20 April 2015

Psalm 3: Christ's Grace Brings Confidence

First, this is labeled as "A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son." That's not a story that we spend a lot of time talking about in Sunday School or other classes, so the first thing I did was to go review the story. The Bible Dictionary lists quite a few passages that deal with Absalom, but the main event is in 2 Samuel 15-18. After studying that, and re-reading the psalm, I also went and reviewed the story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11-12

This was an incredibly trying time for David. It's sometime after he had taken Bathsheba and killed Uriah, and now his son Absalom has risen up against him. First, Absalom played a subtle game where he undermined the king and stole the hearts of the people. Then, he actually raised an army, and David and his supporters had to flee Jerusalem. The third Psalm deals with both the difficult situations that he faced, and also expresses his confidence in the Lord's care.

Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me.
Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. 
But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.(vs.1-2)

I have frequently heard David held up as a singular example of What Not To Do. There are good reasons why this is so. We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that his sins were severe enough to cost him dearly in the eternities. In the beginning, he was described as "a man after the Lord's own heart", and he was chosen, and elevated above his brethren because of this. But his rise was followed by the tragedy of his choices regarding Uriah and his wife. You still hear, from time to time, people saying that, "there is no help for him in God."

David, himself, clearly felt otherwise, and the Psalms are full of his praise for the amazing Grace that the Lord extended to him.  This is one of those Psalms.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory and the lifter up of mine head. 
I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill. 

Even in this extreme case, the Grace of the Lord is such that David wasn't utterly abandoned. What a hopeful thing that is for all of us!

The Gift of Grace, April 2015

Even in these difficult circumstances, and in spite of past sins, David seems to have enjoyed the peace which passeth understanding. If ever there were troubles that would cause one to loose sleep, David had some, particularly at this time. He had to have known that the conflict with Absalom was not going to end well; attempted coups nearly never end in reconciliation for the dynastic family. And quite often, neighboring countries see this sort of weakness and take the opportunity to annex some territory or the country descends into civil war, so there were quite likely concerns for his people that could keep him up at night, even if those family issues didn't. But he's not talking about how little he's sleeping; instead he talks about the strength he draws from the Lord.

I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. (vs. 5)

We can have this kind of strength from the Lord, too. Whatever we have done, we, like David, are not too far gone for Christ's mercy. We can also draw on the strength that He offers.

In the Strength of the Lord

Since I started studying the Psalms, I've come to have a greater appreciation for just how dramatic the power imbalance between us and God is: a mosquito has a better chance of stopping an elephant than any human has of frustrating God's Will. At this point in his life, David has returned to a place where he desires the Lord's Will, and is unflinching before it. "Here am I," he says. "Let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him." This is important; it enables the confidence we see in the psalm:

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God, for thou has smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth to the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah. (vs.6-8)

17 April 2015

Spring Discoveries

Our park visit was short, but the kids loved it. We found Willow catkin this morning. They're so soft, and really striking against the grey of our early Spring. 

We saw turtles in Turtle Pond, too, but didn't end up with any good pictures. They were pretty far away for a little phone camera. The kids discovered that their usual shouting and running scares the critters; almost all the turtles were hiding by the time we finished. 

It was a good visit, even though it was short. 

New Games

This week, we've been having great success with games for school. First, there's this Japanese game. The inspiration for this came from this article, the first in a series about the stages of learning a language. They suggested this:

If you can say ‘Do you want to speak Spanish with me now?’ and you can also say ‘I’d like to practise speaking with you tonight’, then see how many different ways you can chop them up.  Have a go at ‘I’d like to speak Spanish with you now’ or ‘Do you want to practise speaking with me tonight?’ – challenge yourself to make up as many different phrases as possible.

