Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Week of Magellan

I've dubbed this Magellan week at our house. It's actually been our week to talk about lots of explorers, including Columbus, but Ferdinand Magellan and his voyage around the world is the story that has grabbed the sweet girl's attention. We've read about it in Story of the World, traced his voyage (several times) on map and globe, read a picture book biography about him, done coloring pages, and yes, even listened to the Animaniacs' zany take on his journey by watching their "Ballad of Magellan" on YouTube.

This morning the sweet girl told me she'd actually dreamed about being on one of Magellan's ships. "It took us a long time to find India...I got bored," she told me.

And this evening, while we were cleaning up after dinner, she kept racing around declaring she was the lieutenant who made it all the way back to Spain on the very last ship. We proceeded to have this impromptu exchange, a Magellan-era interview (though I kept picturing it with microphones...)

Sweet Girl: I'm home! I'm home! I made it!
Me: Wow! You were gone a really long time!
S: Yes, it was a very long journey! We only have one ship left!
M: What happened to Magellan?
S: He died in the Philippines.
M: I'm so sorry to hear that. I'm glad you made it home safely though. Why did it take such a long time?
S: (pondering)'s a really long trip.
M: Did you finally get to India?
S: Yes!
M: I guess the ocean was really big.
S: Yes, it's really, REALLY big. Here, I'll show it to you on the new globe I'm making!
(she then races to her room and returns with the globe)
S: See? (pointing to the Pacific) It's REALLY big.
M: Wow, much bigger than we thought it was! What did you call that ocean?
S: The Pacific, because it seemed so calm after we got through this river in South America!
M: The Pacific! What a nice name for an ocean.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Radical Message of the Gospel

Yesterday I was reading along in Mark Noll's The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (my current church history read) and got stopped in my tracks by this paragraph:

"The movement of evangelicalism beyond the boundaries of British society had begun. As often in the evangelical story, the prompting of Continental pietists was critical. But even more vital was the evangelical understanding of the gospel as free -- that is, as broader, deeper and higher than the conventions of both British Christendom and Western civilization. Evangelicals in their early decades were not social radicals, yet the message that moved them to action was beginning to have radical effects."

Isn't this a wonderful truth to ponder? Sometimes evangelicals (and Christians of all traditions) can get carried away by their understandable enthusiasm for the past contributions of the church in the cause of social justice. That's good in its place: we should laud the example of saints like William Wilberforce and care deeply about the kinds of things and people that he and other like-minded Christians cared about. But we should also remember where his impetus came from, and why he was compelled to care and to act as he did.

It's the gospel that's truly radical, the gospel that sets people free, the gospel that speaks into people's lives and moves far ahead of any of us in its radical nature. It compels us to be far more radical than we'd ever possibly be on our own. When you look at the legacy of earlier evangelicalism, as it was emerging in the British Isles and North America in the 18th century, you see, for instance, that the evangelical churches' attitudes regarding race, and their work with the African community, is a mixed bag at best. The Wesleys preached the spiritual equality of all people before God. So did Whitefield, to a point (though he eventually accepted slavery and even owned slaves). The Moravians, always on the cutting edge of ministry and mission, didn't speak out directly against slavery, but their actions and their ministry amongst Africans in communities in the Virgin Islands, for example, spoke eloquent volumes about their understanding that all people were made in God's image and needed to hear the good news that alone could set them free. They were far ahead of many of the churches of their day (and many miles ahead of the Anglicans, whose culture-boundedness at this point in their history did not serve them well...has it ever?).

My point: as inspiring as the work of spiritual pioneers like Wesley and Whitefield is, they themselves sometimes struggled with the radical implications of the gospel. It was the radical message of the gospel itself that made them forge ahead, that shaped them outside of their comfort zones. This was true in all sorts of matters, I expect, not just racial matters. I often think about John Wesley, church-born and bred, beginning his ministry not thinking anyone should or could preach outside church walls. God literally moved him *out* -- outside those walls and into the fields where hungry, exhausted miners struggled with poverty and addiction. When Wesley got the place where he said "the world is my parish" it was huge. He'd realized that God was calling him to something much more vast than he could have ever imagined.

