Sunday, December 20, 2009

Should We Celebrate Christmas?

Tonight I spoke on the question "Should We Celebrate Christmas?" In short, the answer is "yes". There are plenty of good reasons for Christians to celebrate Christmas, and, looking at the shepherds in Luke 2, plenty of good ways to celebrate Christmas.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jonah: Reluctant Prophet, Persistent Rebel

This morning I preached a sermon on Jonah 1: Reluctant Prophet, Persistent Rebel. The key questions I focused on are, do you love your enemies? and do you love your neighbours? Jonah refused to love his enemies (Nineveh) and he overlooked his neighbour (sailors), and so he missed out on the blessings of miraculously successful evangelism (Nineveh) and reaping a full harvest while the field was ripe (sailors).

Friday, November 06, 2009

Harry Chapin on ballad music

A student recently reintroduced me to the music of Harry Chapin. So I have been listening to several of his songs lately, many of which I had never heard before. To him, life is a story that needs to be told. One of the best ways to tell a story is with a tune. He once said, "Because a song don't have much meaning... when it don't have nothing to say." As an English teacher, I frown on the double negative, but in his colloquial way, he makes a great point. In a meaning-starved world, it is refreshing to listen to a modern musician that still had something to say. Chapin was a remnant of the true minstrels from days long since past. Anyway, below is his live performance of one his his most famous songs, "Cat's in the Cradle". His style is folksy, his poetry is vernacular, yet his stories are enthralling.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

This weekend I read Flannery O’Connor’s novella Wise Blood. I hadn’t read O’Connor for a few years, and I felt like I needed a break from Virgil and Schaeffer, my two staples as of late. Picking up O’Connor again, reminded me of the perceptivity of her writing. Her style is accessible and engaging and her characters are palpable albeit grotesque; yet most compelling is her insightful portrayal of reality, which is both comical and accurate.

In Wise Blood, the main character—Hazel Motes—is attempting to deal with the problem of sin and redemption by denying the existence of sin and the soul altogether. In his spiritual quest to deny spiritual needs, he ends up preaching a “new” gospel: the Church without Christ. His effort to find freedom from sin by denying “sin” results in a false conception of the real world, a world which is rank with sin.

In the novella, a small demonstration of this impractical relativism can be seen in O’Connor’s symbolic use of Haze’s automobile. The “rat-colored car” is an unreliable lemon he purchased for $50 at a shady used-car-dealership. Haze refuses to believe the truth about his car: i.e., it is a pile a junk. Below is a comical demonstration of ridiculous relativism. (Excerpt from Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor)

Haze had driven his car immediately to the nearest garage where a man with black bangs and a short expressionless face had come out to wait on him. He told the man he wanted the horn made to blow and the leaks taken out of the gas tank, the starter made to work smoother and the windshield wipers tightened. The man lifted the hood and glanced inside and then shut it again. Then he walked around the car, stopping to lean on it here and there, and thumping it in one place and another. Haze asked him how long it would take to put it in the best order.

“It can’t be done,” the man said.

“This is a good car,” Haze said. “I knew it when I first saw it that this car was for me, and since I’ve had it, I’ve had a place to be that I can always get away in.”

“Was you going some place in this?” the man asked.

“To another garage,” Haze said, and he got into his Essex and drove off. At the other garage he went to, there was a man who said he could put the car in the best shape overnight, because it was such a good car to begin with, so well put together and with such good materials in it, and because, he added, he was the best mechanic in town, working in the best-equipped shop. Haze left it with him, certain that it was in honest hands.
After the car is “fixed” it continues to be an unreliable clunker. Like Haze, the car was in need of a radical redemption, a recreation, a rebirth. Haze’s refusal to believe in spiritual redemption translated into his refusal to believe the automobile needed “redemption”, a “salvation”. He kept searching for a “truth” he could believe in, a “truth” that corroborated his fixed mindset. The real truth of the first mechanic’s appraisal remained constant throughout the story, despite the contrary opinion of the rip-off artist at the second garage.

Wise Blood, although at times grim and gritty, is a weighty and philosophical book. All of O’Connor’s stories are chalk full of humorous yet profound anecdotal and symbolic vignettes, which illustrate the powerful role of redemptive grace in the real world. More Christians ought to read her work. Her short stories, in particular, are the best I have ever read. As one Christian writer states, allusions to O’Connor’s writing should be a common currency among Christians. Next time I allude to Haze’s “high rat-colored car”, you will know what I mean.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Autumn in Algonquin

I spent the weekend canoe tripping in Algonquin with students from my school. It was cold and rainy, but the autumn colours were glorious.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Little Women... Big Musical

Rehearsals are now underway for my school's holiday musical extravaganza, Little Women, based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott (1832–1888). I am directing a stellar cast of talented young women and young men, and I am working with a very gifted director of music. This is my second foray into the world of directing musicals (my first experience was in 2008 directing The Sound of Music). I use the word "foray" because I feel like I am entering someone else's territory and taking spoils. When I was a high school student, I was never involved with the theatre productions at my school. Of course, they used to put on plays like Oedipus Rex and Flowers for Algernon... 'Nuff said.

Little Women The Musical is a fairly new Broadway production, premiering in 2005. The musical, however, is solidly rooted in the classic story by Alcott. The script also appropriately balances drama and humour and the musical numbers are surprisingly delightful. I am surprised because "21st century" and "delightful" rarely go together. Yet, every time I get fed up with the tidal wave of ugly art and post-modern doggerel flooding the creative world, I am pleasantly startled by something beautiful and good. Unfortunately, I find these occasional "roses among thorns" almost exclusively in popular media... e.g., musicals and Hollywood films. Perhaps there is hope in the masses, people made in the image of God, who still prefer truth, beauty and goodness.

This musical is by no means deep or profound; no musical ever is deep or profound. But it is not shallow and meaningless either, which is often the case with the high art one might see at the Toronto Film Festival. So, what is it? It IS delightful.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Great Conversation blogspot

I have launched a "commonplace blog" for one of the courses I teach. The blog is called The Great Conversation. The course I teach is Classical Civilization, a senior course focusing on the literature, philosophy, culture and history of the Greco-Roman world.

A commonplace blog and a Well Educated Mind

My students are collecting from their readings any interesting, pithy, thought-provoking quotations/excerpts and posting them to the blog. Some posts are simple quotations; some posts will include commentary, analysis and reflection. My hope is that my students will do more than "read" the assigned texts; my hope is that they will take in, interact with and learn from the texts we are studying.

