The Historicity of the Gospels–Can you trust the Bible?

Whilst at a Bible study on the Life of Jesus, a friend of ours recommended the book by former athiest and Chicago Tribune journalist Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (http://www.amazon.com/Case-Christ-Journalists-Personal-Investigation/dp/0310209307/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302372089&sr=1-1) Strobel is no light-weight thinker:  his Master’s degree is from Yale Law School and his contributions during his 13-year tenure at the Chicago Tribune often made front-page headlines, such as his report that broke the national news that Ford car manufacturers were aware of the possiblity of explosions if their car, the Pinto, was rear-ended (which explains why you can no longer find good deals on Pintos at used car lots!).  I was not even alive during the Pinto scandal and even *I* have heard of this.  In other words, like scholar C.S. Lewis, he is a person whose testimony carries some weight behind it.  He was not born a “cradle Christian” and his profession and personality was such that skepticism was a more natural inclination than belief.  The fact that he is now a Christian and a pastor at a large church outside of Chicago is enough to give one pause to wonder, “hmmm,” and to smile at God’s gracious mercy and sense of humor (much like the conversion of the Apostle Paul, who was literally called into faith by Jesus himself while he was on his way to kill yet more Christians).

Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, is anything but a dry read.  I’m still in the middle of it myself and can barely put it down.  What makes it interesting comes from his training as a journalist–unreserve in questioning his sources, looking critcially at the evidence, and then, once the facts have been established, constructing his arguments in engaging language.  Essentially, the book is divided into three sections in which Strobel talks with leading academic scholars specializing in the time period of the New Testmanet: Examining the Record (which is about the reliablitiy of the New Testament texts), Analyzing Jesus (which looks at Jesus’ claims to be God), and Researching the Resurrection (which criticlally examines evidence of a resurrection of Jesus).  Footnotes and sources are listed at the end of each chapter and in an appendix.

I actually thought that, if and when I have free time, I would continue updating this note with interesting tidbits as I continue my own reading–partly because I love to write and partly because Jesus’ question of “Who do you say that I am?” is as relevant now as when He first asked His Twelve Disciples 2000 years ago, and Pilate’s snide quip of “What is truth?” rings uncannily close to home in our current cultural climate of moral relativism.  I’ve generally found that far fewer Christians in our current age have a deep understanding of the Gospel, and even fewer non-Christians, so I’d like to do what I can to present the historical record as well as the Gospel that Jesus was who He claimed to be and did what He said He would do.  (Other good reads would be one of the leading Christian books of this year, Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: http://www.amazon.com/Christians-Hate-Filled-Hypocrites-Other-Youve/dp/0764207466/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1302365936&sr=8-1-spell and  The Jesus I Never Knew http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-I-Never-Knew/dp/031021923X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302372327&sr=1-1.)

In the first part of his book, Strobel asks the following questions to leading scholars of the New Testament period:  1. Can the Gospels–the biographies of Jesus–be trusted as sources? 2. Were the Gospel accounts reliably preserved and trasmitted? 3. Is there credible evidence for Jesus outside of the Gospel? 4. Does Archaeology confirm or contradict the Gospels? and 5. Is the Jesus of History the Same as the Jesus of Faith?

In the spirit of being upfront and forthright, I am only half-way through this first section myself, but I wanted to start writing about it for two reasons 1) I am very excited about this text, which I think is an excellent read, and 2) I have a chunk of time on the computer, which rarely happens.  In his dissection of the Gospel accounts, Strobel talks with Drs. Craig Blomberg, Bruce Metzger, Edwin Yamauchi, John McRay, and Gregory Boyd.  For specific details you will need to consult the text yourself, but some brief highlights of what I’ve read so far are the following:

a) Blomberg discusses that the New Testament books are not listed chronologically within the Christian cannon (meaning the New Testament of the Christian Bible).  Paul’s writings actually precede the Gospel accounts, which I thought very interesting because we actually get our theology mostly from Paul, not the Gospel narratives themselves.  This isn’t a conspiracy but rather a recognition of genre:  the Gospels were to be narratives of the life and teachings, and–even more importantly the death and resurrection (which account for 1/3 -1/2 of each Gospel, so these are the “main” events)– of Jesus whereas Paul’s writings were letters explaining the faith that had been handed down to him through the Twelve Disciples and the earliest followers of Jesus and Jesus Himself.  Paul’s writings can be dated to within a decade of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Gospel of Mark, may have been written down as early as the late 50s, A.D.  As someone who has had some training in dealing with ancient source material, the proximity of the occurrence of the events and their recorded histories is amazing, especially for the ancient period in which orality was the primary means of dessimination.  For instance, the life of Alexander the Great was not written down until several centuries after his death, yet historians generally view this material as historically reliable.  With the Gospels we are talking a decade or two, and within a Jewish culture which was known for the accuracy of its memorizing abilities.  Rabbis, for instance, were known for memorizing the entire Old Testament word-for-word. And the Gospel writers’ listeners would most certainly have provided a check-and-balance system since many of them would have been alive during Jesus’ life and ministry.  If the oral account had been incorrect, it would have been checked and brought into alignment.  As an aside, one account from the Medieval period that has always interested me is the life of Joan of Arc.  It is interesting to me because we have incredible amounts of historical evidence that she was an unlearned peasant girl who was miraculously aided by God to become the Commander-in-Chief of the armies of France, and then by miraculous intervention led a successful campaign to begin the process of driving out the English armies occupying France.  We have accounts from her original trial transcripts and from the trial that was conducted soon after her death to prove that she was not either a heretic or a witch, and all of these have first-hand testimony in her behalf.  No historian doubts that Joan existed, or that the Holocaust happened (to insert a 20th-century parallel).  Joan of Arc cannot be explained by any sense of reasoning or logic, and yet we are taught about her life in every high school in America and Europe that I am aware of.  If we can accept this, then, why doubt the life of Jesus?