The early evangelicals weren't social radicals, but the gospel called them to places they never expected, and they began to see radical fruits because of their ministry. No surprise that a Wilberforce was growing up right behind the Wesleys, no surprise that Wilberforce himself was mentored in the ways of radical grace by a former (and now radically converted) captain of a slave ship. No surprise that the gospel began to have radical effects, because it is indeed "broader, deeper and higher" than any cultural conventions.

And what did all this mean? Well, in the context of the 18th century, the gospel message meant freedom for many people (as it still does today). But it also meant that seeds were planted that are still bearing fruit as we see the enormous and amazing growth of Christianity around the globe now, in the twenty-first century, in all sorts of communities and cultures. Noll calls "the beginning of an enduring Christian presence among African Americans..." "the one truly revolutionary development in evangelicalism" during this time period. We often focus on the ways that evangelical churchmen like the Wesleys sparked revival in the established churches of England (and other English-speaking parts of the world). What I've sometimes failed to grasp is the enormity of the rise of Christian faith among people who didn't need "revival" but who needed to hear the gospel for the first time, the rise of Christian faith "among black communities in the new world," among peoples who often lived as social outcasts and who had "no strong tradition of Christian faith, no stake in church establishments and no heritage of European civilization." This wasn't just revival, it was the evangelization of cultures who had never had the opportunity to hear the gospel before. And it was radical and huge.

God's work often is.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Confessions of a Word Collector

Today I found
these four huddled together
like a flock of geese
that had just alighted
on my coffee table,
Beautiful. Glorious.
Life. Stretch.

I wonder what they looked like
in sky-formation
before they settled down
to peck and preen.
Is it glorious to stretch
in this beautiful life?
Is it beautiful to stretch
for a life more glorious?
Is life, perhaps,
really a glorious,
beautiful stretch?
While I'm contemplating,
ink and paper wings
flutter almost imperceptibly.
From the corner of my eye,
I try to catch them
lifting off.

~EMP, January 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I've Narrowed It Down to Twenty-Seven

A few months ago I posted about the wonderful list of picture books that blogger Elizabeth Bird, over at School Library Journal (SLJ), had written about. She'd conducted a poll and ended up ranking and writing about the top 100 favorite picture books of those who responded to the poll. A great list.

I almost squealed in delight when I saw she's conducting a new poll, this time on favorite fiction books for mid-grade readers. I've been re-discovering how much I love mid-grade fiction in recent years (it seems to be the literary landscape where I feel most at home) and I'm looking forward to actually participating in the poll this time, since I found the post in time. She wants folks to list their top ten and rank them.

Heh. My squealing glee quickly turned to some brow-wrinkling as I began to jot titles. It's not, of course, that I can't think of ten...and plenty more. It's trying to decide what constitutes "my favorite and my best" (to quote Lauren Child's Lola). Even trying to narrow it down to only those books that I think really, truly deserve to make a top ten, I currently find myself with a list of 27!

Well, I've still got a few more days to hammer out the top ten (poll closes at month's end). I plan to post my list here once it's in shape. And I'd love to hear about some of your favorite mid-grade reads!

And speaking of book lists, my annual "favorite books of the year" list is indeed coming. I seem to post it later every January. It's always interesting to look back over the last reading year and see what really jumps out at me as memorable and noteworthy. I do plan to get the post up before the end of the month!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Newbery & Caldecott Winners; MLK Day

The ALA has announced the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott winners! Congratulations to Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, this year's Newbery recipient, and Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse, this year's Caldecott winner. We know the latter but not the former this time around. As always, I'm looking forward to lots of good reading based on the list. You can find the full listing (including all honor books) at the ALA site here.

It's Martin Luther King Jr. day, of course, a day when we always read a book together about King. This year it was My Brother Martin, a picture book written by King's older sister Christine King Farris with wonderful illustrations by Chris Soentpiet. Last year we read David Adler's A Picture Book of Martin Luther King Jr. I also highly recommend The Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., a video presentation that includes the entire "I Have a Dream" speech. If you've never watched and heard that speech in its entirety, it's very much worth your time to track it down (via this video or other means) to do so.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thoughts That Dance

What an odd week this has been, and what odd directions I find my thoughts going in as we reach the end of it.

