Category Archives: Homeschooling

Thecla & Tiepolo: The Making of an Altarpiece

I love this video. It speaks to many things I love (family, doing art with one’s kids, teaching about prayer and holiness, beauty, etc.), and things that I want more in my life.

You can find out more about the folks behind this video here: http://www.2spetrvs.com/

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Filed under Art, Beauty, Education, Family, Homeschooling, Liturgy, Martyrdom, Prayer, Saints, Tradition, Video

Like sheep into the midst of wolves

Eternal Father,
we praise you for sending your Son
to be one of us and to save us.
Look upon your people with mercy,
for we are divided in so many ways,
and give us the Spirit of Jesus to make us one in love.

We ask this gift, loving Father,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

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Christ said “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves.” (Matthew 10:16a)

When are we sheep in the midst of wolves? Who are these wolves? Where are they?

Christians often see themselves as fighting against the world. An “us vs. them” mindset sadly prevails much of the time. (Sad because Christ died for the world, and like our savior, we too should die for the world.) We might even think of ourselves, and especially our children, as being like innocent sheep being sent out into a world full of wolves. Homeschooling parents especially like to think of public schools as being wolf dens; so they keep their children safe by keeping them close to home. We tend to see Churches and Christian establishments as havens from the wolfish world. But if that is the way we think, then we might miss a stern warning from Christ.

To whom was Christ speaking? His apostles, the twelve. What was he doing? He was sending them on a mini-mission, perhaps we should call it a training mission, to proclaim the gospel. Christ the teacher knew his apostles would be the first missionaries, taking the gospel to the world, so he was teaching them. He was giving them the opportunity to experience what proclaiming the gospel was going to be like while he was still with them, while they could still come back to him and debrief. He knew it would not be easy, and he gives them some specific instructions and the warning above. Let’s take a look at that verse above in its fuller context:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:5-23)

The answer to who and where the wolves are is this: The apostles are not to go into the world in the way we might think, but to go to those who already reside in the house of Israel. He says: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So “the world” is not the world out there among the gentiles, but the world right there before them, among their own people. And therefore the wolves come from among them as well. Simply, the wolves are the Jewish religious leaders, the teachers of the Torah and the Law, the wise men, the kosher men, the good Jews, the embracers of of being Israelites, the good Jewish families, the upright citizens, the parents and siblings and children, the so-called lovers of God, etc., etc. If we can draw a comparison with us today, the wolves are the pastors and associate pastors and their wives (maybe especially), the deacons and elders, the church bake-sale organizers, the religious right and the religious left, the para-church enthusiasts, the Christians who bring their big floppy bibles with them to every meeting or conversation, the “I love Jesus and not religion” people, the successful Christian business persons, the fashion leaders, the social leaders, the Bible study leaders, the Christian school headmasters, the ones with a Bible verse always on the tip of their tongues, the quiet church ladies, the “real men love Jesus” guys, the arbiters of morals, the gatekeepers, the “prayer warriors”, the church youth activity chaperons, the concerned parents, and all the rest of us Christians who so easily confuse fear with love of God, who choose sacrifice over obedience, and who refuse to weep, mourn, or be poor in spirit.

In other words, the wolves are us if we do not abide in the light.

Preach and, more importantly, live the Gospel in the midst of these “good Christian” people who are really wolves and you will be torn to shreds and eaten alive; usually in the most unassuming and apparently innocent ways. You might even feel that you deserved it. The greatest enemies of Christians, apart from the Devil and his minions, are those who go by the name Christian yet who do not love God or the things of God. And yet, when they serve the Devil they believe they are serving God. When they eat lambs alive they claim they act only out of love. Remember how Christ chastised Peter by saying, “Get behind me Satan!” Geeze, Peter was only helping Jesus be the right kind of messiah. Jesus continued: “You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Peter would have been a wolf if not for the great love and mercy of Christ in his life. Peter had to learn what following Christ really meant.

If Peter then why not us? He would eventually be crucified for his authentic faith. Oh that we would have Peter’s faith.

One reason that we sometimes cannot tell the wolves from the lambs is that the wolves seem to be the best Christians. They really seem to be the ones who know, often emphatically so, what Christianity is all about. They are the ones who are good at using Christianese (that ubiquitous Christian sub-culture language), at dropping Bible verses in every other sentence, at piety, at being visible in the sub-culture, and saying how much Jesus is really important. They can also be wonderful family people, homeschooling their kids, leading Bible studies in their homes, planning and leading church activities, and much more. One way to spot a wolf is to look for the super-Christian in your midst who has taken it upon herself/himself to test other Christians to see if they really are strong enough believers, especially for leadership. They will quietly corner people, draw them aside, talk to them in private, and then drill them with questions like, “How do you define yourself as a Christian?” and “Do you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible?” and “What does it mean to be saved?” They will do this saying they only want to know where someone stands, to see if they are on the “same page.” And they will generally do this only to those who are not their personal friends, to people they don’t know closely, and especially to those who don’t look or talk like they do. And they will do this because they are protecting something, like their church or school, or worse, their reputation, and not ultimately for the benefit of the one being tested. Remember Christ was tested by the Pharisees (you brood of vipers) for the same reasons. These wolves appoint themselves as the gatekeepers. They see their actions as noble. It is not an unusual experience for a lamb to feel like an inadequate Christian in relation to the wolves.

One of the great problems with Christianity is that the Church is filled with wolves, mixed in with the lambs, eating people alive. (It is a problem, but perhaps it is by design as well.)

Here’s the rub: How do you know, truly know, if you are on one side or the other? How do you know if you are a lamb or a wolf? Do you love God or only think you do? Have you given your life to Christ or only believe you have? Do you know the truth or only think you do? Are you a lover of the things of God or only believe you are? Do you confuse merely being annoyed at life with mourning? Do you confuse anger that the world isn’t going your way with weeping? Do you confuse your feelings of being a “little man” in the face of big government with being poor in spirit? How are you to know? How is one to untangle oneself and see clearly?

