Ten Reasons Why I Loved Home Schooling

I know many of you are ready to pull out your hair with your kids confined to home 24/7, and I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it would be to have an emergency start in the middle of the year with kids in various grades, without any teaching manuals, and likely many parents trying to work remotely from home to boot. I totally and sincerely empathize! However, I also want to mention that home schooling, when planned for (and I spent my entire summers preparing for the school years), can be an amazing experience both for the parents and the kids.

Why am I on a soap box today shouting out praises for home schooling? Because some people are suggesting that home schools should be banned, probably based on personal frustrations over homeschooling, which is especially testing the patience and stability of homes during this COVID crisis.

If you’re among those who think homeschooling should be banned, please read this helpful article by a Harvard alum (PhD) who home schools her four children:

https://fee.org/articles/harvard-magazine-calls-for-a-presumptive-ban-on-homeschooling-here-are-5-things-it-got-wrong/?fbclid=IwAR3PCAm51mqVZ5PghJGFFs7Ywg2fgWYauoaP1xQrWIK-CR7uaWfSkCduJGU

Kerry McDonald isn’t unique in being a brilliant woman who values her children’s education above her own career ambitions. My closest friend during our early homeschooling years had a PhD in statistics from Princton and gave up a glowing career to home school. Today I have friends who are both physicians, although the wife gave up her career to home school their beautiful family and told me not long ago that their oldest was just accepted into her alma mater for university training, so she felt relieved to know she hadn’t “failed” her kids.

I started homeschooling not because I thought it was a brilliant idea, but as a result of economic duress (which meant we couldn’t afford tuition for the Christian school where we were sending our two oldest). I was lamenting about our financial situation to my best friend, and she responded, “Kathi, the Lord is just backing you into a blessing! Try home schooling.” I didn’t think it would be possible. My oldest was eight and almost uncontrollable, not to mention the other three were two, four, and six.

We started timidly, thinking we’d just home school for one year, but by the end of the year no one was interested in returning to a regular class room setting. Why? Well, here were some of the unexpected pluses:

  1. More freedom and time to grow and explore creatively. I think the biggest plus for my kids was the fact that as soon as they were done with their school work, they were free to pursue their own interests. They didn’t have to sit and wait for everybody else in the class to finish, which really cut down on boredom. The eager beavers also put positive pressure on their sibs to get done so they could play.
  2. More input by parents as to what the children are learning. I don’t know if this meant much to our children, but it meant a lot to me. I loved being able to tailor our curriculum so that I was teaching the children spiritual and moral values as well as academic lessons.
  3. Better able to tailor curriculum to fit your child’s individual needs. Not all kids are born academically equal, so to speak. I am deeply grateful for public education being available for all children in America, but of necessity it has to be geared for the average child, so children on either end of the spectrum do not have their needs met as ably. The closer to the ends of the bell-shaped curve, the less public schools are geared to meet the true needs of the child. So, home schooling is especially helpful both for children who have learning challenges and for those are particularly gifted.
  4. Requires (and therefore develops) more independence on the part of the students. A dedicated teacher who only has to teach one grade or subject can focus all their attention on that subject or class during the day, and schools have a complete support staff to oversee all the other aspects of the children’s care. A mother in a home has to provide for every aspect of the school. She’s not only the teacher, she may be replacing several teachers (one per grade level or subject). She is also the principal, the maintenance man, the recess supervisor, the cafeteria personnel, and the child care worker (for any preschoolers). I remember being consoled by learning that butterflies need to fight for themselves to emerge from their cocoons in order for their wings to become strong enough to fly. My kids would get so frustrated waiting for me to finish helping someone else that they’d often figure out the problem before I could get back to them. It forced them to THINK!
  5. Less “seat” time and more “hands on” time for learning. Learning didn’t end when classes ended. In many ways, I felt like the kids learned more in their free time than during their academic studies. They probably learned more “facts” studying math, science, history, English, spelling etc., but they learned more about how to live by living and doing.
  6. More flexibility as a family. This was a huge advantage! Whenever Alan was available for a vacation week, the rest of us could go anywhere with him. We didn’t have to juggle nine schedules! My personal theory was that I didn’t want any kid to miss any really cool opportunity, and that was pretty consistently true over the years. If a special occasion came up, we could make time for it. (Just one small for instance, but Jon loved trains as a child, and one day he [and I] got to take a train ride with a real, live engineer (who was a patient of Alan’s). We could always take time to enjoy special community or church events, etc. Life was rich with unexpected prospects for adventures and learning experiences.
  7. Bonds the family together. There is nothing quite so bonding as working side by side on positive projects, and spending your life working and playing together makes for some pretty tight, lifelong friendships. All of my kids are still very interactive with each other. Not all with all, but all with some. We were always active in a church community wherever we lived, and the kids also played with neighbor children (when there were any) and cousins, but to this day the kids still text and share and think and dream and joke together.
  8. More variety and opportunity to teach and learn life skills. Before we started home schooling, we asked the kids if they’d rather go to the local elementary school or try home schooling, with the understanding that if we home schooled, they’d have to help me with family chores. They all signed on to the experiment of homeschooling, and they all learned how to do pretty much everything I knew how to do. We had rotating assignments for almost all aspects of home and yard care. We cooked, cleaned, babysat, shopped, gardened, and canned together. In the evenings after Alan came home from work, we played sports together—hockey, softball, tag football, volleyball . . . swimming, hiking, biking . . . whatever was going wherever we lived. They all had to learn how to play the piano, read music, and sing; they all learned how to sew on buttons and iron shirts. They learned how to handle money. They got comfortable with people of all ages. We got involved in a family music ministry and sang in rescue missions, camps, churches, nursing homes and college campuses. They learned to care about other people. They were eager to talk to adults and children . . . people of all ages. Shaking your hand and looking you straight in the eye came naturally.
  9. Better use of family financial resources. When we realized we wouldn’t be able to afford tuition for our kids, the school offered me a job teaching high school English. However, I had two preschoolers whom I was unwilling to put into child care (which had nothing to do with the excellent school but everything to do with my passionate desire to care for my own little ones). Over the years, Alan would notice articles detailing the additional expenses incurred by a second family member working outside the home, and by most accounts, unless the second job is really high paying, it’s a “wash” as far as expenses and additional income. According to the 2015 documentary on The Happiest People on Earth, once a family has about $50 thousand (not sure exactly what the amount would be today), there is no perceptible increase in “happiness” no matter how much more the family earns (according to self-reporting research). In fact, the happiest people on the earth are not the richest monetarily, they are the richest in the love of family and community. Not only did we save thousands of dollars by home schooling, I believe it greatly enriched our family life . . . a trade I’d make any day!!
  10. More control over influences in your children’s lives. We all love positive influences in our lives, but the more we can control negative influences, the better. Homeschooling doesn’t eliminate negative influences by any means, but hopefully it will lessen them. I also believe that the older a child is before being exposed to evil, the better able that youngster will be to recognize and handle problems. That being said, I failed to understand that evil lurks in the hearts of children (as well as adults, although I already knew that). If you home school, don’t assume your little cherubs are perfect and would be beyond lying, cheating, or any other problem that all people find tempting. We’re all just humans and need watchful supervision at all times! (One small case in point: One of my kids years later admitted to cheating on math during fifth grade. He kept wondering when I would catch him but finally realized I never would! [It didn’t cross my mind to suspect him.] Thankfully, when he realized that, he became honest because he knew that’s what he needed to do.)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).