Like so many people, I've been horrified and saddened by the news from Haiti. My prayers are with the people there who have already suffered so much and now are suffering even more devastation in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Our second year grammar work in homeschool has us studying earth science, and we've actually been reading and learning about volcanoes and earthquakes for the past few weeks. Yesterday we happened upon the chapter in our geography/science text (A Child's Geography: Explore His Earth) on plate tectonics. Just last week we'd begun our discussion of the plates of the earth's crust by boiling a hard boiled egg and cracking it, then coloring the small cracks with marker to get a sense of the way the plates look and how they fit together. Yesterday we talked about their various kinds of movement/motions at the boundaries, and how some of those movements cause earthquakes. We've been reading some of the news from Haiti and praying for the country and its people together; it was sobering to look up maps and see the lines sketched round' that show the boundaries and fault-lines where earthquakes are most likely to happen, and to see how the Caribbean is just ringed by such lines.

One of the enrichment activities in our science book called for doing some stretches/movements to reinforce the learning around certain ways the earth's plates move. Simple things, like standing facing each other, holding hands, and moving apart...the plates diverge. Or standing, facing each other, palms pressed together, and walking toward each other until you have to bend and your arms and hands move up as though a mountain was pushing up...the plates converge. The author called these movements earth's "dance steps." I confess I momentarily hesitated before introducing them that way during this particular week: dance feels like such an elegant, beautiful metaphor in the context of discussing earthquakes right now. But then, there's always that tension really. I recall the sweet girl realizing that when we studied volcanoes. We looked at some photos that were really astonishing in their beauty, fountains of flames shooting up against a dark sky. "They're so pretty," she said, "and so scary."

Yes. Sometimes storms, or releases of the earth's energy, have power and beauty even as we recognize their ability to devastate land and people's lives. But there is nothing beautiful in the havoc they wreak or the suffering endured because of it, though we can begin to see hope again in the outpouring of love and response to the people who are hurting.

All of these things were working in the back of my mind as we began our art appreciation studies this morning. It's our last week on Boticelli, and I'd saved my favorite of his paintings for last...The Cestello Annunciation. I first discovered this painting a number of years ago through Andrew Hudgins' poem "Boticelli: The Cestello Annunciation." It begins:

The angel has already said, Be not afraid.
He's said, The power of the Most High
will darken you.
Her eyes are downcast and half-closed.

You can read the rest of the poem here, and it's very much worth reading, a poem I both love and wrestle with.

The poem has always colored my view of this painting, and today it was colored further by my whirling thoughts about earthquakes, dances, beauty, power, fear, love. There is a sense of a courtly dance when you look at the figures of the painting, with Mary bowed slightly toward the angel who rests on bended knee, speaking to her, about to present her with lilies. He is telling her the news, and it's good news, but as we see in her hesitancy (enforced by the poem) and the one hand that seems to say "stop" it is also fearful news. We forget sometimes that this was, if I may use the metaphor in this week, potentially earth shaking, earth shattering news in the life of this very young girl. Strong words, but I mean them gently. I mean that the mending of the world cost a great deal, on God's part, on Mary's part. That Mary, opening herself and saying the great YES, must have done so with great joy and hope, but also with fear and trembling and awe, for sometimes those things are kin and reside closer together than we feel comfortable acknowledging.

So many whirling thoughts. And to this I will add one more, spoken from the precious lips of my seven year old who stared thoughtfully at the rich reds and golds of this beautiful painting this morning and then said, "But Mary was actually very poor. She probably wouldn't have worn clothes like that." We've been talking about how some painters make Biblical figures look and dress like people in their own day, partly as a way to help people step inside the story and understand its importance in their own every day lives. But it's good and right to note the incongruity, even as we celebrate the inner beauty of the moment and Mary and understand why Boticelli painted this picture as he did. It's good and right to remember, perhaps especially this week, that the beautiful and powerful news the angel brought to Mary was especially good news to the poor.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ehlert Inspired Art

The sweet girl's love of picture books continues unabated. Mine too! She recently informed me that she thinks her three favorite authors are Shirley Hughes, Beatrix Potter and Lois Ehlert. Note that all three of them are author/illustrators...and I could add some of her other favorites like Jane Hissey and Marisabina Russo to that mix too.