Perhaps the only way to truly know is through suffering. Our faith is tested through suffering because we would not know if we had faith without the testing. (Know this: I cannot “test” your faith, only God can. And He does it for you, not for Him. Thus I can only, at best, surmise if you have genuine faith if I can truly witness how you deal with suffering. But I can never truly know. And it cannot come via hearsay.) Faith is not something you know just by claiming to know, rather it is something you discover. You don’t claim to love Jesus and that’s that. God tests you and you break and then run away, or you break and then grab hold of God. For lambs, knowing one has faith often comes from being eaten alive by wolves and seeing that their faith has not left them. For wolves, knowing one has faith comes from repentance, which is the only thing that can turn wolves into lambs. The thing is, true wolves cling ever more strongly to their “Christianity” but never repent. In fact, they see no need to repent since their wolfish actions are what fuel their self-righteousness and convince them of their faithfulness. Wolves win and claim the victory as God’s blessing. And yet,  suffering works for them as well. It works by giving wolves fodder for their cherished self-image. Lambs will cry out to God in their suffering, knowing they are unworthy of God’s mercy and love. Wolves will cry out as well, seeing their suffering as a badge of what must be their worthiness to suffer, their righteousness, that they must be a target for Satan because of their holy standing before God.

It is the wolf that thanks God that he is not like others.

It is the lamb who bows before God saying, “Have mercy on me a sinner.”

And so… I am no saint, and I know well how easy it is to to find fault in others and not in oneself. I am sure that I have been a wolf at times; probably far more often than I realize. The following words come from a guilty participant, who stood by rather than stood up.

Several months ago, in a private meeting, I sat in a room of wolves who were accusing a lamb of not being worthy to teach their children. This teacher is a believer, and genuine lover of God, a servant of Christ, and a truly excellent Christian classical teacher who gives tremendously out of love for the students. But he is different, a little eccentric, a little atypical; not at all like so many cardboard evangelical christians populating the scene today. And so they accused him of having insufficient faith, of not being enough of a believer, of not giving unambiguous, Baptist evangelical “orthodox”, tip-of-the-tongue answers (read: fundamentalist/baptist orthodoxy) to their testing. (I previously addressed some of this story here.) They said he’s a “nice guy”, but just not Christian enough to teach. The teacher’s response to this attack was one of the most Christ-like examples I have ever witnessed. I saw the comparison play out before my own eyes—their accusations, his loving and honest responses, his weeping. And I saw their stone-faced reactions—and I knew it was a scene of wolves tearing into a lamb. The accusers took the teacher’s emotional response as weakness rather than strength, and merely considered it fodder for their claims. They were blind and I believe they remain so – I do not believe they are as yet capable of seeing themselves as anything other than champions of the Gospel. (I later heard that one father took the teacher’s weeping in genuine sorrow as evidence the accused is not man enough to be in a position to teach this father’s child. Oh how to completely miss the message of Christ’s sermon on the mount!) Perhaps they would have accused Christ himself of unworthiness as well. For me it was both disheartening and nauseating to witness the event. I was asked to not say anything at that meeting I really wanted to say, so I didn’t. Looking back I wish I had. But I know God is sovereign, and I know that God sees all. If God wills, they will see the error of their ways. But I don’t want to put myself up on some righteous pedestal, and I am getting too close to the line of judging the hearts of others, for I cannot truly see their hearts and I am certainly not righteous or free from sin in this matter.

Eventually the overall context shifted such that the teacher stayed (because of overwhelming support from others and from the organization he works for) and the wolves began to ruthlessly attack those who God had placed in authority over them and who supported this teacher, starting a campaign to smear the character of those in their target sights, telling both veiled and outright lies, and using Christian language to elevate themselves as righteous victims. I’ve seen a lot over the years, but this was one of the ugliest examples of Pharisee-ism I’v ever personally witnessed. And so they left to form their own “Christ centered” and “pure doctrine” (their words) educational endeavor which, in my opinion, they falsely and, from what I can tell, self-righteously claim is more Biblical, thus sowing division among believers in the name of Christ. Is this not taking Christ’s name in vain? I grieve at how quickly many Christians are willing to separate themselves from other Christians, and even claim the act of pulling away as some kind of badge of holiness. They made no attempt to seek reconciliation, to find a middle way, to let love rule over their pride. But isn’t this just par for the course, especially in our division-loving Protestant world? I mean no attack on Protestantism per se – though it is important to recognize certain prevalent tendencies when they are there. Perhaps many churches and “Christian” schools should have “Thank you Lord that we are not like other churches/schools” as their mottoes.

Of course I could be wrong in my judgement. I have been before. I admit I am biased and not a little emotional about it.

As hard as that was and is to go through, most troubling perhaps is watching the number of families follow the wolves to their new “Christ centered” educational endeavor, not knowing the backroom stories, not discerning (if they know any of the story) the difference between wolf and lamb, and not seeing that the beatitudes are the first touchstones of the Christian tutor. I am also disheartened especially by how easy it seems for the fathers of these families to so quickly abdicate their role as spiritual leaders by accepting hearsay without demonstrating any desire to know the truth—truth that is readily available if any would ask. (Only one father of the lot, because he suspected there was more going on, partially reached out to find out some of the truth for himself.) Perhaps it’s just too easy to “lead” without really leading. It seems much of popular Christianity is play-acting “Christian” spirituality without any true spiritual discernment (which is more the result of very hard work and lots of prayer rather than cheap intuition). I challenge fathers, as I challenge myself, to step up—not with a kind of American Christian macho cartoon version of being a Christian man, but a true Christ-like, beatitude loving, truth demanding, love rules kind of Christian man. Of course, it’s all too easy to slap on a Christian façade without really being different than everyone else. We all do it. But remember wolves often appear as the best Christians, thus garnering many unquestioning followers. Woe to us if we are not wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Please keep in mind that I am not seeing myself as above it all. I am deeply sinful and have said things and thought worse things in my own way. I am the opposite of a saint. And perhaps I am only taking the side of the lambs because this time I feel as though I am one of the victims. I’m sure when I am a wolf I don’t see it.

