Saturday, August 29, 2009

Richard Furman on Teaching Your Children

While working on a chapter on communion I came across a circular letter written by Richard Furman in 1806. Furman was one of the leading Baptist pastors of the time, serving as pastor of First Baptist Charleston, SC, the first president of the Triennial Convention, and first president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. In this letter he had been asked to address area churches on the issue of communion. As he closed his letter, he moved from his main topic to give a closing exhortation on the parental duty to instruct your children. His words ae still pertinent today.
(Furman writes in the plural here because he writes as the representative of the pastors of the association)

Let us particularly urge attention to the state of your families, a duty which we fear is greatly neglected. The instruction of your children, and especially their religious instruction, is of the utmost importance to them and to yourselves; nor should your servants be forgotten; religious instruction should be given them with care, to bring them to an acquaintance with the holy scriptures, and the things which concern their eternal peace. That you may abound in every good word and work, and be enriched with all the blessings of grace and salvation, is the prayer of

Your affectionate Brethren in the Gospel

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Princess and Curdie

The Princess and Curdie, by George Macdonald
(J. B. Lippincott, 1908), hb., 305 pp.
Ages 8+

As I have already stated in an earlier post, I think this is an excellent book and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. It will join the ranks of our favorite books (like those by Lewis, French and Bond). I was not overly impressed with the previous book, The Princess and the Goblins, but this one was wonderful in a number of ways.

The Princess and the Goblins struck me as primarily as a book for girls. I think my daughter will enjoy it (when she is a few years older) more than my boys and I did. The Princess and Curdie, however, is a great boys’ book! Curdie is the central character in this book whereas the Princess was in the last book. There is plenty of action and good “rough and tumble.” The quote I posted previously is a good illustration of this as it directly speaks to the issue of the place of fighting in a boy’s life. The book then describes some of the battles in very matter-of-fact, straightforward terms. When wicked dogs attack Curdie and the dog the grandmother sends with him (Lina), Curdie drives the point of his mattock through one dog’s skull and Lina finishes off the other. When the two owners then advance on Curdie and Lina brandishing weapons, Curdie states, “Don’t be afraid Lina. … I’ll kill one- you kill the other.” This may be too much for some, but I appreciated it as a picture of straightforward courage. Violence for its own sake is never endorsed. But when wickedness attacks, Curdie is an example of responding in a firm and measured fashion. Throughout the book, Curdie is an example of fighting wickedness.

Personal responsibility is also a key theme in the book. The chapter where Curdie and Lina first enter the King’s city struck me as a powerful commentary on contemporary society as local businessmen complain that the king (government) has not taken care of their problems. They are not willing to handle their own issues or take responsibility but expect others to care for them. The wicked servants in the palace also are lazy and sloppy. This laziness has led to dishonesty as well. When they are confronted with their sin, rather than repent they abuse the messenger. So much of the story rings true in everyday life. This- along with the lively manner of the story- made it fun to read and discuss.

There are many other great lessons illustrated in the story. Often I paused in reading to ask, “What Bible story does that remind you of?” This made for fun interaction between the story and the Bible.

Also, the language itself is wonderful. Macdonald’s English is older so some phrases would sound archaic today. Some I simply “translated” on the fly, but most of the time I read it as is because it was beautiful and gave great opportunities to ask what my boys understood and what they did not. Hopefully this has expanded their vocabulary and skills of expression as we read.

It seems that our experience with this book was similar to that of the publisher of the edition we read. In the “Publishers’ Note” at the beginning of the book this comment is made:
Few stories for children have afforded greater entertainment than “The Princess and Curdie”- moreover it has made its readers better for their acquaintance with it. Who of us is there who has had the good fortune to know it in childhood, but does not cherish its memory as one of the dearest possessions? It is one of those few perennially fresh and attractive tales that have become the classics of childhood in our language- those tales whose memories remain with us through the years.

There are numerous versions available including two online sources- Google Books and Page by Page Books. The 1908 Lippincott edition is beautiful with very nice illustrations.

Whatever form you can find it in, we heartily commend this book.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Work of Christ Portrayed by John White

We have recently finished reading Gaal the Conqueror, volume two of John White’s Archives of Anthropos series. I previously reviewed volume 1, The Sword-Bearer.

I plan to review this book soon, but in the meantime, here is an extended excerpt in which White portrays the work of Christ at the cross. I thought this section was particularly well done. I was moved reading it and could not suppress a wide smile and triumphant gesturing as I read. You probably have to read the whole thing to appreciate this section, but I will try to capture it here in excerpt. A few explanations of characters are needed. Gaal is the Christ-figure- Son of the Emperor, incarnate to redeem creation. The satan figure is here portrayed as a bull (though he changes forms often in the story). John and Eleanor are the children from our world who have been transported to Anthropos. The first Regent (from the previous volume) portrays Adam. Anthropos is inhabited by various creatures, but humans only entered the world once the Regents (Adam and Eve) came. All the humans are thus descendants of the Regents. Pontificater is a winged horse (but if you read the book he is more complicated!).