We've been in arts mode around here for the past few weeks. I never had a chance to post our Botticelli-inspired Christmas ornaments, but I thought I'd post a bit of Ehlert-inspired artwork we did this past Friday. The inspiration comes from Ehlert's book Pie in the Sky and from this marvelous art project idea from Art Smarts 4 Kids (links will take you to my review of the book on Epinions, and the project on Art Smarts, a great website I've really enjoyed getting to know in recent weeks).

I helped in bits and pieces, but I tried to let the sweet girl do as much of it as possible. I'm trying to learn to be more of a hands-off resource/guidance person when it comes to art projects. I thought this came out really well: we especially enjoyed using the corrugated cardboard to make the tree trunk, and using edges of that textured cardboard to paint/stamp details on the rest of the project.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tell Me It's Not the Dark Side

I did something today I had virtually promised myself that I wouldn't ever do...I joined Twitter.

I know, I know ~ it's so passe that it's almost old-fashioned by now, right? Everybody's on twitter!

My main reasons for not joining before now are easy enough to share. I spend a lot of my waking time on the computer, doing the things I need to do...lesson planning, reading, writing, teaching. Almost all of work-from-home (which is increasing all the time!) is computer centered. I'm in good email contact with family and friends, and I've been on Facebook for a while now, trying to not spend too much time there but enjoying the opportunities it gives me to connect with far-flung folks I love and miss.

And as of today, I've been blogging here for four years!

Twitter just felt like "one more thing." And the temptation to "tweet" (a word I hear has already gone out of vogue...I am just so behind the times!) about my life will be, I suspect, a strong one. What writer doesn't love the notion of crafting little capsules of language about one's life? A chance to move myself into haiku-mode every day!

I've had motivations to join before now. Epinions did a promotion last year where those who tweeted their reviews got entered into a drawing to win an iPod. I should have done it, if nothing else so I could have tried to win one for my dear husband who would so love to be "up" on all sorts of technology, especially musical technology. I resisted then mostly because of time...I just didn't want to put the time into posting all those little urls. Plus I was worried I'd get sucked into the vortex.

I succumbed now because I have a chance to win books by Eugene Peterson. Yes, you knew books would be involved in this temptation somewhere, didn't you? And I don't have to tweet anything! All I had to do was join so I could follow the publisher! Honest! I promise! That's all!

Sigh. I do love Eugene Peterson's work. And of course I won't win...

Y'know, it occurs to me that if Darth Vader had ever wanted me to join him in ruling the universe, I would have had no problem screaming along with Luke "I'll NEVER join you!" But if he'd offered me a do know that's when Beauty truly fell in love with the Beast, right?

Let's just hope that twitter is a prince in disguise and not the dark side.

P.S. Just in case you want to find me on twitter...not that I've tweeted anything (and I won't, right? Right?) you'll find me listed as endlessbooks.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Kings Shall See and Arise

And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him-- for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength--he says: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (Isaiah 49:5-6, ESV)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Editing Dance

I've done editing work for years. Both in paid positions and as a volunteer, I've edited many newsletters. I've edited articles. When I was in seminary, I spent a semester copy-editing and formatting footnotes and bibliography for a doctoral dissertation, possibly the most tedious job ever.

And of course I revise and edit my own work: articles, reviews, short stories, academic essays.

But until recently, I've never been asked to edit someone else's novel. I'm finding it a fascinating experience.

That's what I've been doing for the past few nights: a second read-through of a mid-grade allegorical novel (with some fantasy elements). My first read-through came last month. The author of the book, someone I've been acquainted with slightly for years, had a self-imposed deadline for a phase of the project and was looking for someone who could give him a quick read-through and a fast copy-edit, all in a week. I agreed with enthusiasm, but discovered something I should have already known (and will now never forget): you can't read through a novel for the first time with a pencil in your hand.

At least I can't. I love stories, and when I read a new story, I try to be as open and receptive as I can be to the story itself. That's partly by natural inclination and partly a habit I've tried to train myself in, thanks to sitting at the feet of the charitable and wise C.S. Lewis for so many years. So moving into a story for the first time is an intense experience for me, and I had a hard time separating out my "receptive reader" from my "clear-headed critic and copy-editor." I realized it almost immediately, but simply didn't have time to read a 22 chapter book through more than once in the middle of a busy week near the end of a school term. So I soldiered on, though as I told the author later (when he and I both realized that such speed had not served us as well as it might) I had a hard time catching small errors in passages I read through blurred vision due to tears over the death of a major character.