b) If it has been a while since you’ve even looked at the Gospels, I encourage you to visit Bible Gateway and look up the book of Mark: http://www.biblegateway.com/ .  One of the greatest testaments to the veracity of the Gospels is the fact that they include an incredible amount of detail (what Jesus ate, for instance) as well as embarrassing accounts of the Disciples that would normally have been edited out if there had been a conspiracy.  Throughout the Gospels, the Disciples are depicted as dull-witted, self-serving, and continually missing the point.  After Jesus’ death they had nothing to gain for “starting” a new religion.  In the compact Jewish community of ancient Palestine, they faced incredible persecution, exile, and death.  All but one of the original Disciples endured a horrific death, and by horrific, I mean crucifixion, being skinned alive, and decapitation.  This is not what happens when people want to gain from starting their own religion.  Not only that, but why start a new religion that has such exacting teachings, like those that equate lust with adultery or anger with murder?  If you look at the prophet Muhammad, for example, we have accounts from one of his wives who thought it quite convenient that he felt he should have more wives at the same time he received a divine revelation telling him to do so.  Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism (which most definitely does NOT proclaim the same Gospel as Christianity), benefitted in both power and in his own carnal desire when establishing his own faith, which at the time practiced polygamy and was an institutional spiritual hierarchy.  With both the Gospels and the Disciples themselves, you do not see any sense of selfishness or spiritual politics.  In the later non-cannonical apocryphal texts that author Dan Brown so likes to tantalize his readership with, you see a Jesus who 1) acts out of character from the way God is portrayed in any of the other Biblical accounts in both the Old Testament and the writings of Paul, as well as the Gospels, and 2) authorship that attempts to establish authority (such as the Gospel of Mary [Magdalene], a “big name” in Christian circles).  These texts were also written considerably later than the cannonical Gospels–by centuries!  In the original Gospels, only two are composed by Jesus’ original Disciples, and of those two (Matthew and John) Matthew was a tax-collector and would have been despised by his contemporaries.  Mark was written by John Mark who helped the Apostle Peter in his preaching, so a side-liner, and Luke was written by the Apostle Paul’s personal physician.  These are not “big” names that would attract a readership, which interestingly enough makes them all the more believable.

c) One of the more interesting points that Metzger discusses is that there are more than 5000 extant copies of the original New Testament in Greek.  He states, “The quantity of New Testament material is almost embarrassing in comparison with other works of antiquity.  Next to the New Testament, the greatest amount of manuscript testimony is of Homer’s Illiad, which was the Bible of the ancient Greeks.  There are fewer than 650 Greek manuscripts of it today.  Some are quite fragmentary.  They come down to us from the second and thri century A.D. and following.  When you consider that Homer composed his epic about 800 B.C., you can see there’s a very lengthy gap.”  The plethora of extant manuscripts, meaning only those that happened by chance or by care to be preserved, is an incredible testament to the explosion of interest in the first centuries A.D. in Jesus, as well as the accuracy of consistency between the texts themselves.  (The Dead Sea scrolls are just as interesting for the Hebrew canon, and precede the latest extant copy of texts by a huge number of centuries, and agree nearly verbatim with the next extant copy that we have, which I *think*, if I remember properly, dates from around the 9th or 10th century A.D.)  Interesting stuff, huh?

So, since I have just had a phone call telling of the soon-expected arrival of my dear ones, I am leaving off here and hopefully will be able to continue more of this on another day.  Blessings!

Falling off the Earth

… or at least it feels like I have done that.  I truly apologize for being so sporadic in posting.  I realize this is sort of against blog etiquette, or so other people have said.  I started this blog as a way to have some sort of documentation for the fun things we do, connect with other moms and caring souls, and possibly as a way to dessiminate ideas and let me have an outlet for personal reflection.  What I have found is that our lives with a young child make regular blogging very difficult.  I try not to be on the computer during the day and at night, if I’m lucky, I get about an hour and half to do everything I need to do as well as get a little free time and maybe chat with Tim for a few minutes.  So, the best I can do is sporadic, I guess.

This last month has been a bit nutty.  Cecily is sick again, and one of the hardest things about having a sensory child get sick is they can’t sleep.  Now, mind you, I am going on 5.5 years of severe sleep deprivation.  There is something about the way Cecily is wired neurologically that makes sleep very difficult for her and has since she was born–and this is without her being sick.  When she’s sick … well, it isn’t pretty.  I have tried everything.  It’s just how her brain is and all I can is wait and pray, which is not a little thing by any means.  Prayer moves mountains.   We have always co-slept because it is the only way any of us get any sleep.  We’ve done various arrangements.  For the last few years since Cecily has gotten bigger she and I have been in one bed and Tim in another.  We’re happy like this and Tim and I are both content knowing that it won’t always be like this and in knowing that I’m always right there when Cecily needs something.  The benefits for her have really been profound–she has never had a nightmare, she isn’t afraid of the dark, we get lots of touch bonding, and I can monitor her when she’s sick.  The downside is that I have difficulty sleeping with someone smushed right next to me (or quasi-on top of me) and occasionally I have limbs fall asleep that I can’t move because that would wake her up, or I get neck aches from having my head turned in awkward positions.  I’ve also learned what severe exhaustion feels like–I get terrible headaches from lack of adequate REM sleep at times and I have difficulty remembering how to spell words.  I keep telling myself that one day I will sleep again and until then I just pray for my health.  So, with Cecily being sick, things have been out of whack.