In many ways this story has been like a classic Protestant church split. What I see too often is an easy acquiescence to the idea of Christians splitting. It is so much a part of Protestant culture and history that many see it as normative. More than that, many Protestants, like the one’s above splitting to form their “pure doctrine” school, often see separating themselves from other Christians over perceptions of doctrine or practice as a badge of their right standing before God (I suppose this is a broadly Christian thing as well). I come from that background. I was trained as a good Protestant. I know that mindset, and I have come to believe this easy spirit of disunity is the spirit of Antichrist. It arises from the leaven of the Pharisees.

Then again, and with fear and trembling, I wonder how often I have been a wolf who thinks he’s a lamb. I wonder how often I have believed I have the truth, but really do not. I wonder how often I deceive myself, even now as I write this, about my own faith. And I wonder how often I have said faith is more important than love.

I’m sure some would say there is no little amount of hypocrisy in this post of mine. God have mercy on me.

Lord Jesus Christ, at your Last Supper
you prayed to the Father that all should be one.
Send your Holy Spirit upon all who bear your name
and seek to serve you.
Strengthen our faith in you,
and lead us to love one another in humility.
May we who have been reborn in one baptism
be united in one faith under one Shepherd.
Amen.

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Filed under Bible Study, Christian Life, Education, Homeschooling, Protestantism

Embracing Creeds and Risking Love

Do we use creeds to protect us from others, from the world? Or do our creeds give us the freedom to risk love, even to risk God? Do we grab tightly to faith statements out of a need to control the world around us rather than truly taking up our crosses and following our Lord where ever he goes, even to a total trust in the Father?

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Throughout the history of Christianity, how one views the Bible has been a key indicator of one’s stance towards Christian orthodoxy. For example, whether one takes the Bible as being inspired by God or not means a great deal to most Christians and has been one of the primary lines drawn in the sand over the centuries. Given the contentious history of debates over scripture (and over the divinity of Christ, the sacraments, etc.)  the existence of the great creeds (Apostle’s, Nicene, etc.) come as no surprise. It is also not surprising that many individual churches (esp. Protestant)  and various Christian organizations (such as schools) adopt “statements of faith” or minor creeds that highlight where they stand on key issues. [As an aside it is worth noting that for many Protestant churches, especially non-denominational, evangelical, and various Baptists, these minor creeds or statements of faith are the only creeds used, since there is a tendency within these groups to avoid the traditional creeds of the historical church for various reasons of which their members are largely unaware.]

Here is the first paragraph of a Statement of Faith (SOF) used by a Christian educational organization of which our family is a part:

All Scripture is self-attesting and being Truth, requires our unreserved submission in all areas of life. The infallible Word of God, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is a complete and unified witness to God’s redemptive acts culminating in the incarnation of the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible, uniquely and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, is the supreme and final authority on all matters on which it speaks.

Notice the key words employed: self-attesting, Truth, submission in all areas of life, infallible, Word of God, complete and unified, uniquely and fully inspired, supreme and final authority. Also notice that sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments are called out, and that scripture applies to “all matters on which it speaks.” Without going into depth here, it is clear that this SOF’s provenance is of the Reformed/Protestant worldview (only 66 books instead of 73, Scripture is the “supreme and final authority” instead of the Church, etc). And it should be noted that even within traditional, conservative, Protestant Christianity, there is not a little debate over each of the words and phrases above, especially regarding “all matters on which it speaks” — which itself is a highly debated phrase. Notice one other thing: the omission of the idea of “literal interpretation.” I do not believe this omission is an oversight.

The idea of taking the Bible literally has its own history and debates, and sharp lines have been drawn. In particular, those of the more Fundamentalist persuasion (such as many Baptists and many American Evangelicals) have tended toward a literalist interpretation in their battles against the theory of evolution. The history here is key, and demonstrates that the argument, at least for the Fundamentalists, has been largely defined by the evolutionists. The literalist stance is an historically recent phenomenon, and is essentially a reactionary position. The literalist is more likely to interpret the first chapter of Genesis as clearly speaking of a literal six-day creation story, and must therefore logically hold to a staunchly anti-evolution (and battle-hardened) position  On the other hand, a non-literalist, who may also be just as against Darwin’s theory of evolution as the Fundamentalist, will be more open to the idea that the six days of creation could, for example, be a poetic description of six ages rather than days (both views presupposing God as sovereign creator). And we should keep in mind that an anti-evolution argument based on a literal interpretation of Genesis is very different than an anti-evolution position based on scientific principles and logical arguments. Keep in mind as well that many orthodox Christians see evolution as a potentially valid explanation of one way God actively works in His creation. But that’s another topic for another day.

Bible believing Christians continue to debate these issues, with some Christians believing there is room for interpretation and some who do not. Those who do not also tend to draw lines in terms of authentic belief along the literalist divide. In other words, and for various reasons, the literalists will tend to equate authentic Christian belief with their literalist perspective—all non-literalists are questionably Christian at best. It doesn’t take much to show that this equation lacks both from the reasonableness of good logic and from an understanding of how the biblical authors themselves understood Holy Scriptures. But convictions run deep in times of war, and Fundamentalists are, for better or worse, at war.

From the SOF above we can conclude three things: a) it is unambiguously of the Reformed/Protestant worldview, b) it is, however, not of the more narrow Fundamentalist worldview, at least in terms of demanding a literalist interpretation of scripture, and c) while making clear demands in terms of infallibility and inspiration, it does not demand strict interpretive rules (whether in terms of literalism or other approaches), and thus does not preclude some variance among adherents to the SOF in understanding Genesis 1 (or other passages of scripture). Thus, while clearly stating there are certain key points on which the organization will not budge, there are other points on which it allows for some flexibility in light of the SOF as a whole.

Why bring up this SOF? We have recently had the privilege to clarify our own beliefs within a Christian community because of some accusations of unbelief leveled at one of its members who is in a leadership position, leveled in light of the SOF above. (It’s not the only issue on the table, but it’s one of the biggest.)  One of the points of tension specifically pitted the literalist perspective of the accusers against the non-literalist perspective of the accused.  Though this is an old debate, it caught the accused off guard and reminded me that the literalist perspective is alive and well. (Keep in mind the accusations were leveled in a relatively loving style, though if it was actually loving is questionable.)