So I was delighted when the author came back to me with a proposal that I read the work again, this time more slowly. He had shifted his timeline (he's self-publishing) and we were in agreement over some areas of the story we thought could be improved. This time through, I'm getting to take my time, to linger, to really think through issues of story: the way the narrative flows, how action reveals character, issues of pacing, ways the author can show more and tell less. It's more of a developmental edit. I'm still copy-editing, but that's a side dish this time: the main course is getting to savor a story I already know and love and help make it even better.

I'm discovering that there are moments in this "editing dance" that are especially challenging. It's been so long since I've provided feedback on someone else's deeply creative work, I'd almost forgotten (though not really) the importance of respecting the music and tapestry of their work. It came back to me as I tried to decide what to advise cutting, changing, re-arranging.

If this were my manuscript (and would that I had a full-length manuscript of a novel anywhere near this quality...maybe in another season of my life...) I would know precisely what to do with it. I don't mean that in an arrogant way, and I don't mean to indicate that my own work doesn't need feedback from other readers. I'm simply saying that I have a confidence when revising my own work that I lack when when making suggestions about someone else's. I can be quite ruthless in my own revising, cutting words with abandon, tightening for the sheer joy of tightening...but then, when it's my own story, I know the characters intimately, and where I'm hoping to take them, and how the story first came to me and what's imperative that I keep. I understand its particular rhythm and flow.

Aside from obvious helps to the flow of the story, I'm less certain about how to proceed with stylistic advice to someone else. Just as a for instance, this particular author tends to use slower, more passive construction and pacing than I would use. My initial tendency was to want to change all that wholesale, until I began to stop and think about why he might have chosen that particular rhythm in certain places...because of some particular chapter settings, the cultural context of the tale, the natural way some of the characters speak, and simply the "music" of his own prose. There are still places where I'm recommending more active construction and a tightening of some of the prose, but I find myself treading lightly in other places, especially now that I realize how much that particular rhythm just suits this story. My questions regarding his original intentions and purpose for those places, however, have provided some good food for discussion so perhaps ultimately that will help strengthen the work too.

It's all a bit of a dance, and I feel a bit clumsy with the steps still, but oh I'm enjoying the process. Even better is the blessing of realizing how much of my life as reader and writer (in the past ten years or so in particular) has equipped me to be able to learn on my feet. Loving story, as it turns out, is a pretty good prerequisite for this kind of work.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

2010: The Year of the Butterfly Calendar

A happy new year! 2010! I still feel like I'm catching my breath on that one, and it may take me a while to fully grasp that it's really here.

My husband and I have been discussing what we'll call this year. I've heard people say "two thousand ten" and I've also heard folks try out "twenty ten." What do you find yourself saying so far? I think most of us got into the "two thousand habit" in recent years, but "twenty ten" has a nice ring to it and harkens us oldsters back to the good ol' days when we said "nineteen" something...something my seven and a half year old can't fathom!

I loved that the second day of the new year fell on a Saturday, as we got to do all of our favorite family new year's shopping traditions: we bought next year's Christmas creche figure (on sale) and this year's kitchen calendar (on major sale). As those of you who have read this blog for a while know, our little girl always gets to pick the kitchen calendar. Last year was the year of the dachshund in our kitchen, which turned out to be bittersweet since my parents' eighteen year old beloved-by-all-of-us dachshund died in February last year.

This year the sweet girl went for butterflies, long a favorite passion of her's, though this is the first time she's chosen a butterfly calendar. It's really lovely.

The house is a mess after two weeks of travel, holiday festivities, time off from school (for the sweet girl) and frantic paper grading, syllabus tweaking and editing project (me) but the kitchen at least has some bright touches: a lovely red kalanchoe plant on the table, gift from a co-worker of D's; a small but beautiful piece of pottery my sister sent for Christmas; and now the butterfly calendar.

May blessings and beauty flutter through this season of new beginnings for all of us.