We are also knee-deep in Lent.  I love Lent.  Lent and Advent are what I live for each year.  Usually during these times I cut back on things and spend more time in Bible study and prayer.  This year, however, I’m writing my own Lenten book so that has pretty much taken over my life.  We are having to do tons of crafting and I’m trying to write everything up and take pictures.  I’m very proud of everything we’re doing–it’s really been so much fun.  My only regret is that I just wish I wasn’t having to sacrifice so much family time and free time to put things onto paper.  I have stacks of papers and crafting books covered with idea sticky notes, and I try to devote a few nights each week to typing them up, and the other nights each week I devote to coming up with ideas for the next week.  I feel like I have been running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace.  The really hard thing about Lent is that the uphill comes at the end–Holy Week.  I’m sweating just thinking about it.  The good thing is that it helps me to more closely identify with Jesus who also sweated a lot more than I have during that same week.  Thank you, Jesus.  Words can never express our gratitude  for what He has done.

So, sickness and Lent have been my life lately.  It seems so bald just writing it like that which is why I took you on the detour above to more deeply explain my absence.

On a cheery and non-woe-is-me note, I have two wonderful book recommendations for this time of year.  Both of these books I have read before, but I’m one of those people who think of books as friends that I like to revisit often, and this year I happened to visit both of these in unplanned succession at the beginning of Lent, which worked so beautifully.  The first book is Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant. (http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Hearts-Novel-Sarah-Dunant/dp/0812974050/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1302103311&sr=8-1)  This is part of an historical fiction trilogy.  I have read The Birth of Venus but not In the Company of the Courtesan. To be honest, I did not care for the raw nature of the language in TBoV nor the ending, but I can whole-heartedly recommend SH.  It is set in a 16th-century Italian convent.  The action takes place from mid-December to Holy Week, and it is thrilling.  It also is a great way of understanding the daily, weekly, and yearly rhythm that is at the heart of both monastic life and Waldorf education.  I think this sense of liturgical rhythm is what first drew me toward Waldorf.  As a Medievalist and as a Christian, I understand sacred rhythm, much more so than most Protestants.  Another book that is an excellent companion to Sarah Dunant’s novel is poet Kathleen Norris’ personal account of her life in a monastery entitled, The Cloister Walk. (http://www.amazon.com/Cloister-Walk-Kathleen-Norris/dp/1573225843/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1302103905&sr=1-1Kathleen is at heart a poet so this book  combines the emotional depth of poetry with the practicality of each day.  It is so well-done.  It reminds us to see God not just in liturgy but in laundry, and it helps us to feel again the sacred rhythm of the eternal.  Waldorf folks will recognize the pulses of Advent, Candlemas, and the saints’ feast days.  Kathleen herself is a Protestant who had wandered away from God for many years before being pulled back to Him.  She, like me, has a deep appreciation for the poetical metaphor of liturgical ritual that is so often missing among Protestant worship and so often misunderstood in non-Protestant worship.  Neither of the books listed above are preachy in any sense of the word but both are really more about experiencing the sacredness of time and space, and ultimately in experiencing Jesus, who is Lord of it all.  It is preachy only in the sense of experience, not in words.  I love that.

And, on a final note, I’d like to share something of practical use that we discovered on Ash Wednesday of all days–the day when we recognize how “dirty” we are with sin and in need of spiritual renewal and cleansing in Christ. 

How to polish silver without really trying

This is a great way to tangibly demonstrate the effects of baptism—washing away the tarnish of sin and leaving in its place the sparkle of new life.  Line a mixing bowl with aluminum foil.  Place tarnished silver into bowl.  Measure out ½ cup baking soda per each 1/2 gallon of water that you will need (do not combine baking soda and water just yet, though).  Once you have measured the appropriate amount of baking soda and water, heat water in a large pot on stove until boiling.  Once boiling, move pot to kitchen sink, add baking soda (this will foam so be ready).  Once baking soda has been added, pour hot liquid onto silver in mixing bowl.  Let set for a few minutes.  Use tongs to turn silver over.  Once tarnish has been removed, carefully remove silver and pour water down the drain.  Rinse silver in lukewarm water to wash away baking soda film.  Buff with a towel or cloth.

I wish you many blessings and hope that the pictures that I uploaded will do a better job at showing up on your screen than they are doing on mine currently.  If they don’t, I’m sure my techy-husband will know the answer and he’ll get to it somewhere between working on taxes and uploading new pictures from our camera.  Without him I’d be blogging on sticky notes.

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring

At our house, spring starts on March 1st, and it does so because by that time we’ve had enough of Lady Winter so whether Winter is ready to go to sleep or not, her decorations get put away.  Amazingly, on March 1st both this year and last it is as if the robins know to start singing and the sun shines for the first time in weeks.  I actually prefer it when Lent starts right before spring because then we gradually transition from the excesses of our winter Land of Sweets to the austerity of Lent with ease, but when Lent starts “after” our spring, then I kind of end up in a strange decorating twilight–how much cheerful spring decorating should I do when Lent starts next week and I want things to be solemn and reverent?  I’ve ended up taking ALL the snow off our felt seasonal tree (wishful thinking got the better of me), putting away all of our Valentine hearts, and I’m about to pack away the Land of Sweets.   I can’t decide if I should put up the Peter Rabbit playmat I made yet or that should wait for Easter.  If don’t put it up then *something* will have to go on our book table, otherwise we’ll feel all wiggly and weird inside because we always have *something* there, and that feeling will never do.  I also did my annual wipe down of our fan blades today and was, expectedly, amazed at how much dust can collect in one place.   