The idea to create a "commonplace blog" came from reading The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer (2003). In the book, Bauer writes about commonplace books, books where readers would gather and collect quotations from what they were reading. It serves as a record of some one's intellectual journey through collected passages from his readings. Below is an explanation of the origin and methods of keeping commonplace books:

“Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life. Erasmus instructed them how to do it… The practice spread everywhere in early modern England, among ordinary readers as well as famous writers like Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Milton, and John Locke. It involved a special way of taking in the printed word. Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality. . . . The era of the commonplace book reached its peak in the late Renaissance, although commonplacing as a practice probably began in the twelfth century and remained widespread among the Victorians. It disappeared long before the advent of the sound bite.”
—Robert Darnton, “Extraordinary Commonplaces,”
The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000

The Great Conversation

My plan is for the creation of a class set of collected quotations and commentary, posted in the blogsphere. Students will listen in and contribute to the Great Conversation---that is, three millenia of writing, discussion and thinking about the ideas and values that have shaped Classical and Western civilizations. Collectively, we can chart our intellectual growth and changing perspectives as a class.

Why Blog?

Blogging adds a public and communal aspect to the commonplace book; students can read and comment on each other's thoughts, positions and opinions. Students are exposed to varying perspectives on the same texts they have also read. Blogging also adds a "published" aspect to writing. Students need to organize their thoughts in a way that can be understood. They are writing for an audience. They must adhere to the conventions of grammar, spelling and vocabulary. This is not always done perfectly... but the students are no longer writing for a mark. They are writing to communicate to other people, in their class and in cyberspace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

At L’Abri: A Personal God

Several months ago, I began a series of blogs entitled, At L’Abri: Learning from Francis Schaeffer. My plan was (and is) to read as much of Schaeffer’s writings as possible in one year. My hope was to read Schaeffer exclusively, but alas, that has not been the case entirely. A few other books have crept in... However, of (or on) Schaeffer, I have read the following:

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Duriez (biography)
True Spirituality
Mark of a Christian
Art and the Bible

I am currently reading Escape from Reason and my church is going through Schaeffer’s How Then Shall We Live film series.

What I have been meaning to do for quite some time is blogpost about some of the nuggets of wisdom I have been mining from the mind of Schaeffer; and, there have been plenty of precious nuggets along the way so far.

Let me offer one nugget Schaeffer repeatedly stresses: our God is a personal God, who knows and deals with us personally, intimately and individually.

The power of this point has become increasingly clear both from my reading of Schaeffer and from my study of other faiths. I am presently teaching an Apologetics course during our Christian Education hour at my church. The series is focused on World Religions. As I have been preparing for this course, I have been struck by the vision of god (or gods, or supreme entities, supernatural force, etc), which so many religions in the world cling to. The vision is of an impersonal, aloof “power”, which lacks personality and which has little (or no) specific interest in the affairs of individual human beings. What a contrast to the infinite, personal God---the God of the Bible---who is not only infinitely interested in human beings, but also interested in individual people. He knows me better than I know myself. He loves me; He died for me. He works in me. His dealings are not general, but specific. He deals with me personally.

“How beautiful Christianity is---first, because of the sparkling quality of its intellectual answers, but second, because of the beautiful quality of its human and personal answers. And these are to be rich and beautiful… But these human and personal answers do not come mechanically after we are Christians. They come only on the level of what God made us to be in the first place, and that is personal. There is no other way to have beautiful answers.” True Spirituality

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Imagining Reality: Hamlet

The central reason for Shakespeare’s continued appeal over the last four centuries is his ability to depict reality, to give a true portrait of the real universe we inhabit. In particular, Shakespeare gives us insight into the human condition. It is important to note that Shakespeare’s portrayal of reality is not banal like so-called “reality” TV---dull, predictable, meaningless and crass. Rather, Shakespeare's portrayal of reality is rich, textured and at times, sharply perceptive and deeply painful. This portrayal of reality is often lost by modern audiences because of the poetic depiction. Indeed, I have never met three, bearded witches in the Scottish highlands nor have I been caught in the midst of a bloody family feud in fair Verona. But poetry is often a better venue for communicating the intangible realities of life in this universe.

Such is the case for prisoners at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center. For the prisoners, the reality of Hamlet was both remarkably real in a literal sense and poetic sense. Recently, my brother sent me an article by Jill Carattini (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) where she cites a performance of Hamlet, which was performed at this correctional facility (1):

“…For a group of prisoners at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, Hamlet, both the man and the play, hit disruptively home. Over the course of six months, a prison performing arts program gave a handful of criminals, who are living out the consequences of their violent crimes, the chance to delve into a story about a man pondering a violent crime and its consequences. The result was a startling encounter for both the players, most of whom were new to Shakespeare, and the instructors, who long thought they knew every angle to Shakespeare’s tale, but came to see how much they had missed. One man, in order to play the character Laertes, found himself reckoning with the temptation to manipulate as a means of getting what you want, only to realize a kind of cowardice in such actions. In a moment of clarity through the life of another, he admits, ‘I can identify with that [struggle] and I can play that role very well—because I’ve been playing that role my whole life....To put a gun in somebody’s face—that’s an unfair advantage. That’s a cowardly act. And that’s what criminals are; we’re cowards.’ He then admits with striking transparency, ‘I am Laertes. I am. I am.’”

What struck me most powerfully about this story is how a “fictional character” impressed upon the convict’s heart the true nature of his actions and his crimes… All the legal statements and court proceedings, media articles, victim impact statements---even a cold, hard prison cell---failed to show him the deep, cowardly reality of his crime. It took a story, a four hundred year old story, to awaken his soul and his mind to reality.

This event reminded me of the prophet Nathan when he told a story to David. It was a parable that David took literally; David's reaction was outrage and cries for justice, until Nathan said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12). David failed to see the wickedness of his adultery and his scheme of murder until confronted with a story. Even in Hamlet, the pensive prince uses drama to elicit the guilt of the murderous brother Claudius: “the play’s the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” (II.ii). Claudius couldn’t help but react when confronted with the reality of his crimes through imaginative storytelling.

This is why God created humanity with an imagination---not to waste on wishful thinking or empty dreaming---but to gain a clearer picture of reality. Carattini continues in her article to comment on Jesus’ use of story. She writes, “Jesus places us beside images of a kingdom that turns things around, stories that shock and offend us, metaphors that wake us to the presence of a surprising God, to the mindsets and pieties that block us from seeing this God, and to the abundance of divine grace that beckons us to look again and again.” May you exercise your imagination when you read Shakespeare and when you read the Scriptures. Awaken your mind to the poetry, the imagery, not for art’s sake but for Christ’s. Don’t forget to imagine.