So, I thought this was a really good idea, but I knew that Hero was going to need some support to make this happen, so this is what I came up with: 3x5 cards. Each card has the word written several different ways. There's kanji at the top of a number of them, and hiragana below that. Those are what real live Japanese people use. But Hero's an American kid, and he has  yet to master either, so below that, I wrote little romaji letters (that's the English transliteration). And I broke it up into syllables, thinking that it might help him to improve his hiragana that way. It's hard to see in the picture, but the English translation is also down in the corner. Then, we split up the cards, and we each made up sentences.

今何時ですか。 (What time is it now?)

九時です。 (It's 9 o'clock.)

He asked me for some of the animals they've been learning from YouTube. Why, yes, I'd be delighted to give you more cards. I added the ones I could remember off the top of my head, and we reshuffled. Now, he was really having fun. This was his favorite sentence:

すみません、うさぎのよるです。 (Excuse me, it's the bunny night.)

His confidence in his ability to produce sentences was noticeably improved by the end of the game - he was playing. We got to talk a bit about word order. He's developing a better grasp of this type of sentence structure. It was just an all around good thing, and when it was done, he said he had fun and was looking forward to playing again, soon. I'd call that a win.

Our other game is probably even more successful. It's nothing fancy, just war. It really is the game that's worth 1000 worksheets. The kids have begged me to play this one with them every day this week. The red cards are single deck; Dragon loves red, and that's the one he usually uses. I often pull out the big cards for him, since he's just starting addition. He still counts the little clubs and hearts to figure things out, which is fine. But that's tough to do on the 11s and 12s, since those are face cards, but he really didn't want me to throw them away. Hero is working on multiplication, so I often pull out the small numbers, and have him practice the more difficult problems. We have a multiplication table that goes to 12x12 that he keeps handy so that he can reference it. Looking things up repeatedly will help him to start to remember.

And, when the English math is finished, we will often play another round in Japanese. Dragon is still challenged by just naming the numbers in Japanese when they are out of order, but Hero is working on doing addition in our second language. This works for me, as I'm in need of some practice manipulating the numbers. Doing it with the kids is really interesting. I'm realizing that my concept of three is attached to the word: three, and not to the numeral: 3. Learning to do math in Japanese is making me move more toward the numerals. I don't know how much difference that's going to make, but I find it interesting. I'm not super surprised; I'm very text-oriented in my thinking. Even dreams aren't pictures. So it will be interesting to see how my thinking evolves as we play around with building numerical fluency in Japanese as well as English.

10 April 2015


The boys love to use my fancy Japanese pens. I love that it makes it easy to persuade them to practice their Japanese. Which is what we were doing today. Dragon and Hero both did a great job.

06 April 2015

Childbearing in the Old Testament

Reading about childbearing and the importance placed on childbearing and the continuance of the family in the Old Testament is fascinating stuff. I first spent time studying some of the Old Testament women when I was struggling to deal with my own infertility problems. There's tons of stories where you see this idea.

Hannah grieved until it affected her marriage, and eventually the priest thought she was drunk.

 Rachel's anguish was such that she thought it would kill her.

Sarah, seeing that she had no children, gave her maid to her husband as another wife to secure the continuance of his line.

In each of these stories, the women not only deal with the grief of childlessness, but they also must cope with the taunting of the women around them who are able to bear, and mock them for their barrenness. The grief of their empty arms is compounded by cruel jibes about their inability to perform in the sacred role of mother.

But there's some other, less familiar, less comfortable stories, and these almost tell us more about the importance placed on childbearing and the continuity of the family line.

Lot's daughters get him drunk and conceive - in our day, drugging someone like this is criminalized as rape. The Bible tells us that they were trying to preserve the seed of their father. It's an extreme that I can't picture in our day. Quite aside from the criminal nature of the act, I don't see our world putting that kind of importance on the matter. Family lines die out regularly, with no fanfare.

That's not the only story of what seems to me like an extreme position to take in order to preserve the family line. There's also the one I was reading tonight, from 2 Samuel 14, with the Widow of Tekoah.