If you have time, I’d love to hear your comments. If you home school or home schooled, any advice or tips? If you’re struggling with home schooling right now, any questions? If you’re considering home schooling next fall, anything else you’d like to hear about? Blessings~

The Benefit of Humor in Coping with COVID-19

Despite the great sorrow surrounding this horrible COVID plague, I think it’s always good to keep our sense of humor if possible. I remember when my mother—freshly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s—lived with us for a few months. We had seven children, one an infant, and Alan was gone such long hours that one night our dog tried to attack him as an intruder when he arrived home! Mom was up during the nights imagining that it was time to pack for a trip to Columbia or prepare for a PTA meeting, ripping off her diapers and generally tearing apart her room. I was more than exhausted and felt like crying most of the time over the tragedy of my mother’s mental losses and my inability to meet the needs of our family.

But then one day, after I’d returned from the grocery store for an emergency run, leaving my kids to tend one another and my mother (our oldest was 16 by then), I heard that my mother had angrily taken away the rubber fish (tub-toy) that one of the kids had set in front of the baby to try to entertain him, scolding my son: “Don’t you dare do that! We need this fish for supper!” Michael (who was always the picture of respectfulness), had no idea what to say or do, but he was mortified at being scolded and wasn’t sure how he should react to his beloved grandmother, who had suddenly started acting “crazy!” In fact, she wasn’t acting; she was losing her mind. You can either laugh or cry in such instances, so we started to laugh (NOT in front of my mother, however). Somehow, learning to laugh about the crazy things that were becoming a new part of our daily life really helped soothe the tensions, and we were all better able to cope.

COVID-19 doesn’t have much in common with Alzheimer’s except that both are tragic, one on an individual basis, and one on a global basis. I am not suggesting that we fail to mourn and pray, or stick our heads in the sand and pretend COVID isn’t really deadly. But, I am suggesting that in the midst of deep sorrow and pain we also try to find the bits of silver lining and let laughter shine through when we can.

In that vein, I thought you might enjoy a couple of crazy songs that young people have created to try to help people keep their chins up. (My hearing isn’t perfect, but the second one might have one inappropriate word in it; he sings so fast I couldn’t catch it all . . .)

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:
but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

*The first joke was by “Casual Christian Comedy 2” and posted on the Face Book page of my dear friend in Germany, Sarah Jaeschke, as was the last song. Thank you, Sarah, for maintaining your sweet spirit and great sense of humor during this crisis!! BTW, in case people haven’t noticed, Germany has been doing a hero’s job of caring for COVID-19 patients!

April is NaPoWriMo! Are You Ready to Celebrate?