(1) As heard on This American Life with Ira Glass, 218: Act V, October 12, 2007.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Momentary Marriage...

When I was newly engaged and then newly married, I read half a dozen books on marriage. Now that I am 12 years into marriage, I assumed I had a good handle on this marriage thing. Hmmm…

Recently, a single friend of mine gave me a book called This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. Odd title, I thought. When I read the book, I realized that I still have much to learn about marriage. This book is not a “how to have a happy marriage” guide but rather, how to be married as God intended. What is the difference? The priority in marriage is on demonstrating Christ’s permanent love for His church TO the church and TO the world. Piper writes, “I pray that we will all recognize the deepest and highest meaning of marriage---not sexual intimacy, as good as that is, not friendship, or mutual helpfulness, or childbearing, or child-rearing, but flesh-and-blood display in the world of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church” (175). The focus is not on our happiness, but the glory of Christ. Marriage is a “parable of permanence”---that is, a temporary illustration (“until death do us part”) of the real, lasting union between Christ and His church. In glory, there will be no marriage, no husbands and wives, only THE Husband and His wife, the church.

John Piper has a tendency to turn my thinking upside down on just about every topic he writes or speaks about. Piper has been married 40 years, and yet the heart of his marital wisdom is not from his experience with his wife Noël, but rather, the truth of the gospel. So, Piper focuses my attention---rightly---on Christ. My marriage is not for my benefit, but for God’s purpose. Granted, marriage IS beneficial to husbands and wives, children and society. But, that is not why we get married and stay married.

This is a book written to the church, not to married couples. So, this is a book newlyweds and seasoned marrieds should read. This is a book that singles should read. This is a book that widows and widowers should read. This is a book that divorced people should read. This is a book that parents, grandparents and non-parents should read.

The church has much to learn on this subject, especially in a day and age where four out of ten marriages end in divorce and many weddings have become a self-indulgent and hyped-up prom. Reviewer Wayne Grudem writes, “I have taught about marriage for over thirty years, and I still found much that I could learn.” This is one of the best books on marriage I have ever read.

Piper, John. This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence. Crossway: Wheaton, 2009.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Coffee Wars

Tim Horton's was the genesis of my coffee drinking. In my earliest days of imbibing of the "coffee bean" nectar, I ordered the "double double". As my palate matured, I moved to just one cream. Despite the history I have with Tim's, I have since converted to Starbuck's coffee. I realize that Tim's is a national institution, and I admire the way Tim's brings people together to talk. There is always a hum of chatter when I go into a Tim's. People always hold doors open. People are friendly and familiar. For some, Tim's is like Boston's "Cheers" or an old English pub, where "everyone knows your name."

But, I find that the coffee is too bitter. Very few people actually drink Tim's coffee "black"---it seems to need double cream, double sugar... or, I frequently hear, "triple triple".

Starbuck's coffee is, in my humble estimation, the best coffee available. It tastes authentic. Authenticity is hard to come by these days. The only problem with Starbuck's is the associated "snobby" image. I often see people sitting alone, peering into laptop screens, marking papers or reading books. No hum of chattering people, just softly playing jazz music in the background and the occasional squeak of bottoms on plush leather seats. The clientele seems elevated and superior. Not that BMWs can't be seen in Tim's drive-thrus, or that Chevys aren't seen at Starbuck's parking lots... it is just a general impression one gets. Starbuck's is for the elite; Tim's is for the common man. So, even though I prefer the common man venue of Tim's, I have a greater preference for Starbuck's coffee.

To add to the dilemma, however, is McDonald's. Here you will find very inexpensive coffee. In fact, I ordered a huge coffee and a muffin this morning for $1.93 (tax incl.). To make matters worse, the coffee is superb. I am not sure how authentic it is... (with McDonald's, no one can be certain what you are eating or drinking) ...but, it tastes almost as good as Starbuck's coffee.

In addition, the cup is well designed. It has an extra paper layer surrounding the cup, providing insulation for your hand and the coffee is hot to the last drop. My Tim's coffee is always too hot at first and then gets cold near the end. Not so with McDonald's coffee. The lid is large, like Starbuck's lids, but it has a convenient lift-tab over the hole, that actually stays open when you press it back. I find that Tim's lid tabs sometimes fail to stay open. You know what I am talking about. Most embarrassing. Everyone around you acts like an expert because everyone has had a million cups of Tim's coffee in their lifetime and have had relatively few problems. Even so, one in a hundred lids seems to malfunction. Inevitably, I tear the tab off and I am stuck with a sharp plastic bit digging into my lid. McDonald's design, on-the-other-hand, is made for the customer's supreme enjoyment. The high lid also means that your lips press against the rounded drinking hole rather then against the paper cup (a la Tim's). This is usually not a major problem, unless the Tim's employee places the lid opening over the cup-seam. You know what I am talking about. Your lip doesn't seal properly to the cup because of the seam and you dribble coffee on your shirt. Another problem with the Tim's lid is the "overfilled cup." I have spilt coffee on a number of occasions because of overfilled Tim's. This never happens at Mc'D's because of the high lid, and Starbuck's always asks "room for cream?", so they leave appropriate space.

In the end, I make coffee at home more often than not. It is cheaper and porcelain cups make the coffee tastes a whole lot better. I must add that I still go to Tim's occasionally. Canadian identity has a fragile existence, and a coffee shop founded right here in Hamilton by a hockey player is too Canadian to pass up. Besides, the doughnuts are excellent bar-none.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Canoeing in Killarney

I have heard Killarney Provincial Park described as the jewel of Ontario's parks. Now that my son and I had a chance to visit Killarney last week, I have to agree. I was impressed by the rugged, natural-beauty of the the park. The first lake we canoed was Bell Lake; it was calm, glass-like and gorgeous. The portages were deserted and our campsite on Johnnie Lake felt remote and tranquil. We had a gorgeous little beach at the mouth of out site and we had a wonderful view of the setting sun.

We did not see any wild life, which gave me the authentic sense that we were truly in the wilderness. Bill Mason, the legendary Canadian outdoorsman, always said that seeing wild animals in the wild is actually very rare. He ought to know.

It was wonderful to be out with my oldest son, exploring new territory and discovering for ourselves the "jewel of Ontario Parks!"

Friday, July 31, 2009

Papa and Nate Go Canoeing

Nate leading the canoe over shallow waters.