Basically, it goes like this: two of David's sons have a disagreement, and the one kills the other (he's not without a certain amount of justification) and then runs away, fearing that King David will be angry with him. 3 years pass, and David misses his son, so one of the son's buddies gets a Widow of Tekoah to go see the king. She spins this tale about how she had 2 sons, and one killed the other, and now the family wants to kill the survivor, and can't the king do something so that her husband's line isn't ended forever? And the king listens to her! Tells her he'll handle it, and her surviving (murdering) son will be safe. At that point she says, "Uh, king, sir, don't be mad, but I was actually talking about YOUR son that's in exile," the son comes home, and life goes on.

It's amazing to me to see how far the cultural shift has gone in the other direction. This widow asked the king to excuse her son's murder, so that her family line could continue. And he was prepared to do it. No way that would fly now. Now, it's wait to have kids, if you have them at all. I've heard that stuff from folks in the church, even, though it's contrary to what the prophet says. But that's the fashionable thing, waiting. But then, then it was different.

From April Conference 1979: Fortify Your Homes Against Evil

 The importance placed upon children in the Old Testament is amazing. Women now often peg their value to education or other things, but you can see in the stories of Hannah and Rachel and Sarah how they pegged their value on the ability to bear children. (Neither is correct, in my opinion; a woman's value is intrinsic.) The lengths that some of the people went to just boggles my mind. I don't think that the extremes are good, but that's what brought this particular theme to my attention. Maybe that's why some of those stories are in there: to draw our attention to the importance of children. Because it's not just the crazies. Those women we love to hear about, Hannah, Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth, they knew something about how important children are, too. Interestingly, in every case, those feminine heroes of the scriptures' infertility was resolved, and they bore at least one child. I'm still pondering that; obviously not every story ends so well in this life. But I'm certain that if I ponder it long enough, the Lord will teach me what it is His message is in their stories. I'm looking forward to that.

28 March 2015

For I am Meek

Elder Eyring used a verse tonight in the Women's Broadcast that has been a puzzle to me. The parts I understood, I have liked for a long time; it's one of my favorite passages. But that word... meek. What is it?

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
-Matthew 11:28-30

I determined a while ago that I didn't think that the usual definition of meek worked very well.

humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.
overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.

I wasn't sure what meekness was, scripturally speaking, but I was confident that this isn't it. I started to study it, reading various verses in the scriptures, but without the meaning of the word, I didn't really get anywhere; the various verses were less defining it than admonishing us to have it. I ended up getting distracted by other questions about the scriptures.

Anyway, I'm not sure if it's a disadvantage or an advantage, but I am sick as a dog, and listened to the broadcast from home tonight. So when he used this verse, I could get totally distracted by trying again to figure out this word meek, and that's what happened. I don't have any idea what else Brother Eyring said, but I did figure out the word, and I'm pretty excited about that!

I went to the Online Strong's Concordance, and I typed in "meek." That brings up a list of all the places that the English word "meek" appears in the Bible. I looked around there, and it was interesting, but I wasn't finding what I was looking for. Not until I noticed at the top of the search results were a number of tabs, and one of them is labeled "dictionaries," and it looked like there were 2 results there. It was at the second one where I found what I was looking for, in Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:

The meaning of prautes "is not readily expressed in English, for the terms meekness, mildness, commonly used, suggest weakness and pusillanimity to a greater or less extent, whereas prautes does nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find a rendering less open to objection than 'meekness'; 'gentleness' has been suggested, but as prautes describes a condition of mind and heart, and as 'gentleness' is appropriate rather to actions, this word is no better than that used in both English Versions. It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was 'meek' because he had the infinite resources of God at His command. Described negatively, meekness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest; it is equanimity of spirit that is neither elated nor cast down, simply because it is not occupied with self at all. ..."

And then it made so much more sense. The Savior's mild response to the Adversary's temptation had nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with the assurance that comes with complete control - and that is the heart of meekness.


