Bread and Wine

bread and wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Various authors. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 430 pages.

In addition to some Scriptural passages, I decided this year to add this devotional to my Lenten readings. In many ways, it was a great blessing to me. Many of the writings challenged and stretched my faith in unexpected ways.

Conversely, there were other readings that felt needlessly preachy and even social justice-y, for want of better phrasing at present. One reading which was staunchly anti-gun rendered me particularly confused. Thankfully, the readings of this sort were a minority, but when they came up, it was a distraction which I had to pray to overcome.

If the book was dominated with such writings, I would have abandoned it. However, the reminders of the importance of self-denial, as expressed by the poetic and convicting pens of such writers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine kept me returning to this book to be challenged further.

Because it is so theologically inclusive, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t well versed in the Scripture with a strong grasp of their Christian faith. There are also times when the new Christian might read and find a bar so high she fears she will never reach it. I welcome the opportunity for honest examination of the motives of my heart, but I am also mature enough to understand that the expressions of faithfulness as described in many of the readings can leave the impression that our efforts must always manifest a perfection of spirit and self-denial (as in denial of our humanity not denial of our will) that is nigh impossible to achieve this side of heaven.

I am grateful for what I read, and look forward to reading many of these writings again, while knowing that many of them are less than stellar.

3 out 5 stars.

 

 

Religious education handicaps.

Educating with a religious focus, while well-intentioned, often emphasizes the wrong things.

Just as I was considering the marriage of technology, reading, and education, it occurred to me how often in the early years of our homeschooling journey I wasted money on what is regarded by many Christians as excellent educational curriculum. Judging by the number of books these curriculum producers sell, a lot of people love them.

Over our past 7 years of home education, I’ve dabbled with Sonlight’s curriculum; rudimentary. A beka; hated it. Bob Jones; blech. Most I bought used, so we didn’t take a major monetary hit on them, but I didn’t really like them. For the longest time, it was hard for me to figure out why.

Until we enrolled in our current academic program, a classical one which relies heavily on The Well-Trained Mind and Circe Institute for its educational philosophy, I never found a comprehensive Christian curriculum that worked for us. The only one I like and continue to use is Apologia science.

Recently it occurred to me why I prefer The Well Trained Mind, and Circe in particular. It’s because they are not contrived. They don’t make up poorly written, “Christian friendly” books with the intent of cocooning students. Our kids read real literature, from real books. Books with competing world views and different religious traditions, books where the hero is often not the good Christian hero. Peter Pan is one example; Taro from The Samurai’s Tale another. Teachers converse with the students, walking through the ideas, allowing them to think, compare and contrast what they are reading with what we believe.

If there is one thing that Christian homeschool curriculum developers get wrong (we’ll start with just this one), it’s that in their zeal to impress a Christian “worldview” onto the student, they take away the very thing the kids need in order to bolster their faith: the chance to wrestle with it.

As if on cue, Joshua Gibbs, of whom I am quickly becoming an intellectual groupie, penned his thoughts on what classical educators can learn from stand-up comedians. His entire piece is well worth the few minutes it will take to read it, but about halfway through he explains why much of what is offered in the way of Christian comedy and satire falls woefully short:

When I bring up stand-up comedy, someone invariably says to me, “I love stand-up comedy. Have you seen Brian Regan? He’s good, and his stuff is clean, too.” I do not find Brian Regan funny. I am skeptical of anyone who thinks a comedian worthy of acclaim simply because his routine is not vulgar. While I have no special fondness for dirty jokes, I do believe that comedy is simply a kind of offense— a very controlled offense shared between friends. Brian Regan’s material might be clean, but it is also too friendly, too safe, and accordingly banal. Good comedy is an insult which a man longs to hear. There is an anarchy to good comedy which suggests the poor are being given bowling pin-sized turkey legs to eat and the rich are being sent away with fistfuls of Cheerios. Comedy marvels at the dual nature of man— immortal spirit, farting body— for comedy always involves the juxtaposition of high and low, friendship and shame, dignity and embarrassment. The punchline to the oldest joke in the book is a mockery of man’s desire to overthink and over-intellectualize everything. To get to the other side. Comedy employs laughter to fill the chasm between high and low. Laughter is a bridge.

For this reason, there is usually an element of danger in good comedy, for every joke the comedian tells has three potential victims: himself, his audience, and all mankind. The best comedians are metaphysicians, for in minutely observing their own words and deeds, they can determine which of their sins are universal. We laugh (in fear) at the audacity of a man who confesses the finest nuances of his selfishness, his ignorance, and his laziness, for, in laughing, we are admitting we have done the same, and that we have no defense for our actions. Good comedy is “high-wire truth-telling,” as Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen once put it. The laughter of the audience is a veil which both conceals and reveals they are complicit in everything the comedian confesses.