Ever heard of National Poetry Writers Month (NaPoWriMo)? Well, this year it’s become GLOBAL Poetry Writers Month (GloPoWriMo), so let’s go, GloPo! The challenge is to write 30 poems in 30 days, and I’d like to encourage you to try . . . even for one poem in the next 30 days (which might be more my speed)! If you write a poem and would like to share it, please add it in the comment box below whenever you get it written, or you can email it to me with a photo (kathrynwarmstrong at gmail.com), as I’m hoping to feature some poetry by friends at some point this month.

During the insecure hush that’s fallen over our world, poetry might come more readily than during the crush of business as usual. Trying to write a poem would make a fitting assignment for a home school English class or a challenging occupation for a quiet evening’s reflection either alone or with family members all sitting around the kitchen table or fireplace!

When I was young, one of the hardest things about poetry was trying to make it rhyme and ensuring there were exactly the right number of syllables per line, but neither rhyme nor meter are mandatory requirements for poetry today. Modern poetry is often more about saying something worth pondering in an artistic way.

If you’re interested in exploring more about poetry, here are a couple of links that might help get you in touch with your poetic potential:

https://www.slowdownshow.org/ This daily poetry podcast is hosted by America’s former Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, and yesterday’s reading (March 31, 2020, called “Interesting Times”) is perfectly apropos for the COVID crisis!!

http://www.napowrimo.net/ This website was developed by Maureen Thorson back in 2003 as a venue for sharing poetry. If you lack for ideas or inspiration, she will be suggesting prompts every day (which you don’t need to heed, of course!). You can also submit poetry into her comment box or submit a link to your website if you’re writing poetry on your blog for the 30 days of April each year. Maureen’s website is totally non-commercial and exists out of the generosity of her heart as a way of sharing people’s love for poetry.

My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Psalm 45:1).

Ideas for Structuring Your Home School

Although I home schooled our kids and loved it, it’s been about 15-35 years ago, so times have probably changed a lot. Still, kids don’t really change that much, so I thought it might be worthwhile to share how we organized our days just in case you’re struggling to keep your kids channeled between now and the end of the school year. Of my five adult children who are married and have kids, all of them—those who live from Belgium to California—are now in school systems that are closed between now and ?? probably the end of the school year.

So, what did I do with my seven? (Alan, as a physician, was out early and home late, but he almost always made it home for dinner and some fun with the kids afterward.) For the kids and me—who were homeschooling together—Monday-Fridays looked something like this:
*Everybody got up, got dressed, made their beds and brushed their teeth
*Breakfast got made, eaten, and cleaned up with the help of some of the kids (We made a list of chores each week and kids helped self-assign themselves to which ones they wanted to help with . . . or else got assigned.)
*Family devotional time, which included Bible reading, prayer, memorizing one verse each day, and a short devotional lesson. (We used Keys for Kids and Our Daily Bread or other Bible story books and/or devotionals over the years.)
*Calisthenics: Fifteen minute routine that we all did together; stretching exercises mostly
*School work, which didn’t usually take the kids more than about 2 hours (3 hours max). You’d be surprised how fast kids can work if they know they’ll get free time when they’re done. 🙂
* Lunch, again aided by some of the kids in prep and clean up
*Rest time. I could never seem to make it through the day without a break, so I needed to rest even if the kids didn’t, although I think it was good for the kids too. Our “Rest Time” usually lasted one hour, and the kids could sleep, read, write, draw, play legos, or otherwise occupy themselves BY THEMSELVES, but creatively, not by watching videos, video games, or internet. Any unfortunate kid who hadn’t finished his school work could finish school during this time too, although my kids were usually setting their watches and timing themselves to see if they could shave off minutes, so motivation wasn’t an issue in our home.
*Snack time or “Fruit Break” as it was commonly called. One of my kids named their plush monkey “Fruit Break” in honor of this cherished tradition!
*Free time (roughly 3:00-5:00 in our family, but every family is doubtless unique). During this time, the kids could play together or separately, including video games or videos. When our kids were little there weren’t amazing YouTubes of everything under the sun, nor did we have Disney on Demand, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. We intentionally didn’t allow T.V., so the kids were definitely “behind the times” on their knowledge of cultural trivia, but some of them still don’t have T.V.s in their homes 30 years later, and none of them are big fans of T.V., so I think it was worth the effort. Instead, the kids were constantly challenged to be creative and do fun things together, such as making crazy home movies and all sorts of imaginative games.
*Dinner Time, including cooking and food prep (all but one of my kids are still great cooks) and clean up.
*P.E.—Probably one of our favorite times of day! After dinner and the dishes were done, we’d all play some sort of family sport with Alan too, such as touch football, volleyball, ice hockey (on winter ponds or iced rinks Alan would make), soft ball, bike rides, swimming, hiking, whatever! When we lived in neighborhoods with lots of other small children, we’d often incorporate neighbor kids, although after we moved out of town and the kids got bigger, we’d usually have enough for a couple of scrub teams of whatever seasonal sport was going.

Truly, this routine was so fun that we kept at it until our youngest went off to college.