Almost a decade ago, I attended a seminar presentation on planning a father-and-son canoe trip. Led by my friend Mike and his son Ben, they gave testimonies of their experiences while canoeing together in the Canadian wilderness. I have never forgotten the impact "canoe tripping with dad" can have on a son (or daughter). So, when my oldest son turned 8, we had our first trip. It was a truly unforgettable experience. We have since been on one other trip and we are planning our third to Killarney this summer. Now that my second son, Nate, has turned 8, his turn has also come. We went to Algonquin Park this week for our first father-and-son canoe trip. We have been camping together since he was five, but this was his first wilderness expedition with me. We canoed 12 km into the interior of Algonquin Park. We camped on a small island overlooking a cove filled with loons, wood ducks and a blue heron. Despite some rain, we had a marvellous time. We also saw three moose during our trip, two of which swam to our island in the wee hours of the morning.

A moose just a stone's throw from our tent.

In addition to discovering (firsthand!) the beautiful wonders of God's creation, the greatest blessing is the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my son. I hope to learn more about who my son is, and who he is becoming. I also pray that he will witness authentic Christianity by spending every waking (and sleeping) moment with me.

So much wilderness, so little time.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Scout and Jem Go Camping

I just returned from my first "father-daughter" camping trip with my 5 year old Katie. We camped at Rock Point Provincial Park. It rained nearly the entire time, the tent was leaky, and the site was covered with muck, water, and mucky water.

While trapped in our tent on the first day, my sweat-pea said, "I really like camping with Papa."

After the first wet night, I was ready to pack it in and go to McDonald's for breaky. She persevered in persuading me to stick it out; so, I cooked on the Coleman under an umbrella and we ate breakfast sheltered by the back-hatch of the van.

She even wanted to stay another day.

Best part of camping? Scout replies, "Being allowed to run through puddles." We had plenty of puddles to spare this trip.

Monday, July 06, 2009

At L’Abri: The Spirituality of Schaeffer

Last night, I gave a message on the life and spirituality of Francis A. Schaeffer at Pilgrim Baptist Fellowship in Ancaster. Below is the link to the message.

“How beautiful Christianity is---first because of the sparkling quality of its intellectual answers, but secondly because of the beautiful quality of its human and personal answers.”
---Francis A. Schaeffer, True Spirituality

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band

Here is a song from one of my favourite British folk bands. This is an absolutely beautiful Christmas tune... (I know, it's only June...)

Monday, June 08, 2009

George Parkin Grant on Education: Teaching "purpose", teaching "wisdom"

This evening, I briefly paused from grading examination papers, and I picked up a book I recently borrowed from the library. It is a collection of philosophical essays by George Parkin Grant. Here is an excerpt that struck me.

Reason is at first only present in us potentially and not actually. It needs to be developed, and developed by education. Education is seen as the process by which a person comes to think clearly about the proper purposes of human life. (How different this is from our modern technical education which is simply concerned with teaching people how to get on, never teaching them where they are getting to.) In the old theory of education, when a man began to see what was the ultimate purpose of human life, he was said to be wise---to have the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom was then the purpose of education. It was the condition which men reached through reason, as they came to know what were the purposes in human life truly worthy of a rational soul.

George Parkin Grant “Natural Law” Philosophy in the Mass Age, 1959

Monday, May 25, 2009

At L'Abri: Mercy for Doubters

When I read Colin Duriez’s biography of Francis Schaeffer, a number of things struck me about the life of this extraordinary man: I was impressed by his intellectual devotion to orthodox and reformation theology and his sincerity in evangelism and ministry. What struck me most, however, was the impact Schaeffer had on doubters and agnostics; the impact stems from Schaeffer’s commitment to the historical reality of the Christian faith in the past, future and PRESENT. Throughout Schaeffer’s ministry, he emphasized the reality of Christianity in time and space, not merely intellectual propositions, but true, tangible reality.

He came to understand this reality during the period in Schaeffer’s life that he referred to as the crisis. In 1955, Schaeffer was serving as a missionary while living with his wife and family in Switzerland. He was struck by the incongruity between the power spoken of in the Scriptures the lack of power experienced in his own Christian life. He was also distressed by the seeming impotence of the Christian church in general. Despite the devotion to truth and doctrine, the most disturbing observation Schaeffer made about Christianity was the lack of love shown by many professing believers for each other and for the lost. It seemed to him that intellectual ascent to purity of doctrine did not—by mere default—lead to God honouring lives in practice. Something more is needed. If the Bible is true, then it must be true in reality, not just in the realm of the abstract. The Bible speaks of “power” in the lives of believers, but why was there so little power evident in real life? He spent many months hiking the roads and trails in the Swiss Alps, as well as pacing the upper floor hay loft of his chalet, pondering the reality of Christianity. He returned to a state of agnosticism. Edith was distressed by this, but she prayed fervently for her husband during his time of doubt.

Thankfully he came out of this period of doubt with a deeper understanding of Truth. After reflecting on Christianity, he concluded that it is truth; what he also discovered was the reality of this truth. Christianity is more than doctrine, intellectual suppositions, theological musings… it is reality…. Later in Schaeffer’s ministry, his own experience of honest doubt would make him well suited in addressing---with compassion and love---the doubts of hundreds of Christians and non-Christians who would visit L’Abri. In Jude, Paul writes, “Be merciful to doubters”---this verse encapsulates Schaeffer’s ministry. It calls to mind the way Christ handled Thomas’s doubt---with compassionate but unwavering truth, real truth, truth in space and time, truth in the PRESENT---“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” This is how Schaeffer spoke to the doubts of so many people. He compels people to come to terms with the historical, future and present reality of God in the universe. Christianity is not just a philosophy, a moral compass or a collection of “good ideas” to guide us through life. God is real in space and time and His power and presence can be experienced in space and time.

When I pondered the impact Schaeffer had on doubters, I became aware of how little the evangelical church openly addresses doubt. Doubt is certainly something we must overcome, but in order to do so, doubt should not be ignored; doubt must be addressed, prayed about and preached on. It takes faith to address doubt; we need to believe that God will answer doubters. Even though Christians may question their faith, He will not remain silent. The end result is always a deeper faith.

