image by sarah mccoy photo

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What This School Thing Looks Like

I get a lot of questions (and ask a lot of questions of others) as to what it LOOKS like to pack in a school day at home.  Along with all those other bits of life.  It can be a daunting prospect just to get your mind around what a schedule could be.

It can look like anything.  First things first.   It can look like anything

But here's what it has morphed into for us.

In Second grade, Songbird does some variation of these elements:

Daily, we read.  I read novels aloud, fulfilling my lifelong desire to speak in accents. The girls also read alone, silently and aloud.  We even have "book naps" where we all get a break from each other and activity.  We also do some map-drawing and review of old memory work each day.  This takes just minutes.

Nearly every day, we do a math lesson and a timed test of arithmetic facts, and write out a spelling list (in our house, both English and Italian.)

Other subjects get visited several times a week, but not on a tight schedule.  We may loosely alternate science (right now it's a study of origins), English language (we're on linking verbs and poetry), and penmanship.  Any other content is brought in with library books to flesh out whatever we're studying for memory work.  This semester it's early American history and anatomy and physiology.

Extra stuff we squeeze in around the edges includes sports, piano, cooking, and chores (like laundry, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning bathrooms).

Practically speaking, how does that happen?  The only subjects I have to be actively involved in are math, science, and English, so in the mornings I have Songbird knock out a few of the solo tasks, say, draw a map, review old physics facts, and do a timed test, before we hop off to errands or the tennis courts.  Then after lunch, during naptime, I can give more time to whichever major subjects we're studying that day.  We usually only do about an hour to 90 minutes of dedicated work to get this done.  We have a giant checklist of all these work categories and we try to do a bunch every day.  It's that simple. 

We tend to do music and sports at twilight because everyone's awake and it's not ridiculously hot.  This IS the desert.

For Gale Force, who is in Pre-K this year, it looks like this:

The possible things we might include on any given day are reading aloud with me, "reading" alone in her nap, buzzing through a stack of phonogram cards, counting to 100, reviewing memory work, reading and copying a short list of rhyming family words (cat-sat-fat-hat), and playing sports (or, sadly, studying Philly teams academically since we can't always see them in action.)  She probably does only about 15 minutes of dedicated work each day, and I often let her pick what she does.

So....that's how we do that.  :-)

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hollow Mountaintop

As a state-hopping military spouse, I get to visit a lot of churches.  I’ve seen a lot of variety and a lot of great innovating and a lot of deep tradition.  But I also find that a startling percentage of churches seem oblivious, if not actually hostile, to substance in the musical portion of their worship.

Since the “Shine, Jesus, Shine” heyday of church band cool, we’ve had this odd dichotomy of “contemporary” vs. “traditional” styles, obfuscating the purpose of corporate worship, church growth, and unity beneath a desperate need to follow fleeting trends and look superficially relevant.

In some circles, where vamping on a four-chord pattern brings congregants to tears, we stodgy advocates of lyrical depth are told, “you just don’t GET it.”  It’s a feelings thing.  You have to just feeeeeel the vibe, gauge the audience, let the spirit move.

It’s not that we don’t get the soul-shaking power of music.  God made music to do that.  It’s just that when the soul-shaking comes from the music itself, from repeating a chorus in an endless crescendo, well, we can get exactly that experience from Coldplay, or Chopin, or Native American drum circles. 
That’s a good thing.  God made music to resonate in our hearts, and to that extent, I think you can even worship through Coldplay or Chopin or drum cadences.  (Particularly when Coldplay offers better written stuff than most current worship tunes.)  You can praise God your own way.

But not corporately.  What moves you on your commute doesn’t have to be what you sing in church.  It probably shouldn’t be.

I would go so far as to say that the separation of contemporary and traditional services, and with it of young from old in the pews—the allowing of young people to sway to a hollow electric emotional wave instead of teaching their hearts AND minds to worship in harmony—is a large factor in the mass exodus of teens and college kids from the church.

Eventually kids realize that the musical high isn’t at all unique to “worship” music, and when that’s the bulk of what worship ever offered, they just don’t need church anymore.

Why do we sing corporately?  What’s the point?  We all have different musical tastes, so what is the practical point of getting people from all generations and backgrounds together and forcing them to sing one style of music?  Maybe, as a body, we should reach our highest state of transcendent worship not because a major lift tells us to, or because the guitarist in tight jeans jumped the octave, but because the music causes us to meditate together on earth-shattering truth.

A lot of songs that churches sing (but that should really stay on the radio) start with “I.”  Some of that is ok.  But if most of your songs are about you (I call this the “I want a hug from Jesus” genre), you are probably not getting to earth-shattering truth.

Here are some examples of how to go from insipid to insightful.

Why chant, “You are the reason we’re here!” without ever stipulating what that reason is?  Why say nothing when you could “See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and blood flow mingled down.” That’s the reason, right?  Let’s just sing that.

Why say, “Show us your glory” when you could say “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not at him…One little Word shall fell him,” and actually see the glory?

What brings God more honor: to say, even passionately, “I want to worship you,” or to recount his attributes back to him and actually worship?

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Worship has a purpose, and it isn’t to make church cool.  It’s part of a systematic maturing and unifying of its members.  If you need to go bona fide hipster and reset hymns in your own particular idiom, do that.  Sometimes.  But if your congregants are hostile to tradition and substance, your problem isn’t with your cool-factor, it’s with your teaching.

When congregants look past the fleeting trends of what they like to listen to at home, and recite words that generations of Christians have sung before them, they unite not only blue haired lady to long-haired teen, but also harried moderns to the historical church body.  They learn to reach a substantive worship state based on genuine awe at the greatness of our God, the shocking condescension of his Son, and the incomprehensible gift of our salvation. 

Please.  You’re killing me, Smalls.  For all our sakes, let’s sing real things.