All the kids graduated from various colleges and went on to graduate and professional schools afterward, so don’t be afraid to home school your kids for the next few months! In fact, you might discover what I discovered 40 years ago . . . that homeschooling is so much fun that nobody will want to go back to traditional school next fall! 🙂

I have more understanding than all my teachers:
for thy testimonies are my meditation” (Psalm 119:99).

Adventures in Home Schooling: Pepper COVID Science Experiment

Here’s an easy experiment my daughter shared with me to help kids visualize the importance of washing their hands with soap to cleanse away COVID viruses. Sprinkle pepper over a bowl of clean water. (Tell your kids that the pepper represents COVID-19 viruses.)

Dip one dry finger into the bowl, and notice how the pepper clings to your finger.

Next, dry off your finger and coat it with liquid dish soap.

Now gently lower your finger into the water and see what happens. Not only does the pepper no longer stick, it’s repelled! You can almost chase the pepper around the bowl with your finger, and the pepper ends up as far away from the soap as it can get, at the bottom and edges of the bowl!


There are other good applications for this lesson, as you can imagine! If we are spiritually dry, sin will stick to us like pepper on a dry finger! On the other hand, if we are protected by the “soap” of God’s pure word, sin won’t stick to us but will instead be repelled!

Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8). “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Surviving Covid-19 with Couped Up Kiddos

Are you or your kids bored now that the world is supposed to be practicing social distancing for the next 2-8 weeks? Obviously, enterprising senior citizens can use the time to clean their closets and organize their homes better. But, what about kiddos? I have a young friend in Indiana who said her kids are driving her nuts . . . to the point of making her depressed. I get it! While our Chicago kids were home last week on spring break (before everything shut down), Gerlinde and I put our heads together to come up with some ideas for what to do (especially with little ones) during the interim. So, if your kids are going crazy, consider some of these ideas:

  • Organize. First and foremost, we need to become unified under God within our individual home units. Children thrive on order and routine, and regularity makes them feel secure. What about starting with a family-wide prayer meeting, asking God for direction, help, and wisdom?
  • Call a family meeting. Explain what’s going on as best you can. So often children are left out of the loop on the theory that this will relieve their anxieties, but in fact, nothing relieves anxiety like honest, open communication. Hardship can either drive a family closer together or further apart, depending on whether or not you get everybody to sign on to working together to overcome the challenges.
  • Allow your kids to express the way they feel without criticism. Let them voice their disappointments and insecurities. Reassure them where you honestly can; sympathize with their losses and frustrations; encourage them to be patient and hopeful while we all wait to see how this crisis is going to play out. Keep calm and prayerful.
  • Brainstorm as a family: Create a few guidelines and goals that everybody can sign on to together. Ask each person what they need to feel loved and secure during this time. What can each person do that will help contribute to the harmony and health of the family community? What would people like to do for fun? Perhaps older children could help younger children learn their lessons, babysit, or help with routine housework. You may know this already, but many young children can be very helpful in the kitchen, and most kids respond well to working with a beloved parent. Do you have a fun-loving child? Maybe they could be in charge of organizing games or evening fun times. I had one enterprising 6-year-old who was happy to be paid $1 per hour to babysit his younger sibs (with the understanding that his 12-year-old brother would be available in case of trouble).
  • Here are a few ideas from Gerlinde:
Free virtual museum tours

https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome.html?fbclid=IwAR1WxQBjFf-BeMjg21BYNmiZ4d3haFD-aRpFhGYue32YdL5KTPoLBGFX9nU

I’ll try to come up with more ideas soon, and please feel free to add links to educational resources that you find in the comment box below if you can. Thanks!

Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Speaking of loving your neighbor as yourself, the 2019 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is so much more than simply a true life recounting of the friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod!

It’s a story about learning to love and forgive.

Of love lost and love found.

Of reconciliation after injury.

Of Hope.

The real journalist, Tom Junod, with the real Fred Rogers

It’s a wonderful example of how a modern-day saint (Fred Rogers) loved a cynical stranger (magazine journalist) and turned him into a lifelong friend.

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This beautiful day in the movie world is G-rated and perfectly appropriate for young kids.

But, like the true classic it is, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood has a deeply personal message for adults on emotional wholeness and healing.

I was also blown away by Fred’s genuine love for people (all people—great and small) and his gentle wisdom in living out what it looks like to be a good neighbor.

Matthew Rhys as “Larry Vogel” (script name for Tom Junod)

At one point “Larry Vogel” asked Fred’s wife what he did to keep being such a genuinely good person. Among other healthy habits, she mentioned that he read the scriptures every day and prayed for people by name. In an interview that I read after watching the movie, I found this quote by Tom Junod: “He clearly wanted me to pray. He clearly believed in prayer as a way of life. He prayed every day of his life. He woke up in the morning and prayed, and wrote, and prayed for people. And so I wrote that. The answer to: What did Fred want? He wanted us to pray. I have actually tried, since that moment, I’ve tried to pray.”

A generation of children (and adults) singing to Mr. Rogers on the subway

What a legacy to leave: A life of living like Jesus, loving your neighbors, meditating on the scriptures daily, praying constantly, and encouraging others to pray!

Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood ran for thirty-three years, beginning in 1968—the year I graduated from high school. His lifetime commitment to helping children earned him more than 40 honorary degrees and international fame, but he remained steady, kind, and humble throughout . . . using his life to serve others in love. What a beautiful legacy! I am sorry that I was “just the wrong age” to profit from his gentle teaching, but I am very thankful to Lion’s Gate for producing this inspiring story for all of us to enjoy!

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13, ESV).

(For more information on Fred Roger’s life and legacy, I reviewed the 2018 documentary about him, with some additional quotes, which can be found here:

https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/wont-you-be-my-neighbor-would-you-have-liked-mr-rogers-for-your-neighbor/

Also, I’ve noticed that you can get dozens (hundreds?) of half-hour episodes from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for free on Amazon Prime and can probably see most of his programs for free on Netflix or YouTube. My guess is that these gentle shows about life, our world, and learning how to deal with our emotions would still be helpful for small children today.

S’mores in a Pan (So Easy Even Grandpa Can Make This One!)

This is such a simple treat that you might wonder why I’ve bothered to “write it up,” but it never occurred to me spontaneously, so maybe you haven’t thought of it either! It’s a great way to enjoy s’mores in the winter, passed along to me by my daughter.

Toasting marshmallows over coals on a warm, sunny day

Traditionally, (at least in our home) making s’mores has been a summer treat reserved for camping trips or backyard picnics after the fires have burned low. Outdoors! Where the kids can run around accidentally dropping burned marshmallows off the ends of their roasting sticks and smearing gooey fingerprints everywhere without making too much of a mess. It’s just too risky trying to make s’mores inside, even if you do have a fireplace. However, somebody thought of this:

S’mores in a Pan

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In the bottom of a cast iron griddle, spread:
2-4 oz. of chocolate chips per person
Cover with miniature marshmallows
Heat on top rack of oven for 3-5 minutes, or until chocolate is melted and marshmallows are starting to turn golden. (If the marshmallows haven’t browned, you can turn on the broiler, but then you really have to watch it carefully; I almost burned this batch, as you can see!) **Obviously, your cast iron pan will be burning hot, so make sure everyone knows NOT to touch the sides of the pan!

Serve immediately with graham crackers. Each person can dip in his own crackers and make his own s’more as he pleases. If kids stay at the table, it’s possible to eat the s’mores in a semi-reputable fashion, although the crackers will break apart (as always), so plates are good!

For chocolate lovers, chocolate graham crackers are a bonus, but they’re really yummy either way!

If you have little ones at home, or your grands come over unexpectedly, this is the perfect way to make a guaranteed-to-please treat in about 5 minutes!

Maybe not quite as thrilling as burning your own marshmallows over an open fire, but definitely great fun in winter! 🙂

The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:24-27).

Is It Okay to be Gay for Christians?

If I may start at the end and work backward, I’d like to begin this with a quote from the end of Karen Keen’s book on this subject: “The end results surprised me. Rather than a black-and-white answer, I heard God saying ‘freedom.’ Not the kind of freedom that celebrates licentiousness, but the kind of freedom that loves you no matter what, even when you don’t measure up.” In a nutshell, this conclusion resonates in my heart as well.

That being said, let me point out places where I question the logic in Karen’s lines of reasoning in her book, Scripture, Ethics, & The Possibility Of Same-Sex Relationships. It would take hours—possibly even a book—to adequately discuss and counter all her arguments (at least the ones I disagree with, which aren’t all of them, of course! 🙂 ), and I am open to discussing any points or details she’s written about, but for the sake of this post not turning into an alternate doctoral thesis, let me address her four main topics:

1. Attending to the overarching intent of biblical mandates
2. Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances
3. Discussing honestly the feasibility of celibacy
4. Reflecting on the fall in light of science

1. I agree that the overarching intent of biblical mandates is to provide for the common good of all people, and the law can be summed up in “Love God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:36-40). Where we disagree is in what it actually means to love God and love our neighbor. Jesus expanded on that in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (See also John 14:21 and John 15:10). Our love for God is proven by our keeping his commandments, but in the spirit of love, not without it. (See the beautiful description of what love in action looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.) 1 John 5:3 enlarges on this: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” If we truly love God with all our hearts and souls, even the terribly difficult things we endure for his sake will not grieve us, because we understand that our self-sacrifices are done out of love for Him and for the good of others . . . which fulfills God’s mandate.

God’s commandments were given to us for our good and for the good of others. God created us; He understands us; He has given us commandments to train us in the way of godliness. “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5). Love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith will naturally follow from the prayerful practice of God’s commandments, and it will also result in knowing what true love for others looks like. True love will persevere through failure, but true love doesn’t condone breaking commandments for the sake of accommodating someone else’s failures. Jesus never broke any of the commandments. He fulfilled the law, although he had compassion on the failures of others. To break any of God’s commandments is a failure to love God and our fellow man, and it comes from a lack of faith. From Genesis through Revelation, God is trying to teach us to trust Him to solve our problems rather than break laws attempting to find our own “better” solutions. He doesn’t want us to take matters into our own hands, like Sarah, to make things “turn out right.” They won’t! When we disobey, we open the door to failure, not success. Compassion unhinged from righteousness creates evil, not good. God calls us to overcome evil with good, not succumb to evil because persevering in good is too hard.