Typically those in leadership and/or positions of responsibility within a Christian organization are asked to faithfully adhere to that organization’s statement of faith. This is a generally accepted practice. And certainly, if one  in such a position has sworn an oath or signed a contract to adhere to a statement of faith, then one should keep one’s word or probably abdicate one’s position. It is important to know what one has sworn to uphold, but also what one has not sworn to uphold. Consequently, some such organizations take the crafting of their statements of faith very seriously by being careful in the words used and, just as important, the words not used. And yet, most Christian websites I’ve perused seem to put up statements of faith by merely copying them from other Christian organizations’ web sites, such as the SOF above (at least the portion shown). Regardless, for those who are unfamiliar or unaware of the historical battles fought over creedal language, it may come as a surprise when issues flair up and heated debates begin to rage. For this reason some Christians are anti-creedal, but this is throwing out the baby with the bath water for reasons I can’t go into here.

It may also come as a surprise when an individual within an organization, who is understood as being a true brother or sister in Christ is, nonetheless, asked to leave the organization over a particular point in a statement of faith. Sometimes the breach is significant and warrants serious evaluation. Many times, however, the issue revolves around expectations particular only to a specific group or individual, or specific interpretations of vague or even missing language, and even in terms of matters of style. We forget how much of our judging of other Christians comes from whether they look and talk like us. And, as happens in these situations, the literalist position assumes a whole host of necessary implications stemming from the non-literalist stance — such as the non-literalist MUST be a relativist at heart, shaky in his/her faith, on the verge of denying both the inspiration and infallibility of scripture, and willing to make the Bible say whatever is convenient. Only conformance to the narrow creed or expulsion from the group are the options offered — and not offered out of anger, but out of a perceived fidelity to faith.

Perhaps it is more serious when contentions arise from an overreaching of the SOF by imposing expectations not specified or clearly stated in the SOF. In other words, if individuals within an organization demand either a particular interpretation of an SOF (when there is, in fact, legitimate room for a breadth of application), or claim the SOF implies language (such as a literal interpretation of scripture) not actually stated in the SOF, then it becomes too easy for some to make perhaps unintended, and yet unscrupulous, choices or, perhaps worse, wield a kind of destructive power within an organization for their own purposes, however noble they may be perceived. It may be interesting to consider who, in these kinds of Christian power-play politics, is the weaker brother—though that kind of thinking inevitably goes both ways and should call all to repentance and humility.

Sometimes the accusations merely come from a misunderstanding of the role the SOF is meant to play within an organization. It is too common within Christian organizations that SOF’s are seen (or assumed) as designating the faith of the adherents—though this is a highly questionable, and probably un-biblical position for faith is much more of a mystery. Even those with faith often don’t truly know they have faith until trials and suffering reveals it to them. Nonetheless, we tend to like shortcuts to making judgements than doing the hard work of relationships. Also, and this is a critical distinction, in many educational organizations, including the one in which we participate, the SOF is technically an academic requirement, not a measure of faith. In other words, tutors declare with their signatures that they will teach in accordance with, and in light of, the SOF—but they are not required to believe everything in it personally. If they deviate or transgress their obligation of adherence, which can happen for any number of rather innocuous reasons, then very often a course correction is warranted rather expulsion from their role within the organization. This means that, for example, an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic Christian tutor could fulfill the requirements of the SOF above by adhering to the academic requirements in a faithful manner, though the SOF is essentially Protestant. Whether such a person would want to do this, or would actually be free to do this, is another matter. This in not to dismiss the importance of creeds actually representing, in some important way, the faith held by the adherents, for this is no small thing. But those calling for expulsion over creeds all too often have convoluted the academic (or other organizational) requirement with personal faith, and thus jump to equating the external with the internal, and blown up minor points of interpretation into outsized issues.

Sadly, what happens, and in this case has happened, is to accuse others of unbelief. Or, more specifically, to say the individual is an unbeliever, which often means (and in this case is meant to mean), to say this individual is damned. That’s a strong word, and it often is avoided with language like “I don’t doubt we are all believers here” or “I know you love God” and then inevitably followed with the big “but, you see…” That language is, ironically, only meant to fool the one’s using it. The problem here is that none of us can know if another is “saved”. That is up to God alone. But it is a big temptation to put oneself in the place of God, to level the finger at others and declare “I see through you.” Creeds can become a handy weapon in the hands of unscrupulous Christians. The irony in this particular situation, and I imagine in many others similar ones, is that the accused, by his responses and demeanor, has exhibited more Christ-like behavior than some of the accusers. The problem may merely be that his demeanor is very a-typical for middle-class, Protestant, Fundamentalist society, and therefore is a natural target. But it is a common occurrence for any of us to have both Christ-like behavior and a creed displayed before us, and to choose the creed over Christ.

An important question all of us must ask, especially those of us in positions of influence withing Christian organizations, is whether our intentions and actions truly correspond with those of Christ. If we are honest, we must conclude they often do not. In fact, more frequently than we want to admit, or are even capable of seeing, we tend more towards the attitude of the Pharisees than of Christ. We tend to live in fear while calling it prudence or even wisdom. Fear is corrosive. This is true especially when it comes to how we educate our children, and thus plays a big role in many Christian schools (including the pressure put on schools by fearful parents). And finding the balance in love is extremely difficult. We want to guard our children’s hearts, but education also requires risk—and I don’t mean it sometimes can gets risky, like straying inadvertently into a minefield, but that education requires risk from the beginning.

Given this fact, it is not inconceivable to think that Christian Fundamentalism (and much of American Evangelicalism) is probably incompatible with the Classical Christian Education model. This is a separate issue, but it resides at the heart of much of what our family is about.

A question each of us might ask is whether we have entrenched ourselves within a creed because it is easier to do that than to risk trusting in God. One of the great ironies of the history of creeds is that they were typically, traditionally created for the purpose of finding as much room for inclusion within the Body of Christ as possible, but then tended to be wielded for the purpose of exclusion. In other words, an activity whose origin is for unity is eventually employed for division. This is the result of that common occurrence whereby we Christians (yes, all of us are affected at one time or another) tend to slide from freedom in Christ to pharisaism.  This slide, which is fundamentally the result of fear, unfortunately represents much of the history of the Church and has torn too many Christians, and Christian organizations, apart. As the old saying goes, those who do not study history are destined to repeat it.