Schaeffer’s thoughts on spirituality materialized in a series of talks centred on the Book of Romans. He shared these reflections with the many visitors who came to L’Abri. Later, he organized the talks into a taped lecture series, and eventually, a published book entitled, True Spirituality. Although this book was published later in his ministry, the ideas in it form the heart of his work and the raison d’etre for L’Abri. For those interested in discovering the writings and thought of Francis Schaeffer, this book is an excellent place to start.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Abortion is still an issue

A student recently sent me this YouTube clip; it is an excerpt from a sermon by John Piper. I am reminded that Christians cannot remain silent about the millions of unborn children who have perished in Canada and the US since the decriminalization of abortion. Abortion is still an issue. Abortion is still wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Teaching 21st Century Novels

I just finished a novel that I was previewing as a possible text to teach next year. It is called, Water for Elephants. It is a New York Times best seller and was highly recommended by a number of avid readers. In the past, I have taught The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Old School by Tobias Wolff. I make a point to include 21st century novels on my reading list for Senior English, but alas, I am often disappointed with the trite, anachronistic, and unauthentic content of post-modern literature. Protagonists are spineless at the beginning, and they remain spineless at the end. They resolve the crisis of their "spinelessness" by simply embracing it. They lack moral fortitude when it comes to the “conventional” morality, but they are stalwart defenders of political correctness. Water for Elephants was no different. The captions on the cover say things like, “I couldn’t put it down for one minute.” I must admit, there were times I couldn’t pick it up… even for a minute. The novel is set during the Great Depression. It begins with a slighty contrived crisis in the life of a young man about to graduate from Veterinary program at Cornell. His parents are suddenly killed in a freak car accident and he is left penniless because the bank---unflinchingly---foreclosed on his entire inheritance. So, he runs off with the circus… (I know… THE CIRCUS…?). In truth, that is the most interesting part. The author researched extensively the American travelling circus in the twenties and thirties. The circus is a fresh and interesting setting, full of possibilities for examining the strange and bizarre behaviour of human beings---both those who go to the circus, and also those who run a circus. Unfortunately, the author fails to develop, with any authenticity, a single believable human being in the story.

The protagonist, Jacob, was a man ahead of his time... Way ahead. In fact, it seemed as though he just entered a Vancouver Star Buck’s and was inadvertently sucked into a trans-temporal worm hole, thrusting him into the previous century. I may have bought into the tribute to post-modern relativism and egalitarianism if I could have seen some growth in the character caused by relevant experiences. The novel begins like a Bildungsroman, but the protagonist never really comes-of-age. His character is static---other than loosing his virginity; he doesn’t really learn anything or change. Even when the novel alternatively flips from the 1920s circus to a 21st century nursing home, we see no real growth in the elderly Jacob compared to the youthful Jacob. And, as a result, the reader experiences no growth either; we are simply served up another helping of the bland post-modern, 21st century tofu and rice cakes we get from media like un-real "reality" TV.

Political correctness seems to be the backbone of the novel. The most glaring anachronism is the fact that the protagonist is innately unprejudiced toward people groups who have been historically discriminated against: women, prostitutes, Jews, short people, stout people, labourers/working class, and so on. No classicism and no prejudice. I am not upset with the values he holds; however, as a reader, I am disappointed with the unjustified presence of late 20th century values. His resolution to adhere to political correctness (while still damning the sinister bourgeois) comes without any catalyst. In contrast, Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, demonstrates the reality of how values are formed; Huck undergoes conflicts between experiences, his conscience and external pressures. Through a series of incidents and personal struggles, Huck eventually overcomes the social and societal prejudices instilled in him and he realises that Jim is truly human being… truly the best of men. In Gruen’s novel, however, the protagonist starts the novel fully acclimatised to modern values. He is an egalitarian who has more in common with the likeminded working class than he has with upper management of the circus. The irony is, of course, he comes from an upper middle class family (his father is a veterinarian) and he attended a veterinary program at Cornell. While rubbing shoulders with the elite at Cornell, in a professional program, with peers who are rich enough to be studying at a prestigious school during a depression… it is unlikely he would be sympathetic to the poor, working class. Yet, lo and behold, when he finally meets poor, working class people, it turns out they are all decent people. Even the “rough” security personnel do their job reluctantly. I also get the impression that Jacob is a feminist (who although tempted to objectify women, resolves—inexplicably in the novel—to treat women with equality and respect); in addition, he is an animal activist, engineer of social welfare and a moral relativist. Very modern indeed. I am surprised Jacob isn’t also a vegetarian who decries the amount of garbage the circus creates. That would be going too far, perhaps. In the ending of the novel, Jacob takes on a very 21st century demeanour when he refuses to grow up (even though he is now 93 years old) and he opts [spoiler] run away with the circus... again.

What I did like about the novel is the vocabulary. Gruen has clearly researched the vernacular of the circus and she uses vivid precision in her diction. At times, though, it seemed she was using a thesaurus too often, when simpler words would do, in an effort to present a high-brow façade to divert the reader’s attention from the contrived storyline: an orphaned veterinarian running off with the circus, falling in love with a show girl who is already married to a mean and nasty man, and ending up adopting a pet elephant, marrying the girl and working at a zoo. I am very surprised the publishers accepted this pitch. A vet, the circus, an elephant and a happy ending… perhaps they were confusing the pitch with a James Harriot novel.

After finishing the novel, I turned back to Homer’s The Iliad to finally draw to a close my reading of this epic poem. It was like going from a lunch of instant microwavable mac ‘n cheese and no-name pizza pops to an evening dinner of steak, baked potatoes, sautéed mushrooms and red wine. Why can’t we write stories like Homer anymore?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

At L'Abri: Schaeffer for Today

I recently read Colin Duriez’s biography of Francis Schaeffer (Francis Schaeffer: An Authenitc Life). In the preface he states that his biography is the first comprehension survey of Schaeffer’s life. Providentially, it was published last year, just as I planned to explore the works of Schaeffer.

Many Christians I have spoken with have never heard of Schaeffer; I find this fact bewildering. Granted, I first heard of Schaeffer when I was 18 years old, but it wasn’t until years later that I heard more about Schaeffer during an Apologetics course. The appearance of Duriez’s book is timely, then, in reviving interest in the contributions and thought of Francis Schaeffer. Duriez is already well known among Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fans. Duriez’s biography of Schaeffer will no doubt segue the 21st century reader to Schaeffer’s works, especially for those readers already familiar with Duriez’s contributions on Lewis and Tolkien. There is a need to bridge the gap for many Christians who have not read or heard about Schaeffer. His insights on the state of the world at the end of the 20th century is even more relevant today, as much of his “prophesies” about the coming decline of Western civilization is a striking reality in the 21st century.

His name was first mentioned to me by a Youth Pastor, Calvin Russell, who was giving me some tips on an up-and-coming backpacking tour of Europe I was planning for the fall of 1994. Russell recommended that I stop by L’Abri in Switzerland. As it turned out, I only made it to Geneva during my three month, eleven country tour of the old country. For whatever reason, the Lord did not lead me to L’Abri that year. Now, fifteen years later, I am encountering Schaeffer. The timing couldn’t be better.