Before moving on to her second point, I do want to applaud Karen for her honesty in reporting: “The Old Testament authors speak only negatively of same-sex relations” (17; see Lev. 18:22;20:13 and Deuteronomy 23:17-18). She goes on to explain, “In the New Testament, all mention of same-sex relations is negative” (18; see in particular Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Karen goes on to ask: If both the traditionalists and the progressives agree that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong, “then why the debate? Doesn’t that mean the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong?” (19). I would say, “Yes! Preach it, sister! 🙂

However, Keen goes on to suggest that the authors of the biblical books may not have had insight into all forms of same-sex relationships, so they “may not” have been addressing homosexuality generally. To me, that is like saying that the Bible always condemns adultery . . . but it may not have been addressing some of the extenuating circumstances. For instance, what if your spouse has an incurable illness and is no longer sexually available? Based on how difficult it is to be celibate, might the Bible turn a blind eye to the man who seeks to relieve sexual tension and find some comfort with another woman in that devastating situation? Or, what about many single people who have the same sexual urges all of us experience but have not been able to secure a mate? What about the widows and widowers who yearn for sexual release? What about those who are imprisioned and can’t be with their spouse? So far, our society does not make exceptions for extenuating circumstances, and although most Christians would feel compassion, no one would deem such behavior godly or to be celebrated.

2. Our response to the second issue is directly connected to our view of the Bible . . . and man’s first temptation: “Hath God said?” (Genesis 3:1). The basic issue is whether or not the Bible’s teachings were superintended by an all-knowing God whose precepts were and always shall be an immutable standard for life and conduct, or whether the scriptures were written by various men who were limited in their understanding, bound by cultural issues, and not aware of current scientific theories, rendering their ideas no longer binding or sufficient. Karen feels we can improve on some of them to better meet the needs of modern people.

“Engaging in a deliberative process for creation ordinances,” in common parlance, is suggesting that even that which was ordained at the time of creation—such as God creating male and female as complimentary halves of a marriage unit—is now up for debate and possible reinterpretation. In part, Karen justifies this by saying that science has disproven the Genesis account of creation. For instance: “Instead of Adam and Eve, the data indicates Adams and Eves” (86) and makes the assertion that the scientifically approved “Y-chromosome Adam” [as the progenitor of all living males] “was not the only Homo sapiens alive in his time nor the first. In other words, he is only the father of male lineages that happened to survive to the present” (86).

To me, it is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the authority of Scripture with someone who no longer believes the biblical accounts are accurate. For instance, Keen claims that “both science and Genesis indicate that bodily decay and evil existed prior to Adam” (87). Evil pre-existed the fall: The serpent tempted Adam and Eve to sin. However, the Bible clearly teaches that “by man [Adam] came death, by man [Christ] came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:21). Yes, evil existed, but not the principle of death and decay working within the bodies and spirits of Adam and Eve.

Keen’s theory that same-sex attraction may be simply variation in species development rather than natural fallenness is based on a failure to understand the clear teaching of Genesis. Keen says  Genesis indicates that bodily decay predated the fall because Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden to keep from eating from the tree of life. This is faulty thinking. At the time they were cast out of the garden, they were in the process of decaying, but that is because they had already sinned. The Genesis record is explicit: God said they would die if they ate from the forbidden tree. Death was the result of failing to believe and obey God. Keen can imagine that scientific “evidence” proves death and decay were already present, but there is nothing in the Bible to support her claim. To the contrary, the Bible makes clear that death came as a result of disbelief and disobedience. Also, no ethical scientist would purport to be able to “prove” via any scientific examination of non-existent remains that this woman, named Eve, was predisposed to death before disobeying God. Scientific theory is based on present-day human genetic programming, which according to the Genesis account was changed by the fall rather than predating it. Sending Adam and Eve out of the garden lest their decaying bodies continue to live forever in a state of spiritual death was a mercy! It is only through being born again spiritually that we receive eternal life, and it is only through the process of physical death and resurrection that we will inherit a new, incorruptible body.

The book is filled with hermeneutical inconsistencies. As a couple of examples, she compares homosexual behavior to someone who has Tourette’s. This isn’t even close. Homosexuals make conscious choices to engage in what comes naturally to them. The tics of those with Tourette’s are not controllable by the patient any more than an epileptic can control his seizures. Also, likening people who have a homosexual preference to those who become left-handed as an amoral, natural variation is incompatible with any consistent interpretation of scripture. The 700 elite troops from Benjamin who were left-handed were praised in Judges 20:16, and God used Ehud, who was left-handed, to deliver Israel from the Moabites. Being left-handed is never condemned in the Scripture, whereas homosexual behavior is never approved but always condemned.