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Filed under Christian Life, Education, Homeschooling, Interpretation

sharper than any two-edged sword

I want to explore a common misunderstanding.

Question: Is it true that the author of the letter to the Hebrews proclaims the Bible to be “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”? I grew up believing that it is, and I hear today from some Christians, mostly Protestants, that it is. But is that what this verse means?

No. That is a misinterpretation of that passage.

If we read Hebrews 4:12 in its context (see all of chapter 4 below) it becomes apparent that the issue at hand is whether the readers of this letter will enter into the “sabbath rest” because they have heard the word of God and obeyed it, or whether they will fail to enter that rest because, after hearing that word, they reject it and fall into disobedience. The author of Hebrews draws the connection up front: “For good news came to us just as to them”. And the problem of those who failed to enter God’s rest is because the good news “did not meet with faith in the hearers”. The author makes the comparison with those of the past ages by bringing up the creation story, Joshua, and David. When he says, “and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,” he wants his readers to understand the history of this good news, that it has been there from the beginning, is here today, and that all are called to respond. He wants his readers to respond positively and enter into God’s rest. He even says, “let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it.”

So why is this “word of God” not the Bible? First, we should remember that the phrase “word of God” is often used in Scriptures to mean Christ; see John’s Gospel chapter 1: “In the Beginning was the Word…” and “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. The phrase is more often used to mean the Gospel, or message of salvation: “And the word of God increased…” (Acts 6:7), “But it is not as though the word of God had failed.” (Romans 9:6), “…are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:14), “But the word of God is not fettered.” (2 Timothy 2:9), and many more. None of these passages diminish the Holy Scriptures, but it is clear that in the minds of the Apostles the phrase “word of God” has everything to do with what has been proclaimed by God since the beginning and what was being proclaimed to the world by the apostles, namely Christ.

If this is true, then we should ask what does it mean that this word of God “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Think of how many times in the New Testament, particularly in the Acts of the Apostles, that upon hearing the Gospel people respond (remarkably, miraculously) with belief: the Gospel is proclaimed and, along with the work of the Holy Spirit, the hearers are cut to the quick, convicted of their sins, repent, and seek reconciliation with God. That is the power of this Gospel. The author of Hebrews says, “And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” To be open to that “word” is to be on the path to God’s rest. The other option is to harden one’s heart and turn away in disobedience.

Does the Bible proclaim the Word of God? Absolutely! Are the Holy Scriptures one the “tools” God uses to convict sinners of their need for repentance, as well as of the incredible mercy of God? Yes! The Bible is our primary source for the teachings of the prophets of God, of the Apostles, and of Christ Himself. But, according to the author of Hebrews, the word of God is “living”, that is, it is the continuing proclamation of the Gospel through the ages, actively promoted by the Holy Spirit through the words and witness of the followers of Christ. The “word of God” is the good news, the promise of salvation, the Gospel. And that good news is is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.

Hebrews 4

¹ Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall never enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this place he said,

“They shall never enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he sets a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, when you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day. 9 So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; 10 for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Final thoughts:

Growing up a Protestant I know the lingo and presuppositions that pervade that sub-world, and lifting up the scriptures above all else is a big one. Now, Christians have always had a high view of the Holy Scriptures, and this is as it should be. For “God is the author of Sacred Scripture. ‘The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.'” (CCC 105) Protestants often claim to have a higher view of the Holy Scriptures than non-Protestants. Sola Scriptura is the classic rallying cry of Protestantism. Hebrews 4:12 is one of the popular texts frequently used to argue for this unique place of scripture as against tradition. Perhaps other arguments can be offered for this perspective, but Hebrews 4:12 offers none.

Why bring this up? Recently I have had the privilege of being in the midst of a debate on how to teach the theory of evolution within a Christian Classical Education context. Central to the debate is how we are to interpret scripture. All involved proclaim the importance of the Bible and see it as the inspired word of God. Not all agree, however, as to the specific nuances of what that means. I am inclined to see Holy inspiration as being more mysterious and unknowable than some. But the real crux came not about whether the Bible is the word of God, but rather what method of interpretation should one employ. In other words, some assumed that a literal interpretation — especially in regards to the first chapter of Genesis — was required in order to also assume inspiration and infallibility (an assumption that doesn’t make sense to me), and were surprised to realize that not everyone, including the tutor, held their perspective. In fact, the subtext, which remained barely below the surface (and not really below the surface at all) called into question the “authentic belief” of those who were not literalists. At one point Hebrews 4:12 was tossed on the table with almost the wave of a hand in order to champion the high place of Holy Scripture. The irony was that the true meaning of Hebrew 4:12 — that is, the deep and profound embracing of the Word of God through the conviction of the Holy Spirit resulting in a heart that loves truth and loves God — was evidenced by the non-literalist tutor in the responses given to serious accusations.

Perhaps the tendency to see the Bible as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” is because some like the idea of the Bible being a weapon against the world, of cutting others to the heart, of fighting the good fight. But to see this living, two-edged sword instead as the Word of God, as that which convicts and lays bare, as that which calls each of us to repentance, is to weep and call upon God for mercy. One perspective attacks, the other welcomes; one pushes away, the other embraces; one emerges out of fear, the other out of love.

My desire is that I would be someone who embraces the word of God. As a parent I am faced continually with the question: How do I model this for my children, how do I live it before them?

Finally, let us remember with humility, as the passage in Hebrews above begins, that “while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it.” The clear implication is that some of us will start of this journey to God’s rest and then fail to enter it. Perhaps that is because we hear the Gospel, embrace it at one level, but fail to love others as Christ loved us. God have mercy.

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a pope, a man, a model

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A young priest takes up a vocation. His future is in God’s hands.
His life not yet the full testament of his desires and faith.

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A man of God. A man who has served Christ.

What is it that makes a man?

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent renunciation of the Petrine office, effective 28 February 2013, is a fascinating moment in world history.† Plainly, it’s big news. But it also is a moment to consider this man who, called up to the priesthood as a young man, became one of the most important theologians of the 20th century, and then was chosen by the Church he loved and served for so long to be the Bishop of Rome. Now he is leaving this office, presumably going into quiet seclusion and taking up a life of prayer until the end of his days.