I am currently reading True Spirituality. I hope to post a little about Duriez’s biography on Schaeffer and explain why I am starting with True Spirituality.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At L'Abri: Francis Schaeffer on Education

I recently read an article taken from a speech by Francis Schaeffer where he addresses education. As I read the article, I began to realize how much I have allowed secular humanism to creep through the backdoor of policy and curriculum into my teaching-practice as an educator. The heart of the matter is understanding reality, the reality of our students and the reality of the world our students need to learn about. The clarity with which we understand reality is determined by our worldview. One of the fundamental messages from the works of Schaeffer is that worldview matters. Nowhere is the clash between worldviews more evident than in education.

Christian Education recognizes fallen humanity

The secular approach to education begins with an unreal notion of the human condition of its students. This is why so many teachers at all levels of education are bewildered by student apathy, disrespect, slothfulness and dishonesty. Policy and program is mandated to remove consequence, to encourage egalitarian (and anti-authority) levelings and to molly-coddle students’ emotional whims and self-indulgent habits. I am beginning to sound like a curmudgeon, but I don’t think I am exaggerating. Anecdotal evidence corroborates my assessment. In an article by Margaret Wente from The Globe and Mail (April 18, 2009), she cites a number of professors, principals and teachers with similar observations. She writes “The teacher’s job is no longer to educate them up to a certain standard but to ‘meet their needs.’” At the heart of human sin is self-centredness. Educational policy-makers and curriculum-writers placate this human tendency of our fallen nature to be heliocentric.

The Bible is clear that pride is self-destructive, yet modern education is designed to inflate student ego and self-esteem. Wente laments, “no one has ever given them an accurate assessment of their skills.” She writes, “the biggest problem is the mismatch between students’ abilities and their aspirations.”

Christian Education should be a superior education

In Schaeffer’s speech, he articulates some of the distinct qualities of good education, particularly Christian education. Whether you homeschool or send your children to Christian schools, Schaeffer’s comments apply. He states that Christian education should be more than reactionary to the “materialist view… that rules out a Creator”. Many Christian parents withdraw their children from public education in order to shelter them or protect them from humanistic and secular indoctrination. These are good reasons to seek education for your children elsewhere, but the alternative needs to be more than an intransigent rejection of public education. Schaeffer writes, “[Christian education] should be a superior education, if you are going to really protect the Christian school. It should certainly teach the students how to read and write and how to do mathematics better than most public schools enjoy today.” The end result of Christian education should be truly intelligent, well-trained and intellectually challenged graduates. Why? For the glory of the Creator. The Head Master of Bradford Academy, a classical Christian school in North Carolina, writes “We believe the glory of God encompasses all of life and how we live it. We want our students to live and think about life in such a way that God is glorified in all things.” (Johnston)

Christian Education should address all human knowledge

Schaeffer continues, “Christian education should produce students more educated in the totality of knowledge, culture and life, than non-Christian education rooted in a false view of truth. The Christian education should end with a better educated boy and girl and man and woman, than the false could ever produce.” For Schaeffer, Christian education means that students learn to appreciate and learn about “the full scope of human learning.” This includes the arts and humanities, which has recently fallen out of favour in modern approaches to education, including Christian education. Art, music and literature doesn’t seem to have a place in Christian learning. But Schaeffer forces argues the opposite. “If the Judeo-Christian position is the truth of all reality, and-it is, then all the disciplines, and very much including a knowledge of, and I would repeat, an appreciation of, the humanities and the arts are a part of Christian education. Some Christians seem absolutely blind at this point.”

Teaching about the Christian faith should not be compartmentalized from all other aspects of student learning. I have learned this from Schaeffer as well. The Lordship of Christ covers all areas of life.

Total Truth and the Educated Person

Schaeffer gives an imperative for educators to expose our students to “the framework or total truth, rooted in the Creator's existence and in the Bible's teaching, so that in each step of the formal learning process the student will understand what is true and what is false and why it is true or false.” Education in this country will never improve until it reconciles itself to the reality of the Creator.

"Is life dull? How can it be dull? No, a true education, a Christian education, is more than the negative, though that is there. It is giving the tools in the opening the doors to all human knowledge, in the Christian framework so they will know what is truth and what is untruth, so they can keep learning as long as they live, and they can enjoy, they can really enjoy, the whole wrestling through field after field of knowledge. That is what an educated person is."

Francis A. Schaeffer


Johnston, Jeffrey S. “For What Purpose?” Nuntias Vol. 4 Issue 1, Mebane: Bradford Academy, Winter 2009.

Schaeffer, Francis. “On Education” Excerpt from “Priorities 1982”, two speeches given at the L'Abri Mini-Seminars in 1982.

Wente, Margaret. “We pretend to teach ‘em, they pretend to learn” April 18, 2009. Toronto: The Globe and Mail.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

At L’Abri: Learning from Francis A. Schaeffer

Over the past year, I devoted my reading time to the writings of C.S. Lewis. Some of my moments of discovery and illumination I shared on this blog. I called the series, “At the Kilns: Learning from C.S. Lewis.” Over the course of the coming year, I am planning (D.V.) to devote my reading to the writings of Francis A. Schaeffer. The new series is called, “At L’Abri: Learning from Francis A. Schaeffer.”

“L’Abri” is the name Schaeffer and his wife Edith gave to their ministry in Switzerland. The word is French for “the shelter”. L’Abri began as a one-on-one, face-to-face, ministry to youth and university students who visited the Schaeffer family in the mid to late 50s. They used their Chalet in the Swiss Alps to host anyone who had questions about all aspects of life on earth. Schaeffer believed that the Lordship of Christ extended to all areas of life and the cosmos, and therefore no topic or question escaped his notice or attention. Before starting L’Abri, he served for many years as a pastor in the United States and then as a missionary in Europe. Inspired by a love for Christ and His truth, as well as a fervent love for the lost and needy, the Schaeffer’s opened up their home to hundreds of visitors. Through hospitality, genuine Christian living, solid answers to tough questions, and a submission to the work of the Holy Spirit, many people came to know and love Christ through this ministry.

Francis Schaeffer’s ministry expanded into an extensive “tape” ministry, which visitors (eventually called students) could listen on their own while staying at L’Abri. Schaeffer lectured on and discussed a plethora of topics, ranging from art, philosophy, politics, to truth, faith and the Bible… and everything in between. Later Schaeffer began speaking and lecturing at conferences and seminars in Europe and North America, leading to the publication of numerous books, which would sell in the millions in over twenty different languages. In the 1970s, Schaeffer expanded into film, bringing the reality of Christ’s truth and love to millions. In 1984, Schaeffer succumbed to cancer after a seven year long battle. Even in his dying days, Schaeffer was continuing to speak with people and give lectures, sometimes arriving at locations on a stretcher! Even when he was at the Mayo clinic in Rochester, undergoing chemotherapy treatment, the doctors and nurses arranged for Schaeffer to give a seminar presentation. The presentation turned into a conference at which they expected about 500 people to attend; in the end, over 1500 people attended!