3. Okay, let’s have an honest discussion on the feasibility of celibacy. Keen reports: “I came to a greater appreciation that no evidence exists that it’s possible for all people [to remain celibate], I saw that setting a bar that cannot be reached renders the mandate meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” (113). This is the voice of reason apart from faith and the Judeo-Christian moral code, because the God of the Bible does demand perfection in all areas: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The purpose of the law is to make us realize our inability to attain perfection and to bring us to faith in Christ as our only hope for salvation: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:12). The fact that we can’t keep the law does not “render the mandate meaningless,” however. Instead, it should drive us to Christ for help, as we are taught a few verses later: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Hebrews 4:16). To say that we can’t keep the law perfectly makes it “meaningless and perpetuates spiritual and psychological trauma for the person trapped in that impossible situation” is logical to an unbeliever, but not to a person of faith. Reason without faith is not Christianity. It is agnosticism.

Lest I seem too harsh, I want to stand on record as having a clear recognition that celibacy is nigh unto impossible for most of us. However, it is how we respond to this challenge that will guide us into the paths of life! If you can be celibate, and want to be celibate, by all means do so! Great good can be accomplished by those who are not distracted by mates and family, and we should all honor and help provide community support for those who feel called by God to forgo the joys (and difficulties) of married life in order to serve God unencumbered.

However, for most of us, the awareness of our own need for sexual intimacy drives us to find a mate, and for those of us who believe that sex was created as the uniquely sacred privilege of marriage . . . well, we become driven to marry! Single people who have been unable to find a mate are not off the hook. Again, I’m sure many people feel compassion toward those who end up involved in sexual encounters outside of marriage, but such acts are never condoned in the Scripture. “Fornication,” which is the basket term for sexual immorality, (and if you use the Greek word, “porneía” it’s pretty obvious that pornography would be included) is always condemned.

Personally, my deep conviction that if I left my husband, Alan, I should remain celibate helped keep me in my marriage, because I knew my chances of remaining celibate for the rest of my life were about zippo. 😦 I would recommend that homosexuals who take the Bible seriously consider this point, because I also firmly believe that “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you find yourself attracted to the same sex, and same-sex relationships are condemned as wrong in the scripture (which everybody agrees is true), then please keep taking your temptation to the Lord. People have some plasticity and ability to change. I have only known a couple dozen homosexuals well enough to say this, but of the ones I’ve known, all of them have had some interest in the opposite sex at some point in their life. I know that the dopamine rush from homosexual behavior can light up your brain like a Fourth of July fireworks and permanently rearrange and reshape your brain chemistry, but if you sincerely believe there is no way out except by learning to love someone of the opposite sex (and I do mean “learn,” as an act of the will, just the way most of us have to “learn” to love our heterosexual partner), then you may find that you are capable of forming a heterosexual union. And, eventually, I am convinced (by faith) you can find deep and lasting fulfillment with that partner, whether or not it’s the most erotic relationship you could ever imagine with a same-sex partner. Frankly, if people could be honestly polled, my guess would be that most people are married to someone who was not the single most sexually attractive person they ever met! However, I can say from experience, that sexual attraction is not the best indicator of whom will make the best life-time partner or most satisfying mate. The best mates are those most like Christ. Think about it! There is hope beyond celibacy. No one HAS to refuse attempting to develop a satisfying relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Be honest, but be willing to try. That is your choice!

4. “Reflecting on the fall in light of science.” For a starter, Keen kind of says it all: “Currently, there is no scientific consensus on why people are gay or lesbian” (91). “Genes do not cause a person to be gay” (93). Fact! To date, scientists cannot explain how people develop an attraction to same sex individuals. Obviously, there are a few (very rare) cases of true hermaphrodites (“intersex”—people born with characteristics of both sexes), but the vast majority of people who self-identify as homosexual have no genetic basis for their orientation (at least, none presently known). Research has been able to find some statistically significant correlations between birth order, sexual abuse, and dysfunctional family life, but so far nobody—including gays—can clearly trace the course of their sexual development. In the few personal histories I’ve known, most of them were abused (or allured) by a homosexual and were caught off guard at first but then “fell in love.” Seduction isn’t the whole answer, though! All sorts of people attempt to seduce others (and by far the greatest number—as reflecting the general population—are heterosexual). What makes one person “fall for it” and another shun the seducer/seductress? Our minds and bodies are so intricately interwoven and complex that even we ourselves can’t understand everything that goes on within us!

Despite the “no known reason yet” of science, we are left with the reality that a small percentage of our population definitely experiences same-sex attraction. As a society, how should we respond? Karen’s answer is completely dissatisfying to me! She sees the desire of Christians to see homosexual people become heterosexual as a “lust for perfection” and suggests that we should re-envisioning how we respond. However, Jesus sets the standard at perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and the Bible calls us to holiness rather than simply accommodating sins: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The Bible never suggests we give up on our efforts to live godly lives, although it does offer forgiveness for us in our failures and imperfections. The Bible never approves simply accommodating natural fallenness with sinful alternatives. For example, someone who feels like they can’t stop lusting isn’t therefore given a free pass to watch porn without any consequences, because there are always consequences for sinful behaviors. To simply say, “It’s okay to be gay” goes against the uniform guidance of scripture on how to provide for a good and just society, and we would do well to heed the Word of God!