So, in honor of the spring that has sprung at our abode, my favorite books of the season:

Spring in Brambly Hedge (http://www.amazon.com/Spring-Story-Brambly-Hedge-Barklem/dp/0689830580/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299014767&sr=1-8)  This is such a fantastic series written and illustrated by a British author about little mice who live in a brambly hedge.  There are many in the series and they are no longer in print so you need to find them used.  There is even this pattern book which I’d love to get someday: http://www.amazon.com/Brambly-Hedge-Pattern-Book-Dolman/dp/0399211942/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299014767&sr=1-6

How Robin Saved Spring (http://www.amazon.com/Robin-Saved-Spring-Debbie-Ouellet/dp/0805069704/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299014926&sr=1-1).  We read this on March 1st every year and it is a story about how the wily Lady Winter tries to keep Sister Spring asleep but is finally thwarted by Robin who gets a red-breast in the process.  This is a really well-done book, and includes such interesting tidbits as how the ladybug got her spots, the skunk its stripe, and why bears hibernate in winter and why caterpillars get wings in spring.

The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck (http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Tales-Beatrix-Potter-Puddle-Duck/dp/0517050773/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299015336&sr=1-4).  This is one of my favorite Beatrix Potter stories.  I actually think B.P.’s charm is mostly in her pictures, as I think her tales a bit odd at times.  Jemima, though, is such a trusting and sweet duck that you can’t help but love her even if she IS a bad sitter.

The Rainbabies (http://www.amazon.com/Rainbabies-Laura-Krauss-Melmed/dp/0688151132/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299015476&sr=1-1).  I can never quite pinpoint exactly what deeper moral there is moving underneath the thread of this story, but it is an engaging read about an elderly couple who because of their devotion get rewarded with a baby of their own. 

The Story of the Root Children (http://www.amazon.com/Story-Root-Children-Sibylle-Von-Olfers/dp/086315106X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299015642&sr=1-1).  This is the quintessential, required-Waldorf-reading for spring.  I love decorating with a Root Children theme.  Last year I made a darling little “root child” out of a wooden peg and green felt, and Cecily, in one of her sour moods, colored with markers all over it, so I think one of my projects soon will be to make one afresh.

Mother Earth and Her Children (http://www.amazon.com/Mother-Earth-Her-Children-Quilted/dp/1933308184/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299015642&sr=1-3).  This is essentially a truncated version of the Root Children but the story behind the book is moving.  A mother, while grieving the death of her son, quilted a beautiful scene depicting the scenes from the Root Children, which was her favorite book as a child.  Her embroidery is amazing, and it is such a touching story of how this project helped the mother work through her grief, that I always try and recommend this version even if it isn’t as textually-complex.

The Story of the Butterfly Children (http://www.amazon.com/Story-Butterfly-Children-Sibylle-Olfers/dp/0863156886/ref=pd_sim_b_7).  Again, this is quintessential Waldorf but it is a lovely and simple tale about the caterpillars getting their wings.

Pelle’s New Suit (http://www.amazon.com/Pelles-New-Suit-Elsa-Beskow/dp/0863155847/ref=pd_sim_b_16).  The third and last quintessential Waldorf spring read.  It is about a boy who goes through all of the steps of making a new spring suit.  One that I actually like better than this is A New Coat for Anna (http://www.amazon.com/New-Coat-Anna-Dragonfly-Books/dp/0394898613/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016071&sr=1-1).  It is a nearly identical story to Pelle but it takes places from one Christmas to the next.  I prefer it because 1) it features a girl and I have a daughter so she related more to the character that way, 2) it is a true story about a little girl who needed a new coat following WWII but her mother had no money to buy her one and so for a year she combines sacrifice and ingenuity to make her daughter a coat.  As a mother, I deeply understand that tenacity.

Spring’s Sprung (http://www.amazon.com/Springs-Sprung-Lynn-Plourde/dp/0689842295/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016321&sr=1-1).  To be honest, I have not yet read this book but I love the 2 other Lynn Plourde seasonal books that we’ve read this year so I feel confident in recommending this one, site unseen.  Ours in on order from the library at the moment.

The Curious Garden (http://www.amazon.com/Curious-Garden-Peter-Brown/dp/0316015474/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016424&sr=1-1).  With Creation-care getting so much attention (and rightly so!) these days, this story is very fitting.  It is a story about a little boy longing for a greener world.

Miss Rumphius (http://www.amazon.com/Miss-Rumphius-Barbara-Cooney/dp/0140505393/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016504&sr=1-1).  In the same vein as The Curious Garden, this story is about making the world more beautiful while making one’s life more fulfilling at the same time.

Roxaboxen (http://www.amazon.com/Roxaboxen-Alice-Mclerran/dp/0060526335/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016504&sr=1-3)  I don’t think this is exactly “springish” but I just found it and am ordering it from the library.  It looks quite good.

Bag in the Wind (http://www.amazon.com/Bag-Wind-Ted-Kooser/dp/0763630012/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016736&sr=1-1).  This is a great story for 3 reasons: 1) it depicts Creation-care motifs and the importance of trash-collecting and recycling, 2) it is the one children’s book I’ve ever seen that has homeless characters and portrays them with dignity, and 3) it promotes the idea of working for the things you want and grace when someone gives you something unexpectedly.

Minerva Louise and the Colorful Eggs (http://www.amazon.com/Minerva-Louise-Colorful-Morgan-Stoeke/dp/0142410594/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299016972&sr=1-1).  I adore the Minerva Louise stories.  Their text is simple enough for a 2-year-old yet they all have a humor that an adult will appreciate.  So very good.

