzzling. Read those verses carefully and thoughtfully, and blessing is sure to follow.

Copyright © 2013 Steve Burchett (www.BulletinInserts.org). Permission granted for reproduction in exact form.

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

****

I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends. We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons. Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her. Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one. But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women. Positive character traits So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out. I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics. And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity. Uniforms Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes,  (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts. Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons. Questions for discussion Are there sports women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author's list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? Why or why not? What is the difference between "godly femininity" and "worldly feminism"? The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. What do you think of these examples? Can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?

Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).

Pro-life - Abortion

Does the birth control pill cause abortions?

Our Father knits us together in our mothers’ wombs in a very unique way that has never been duplicated in all of history. A new human being is created when the sperm fertilizes the egg and after this combination of the male’s and female’s separate chromosomes there are no major additions. The sperm and the egg cannot exist or develop on their own, but once joined this new human will simply require the right environment and the right nourishment to grow and continue to develop through varying degrees of dependency and independence onward through their lifespan. God has created and guides this wonderful process, and so another person is made in His image, for His purpose and to live to His pleasure and glory. What this article is not about When God puts this privilege in our lives we also must act responsibly with it. Many Christians have used the birth control pill with the intentions of planning their family under God’s guidance. Their intentions were and are to please God with their family and to live responsibly in His kingdom. There have been many controversies about many types of contraceptives and some have questioned the use of any contraceptives, wondering if they are being used in an improper attempt to “play God.” But that isn’t a topic that will be dealt with in the scope of this article. Instead, the birth control pill will be examined closely to determine whether or not there are any other reasons Christians should question this particular contraceptive's use in family planning. Abortifacient or contraceptive? It is now being suggested that the pill is an abortifacient and not a contraceptive. The difference is significant: abortifacients actually take the life of a preborn child at some stage between the instant of fertilization and birth, whereas contraceptives prevent the sperm from actually meeting the egg and fertilizing it. The birth control pill has changed over the years. Initially it was produced as a “progesterone-only pill” (POP). This was a high-level dose of progesterone which would alter the cervical mucus and also interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb. These are now widely known as abortifacient pills because they interfere with the implantation of any fertilized ovum and thus directly result in the termination of the life of that zygote stage human. They are now rarely used because of the dangerous side effects to women. They are in fact now marketed as the “morning-after pill” because this high dose of progesterone serves to prevent the newly formed human from receiving its vital nutritive connection from the mother through the endometrium (the tissue lining the uterus). Today the vast majority of birth control pills prescribed are the “combination oral contraceptives” (COP) which are a combination of progesterone and estrogen. Although these are safer for the women using them, they are less effective at preventing ovulation, and thus preventing fertilization, because they are a lower dose. Therefore COP’s work on three levels (as stated by the Physicians Desk Reference from the Food and Drug Administration): inhibiting ovulation (the primary mechanism) thickening the cervical mucus and thereby making it more difficult for the sperm to meet the egg thinning the endometrial lining so that the fertilized egg is less able or unable to implant in the womb. It is at this third level that the pill’s effect is abortifacient. But does this third level happen? This has been hotly debated by non-Christian and Christians in the medical world. Some say that because the chance for this last method to occur is so infinitesimally small it is not significant. Some have contended that if ovulation and then fertilization occurs in a person using the pill the subsequent hormone production in the mother’s body will rejuvenate the endometrium, thus allowing implantation and no unintended abortion will occur. They also have stated that there is not enough medical evidence to prove that the endometrium will actually be hostile to an implanting fertilized egg because there is a seven-day span between when conception occurs and implantation occurs, enough time for the endometrium to recover. They state that this is the reason some women have still been able to become pregnant while using the pill. It has been countered that there is no medical evidence available to suggest that the endometrium recovers. In fact, studies done on the use of the pill and breakthrough ovulation suggest the opposite, that the endometrium is still indeed thin and unable to support life. It is also noted that medical studies have clearly shown the endometrial lining is as little as 1.1 mm in thickness with women on the pill, whereas 5-13 mm thickness is necessary for sustaining a pregnancy. Normally it takes women a number of regular cycles while not taking the pill for the endometrial lining to restore to full thickness. Alternatives There have also been those who say that because the women using the pill are not intending to cause an abortion they cannot be held at fault. However Christian ethicists have suggested that intentions would indeed make this valid only if there were no other viable options for family planning (assuming also that family planning is in accord with God’s will). There are indeed other family planning options available for Christians who, knowing that the pill could be abortifacient, will not take it. There are natural family planning techniques available, such as the NaPro’ method and the Billings Ovulation Method. Studies have proven these to actually be more effective than the birth control pill at planning pregnancies, and also have been shown to improve the quality of the husband and wife relationship through qualitative studies. More research is needed on the abortifacient effects of the birth control pill because at this point one can not quantitatively argue that the birth control pill will cause “x” number of abortions. It is unlikely, however, that these studies will necessarily occur because the pharmaceutical companies would be unlikely to fund them. Also, they could quickly become unethical as would any study that involves the life of a child and involves trying to control and imitate the causes of death in the life of that child. Conclusion As always, prayerful consideration should be made in this matter. We cannot be ignorant of the facts surrounding the birth control pill and although many of us would rather not be faced with this we must as God’s children sanctify the life that he has given us and to all others around us. For more information and for the sources of this article please see the following sources: Randy Alcorn’s book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? which can be downloaded for free here Dr. Walter Larimore’s article The Growing Debate About the Abortifacient Effect of the Birth Control Pill and the Principle of the Double Effect The Canadian Physicians for Life ProLife Physicians’ A Declaration of Life

A Portuguese translation of this article can be found here. 

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Tagged: featured, Saturday selections

Saturday Selections – Oct. 5, 2019

Man embraces woman who killed his brother, urges her to give life to Christ

The brother of Botham Jean – a man killed by his neighbor in what she’s says was a tragic mistake — extended forgiveness to his brother’s killer. And to add to the wonder, the judge then went on to give the killer a bible.

Research into happiness echoes what the Bible has always said 

Randy Alcorn shares how research into happiness has discovered 8 factors that are also found in God’s Word.

BC pays for euthanasia but not full homecare

This is what happens “when euthanasia is legal and the money runs out” – the BC government recently forced a man to choose between being institutionalized or being killed. He chose death.

Why isn’t there online voting in Canada’s federal election?

How do you make an electronic vote both anonymous and verifiable? How can our ballot be secret, and yet still leave a trail to preclude fraud and errors? To say this is a tough problem understates it. Might the security and anonymity that is easy to do with paper be simply impossible to do online? The title link is to an in-depth look, while a briefer case for paper is made here.

40 lessons we tried to teach our children

You only have them for a little while – what do you want to teach your children?

Snopes.com fact-checks Christian satire site Babylon Bee’s jokes (5 min)

Snopes.com is the go-to fact-checker for many online, so it’s important Christians understand they too have their biases and glaring blind spots.


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