20 March 2015

Weekly Wrap-up

It's funny how often I get to late Friday or Saturday and realize that the wrap-up post I'd meant to do isn't done, and, well, oops. This week, I'm starting early, so hopefully I'll have it ready to go on Friday!

We had some good progress in math this week, with Hero working on some fractions work. 

This page turned out to be pretty difficult, and we worked on it a couple days, and did some DragonBox and other games on the other days for a break. Miquon says it goes through 3rd grade, and by that, we're probably a little bit "behind," since I don't think we'll be finished with these books by the beginning of summer, but given the actual difficulty, I'm pretty comfortable with that. We'll take our time, and then move into Singapore, probably, when Miquon is finished.

Hero's also been doing some independent reading about the Revolutionary War. He started a chapter book about Benedict Arnold - I think that I'm going to have to read that one as well, since I'm pretty vague on who he was. And, he spent a fair amount of time watching and learning from the Daddy while they built a new computer for the kids to use from parts that we mostly already had. It's so cool to watch my kids and my husband work together. I had other plans, but when I realized what nice things were happening, I just kept out of the way and let them do their thing. They worked on the computer, and they also made some big progress on getting Hero's first Pinewood Derby car ready for the big race next week. (One of these days, I'm going to have to look up the word "derby." I think Cub Scouts is pretty much the only context that I ever see it in, and I have no idea what it means, other than cute little wooden cars the boys make.)

Dragon has been doing good things, too, this week. His reading is coming along nicely; he can do the Bob Books pretty well now. And his violin lesson this week was easily the best that he's ever had. He was so excited to show his teacher what he'd been doing that he ran in and started opening his case while she and I were still chatting, which just doesn't happen: she has to compete for his attention with her daughter, who is just Dragon's age, and violin lessons just don't usually compete very well with the fun games they make up! But this week, he was excited. So he made some big progress.

We had a fantastic week for nature study. It was a good visit out to the pond. We saw our first wooly bear caterpillar of the season, though I'm not sure if it counts, since it was in the parking lot, partly squished, but the kids were excited about finding it. And we got to look at the ice, and the way that it grabs onto the sticks on the pond with all the freezing and thawing and freezing again that we're doing. And the kids found some of what we think might be wild raspberry canes at the park. I'm wondering if there isn't a way that we can get a little piece to grow at home without disturbing what's at the park, but I don't know. I need to talk to the park people. Then, when we got home, we spent some more time looking at the nest cams. The Bald Eagles were quite active today; we think they might be close to hatching time. And the Barn Owls were eating lunch and copulating. It was a big day on the nest cams, though Dragon was really disappointed that we couldn't find any Ospreys to watch.


19 March 2015

Fallacy Study

One of the problems with our public discourse is that a huge portion of it is completely illogical. Logic is as basic to good, rational thinking as addition facts are to math. But nearly nobody learns logic in school anymore. This week, I actually had someone tell me that logical fallacies are "subjective." She didn't like what I was saying, so she tried to make it untrue. However, that thinking is as wishful as the child who tries to deny that 1+1=2. 

We were discussing this article. Whatever your opinions about vaccinations, this article is fantastic for the study of logical fallacies. So much so that I plan to print it out and save it for when we do the study of logic in a few years. Honestly, I don't blame this mom for being irrational. She is clearly grieving the loss of her oldest, worries for her second child's health, and is terrified about what's going to happen to her newborn, following a possible measles exposure. And all this is going on while her brain is steeping in the postpartum hormone stew. Nope, I don't blame her one bit for being irrational. It is highly unlikely that I would do any better at all, in her place. That's a tough spot, and I have a lot of sympathy for her. 

But she's still irrational.