I have never studied the life of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. Someday I may read one of his biographies. (I just started a biography of John Paul II.) What I know of his life is very limited. But I have read in numerous places that he is kind, thoughtful, brilliant, pastoral, and humble. I own several of his books and love them. I love the way he writes, the way his mind works (as far as I can tell), and his theological insights. I love his commitment to the truth and to Christ and to the Church. I know that he has weaknesses, flaws, and limitations, for we all do. He is human. I know that he is a sinner who is striving for holiness, striving to finish the race as St. Paul encouraged us all to do. But I also see a man who is a kind of model of virtue. Though his path and mine are wildly different, we are both called to the same goal, the same ultimate glory. We are both called to imitate Christ.‡

What I see in Benedict XVI is a soul devoted to our Lord. I also see a man with great gifts who has glorified God with those gifts. In that way he is an example for me. I also have gifts given to me by God. So do you. We should all seek to glorify God with out gifts. I know I fail miserably at this. But Benedict, and John Paul II, and the saints, and I pray the next pope, will continue to inspire us all to holiness and true glory.

As I raise up my children, teaching them in light of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, I look for role models. I seek out examples of men and women who can inspire us to be authentic followers of Christ. No man or woman is perfect, except Christ, but some rise above, as it were, and their lives are worth contemplating. I think Benedict XVI is one of those role models, as is John Paul II, as are numerous saints and great Christians throughout history. Slowly I am coming to realize the value of presenting heroes as archetypes of holiness to my children and to myself for the sake of our souls. That, I am beginning to see more and more, is at the heart of a Christian education.

God bless Pope Benedict XVI.



† I only just realized that the word “history” really means Christ’s story: “His story.” I used to think “history” was at minimum a borderline patriarchal and misogynist term that meant “man’s story,” excluding women from some implied supreme status of men. Not surprisingly I picked up this notion in college. Now I believe that if Christ is the very center-point of the story God is telling, the key figure, the main reason, the hero, then certainly the flow of time and events must be His story: history.

‡ I am aware of the many charges against Benedict XVI one finds in our popular media culture. I have yet to see any news story on the current pope without some reference to the sins (real and perceived) of the Church. Comments on blogs having to do with B16 and/or the Catholic Church almost always begin with harsh words referencing the sex abuse crisis, and then move on to references to the Nazis. Comments made on the pope’s twitter feed are mostly a torrent of slurs and bigotry. The Catholic Church is deeply hated in this world, and probably it deserves some of what it gets (the sex abuse crisis is very real and evil, but perhaps wildly overblown by the media as well for various reasons). Regardless, I am convinced that B16 does not deserve the garbage thrown at him. In fact, I think just the opposite.

However, I am also convinced that a small fraction of priests (less than one tenth of one percent of the total number of priests)  committing horrible sins, and then those sins being systematically covered up, creates such an outpouring of anger (justifiably so) because the Catholic Church represents the fullness of the Body of Christ (or should) more so than any other group. In a sense, even coming from those who do not believe they need to be saved, one could say that if we cannot trust the Catholic Church then we truly are without hope. This is debatable of course, but it may get at some of the underlying pain of the issue. It may even get at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, which was a rebellion fueled largely by frustration and anger. Sin should never be tolerated in the Body of Christ. But then we all need to look at ourselves, our dark and sinful hearts, and wonder how anyone can be a Christian at all. For whatever reason it’s the way God “writes” history and our lives—good and evil in constant struggle, learning through failure (sometimes big failure), the constant need for repentance, the constant need of reform.  But we know we must continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (see Phil 2:12b-13) Only by the grace of God do we have any hope.

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Teach like Jesus

[This is a reworking of an earlier post, which was then published on the Classical Conversations blog.]

I sometimes cringe when I hear Jesus called a great teacher. All too often those words are used to label Jesus as “merely” a great teacher, and he is so much more. But he was a great teacher. And like Jesus, the best teachers lead by example. Think about the best teachers you have had. You might remember the subjects they taught, but you probably remember more the way they taught, their mastery, their skill, and most importantly, their character. Maybe some were a bit disorganized, some a bit quirky, but they loved seeking the truth, were passionate in helping you to grow in knowledge, and they had humility. They were people who you wanted to imitate. I am convinced that to become a great teacher one must believe and embody the twin ideas that teaching with love is greater than teaching with mastery, but teaching with true mastery is, inherently, to teach with love. Let’s look at how Jesus taught.

Consider the following scene. Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room for the passover. Jesus knows he is going to his crucifixion and that his disciples are clueless, but he loves them dearly. In the Gospel of John 13:3-17 (NIV1984) we read:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

This famous passage is full of profound ideas to ponder, but I want to zero in on something specific: the way Jesus taught the lesson. Notice the key idea Jesus wants them to understand: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” One could say this is the logos of the lesson. It is simple, straightforward, and profound, and from the context of the upper room discourse this is a message Jesus really wants them to get. But now look how he got to that idea. Jesus lays aside his outer garments and begins washing their feet. This is not only outside the expected behavior of a teacher, but it also produces a striking image for them. And not only that, it produces a tension that must somehow be reconciled in their minds. Peter’s response most likely is just the verbal expression of what they were all thinking. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus creates a dilemma his disciples need resolved. Then Jesus asks them, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” That is exactly what they are wondering. This tension creates the proper context for his message: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” He then lets them in on his teaching process: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” But Jesus also knows they still will not truly understand until later: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Think how powerful that image of Jesus washing their feet must have been in their minds, especially when later they began to link it with the crucifixion. When the Holy Spirit opened their eyes and helped them to remember all that Jesus said and did, this scene must have stuck out. Whenever they thought of their Lord they would remember that he was the one who washed their feet, who then told them to do the same for each other, and to know that this upending of the normal order of things is at the core of the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” That is a powerful lesson.

How then did Jesus teach them? He showed rather than only told. In other words, he taught them mimetically. There are five basic parts to a great mimetic lesson and Jesus used all five.