If I may, I would like to end back at the beginning. God does give us freedom to choose how we will live our lives, including with whom we choose to live them. He has definitely gifted us as humans with a great deal of autonomy, and in this life on earth, we are granted the right to be the master of our own fate in many ways. BUT, God has provided a way of wisdom through Jesus Christ, who is “the Word made flesh” and the living “Word of God.” If you are a believer, then “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). Jesus set us free—but His desire is that we obey his commands (found in His Word, the Bible) because we love HIM. His commands are for our own good, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).

One verse that has really helped me in my own wrestlings with the lusts of my flesh is found in Psalm 16:7, “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons.” The counsels of the Lord in the Bible lead us into the right paths, and his reins (the restrictions that bind us) help us during the times when we are confused and can’t tell clearly which way to go. If you will allow God’s commandments and the reins he puts on us to guide your heart day and night, He will bring you to the place of fullness of joy. As David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11). May God bless and guide us into the Light as we seek to walk by faith. I know it’s never easy to “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12).

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:7-14)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (62): Condemn Not

I was part of a panel lately on the subject of how to deal with in-laws, particularly during the holidays. Do you cringe at the thought of going home for the holidays because you’ll feel condemned as “not good enough” in some area? If you’re sponsoring holiday festivities, do you worry about “not measuring up?” Alan’s parents died forty years ago, and they were very kind to me, so I was startled by just how real and how difficult it is for most young wives to negotiate the holidays, particularly vis-à-vis their mother-in-laws. Yikes!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be a better mother-in-law since then, particularly in light of this week’s reminder from Jesus: “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). It occurs to me that for many (most?) people there is some ambivalence around Christmas that has to do with unmet expectations and feeling unloved, and most of the conflicts revolve around the questions of with whom and how to spend our precious vacation time.

Ouch! If you’re feeling tense, overwhelmed, and frustrated by just how frantic and unfulfilling the holiday season has become for you, may I recommend this: Continue on as planned this year, but start praying about how to improve the holidays for next time. Observe how you and your loved ones react to this year’s game plan and afterward talk through what happened with your spouse (loved ones, or yourself if you’re single). Strategize about how to make the holidays more of a win/win for you and your loved ones, and start now to lay the groundwork for a happier, healthier, more Christ-like Christmas celebration for next year.

Here’s a little imaginary look into the hearts of those of us who are working hard to make Christmas wonderful—those of us who are functional and happy! (BTW, this is based on gleanings from the panel discussion, not the inner workings of my own family, but you get the drift . . .)

From the mother-in-law’s perspective: “I just want to hold my daughter-in-law close, the way Jesus holds us as his sheep. I want to tuck her under my wing and make her a part of our family! I want to celebrate the same cherished traditions that have always made our family so happy together! If we have to share, it should at least be 50/50.” This can also devolve into: “I deserve to be loved and honored this Christmas. I’m doing all the work, so I want to do it my way. Besides, if my son really loved me, he’d be trying to take care of me. I spent the past (XX) years of my life giving everything I had to bring him up the best I could, so I deserve his attention too. His wife just isn’t fair!”

From the daughter-in-law’s perspective: “I don’t want to be absorbed into my husband’s family as if I’m just another child. Husbands are supposed to ‘leave’ their parents and ‘cleave’ to their wife. I am an adult with a new, independent family, and I want to protect that space so we can develop our own traditions.” This can also devolve into: “Besides, I like the way my family celebrates better, so if we’re going to visit, I’d rather visit my parents. If my husband really loved me, he’d defer to what I want! After all, ‘happy wife is happy life,’ so he should be trying to make me happy! My mother-in-law is so critical that I don’t feel comfortable being around her. His mom just isn’t fair!

From the son’s perspective: “I’m not sure what to do! I love my parents and want to honor them, but I also love my wife, and I want to make her happy. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but all the work and tension makes me super tired and isn’t pleasant at all! I go back to work every year more tired than when we left for our ‘vacation.’ It seems like there’s no way to win!”

Jesus: “I came to earth to bring peace and goodwill to all people. Christmas isn’t meant to be about conflict, competition, and condemnation! If you celebrate my coming to earth, please do it in my spirit: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:2-7).

Can you imagine how the spirit of Christmas would change if we all took Philippians 2 to heart and practiced Jesus’ command to “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned” (Luke 6:37)? Instead of judging and condemning one another as unfair or unloving, let’s focus on Jesus and try to follow in his footsteps, finding ways to put others first and meet their needs! Besides that, there are a world of lonely people who have no one to love OR even fight with this Christmas! 🙂 Can we reach out to some of them? Let’s make Christmas about loving God and loving others. That’s what Jesus did!

(Photo of Yongsung Kim’s picture of Jesus with the snowy lamb used by permission of Havenlight.com. As we celebrate Christmas, may we snuggle into the everlasting arms of Jesus, who will keep us warm in his love!)