In My Dreams I Can Fly (http://www.amazon.com/My-Dreams-Can-Fly/dp/073582259X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299017079&sr=1-1).  This is a story about patience, when little ones must bide their time before they can grow their own wings and fly away.  It is a good read for scratching the soul and helps me to remember that I have to let my little one fly, no matter how much I want her to stay little and grubby.

Forever Friends (http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Friends-Carin-Berger/dp/0061915289/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299019102&sr=8-1).  Typical focus on animal life through all the seasons but well done.

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (http://www.amazon.com/Rabbit-Lovely-Present-Charlotte-Zolotow/dp/0064430200/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299019274&sr=1-1).  I love Charlotte Zolotow’s book The Seashore, and this is a lovely story too.

Our Nest (http://www.amazon.com/Booklist-Editors-Choice-Books-Awards/dp/B000V4R20G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299019358&sr=1-1).  This is sort of “nesting” type story where you see how all these creatures have homes and the Earth is home to all.

Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep (http://www.amazon.com/Farmer-Brown-Shears-Sheep-publication/dp/0439288355/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299019450&sr=1-1).  Whilst I would not recommend paying $700 for this book, it is a funny tale about cold sheep.

The Rose in My Garden (http://www.amazon.com/Rose-My-Garden-Arnold-Lobel/dp/0688122655/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299019527&sr=1-1) “A horticultural House that Jack Built — with the infectiousness of a nursery rhyme.” — Kirkus (pointer) is as great a description as I can give.  I love the Lobels.

Where the River Begins (http://www.amazon.com/Where-River-Begins-Picture-Puffins/dp/0140545956/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299019612&sr=1-1) This is a good book for the end of spring when you go wading in rivers. 

My Day in the Garden (http://www.amazon.com/My-Day-Garden-Miela-Ford/dp/0688155413/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299019718&sr=1-1)  A good story about imaginative play.

Caterpillar Caterpillar (http://www.amazon.com/Caterpillar-Read-Wonder/dp/0763642630/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1299019771&sr=1-1)  Great story with lots of good butterfly information.  It’s hard to find an imaginative story that is also this informative.

So, with these good reads and wishful thoughts, I’m hoping that the snow is gone for the season, that our bulbs will bloom against all odds, and that the sun will continue to shine.  Next, week, Mardi and Ash Wednesday … my favorite time begins.  And, I’m writing a book at the moment …

Maple Moon

Where we live they have started tapping the trees.  I always get excited when I start seeing buckets and hoses on trees because it means the end of winter, which, where we live, seems eternal at the moment.  When Tim and I lived in rural Connecticut, we lived down the road from a little old man (he was probably in his 80s) who tapped the 20 or so sugar maples in his yard and had his own sugarhouse in his backyard for making it in to maple syrup.  At the time–we were in our early 20s and really didn’t know much–I did not appreciate just how involved this process was.  It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!  Now, I appreciate that a man in his 80s would sweat in a sugarhouse waiting for his sap to start sheeting.  Actually, I have come to believe that if you want to live into your 100s, move to Connecticut.  They have the healthiest and most active bunch of elderly people per capita in the world, I think.  So, now, our book basket is filled with books about maple syrup.  One of our favorites is Maple Moon:  http://www.amazon.com/Maple-Moon-Connie-Brummel-Crook/dp/0773760989/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1298935821&sr=8-1.  It’s a story about a Native American boy who discovers that he can overcome physical adversity (he has a bad limp) through ingenuity.  I highly recommend it.  And tonight, in honor of this story, we are having maple syrup-flavored spaghetti.  (This story also tells how his tribe used the maple sap to sweeten their deer meat.) 

Maple Syrup Spaghetti:

Brown 2-3 lbs. of lean ground beef and drain

Add 1/3 cup maple syrup to drained meat

Saute 2 bulbs garlic and 1 onion (all finely chopped) in olive oil until very tender

Combine with meat, including olive oil

Stir in 2 jars of your favorite tomato/basil sauce (or make your own)

Serve with spaghetti that has been lightly tossed with olive oil

Now, I’m off to eat!

A Quick Post: Favorite Links

Between being sick, sewing Cecily’s Easter dress, and just doing our normal weekly rhythm–oh, and totally forgetting HOW I login and such–I haven’t had much time to post this week.  However, I thought it might be helpful to list a few of my favorite parenting/Waldorf craft related links:

Filth Wizardry.  This is such an awesome blog.  I can’t decide if I wish this mama was my next door neighbor or if that would make me green with envy.  She is so creative.  http://www.filthwizardry.com/

Parenting Passageway.  Carrie makes Waldorf living palatable and accessible.  This is the best “nuts and bolts” Waldorf blog I’ve found. http://theparentingpassageway.com/

The Ancient Hearth.  I greatly appreciate that this mom has done the homeschooling world SUCH a service by putting lots of pictures and details up for each grade.  Quite an inspiration.  http://ancienthearth2.blogspot.com/

Frontier Dreams.  I met this mama on Mothering.com and have followed her blog ever since.  She has some great tutorials (I’ve used her birthday crown one, although a bit adapted for our needs). http://frontierdreams.blogspot.com/

Mothering.com.  The best parenting board on the internet.  I love that it has a huge membership and it’s demographic is toward the highly-educated and crunchy variety.  http://www.mothering.com/community/forum/ 

Waldorf Curriculum Supplies Yahoo Group.   The best place I know of to get gently-used, somestimes new, Waldorf supplies/books/toys.  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waldorfcurriculum-supplies/

I’m sure there are equally great blogs and sites out there.  I only list these because I have found them extremely helpful in the very *few* minutes I have online each day. 