Schaeffer also established several L’Abri ministries around the world, and today there are over ten L’Abri ministries, functioning much the way it did in Schaeffer’s time. People coming to stay, listen, read, talk and learn about themselves and their Creator.

Although I am not studying in the serene and majestic mountain setting of the village of Huémoz where the Swiss L’Abri is located, I will be spending the year, through his life and literature, listening and learning from this heavenly gifted and blessed man of God, Francis August Schaeffer.

Barrs, Jerram. "Introduction" True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. Illinois: Tyndale, 2001

Duriez, Colin. Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008
L’Abri Fellowship Official webpage, “History of L’Abri”

Monday, April 13, 2009

Satchel, shoulder bag, man-purse?

During spring break, I spent 12 days leading a small group of my students around Great Britain. Consequently, as the lead teacher, I was required to carry a considerable amount of paperwork---medical records, contact information, emergency protocol policies, etc. To facilitate this perpetual lugging of a preponderance of paperwork, I brought along a satchel. Almost immediately my fashion-conscious youth commented on my “man-purse.” To nip this in the bud, I directed their attention to the paragon of masculinity… Indiana Jones. Does Indy carry a “man-purse” or a satchel? ‘Nuff said.

Indiana Jer and the Satchel of Manhood: Stonehenge, England

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why do students hate poetry?

Why do students hate poetry? One of the main reasons students dislike poetry, I suggest, is because students have been trained to look for “story” in all the literary works they encounter. Overemphasis on story is evident in the sort of literature students are asked to study.

The bulk of teacher-sanctioned classroom reading material is narrative.

Novels, movies, short stories and graphic novels provide clear, discernible plots for our students to find; poetry offers them a sublime experience that is discernible only after a concerted effort on the part of the reader.

This overexposure to narrative fiction, coupled with the fact that we live in a time when entertainment and information come in flashy, overly explicit and simplified forms, results in our students' aversion to the seemingly "dull", implicit and complicated forms of poetic expression.

Why we should emphasize POETRY instead of PROSE

Human beings have a natural affinity for story; we tell stories, we enjoying hearing and watching stories and we understand our lives in terms of story. Literary education has capitalized on this natural love of story in order to foster student interest. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, teaching “story” has been over-emphasized. Whether in the form of comic books, graphic novels, plays, movies, short stories or novels, “story” has been the backbone of English education.

The consequence is that students now expect to find plot is almost every piece of creative writing they encounter. When poetry is taught, many teachers choose to teach ballads or narrative poetry. Even in narrative poetry, however, “plot development” is rarely the raison d'être. As a result, when a student encounters a lyric poem, or if the narrative is veiled or vague, he throws up his arms in despair: “pointless”—“I don’t get it”—“stupid”—in other words, the student is impatient for clear meaning because that is what he has been taught to look for.

Certainly great literature is more than “plot”; however, many students miss the “poetic” aspects of prose because they can easily and effortlessly understand the story. Since that is what they are used to look for, they often stop there. I have heard many English teachers complain that students provide “plot summary” instead of analysis. Understanding plot is the effortless part of reading prose fiction. A good story teller should be able to clearly convey plot! When a student is asked to find the “deeper” meaning of a novel or short story, they are really being asked to understand the poetic meaning. The symbols, extended metaphors, allusions, imagery, etc. of a novel are the poetic elements. This is, I argue, the heart of literary exploration. Reading plot summaries is not reading literature. Reading and understanding the poetry within the prose is what true literary reading is all about. Plot can be a distraction to poetic understanding. Therefore, in early years, we should begin teaching students more poetry and less prose. We should also emphasize poetry in our curriculum from K-12. Poetry is the gateway to understanding all other forms of literature.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

At the Kilns: Oxford

I just returned home from a 12 day whirlwind tour of Britain, beginning on the West Highland Way of Scotland and ending on the crowded streets of metropolitan London. Along the way, I had an opportunity to visit Oxford, the long-time home of my beloved C.S. Lewis.

The city has been dubbed the city of Dreaming Spires. From ground level, it is hard to see the spires, but from a higher vantage point (or on post cards), it is quite clearly a “spired” if not “dreaming” city. The first chance I had, I visited Magdalen College. Oxford University consists of 39 colleges, many of them beautifully and uniquely built and designed. One of my guide books, however, described Magdalen as the most striking of the colleges. It is situated on the edge of town along the River Cherwell. A number of picturesque walking paths run alongside the college grounds and a 300-year-old deer herd pastures around the buildings in The Grove. My interest in Magdalen College, however, was primarily a result of my great interest in the life and writing of C.S. Lewis, who taught for many years at this college.

I walked to High Street and entered Magdalen College (pronounced Maudlin). I paid the entrance fee and navigated my way to “The New Building”. The building is called “new” even though it was built in 1733; relatively speaking, it is significantly newer than the Gothic buildings that make up the rest of the college. In this building, C.S. Lewis had his “rooms” while serving as a Don and Tutor for thirty years. As a salaried teacher, he was given a suite of rooms (room 3, on staircase 3). In these rooms, Lewis wrote many of his books, essays, lectures and sermons; it is also where he made his conversion from atheism to a belief in God in 1929. The rooms are currently occupied by a professor and are inaccessible.

After enjoying the exterior of New Building, I made my way to Addison’s Walk, where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson had their “long night talk” in 1931. The three argued and discussed religion and mythology, after which Lewis concluded that Christianity is a “true myth”. At this point, Lewis only believed in God, not in Christ. Eight days later, by the grace of God, C.S. Lewis became a Christian on route to the zoo in his brother Warnie’s motorcycle sidecar. Having read so much about Jack Lewis, I almost considered Addison’s Walk to be a mythological place, not a place where mythology was debated. I strolled down this beautiful walkway, enjoying the solitude and calmness of early spring in Oxford.

Along the wall near the beginning of Addison’s Walk, there is a plaque with a poem by C.S. Lewis inscribed on it. It was installed on the centenary of Lewis’s birth in1998. The poem is entitled, “What the bird said early in the year”. It is about the hopeful coming of Spring experienced along Addison’s Walk. I suspect the poem was written before Lewis’s conversion, but it seems to express his yearning for lasting joy and his sense of the eternal.