Her words on Facebook have gone somewhat viral, and there's a whole lot of people looking at them and nodding their heads. It is indicative of the serious failings of public schools that so few seem able to see the many deep flaws in the thinking. But they don't; if they did the post wouldn't be viral. Even some very smart people who are supposed to be very well educated are falling prey to it. This showed up in my feed, posted by a woman who was valedictorian of my sister's class. Her comment? "Well said." Though I like the girl that posted it, I have to disagree with her assessment. This piece is irrational. And if we are to keep our freedoms, we absolutely must do better than the emotional gibberish that this article typifies. 

In a couple years, I will ask my kids to look at this and other news items, and identify the logic faults. Name the fallacies, and explain how the piece they are looking at exemplifies that flaw. I am doing the same exercise here. If you haven't already, it may be useful to read the complete original. Most of my fallacies have been taken from this Intellectual Self Defense list, though a few do come from other places. I've tried to link those to an explanation.

Logical fallacy #1: False Cause
She blames *all* non-vaccinators for the (possible) exposure of her child, even though she knows nothing about the sick child.

Logical Fallacy #2: Begging the Question
She takes as a premise the safety and reliability of vaccines, and then tries to use that to prove... the safety and reliability of vaccines. It doesn't work. You can't prove a thing simply by repeating it in slightly different words.

Logical Fallacy #3: Ad Hominem. 
This one is to attack the person, rather than the argument. "...then I am happy to call you an imbecile as well as misinformed." Classic. She's not even *trying* to address the actual concerns of non-vaxxers. She's just calling names. In addition to being a bad, non-persuasive argument, it's just plain old bad manners.

Logical Fallacy#4: Ad Misericordiam. 
This fallacy is an irrelevant or exaggerated appeal to our sympathy. She herself said that her daughter's death is unrelated to the vaccine question. "The fact is, there was no vaccine for her. Not for her illness." But we're not supposed to notice that, because "she died. She died and now she is gone." She's invoking a strong societal norm (it's rude to argue with a grieving mother) to quash any dissent. It's not an argument; it's manipulating the situation to discredit any dissenters by making them appear heartless. It's common enough in our public discourse, but it only works because the vast majority don't reason well.

Logical Fallacy #5: Confirmation Bias. 
This is only accepting evidence that confirms what you already believe, and she's not shy about it. "There is no, none, nada, nothing in science that proves this. If you want to use google instead of science to 'prove me wrong' then I am happy to call you an imbecile as well as misinformed." She's come right out and said, in the most insulting way she can, that there is no evidence that will persuade her to reconsider. She announces her bias, loud and clear.

There are others. Straw Man. Red Herring. Appeal to Authority. Misleading Vividness. And so on. We've all but banished logic from our schools. Rather than examining fallacies and propaganda, in order to avoid them, our schools are teaching them, explicitly, as "persuasion" techniques. Really, it's no wonder that our public discourse consists of so much of bullying the opposition into silence. 

I sympathize with this mom's anger and pain. What she is going through is enough to make almost anyone a little crazy. She wrote this in a moment of intense stress. But it doesn't make her premise or her arguments logically sound. Nor does it bring any justice to her blame. A sizable percent (I believe it's around 1/3) of measles cases are in the vaccinated population, and it's not unheard of for the recently vaccinated to "shed" the germs. There is no way to know which way those odd ran. I don't blame her for her poor logic, or even making for her rant public; she is grieving, terrified, and in the throes of the dramatic postpartum hormone shifts. It's a perfect storm, and she can easily be excused for her irrationality. I certainly can't guarantee that I'd do any better in the same place; I, too, know a thing or two about grief, and know from experience that it does not lend to clear thinking. But our public discourse must be better than irrational, emotional tirades. Alexander Hamilton had the right of it:

"For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution." (Federalist #1)

What this mom has really discovered is that life is risky business. No matter what you do and how careful you are, you cannot eliminate risk or pain from life. Wesley was right: "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something." Vaccinated or not, kids get sick sometimes. And it sucks. People get sick. Sometimes they die; the survivors mourn. The pain is real and legitimate. But we can't let that pain be a reason to let our public discourse be rants and bullying, not if we want freedom. America must do better than this.


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