Blessings and peace!  (Today we were toucans and fairies.  I hope you have had just as magical of a day as we did.)

Unraveling the Mystery of Wet-on-Wet Painting

I resisted what is known as wet-on-wet painting for several years.  I think a part of that was just in response to the Anthroposophical reasoning behind it (I can’t currently find the link but years ago I read that Steiner believed that angels inhabited color so doing wet-on-wet painting was a way to summon these angels–I’m not entirely sure about the accuracy of that statement, as it has been some years since I read it).  However, if you leave out the Anthroposophical weirdness, wet-on-wet painting is actually very therapeutic and produces lovely pictures, and it’s simpler (and cheaper) than it looks.

Now, at our house for the past 2 years we have had Painting Day every Thursday afternoon.  In Waldorf, reverence for supplies and the process is stressed, and that sounds pretty good to me in the expendable and irreverent age that we live in, so I’ve put a fair bit of effort into things.  For instance, we have a basket just with our painting supplies.  We currently use old t-shirts as smocks but since Cecily is about to outgrow hers, one of our first kindergarten projects will be to decorate our own painting smocks–I’ve contemplated using aprons but I think I’m actually going to go again with white t-shirts, only much larger.  When we’re all set up, we have a little painting song that we sing and we light a painting candle.  I must admit it is lovely painting by candlelight.  It really does accentuate that this is a special time.  I admire that within Waldorf setting the mood is an essential element.  I’m not a naturally-inclined mood-setter so I am grateful for any help I can get.

Now, to the nitty-gritty.  What will you need?

Our painting basket contains:

3 tempera paints of primary colors (red, yellow, blue)

1 container of white tempera paint (because sometimes you really need tan or pink)

2 glass Mason jars for dipping water

4 baby-food sized glass jars for holding the paint when you’ve mixed them with water

3 medium-sized brushes from the craft store (2 for Cecily and myself, and 1 in case Daddy is home).  Your brush needs to be about an inch in size–definitely not too small.

1 white crayon for drawing effects on our paper that we paint over

In addition to your painting basket you will need these supplies:

Painting Paper (discussed below)

Prefolds or something for dabbing water from your brushes and for wiping up paint

Somewhere to place paintings to dry (I lay 2 towels onto our floor)

A painting candle *optional but nice

A small muffin tray in case you want to mix up a batch of brown or gray

Now, if you’ve been involved with Waldorf for a while, you’ll spot off the bat, that our basket is “different” than most traditional painting baskets in the Waldorf world.  Where are the Stockmar watercolors?  Where are the painting boards?  The sponges? Well, do hear me out.

The secret is that tempera paints are much more versatile than Stockmar watercolors and much more economical.  I can buy a 3-bottle set for around $6 and they will last us 6 months.  (Stockmar paints sell for between $20 and $40 depending on the size bottles you purchase, and last for about the same length.)  In the glass babyfood jars, I mix half tempera paint with half water.  Since our yellow tends to get turned green after a few weeks of repeated use–Cecily does *usually* remember to wipe her brush, but little bits of deep blue add up quickly–I only fill up the jar maybe 1/4-1/3 of the way.  That way, if we have to pour out sweet, quiet yellow because blue has turned her green yet again, we’re not losing much.  I prefer Crayola tempera paint, as it is the only cheap tempera paint I’ve found that is odorless and true to color.  You can also buy it in a primary color set at crafting stores like Michael’s and JoAnn’s.  Tempera paint can then be used for other projects, like painting salt clay figurines for your Nativity like we did during Advent this year.  So, versatility and affordability are two pluses in my book, and by diluting the paint with water, you get the vibrance of Stockmar watercolors without the price-tag.

As for no painting boards, we are blessed with a large kitchen counter so that’s where we paint.  Once our paper is wet, I just place it on the counter, and thanks to surface tension, the paper stays put.  After each painting we do, I wipe our counter down with a cotton prefold leftover from Cecily’s newborn days (if you don’t own a stash of prefolds, I recommend you invest in some.  They are by far the best baby present we got and we use them for everything from cleaning things to wiping up spills to soaking up water on slides at the playground.)  If you don’t want to paint on your counter, then you will need some sort of surface beneath your paper that you don’t mind getting wet.  You can buy a painting board or you can use a thin chalkboard or any other sturdy surface.

As to the paper, just buy a heavy painting paper from the kid’s section of your local craft store.  I say “kid section” because I have compared prices of watercolor paper in the adult painting section and kid’s section and the “kid’s” paper was as sturdy and MUCH cheaper.  Currently we are using Creatology Paint Pad paper, 9 X 12 inches.  In the past I have also used Strathmore kids’ painting paper and liked it.  I know, if you’re at all familiar with Waldorf, you are saying to yourself, “Shouldn’t you be using larger paper with a 5 year old?”  Well, in the beginning, when Cecily was 3, we did, but after each painting day we hang her artwork on our walls until Dec. 31 when we take them down and make a book for that year, and I have found in doing this that the larger paper is not really that good for bookmaking.  By age 4, if not earlier, Cecily was having no difficulty painting on standard-sized paper.  So, if you want to use the really large painting paper you can, but I don’t really think it necessary. 

So, now that you have your painting supplies, what do you do?