After enjoying the tranquil setting, with its birds chirping and bees humming, I returned to the centre of town at St. Giles street to rejoin my group of students. Later that evening, I caught a bus from my hotel to the famous watering hole of the Inklings---“The Eagle and Child”. The pub is situated on St. Giles and appeared exactly as I had seen it in numerous photographs. The pub, which is also alliteratively dubbed, “The Bird and Baby”, was founded in 1650. The name of the pub is taken from Greek mythology, with Zeus as an eagle stealing the infant child Ganymede. From 1939 to 1962, the “Inklings” met here on Tuesday for lunch and literary discussion. The Inklings consisted of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Warnie Lewis, Charles Williams, Neville Coghill and many others. The Inklings also frequented many other pubs during their time meeting together. When I went into the pub, I was aware that the “back room” used by the Inklings (called the Rabbit room), was no longer a back room. While the Inklings were meeting at the Bird, a new owner decided to add an extension into what was then a pony yard behind the pub. The Rabbit room became a room leading to the extension. With the loss of privacy, the Inklings sought another venue for reading and critiquing each other’s works in progress.

When I entered the pub, the Rabbit room was just opposite the bar counter and was occupied by seven patrons. Slightly disappointed, I retreated to the back extension and wrote in my journal. After sometime had passed, the Rabbit room opened up and I sat down where the great literary figures met. I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I had hoped. What I needed was some good fellowship with dear friends. After enjoying my second pint, I asked the waiter to snap a picture of me in this famous corner of literary history.

The next day, we packed up our luggage, loaded the bus and drove a short four miles to Headington Quarry. We unloaded on Kiln Lane and I walked (quite anxiously) up Lewis Close at the end of which I found Lewis’s home, The Kilns. Originally, the property was nine acres and included a small orchard, greenhouse, brick kilns, a tennis court and a small pond. After Jack’s death and his brother’s death ten years later, the property was parcelled off to developers. The home itself became a residence for students. Only recently has The Kilns been restored by the C.S. Lewis Foundation to replicate the time the Lewis brothers et al lived at the home. It is not a museum and is only open for tours via appointment. The Foundation restored the home to function as a research centre for serious scholars of Lewis. I made an appointment and we had a wonderful tour of the house. The Foundation has done a marvellous job restoring the house to its former glory (in fact, Douglas Gresham, stepson of Lewis, claims that it is in better condition then when they lived there). Over a hundred volunteers from the US worked to make the Kilns functional in the style and décor of the time Jack lived there. I have never seen such care and attention to detail. If you are in Oxford, then I urge you to make an appointment and visit the Kilns.
The house is decorated with period furniture, although none of it is original to The Kilns. The advantage of this is that visitors can actually sit down and touch things. There are also pictures of Lewis and other residents of the Kilns spread around the home. Several of the photos I have never seen before, which was a splendid treat.

The only original pieces are Warnie’s typewriter, which he used to type out Jack’s manuscripts, and an original pub sign for the Bird. The latter was purchased by Walter Hooper several years ago and is on display at The Kilns.
Below are a picture from Lewis’s bedroom and a picture of me standing outside the staircase Jack used to get in and out of his room.

After visiting the Kilns, we made our way to the CS Lewis Community Nature Reserve which used to be part of the Kilns property. The small pond was created when the property actually was a working brick kilns. The operators excavated the clay from the ground and the hole they left was filled by a spring. Jack and his brother, along with Paxford the gardener, maintained this pond during their time living there. They had a punt to float about on and they used to swim there. It is now a pleasant nature reserve for a variety of flora and fauna.

Just under a mile away is the church where Jack and his brother worshipped---Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry.

In the cemetery surrounding the quaint old church, I found the burial marker of the two brothers C.S. Lewis and Major W.H. Lewis.

I cannot begin to describe the pleasure it was to visit so many sights related to C.S. Lewis, a man who I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. It was through Lewis’s imaginary wardrobe into Narnia that I began my serious life-long love for “story”. Jack has shaped my thinking about literature, my philosophy of education, my spirituality and my life. I thank God for using this man for His glory and for the building up of His church. I am but one of millions who have been blessed by Jack’s writing and his life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

At the Kilns: Best laid plans...

Perhaps the cause of my non-existent blogging as of late is because I have not fulfilled any of my “At the Kilns” goals from year end 2008.

What have I been doing? I am still reading the Iliad… My “almost finished” in the previous post was a bit hasty. I am still enjoying the masterfully written epic poem, even though it is incredibly gruesome, especially now that Achilles has entered the battle field. I am truly “almost finished” now.

Another delightful diversion from my reading goals is a UK travel book by Bill Bryson. A dear friend and colleague---also a Brit---gave me this “assigned reading” in order to prepare me for my March Break tour of Britain. The book is entitled, Notes from a Small Island. It is a hilarious and interesting read, peppered with the occasional expletive. Officially, I do NOT recommend the book.

My wife and I have also started reading Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice together. This was an idea that emerged during a particularly cozy and delightful tea time. She has read the Austen books countless times. I have watched the A&E Pride & Prejudice countless times. Now that we are reading P&P together, I can’t believe I settled this long with the mini-series. Oh, what I have been missing!

For school, I am re-reading Old School by Tobias Wolff. A student has "accidentally" picked up my clearly marked and personally annotated copy of the novel. There are no online aids or literary guides available, so I suspect a student settled for Mr. Johnston's notes... I also re-read Euripides' play The Bacchae for my Classical Civilization course. I should really blog about this play sometime. I also saw another Greek play, Medea, by Euripides at the Canon Theatre in Toronto. I should blog about that too... sometime...

My “At the Kilns” reading has been moved to “In the Loo” reading… Christian Reflections… “almost finished”… One thing I have learned from Lewis is that I still have a lot to learn from Lewis. Reading a paragraph of C.S. Lewis is like opening a trans-dimensional worm-hole to another galaxy populated by stars of illuminating insight and planets of "down-to-earth" wisdom. What a gift to Christendom he is. I am really looking forward to visiting Oxford in March; hopefully I will be able to be---literally---“At the Kilns” .

As I near March Break, I need to decide what travel reading I will bring... if I will take a Lewis book or two to wrap up my foray "At the Kilns" or if I am going to begin foraging "At L'Abri"... Perhaps I should be more concerned about what I should pack for clothes... but in the advice of Erasmus, who once wrote (loosely translated from Latin), "When I travel, I first pack my books, and if I have any room left over, I pack underwear and clothes." Wise words.