“ ‘It is true that you will kill me,’ Gaal said. ‘you were a murderer from the beginning, and you are a murderer still. But when you kill me, it will be only as a knife kills a victim, a knife in the hands of a greater executioner. We both serve the interests of a higher justice – I willingly, knowing what I do, you as a fool and a liar.’
The bull roared so suddenly that John and Eleanor both jumped. It was hard to say whether it roared with rage or with laughter.
‘Justice? What is justice? Only power matters now.’ It raised its head and shook it slowly from side to side as though it marveled at Gaal’s stupidity. ‘Even now you fail to grasp reality. You are not the victim of justice but my victim. Do you hear? My victim!’
‘Not so,’ Gaal replied quietly. ‘I am the victim of the One who must be true to himself! He is the real executioner, and his alone is the sacrifice. You are nothing more than an implement in his hand.’”

“ ‘Word, words, nothing but words!’ the bull bellowed. ‘Your only weapons are the words that come out of your mouth. Justice is a word – nothing more. What can words do? I have power. You die because I choose to kill you. The game is over. You are between my hoofs. I have won! Do you suppose I do not know you, Son of the Emperor? Ho, ho! The son himself’
‘You are forgetting something,’ Gaal replied quietly.
‘I never forget anything.’
‘You forget that I am also the last Regent. As the Son I do not fight with such as you. You were my servant once. But I am not only the Son.’
The bull’s eyes had narrowed to slits. It had ceased to paw the ground. ‘Well – and what of that?’ it said.
‘You deceived and defeated the first Regent!’
‘Just as I have defeated you.’
‘And so you have ruled his descendants as a tyrant.’
‘So I have come as a Regent. I come to do what the first Regent failed to do – to overcome your tyranny and to undo what the first Regents did.’
The bull dipped its head in mock reverence. ‘And how will you do that, my Lord Last-Regent?’
‘You deceived the first Regent. You have not deceived me.’
‘But I have defeated you. What else matters?’
‘Not so. I am the last Regent, and I will give you a mortal wound. You will live for a time, and you will know you are defeated. It is not you who will defeat me. I am the one who will defeat you. I live forever.’
Then the bull roared yet more loudly, ‘Let us see!’ Lowering his head to the ground he rushed at Gaal. Gaal stood still as the black mass pummeled the ground in its race toward him. John lurched. Eleanor screamed. Suddenly the bull gored Gaal with one of his horns, tossed him high in the air and watched him disdainfully as he fell to the ground, to lie in unnatural stillness like a cursed and broken thing.

The bull raised its head and shook it, opening wide its throat and bellowing in triumph, ‘Now let the vultures pick at your bones! Your words were brave, but your strength was feeble. And as I have dealt with the Son, so shall I deal with the Emperor himself!”

[Gaal though wounded rises to finish his work by striking down the bull]
The bull had also knelt, and its head fell wearily forward. Sword in hand, Gaal surveyed it. He spoke softly but his words were clear, seeming to float through the still air to the most distant watchers with the greatest clarity. ‘Your time has come,’ he said. ‘Your power has now been broken, and death has lost its sting. For a little while you will make trouble. But your dying is now beginning.’ The bull made no sound.
Gaal placed his sword on the ground, strode to the bull and placed his right foot on the creature’s head. Then seizing the horn nearest him he tugged at it, tearing it
from the bull’s head and flinging it aside. The bull gave a roar of pain. He seized the second horn and tossed it aside too. Then he returned to Pontificater, picking up the sword which he raised above his head. Lifting his head skyward he cried with a loud voice that must have echoed among the invisible stars, ‘The task is accomplished! It is ended – done!’” (239-245)

After this Gaal does and later is resurrected. The Adam Christology, allusions to John’s gospel, and illustration of victory through suffering were great! This was a fun book to read which also was full of good theological and practical lessons.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

“There are plenty of bad things that need killing”

I am well behind in posting on books we have read. I hope in the next few days to at least post some quotes from some books we have recently read. For tonight, here is a good quote from The Princess and Curdie, the sequel to The Princess and the Goblins. So far this sequel, has seemed better suited to boys than the first book.

The author has mentioned that Curdie has made himself a bow and arrows and with practice has become fairly proficient. Along the way he decided to shoot a white pigeon he had been admiring. Those who have read the first book know, as Curdie should, that these white pigeons belong to and work for Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother. Curdie shot it anyway, and then, overcome with grief, ran to the castle to see if he could find the grandmother, repent and see if the bird could be healed. The grand old Princess does heal the bird and forgive Curdie, simply requiring of Curdie that he improve his ways and never again “kill anything without a good reason for it.” Curdie in excitement over his forgiveness promises to destroy his bow and arrows right away. The Princess’s response is classic and instructive:
“No, no, Curdie. Keep them, and practice with them every day, and grow a good shot. There are plenty of bad things that want [need] killing, and a day will come when they will prove useful.”
This is the real truth, but not very often told in children’s books today. We encourage not pacifism, but restraint and wisdom. For, we know there are bad things which need destroying. I intend to raise sons who can recognize such bad things and are able and willing properly to wield destructive force when necessary.

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