Clean comedians (at least the ones who market themselves that way) are rarely willing to genuinely insult anyone, and their audiences laugh as though they are being skewered when they are actually getting off scot-free. In the first several months The Babylon Bee was up and running, the satirical news site ran a dozen stories with headlines like, “Local Calvinist Drinks Dark Beer and Has Beard,” as though this was really sticking it to those bearded, dark beer-loving Calvinists out there. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out the writers were Calvinists themselves, and somewhat squeamish at that. If The Bee had opened with stories about Presbyterians trading exclusive rights to the Epistle of St. James to Roman Catholics in exchange for Matt Walsh and half a dozen of the more savage Flannery O’Connor stories, it would have been a different story— but that’s someone else’s joke to make. To their credit, over the last year The Babylon Bee has proven willing to test the thickness of readers’ skin. Comedy proves human community is built on something other than flattery, but this means comedy is necessarily confrontational. When I am finished watching a stand-up special, I want the same feeling of self-awareness which attends an anxiety-inducing, no holds barred sermon. Brian Regan joking about the phonetic pronunciation of “phonics” just doesn’t cut it.

Read the whole thing.

We’ve discussed here before the limitations of explicitly Christian entertainment which I believe are rooted in the fact that Christians shouldn’t be about producing entertainment. Today however, I am considering something different. Namely, how the admirable desire to protect our students can shield them to the point of defenseless when taken too far, as it often is.

I am fully aware that a classical approach to education isn’t the right fit for every student, family, or school. But I do believe that an education which fails to offer its students the opportunity to question and think deeply fails the student.

For what it’s worth, secular government education doesn’t do any better job of helping  students think either. In fact, they are the worst offenders. There is far more to helping someone learn to think than repeatedly telling them that their parents’ views are wrong.

 

The Great Prostate Hoax

great prostate hoax

The Great Prostate Hoax: How Big medicine Hijacked the PSA Test and Caused a Public Health Disaster, by Richard J Ablin, Ph.D. and Ronald Piana. Originally published in 2014, 272 pages.

This is without a doubt the most controversial modern medical book I have ever read, bar none. The backlash against it was swift and strong, as I found out once I began barely scratching the surface to gain some insight into the author’s background. Before I offer my thoughts, here is the goodreads promotional blurb:

Every year, more than a million men undergo painful needle biopsies for prostate cancer, and upward of 100,000 have radical prostatectomies, resulting in incontinence and impotence. But the shocking fact is that most of these men would never have died from this common form of cancer, which frequently grows so slowly that it never even leaves the prostate. How did we get to a point where so many unnecessary tests and surgeries are being done? In The Great Prostate Hoax, Richard J. Ablin exposes how a discovery he made in 1970, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), was co-opted by the pharmaceutical industry into a multibillion-dollar business. He shows how his discovery of PSA was never meant to be used for screening prostate cancer, and yet nonetheless the test was patented and eventurally approved by the FDA in 1994. Now, doctors and victims are beginning to speak out about the harm of the test, and beginning to search for a true prostate cancer-specific marker.

I started this book without a clear position on the subject either way. For certain, I am wary of big medicine, big pharma, and the scalpel-happy specialists who dominate western medical practice. But there have also been men in my life, whom I loved dearly, who battled prostate cancer. The rub in this book is based on a saying the author quoted at the very beginning of the book:

Some men die of prostate cancer. All men die with prostate cancer.

Of course he is referring to men who reach a certain milestone in life -approximately 70 years of age- and the rub is knowing the difference between men who can live perfectly fine and dandy never knowing if they have prostate cancer, and those for whom knowledge is a matter of life and death. The current urological standard of using PSA testing to make these determinations are what Dr. Amblin dissects in his book.

Based on the numbers of men left incontinent, impotent and otherwise impaired by what he feels are unwarranted biopsies and prostatectomies, Dr. Amblin comes down firmly on the minority side of the argument, concluding that using PSA to justify surgeries and biopsies which harm men is unacceptable. PSA is a naturally occurring antigen which can vary based on a number of factors, from horseback riding to an amorous night with one’s spouse right before the test the next morning and as such, Dr. Amblin cautions against the stock being put into it.

He also takes pains to explain the medicinal intricacies, which I found hard to follow at times. The sections where he outlines what he believes were profit driven motives to expand the use of PSA  testing into a must-have test for all men over 50 are quite interesting. All the conspiracy theory sections of my brain lit right up!

However, as the wife of a husband who is not only closing in on 50 years old in the next 5 years, and is also a member of a higher risk ethnic group where prostate cancer is concerned, I can’t say that Dr. Amblin convinced me. He did give us a lot to think about.

four out of five stars

…because I got a good education from this one.

 

 

 

An Experiment in Criticism by C. S. Lewis

Because this post interconnects very closely with my most recent post on the different approaches readers can take when sitting down with a book, I’m sharing it here.

Lewis’ depth of thought certainly gives me, as an avid reader, something to think about. For instance, the notion that it is possible to sit with a book and get no more out of it than one would a half hour sitcom was one image which sprang to my mind.

The question becomes: Is there ever a time when reading is suitable for that?