Well, at our house we sing our painting song–a little ditty I made up to a very simple tune (The words are: Color, color, color me / Red as roses / Blue as sea / Yellow as daffodils and bees / Color, color, color me).  I really like having a painting song because it is one way of indicating that a special time is beginning.  Sometimes Cecily makes up a poem or song of her own that we say and then we light our painting candle (it’s actually just a regular taper but we only light it during painting time).  By the time we’ve lit our candle I already have our Mason jars filled with water and our brushes inside, and below that our dabbing prefold.  In front of our candle I place our paint jars that I’ve already filled with paint and diluted with water.  I lay them out from left to right: White, Blue, Red, Yellow.  I actually have them in this order because the white and yellow are the most susceptible to changing shade if Cecily forgets to rinse her brush, and by having them at the ends, I’ve found it reduces that risk.  I dunno–maybe it’s something to do with the psychological make-up of my child that this order works for us.  The real issue at hand is just having them set out orderly.  Then, once the song has been sung, I take a piece of paper (I usually tear out 8 pieces in advance–4 for each of us, though we sometimes do 5 each) and rinse it for about 10-15 seconds under running water from our kitchen faucet.  You’ll want to thoroughly wet both sides.  Then, I lay it down on our counter in front of Cecily and smooth with my hand (some people use sponges for this but I’ve never found that necessary).  Then, start painting.  I usually start with doing what I call a “wash” of one color all over the paper for background. I’ve taught Cecily how to mix colors on her paper, so she’s old hat at this, but if this is new to your child, you may want to start by telling a story about a party where 3 color fairies danced together and there was a magical enchantment that made it so a new color fairy was born when they held hands (or whatever imaginative story you can come up with to demonstrate the secondary colors) or you could just let your child discover on his/her own what happens when red and yellow mix.  In the beginning I used to tell many more seasonal painting stories than I do now, and for the longest time we just “played with color” as we called it, where form is unimportant.  The wet-on-wet technique is great for doing this because the ultra-fluid nature of the paint allows you to continually paint new shapes and designs on the page.  I’d tell stories about spring green and new leaves when we were painting with yellow and blue during spring, for instance.  However, 2 years later, we pretty much just paint whatever we want, forms and all.  Sometimes we still just “play with color” (personally, I love painting rainbows) and sometimes we have in mind what we want to paint.  The nice thing is that if you don’t like your painting, just dip more water onto your brush and smooth out the paint and start over. 

You may want to tell a painting story while you paint.  I bought Brunhild Muller’s book, “Painting with Children” because it specifically states that it contains color stories, but I was very disappointed.  The stories are extremely simplistic and I didn’t find them at all helpful.  I think if you want to go the story route, just make up a simple story as you go.  You can have red do swirls down a slide and then meet blue at the bottom and they hug and run off to make purple footprints.  It doesn’t have to be Caldecott medal quality.  Really.  One of the best ideas I’ve had, or at least to my mind, was personifying the colors.  Waldorf in general likes to turn things into personifications and archetypes (Father Sun, Mother Earth, Brother Wind, Sister Spring, etc.).  Just from doing so much work with color we discovered the concrete properties inherent in the colors themselves.  For instance, if you mix red/blue/yellow food coloring together and then use an eyedropper or pipette to squirt them onto paper towels, the colors will separate with red staying in the middle, blue going to the outside, and yellow kind of peeking out of the middle.  The technical term for this is chromatography.  I know that because my husband is a polymer chemist and he teaches me cool words like that.  In every case, red is “sticky” (ever tried to clean up red food coloring off of a white countertop or spaghetti sauce out of white blouse?), blue likes to “run” to the edges (she’s our adventurous traveler) and “shout” over everybody, and yellow likes to be “happy” but she is also extremely “shy and quiet”.  When you understand these properties of color there really is a deeper appreciation you have for them–they become like old friends to play with.

So, after all is said and done, you place the last painting on your towel or table, sing the painting song again, blow out your candle, and clean up.  It makes for a very fulfilling afternoon.

In case you need a refresher on color-mixing theory:

Red/Yellow = Orange

Red/Blue = Purple

Yellow/Blue = Green (add more yellow for a lime green, more blue for a teal)

Red/Yellow/Blue = Brown or Gray (to get brown, add more red and yellow than blue, and to get gray, add more blue than red or yellow)

If you are feeling adventurous, one technique I like to do is after you do a color “wash” background for your page, you put your dominant index finger inside a prefold or cloth and wipe off a shape in the paint.  It leaves an ethereal white effect, or you can paint over the white with another color.  I’ve also tried drawing on my paper with a white crayon and then painted a “wash” over it to reveal the hidden designs but that is a bit tricky as you have to press really hard with the crayon for it to work.  However, it’s one more fun thing to check out.

If you want to read a less detailed but more poetic account of wet-on-wet painting, check out what Parenting Passageway has to say on this: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/01/02/wet-on-wet-watercolor-painting/ .  Carrie always has such a knack for turning a phrase just the right way.

Also, if you are looking for some fun things to do with your paintings, why not make a book?  http://canticlesbycandlelight.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/das-buch/  Or, if you aren’t feeling that adventurous, what about something a bit simpler? http://canticlesbycandlelight.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/whoa-it-moved-it-really-moved/

No matter what you do, have fun with it and enjoy.  The joy you bring to the painting table is actually the most important part.

Waldorfing the Gifted Child

One of the weird kicks and giggles I like is morphing the word Waldorf–Waldorfish, Waldorfer, Waldorfing, Waldorfy, etc.  I take, from my past few years on Waldorf internet fora, that I am not alone in this endeavor.  Go to any Waldorf chatboard and you are bound to find a thread with the title, “How can I make my home more Waldorfy?”.  I am rather nostalgic when I remember the feeling when I was new to Waldorf and discovered that this was such a versatle word.  Oddly enough, “Waldorf” as a term itself merely comes from the name of the cigarette factory in which Steiner set up his first school following his pedagogy.  I was rather bummed when I found this out, as it somehow took part of the mystery out of the term “Waldorf,” which taken on its own even sounds like gnomes and toadstools to me.