We observe that Jesus:

  1. connected his lesson to prior knowledge. That is, when he took off his outer garments and began washing their feet he relied on their cultural understanding of servants and masters. They saw what he was doing even if they thought it strikingly odd. And they felt the tension, so they needed a resolution.
  2. gave them an example or type. That is, he created an image of a master serving his servants. Imagine the scene, they had to sit there and watch him wash their feet. Individually they each had to physically experience their feet being washed by their teacher. This must have been a profoundly visceral example.
  3. compared this type to other types. That is, he called attention to how this new type contrasted with what they knew to be the normal order of things. They could feel the tension, but he made sure they got it by connecting his example to what they thought they knew was right. The comparison must have been startling. By calling it out, Jesus made sure they understood that seeing the distinction was critical.
  4. expressed the idea. That is, he told them directly and simply the point of the lesson. He gave them words they could not forget: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”
  5. applied the idea. That is, he told them to do as he had done, to be servants of each other. Later he would give them the greatest image of application they could ever hope or fear: his death on the cross.

Imagine Peter, years later, facing into his own crucifixion for the sake of the gospel. Imagine him looking back on his experiences as an apostle, all that he had gone through up to that point, all that he had preached and all that he had suffered, and then he remembers that evening sitting in a warm upper room when his beloved lord stripped himself of his outer garments and washed the disciples’ feet; how his master and teacher got down on his hands and knees and became their lowly servant. Peter must have remembered how Jesus looked, the color of his eyes, his voice, his expression, and his simple and elegant message. And he must have remembered his own confusion, his emotional response, and then his wonder at what it meant. Facing death, just as in life, Peter would have confronted the question, “What type of man will I be?” Fortunately in his mind and soul Peter would always have the indelible image of Jesus the master as servant; an image given as a gift━a gift he was able to receive, in part, because Jesus had connected that critical lesson to prior knowledge, then gave Peter an example or type, then compared that type to other types, then expressed the idea clearly once Peter was ready, and finally told him to apply the idea in his life.

Jesus was a great teacher. He taught with love and he taught with mastery. And he demonstrated both his love and his mastery by laying down his life for the sake of the world. That we would all become that kind of teacher. I am convinced some of us already embody a great deal of that type. My wife does so more than I. Regardless, all of us can do no better than to imitate Christ.

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a cultured person’s book list

The following post I originally published in 2007 on another blog. I think it is worth posting again.

I entered the University or Oregon’s film studies department (Dept. of Telecommunication and Film) in 1984. During that period I took classes from Prof. William Cadbury who, in my opinion, was a GREAT teacher and one of my favorite professors of all time. In one of his classes he handed out a booklist that I have kept with me all these years. I have re-typed it below (any misspellings are my own). There was also a classical music list, but I have not included it.

The list was created by Prof. Cadbury and his wife, the poet Maxine Scates, for her niece Tracy (hence Tracy’s Booklist), who was entering UCLA as a freshman. The list first appeared in 1980 and was then updated. This is the 2nd edition. I suppose you could say this is a book list for anyone who want’s to combine being well read and culturally intelligent. It’s not a “classical” reading list, but has a healthy dose of modern and relatively modern books.

The premise of the list is as follows:

“People are rarely told an opinion of the actual bibliography of fictions (mostly novels, a few stories), of which a cultured person in modern America is master. The following is an opinion of that bibliography. It suggests: don’t waste your time reading lesser books when you read; always have at least one book that you’re in the middle of, and usually have it be one of these. The list is divided into translations and English language originals; it is presented in full awareness of the presumption in doing so, and in the hope that the utility will override the presumption.” [from Prof. Cadbury’s introduction]

Naturally, this is a very personal list. The non-fiction section is also skewed towards the arts, which is okay by me (a critical topic for our contemporary, visually-based culture). And for myself this list represents the considered opinion of an older and wiser person who, after engaging for many years both intellectually and emotionally with college students, felt the neccessity to impart some idea of what it means to be a cultured person—not in totality, but at least a slice of that ideal.

Tracy’s Booklist: 2nd Edition

BOOKS ORIGINALLY NOT IN ENGLISH

Balzac, Honoré de: Eugénie Grandet; Old Goriot; Lost Illusions
Borges, Tomas: Labyrinths
Borowski, Tadeusz: This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Camus, Albert: The Stranger; The Plague
Cervantes, Miguel: Don Quixote
Chekhov, Anton: The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories
Colette: My Mother’s House; Sido
Condé, Maryse: Segu
Cortazar, Julio: Blow-Up
Döblin, Alfred: Berlin Alexanderplatz
Dostoyevsky, F.: The Brothers Karamozov; Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; Notes from Underground
Eco, Umberto: The Name of the Rose
Flaubert, Gustave: Madame Bovary
Garcia Marquez, G.: 100 Years of Solitude
Kafka, Franz: The Trial; The Castle; “Metamorphosis”; “In the Penal Colony”
Levi, Primo: If Not Now, When?; The Periodic Table
Lustig, Arnost: Night and Hope; The Unloved
Mahfouz, Naguib: The Thief and the Dogs; Miramar
Malraux, André: Man’s Fate
Mann, Thomas: Death in Venice; The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
Murasaki, Lady: The Tale of Genji
Nabakov, Vladimir: Pale Fire
Narayan, R. K.: The Financial Expert; The Man-Eater of Malgudi
Pavese, Cesare: The Moon and the Bonfire
Proust, Marcel: Remembrance of Things Past
Rulfo, Juan: Pedro Paramo
Schwartz-Bart, André: The Last of the Just
Sembene, Ousmane: God’s Bits of Wood
Stendhal: The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma
Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace; Anna Karenina

ENGLISH LANGUAGE:

Achebe, Chinua: Things Fall Apart
Amis, Kingsley: Lucky Jim
Arnow, Harriet: The Dollmaker
Austen, Jane: Mansfield Park; Emma; Pride and Prejudice; Persuasion
Baldwin, James: Go Tell It On the Mountain; Another Country; Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone
Brontë, Charlotte: Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily: Wuthering Heights
Brooks, Gwendolyn: Maud Martha
Carroll, Lewis: Alice in Wonderland
Cather, Willa: My Anatonia; A Lost Lady
Chandler, Raymond: The Big Sleep; The Long Goodbye
Cherryh, C. J.: “The Chanyr Saga”; the “Cyteen” books
Chopin, Kate: “The Storm” and other stories
Cisneros, Sandra: The House on Mango Street
Conrad, Joseph: Lord Jim; Heart of Darkness; Nostromo
Daley, Grace: Enormous Changes at the Last Moment
Darganyemba, Tsiti: Nervous Conditions
Dickens, Charles: Bleak House; Great Expectations; Hard Times
Eliot, George: Middlemarch
Ellison, Ralph: The Invisible Man
Emecheta, Buchi: In the Ditch
Erdrich, Louise: Love Medicine
Faulkner, William: The Sound and the Fury; Absalom, Absalom
Fielding, Joseph: Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
Ford, Ford Madox: Parade’s End
Forster, E. M.: A Passage to India; Howards End
Fowles, John: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Glasgow, Ellen: Barren Earth
Golding, William: Lord of the Flies
Gordimer, Nadin: Burgher’s Daughter; Occasion for Loving; July’s People
Green, Graham: The Heart of the Matter; Brighton Rock
Hagedorn, Jessica: Dogeaters
Hammett, Dashiel: The Thin Man
Hardy, Thomas: Tess of the D’Urbervilles; Jude the Obscure
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter
Head, Bessie: When Rain Clouds Gather
Heller, Joseph: Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest: The Sun Also Rises
Hogan, Linda: Mean Spirit
Hurston, Zora Neale: Their Eyes Were Watching God
James, Henry: The Ambassadors; The Golden Bowl
Jen, Gish: Typical American
Jones, Gayl: Corregidora
Joyce, James: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses; Dubliners
Karbo, Karen: The Diamond Lane
Karmel, Ilona: An Estate of Memory
Kincaid, Jamaica: Annie John
Kingston, Maxine Hong: China Men
Kogawa, Joy: Obasan
Lawrence, D. H.: Sons and Lovers; Women in Love
Lessing, Doris: The Marriage Between Zone 3, 4, and 5; The Golden Notebook; Shikasta
Lesueur, Meridel: Ripening
Loge, David: Small World
Mansfield, Katharine: Collected Stories
Marshall, Paule: Brown Girl, Brown Stones; Praise Song for the Widow
McCuller, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
Meredith, George: The Egoist
Milne, A. A.: Winnie-the-Pooh; The House at Pooh Corner
Momada, N. Scott: House Made of Dawn
Morrison, Toni: Beloved; Sula
O’Brien, Tim: The Things They Carried
O’Connor, Flannery: Wise Blood; The Violent Bear It Away
Olson, Tillie: Tell Me A Riddle
Orwell, George: 1984
Paton, Alan: Cry the Beloved Country
Petry, Ann: The Street
Porter, Katharine Anne: Collected Stories; Ship of Fools
Pratchett, Terry: Moving Pictures
Pynchon, Thomas: Gravity’s Rainbow; V
Rhys, Jean: After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie
Roth, Phillip: Portnoy’s Complaint
Saki (H. H. Munro): The Short Stories of Saki
Salinger, J. D.: The Catcher in the Rye; Nine Stories
Schwartz, Lynne Sharon: Disturbances in the Field; Leaving Brooklyn
Scott, Sir Walter: Rob Roy; The Heart of Midlothian
Silko, Leslie Marmon: Ceremony
Singer, Isaac Bashevis: The Family Moskat; The Magic of Lublin
Stein, Gertrude: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; The Lives
Swift, Jonathan: Gullivers Travels
Tan, Amy: Joy Luck Club
Thackeray, William M.: Vanity Fair
Thomas, D. M.: The White Hotel
Tolkien, J. R. R.: Lord of the Rings
Toomer, Jean: Cane
Trollope, Anthony: Barchester Towers; Phineas Finn
Tutuola, Amos: The Palm-Wine Drinkard
Twain, Mark: Huckleberry Finn
Updike, John: Rabbit Run
Wachtel, Chuck: Joe the Engineer
Walker, Alice: The Color Purple; Meridian; The Short Life of Grange Copeland
Waugh, Evelyn: Vile Bodies; Brideshead Revisited
Welty, Eudora: Collected Stories
West, Nathaneal: The Day of the Locust; Miss Lonelyhearts
White, T. H.: The Sword in the Stone
Wodehouse, P. G.: Blandings Castle
Wolfe, Thomas: Look Homeward Angel
Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway; To the Lighthouse; The Waves; Orlando
Wright, Richard: Native Son
Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth; The Age of Innocence

NON-FICTION:

Baritz, Loren: Backfire
Baxandall, Michael: Painting and Experience in 15th Century Italy
Beardsley, Monroe: Aesthetics
Berger, John: The Success and Failure of Picasso
Bernstein, Leonard: The Unanswered Question
Campbell, Joseph: The Mythic Image
Chomsky, Noam: Language and Mind; Turning the Tide
Des Pres, Terrence: The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps; Writing Into the World
Eriksen, Erik H.: Childhood and Society
Freire, Paulo: Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Frye, Northrop: Anatomy of Criticism
Gombrich, E. H.: Art and Illusion
Hacker, Andrew: Two Nations: Black and White, Separate and Unequal
Harding, Vincent: There is a River
Hauser, Arnold: The Social History of Art
Herbert,, Robert L.: Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society
Hollander, Anne: Seeing Through Clothes
Hyde, Lewis: The Gift
Jencks, Charles: Postmodernism
Johnson, Paul: The Birth of the Modern
Kegan, John: The Face of Battle; The Price of Admiralty
Kozol, Jonathan: Illiterate America; Savage Inequalities; Rachel and Her Children
Levi, Primo: Survival at Auschwitz
Monod, Jacques: Chance and Necessity
Neisser, Ulrich: Cognition and Reality
Robert, J. M.: The Pelican History of the World
Schama, Simon: Citizens
Schell, Jonathan: The Fate of the Earth
Sheehan, Neal: A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
Spiegelman, Art: Maus; Maus II
Weismann, Donald L.: The Visual Arts as Human Experience
Williams, Juan: Eyes on the Prize
Zinn, Howard: People’s History of the United States

I’ve been thinking of adding to this list myself. There are at least a few books I would consider. Suggestions are welcome.

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