Anyway, on to Waldorfing the giftie … Giftedness is always something that must be discussed with caution because the very nature of the word can put people on the defensive (“Of course my child is gifted! What child isn’t?!”).  I’m just going to avoid that discussion.  I’ll just figure that if you are reading this and you think your child is gifted then you know best.  Our child, age 5, has fit the gifted label since birth and this Fall we are looking to more formalize our Waldorf homeschooling journey.  So, can giftedness and Waldorf coincide?

I think homeschooling is the best answer to that, but I don’t even pretend to be unbiased in this regard.  I think under almost all circumstances homeschooling is a better way of education, even Waldorf education with all of its highly-trained teachers, and this is especially true when you are trying to meet a child’s individual needs, in this case “giftedness”.   One of the reasons I became interested in Waldorf in the first place was in response to Cecily’s giftedness.  I have witnessed too many gifted kids and adults who, while being intellectually brilliant, seem mismatched in other personal and practical skills.  I did not want this for her.  My educational goals for her are really three-fold:  To maintain a natural curiosity and reverence for life, to live a life of spiritual purpose and service, and to develop all necessary practical skills for living a fulfilling and enriched adult life.  Waldorf seemed a beautiful pedagogical method that recognized the spiritual and practical nature of life alongside academics.  I don’t want our homeschooling journey to be a giant checklist of facts to be memorized. So, with these lofty ideals, how is a parent to proceed?

Now, my child is only facing kindergarten this year, so I very well may sing a different tune on down the road, but where I see us headed is starting out on a more traditional Waldorf path and then diverging from the letter of Waldorf pedagogy while maintaining its spirit of combining hand, heart, and head knowledge.  In other words, keeping learning in 3 dimensions and emotionally applicable at all times.  I think Waldorf is a beautiful and deep way to live during the early years especially (I would say 9 and under are the most critical).  I think at this point children need to be led by an authority into knowing which paths of knowledge and purposeful work are useful.  As Cecily gets older I see myself following a more Classically-minded style and possibly ending on an unschooling path, where my presence is no longer required to instruct but merely to facilitate and encourage her interests, which I hope will retain somewhat a balance between intellectual and practical skills.  But since we’re still in the early years, that’s where I will focus.

In my last post I discussed what my plans are for our kindergarten year, and I said that I wanted it to be rich with experiences not so much with academics.  In our home, academics have always been an unschooled part of Cecily’s life–she’s been free to pick up whatever she wants at whatever time she wants.  We have never set out to “teach” her the ABCs or to count or fractions, and just like we never purposefully taught her to walk or talk, she absorbed her surroundings and is at least on par if not ahead in traditional academics.  And unlike many Waldorf moms, her precocity doesn’t fill me with either embarrassment or worry.  (You should have seen the face on the Waldorf teacher at our local Waldorf spring fair last year when Cecily introduced herself by spelling her name, which, to my mind was only practical because the name “Cecily” is rather unusual and most people need to have it spelled before they are sure of the pronunciation.)  Until grade 3 or 4, I am thinking we will stick to a traditional Waldorf curriculum and continuing our current faith in unschooling to meet her needs.  One of the best pieces of advice I have ever gotten in this regard is to not necessarily go faster with academics but deeper.  It is that depth and richness that makes an impression, which is why our focus next year really isn’t on the ABCs of kindergarten but on going ever deeper into the rhythms of life and of the seasons.  It is that time to focus on crafting and handwork and practical care of the home.  Teaching academics can wait for a later time as, in the parlance of that wonderful mothering poem, “I’m rockin’ my baby and babies don’t keep!,” is as true a statement as I’ve ever heard.  I don’t think I will ever regret taking things slowly in the beginning–playing outside for hours, catching lightning bugs, tending our garden, making playdough–these are memories that will sink deep.  I actually don’t care a flying fruitfly if she has her addition facts down pat at this age.  I just really don’t.  She may already … I’m not sure … but it just isn’t something I’m going to focus on in the precious time we have right now.  I do love this deep respect Waldorf has for preserving childhood. However, if she were really pushing for more academics in ways that I couldn’t meet through any other means, then that’s where we’d be.

I suppose, in the end, my advice to raising a gifted child in a Waldorf environment is to 1) Not let Steiner be the end all or be all of your logic (how many times have I heard Steiner quoted as if he were God himself handing down the Law from on high!) and thus freeing yourself from the guilt that comes with having a child who is wired differently than the average, 2) Instead of attempting to go faster or speed up knowledge acquisition, go more in-depth if possible–see how you can make this experience more 3-dimensional and multisensory, and 3) Be open to diverging from Waldorf pedagogy when you sense that is what your child needs.  Your child’s personal needs are the trump card.   Just as my child has no interest in her handmade Waldorf doll I paid $120 for (*sigh*) sometimes our children will not fit the Waldorf standard mold, and it is important to respect that.  Endless Lego play is really not inferior to endless gnome play, regardless of how some Waldorf instructors feel (this hearkens back to an essay in the book “What is a Waldorf Kindergarten?” that I have never quite recovered from).  When it comes to Waldorf, separating the wheat from the chaff and not talking in circles by always coming back to what Steiner said 100 years ago is the first step in making peace with raising a gifted child in a Waldorf path.  As the parent, you, not Steiner, call the shots, and by putting Steiner in his place you can take the good and leave the rest.  There is a wonderful freedom in that, a freedom to enjoy the “gift” of the special child you have been given.

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