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28 September 2016

Debatable: Trump, Clinton, Johnson, Castle (part 1)

The debate last night was short at least two candidates that should have been present: Darrell Castle and Gary Johnson. This morning, I'm looking at the transcripts, the additional candidates' response and commentary, and comparing all their comments to what the Constitution says.

The Constitution is so very important, folks; it's so much more than just a piece of paper, or a legal document, it is the Charter of Liberty. And, without it, government is just cut loose from us. It's free to do whatever it wants, like it is now; it doesn't recognize any limits, and that's important. We have to limit it to the Constitution.
-Darrell Castle, statement

I'm using this transcript, and giving this fact-checker an occasional glace. I contacted the Castle and Johnson campaigns in an effort to get their responses to the same questions, but at this time have not heard from them. I tried to collect their from the internet relevant comments from candidates that should have been on the stage, but were not. Text from the transcripts and candidate comments are bolded; my commentary follows. I am ignoring irrelevant comments designed to make voters feel good or the opponents look bad. So, here goes.

"This debate is sponsored by a nonpartisan commission."
Rigged, of course, since really any candidate that has ballot access in the bulk of the States ought to be on stage. This is one of the several ways that the Republicans and Democrats belittle and minimize so-called "minor" players: by exclusion. Then, when few have heard of them and few votes follow, they point to it as proof that there's no call for a third party. Meanwhile, fully a third of Americans find no representation among the Republicans and Democrats. But we're supposed to believe that that third has no ability or interest in being represented. It's a pretty racket.

Clinton: "First, we have to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. That means we need new jobs, good jobs with rising incomes. I want us to invest in you. I want us to invest in your future. That means jobs in infrastructure, in advanced manufacturing, innovation and technology, clean renewable energy, and small business, because most of the new jobs will come from small business."

There is no Constitutional authority for "investment" by the President. The President's jobs deal primarily with executing - carrying out - the laws passed by Congress (Article II Section 1), with the military (Article II Section 2). He may recommend measures to Congress (Article II Section 3),  and he deals with foreign ambassadors  and other public ministers (Article II Section 3), and he's got responsibility for judicial nominations (Article II Section 2). But he's not tasked with creating jobs, and what is not specifically delegated is out of bounds.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. 
-Tenth Amendment

Clinton: "And I want us to do more to support people who are struggling to balance family and work."

This is the same - outside of the office of the President, and not a power delegated to Congress, either. This would be a great project for the Clinton Foundation or other private charity, but it's outside the proper role of government.

Johnson: “We had a 11.6 percent job growth that occurred during our two terms in office. But the headlines that accompanied that report – referring to governors, including me, as ‘job creators’ – were just wrong. The fact is, I can unequivocally say that I did not create a single job while I was governor. Instead, we kept government in check, the budget balanced, and the path to growth clear of unnecessary regulatory obstacles.” (Source)

This appears to be a Constitutionally sound methodology: government in check {he'll need Congress to assist, or plan to veto a whole lot}; a balanced budget {the budget is a particular concern to the House, as all revenues must originate in the House (Article I Section 6), but the President may recommend bills (Article II Section 3) and he has veto power as well (Article I Section 7)}; and a path cleared of unnecessary regulatory obstacles {for repeals, he would need Congress's cooperation in introducing and passing new bills (Article 1 Section 8), but he could do quite a bit by just vetoing bills with burdensome amounts of regulations (Article I Section 7), and by shutting down unconstitutional regulatory agencies that operate within the Executive departments (Article II Section 2)}.

Castle: I'm all in favor of returning power to the States; that's what my taxing program is all about: empowering the States and disenpowering Washington. That's what we're about. I'd be a Tenth Amendment President, for sure. (Source)

There's not tons to go on here, but the fact that he is referencing the Tenth Amendment's limits on what the federal government can do, as well as talking about returning the States to their proper role is refreshing.

Castle: I favor the tax system that's set out in Article I Section 9 Paragraph 4, and that is that the tax would be apportioned among the States. That is, if you have one percent of the nation's population, you would be responsible for collecting one percent... apportioned by census in the same manner that we elect Representatives. That would take power away from Washington and return it to the States and the People where it belongs; it would eliminate some of the concepts of Washington funneling money to the States and saying, "If you don't do this or that," or, "If you don't pass this or that we're going to cut off your money." (Source)

Gotta love it when the candidate cites the relevant portions of the Constitution for me. I cannot argue with his view of the Constitution here, or with the likely outcome. He would have to get Congress on board to do it, which might be a challenge, though if he has the grit to veto the budget if it's not done this way, it could happen. I do not think that the Sixteenth Amendment would be a problem, because it doesn't require uneven taxes, it merely allows them.

Clinton: "So let's have paid family leave, earned sick days — let's be sure we have affordable child care and debt-free college. How are we going to do it? We're going to do it by having the wealthy pay their fair share and close the corporate loopholes."

These are measures that she, if elected, may recommend to Congress for consideration. But it would be way out of the role of the President to try to do any of these things unilaterally, by Executive Order or any other method. All powers of legislation - the creation of law, whether it's called law, regulation, or another name - resides in the Congress, not the President:

All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States...
-Article I Section 1

Trump: "So Ford is leaving. You see that, a small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio, they are all leaving. And we can't allow it to happen anymore."

I fail to see how the President can, without usurpation, make this happen. Congress and the unelected bureaucracies (many of the unconstitutional) have burdened our businesses, large and small, with an unsustainable level of regulation, so they take their jobs elsewhere. If we want them back, we have to do something about the regulation. For the President to attempt to do it on his own (and Mr. Trump doesn't mention collaboration or cooperation with Congress, just stopping the flow of jobs), would be completely unconstitutional. It would require legislation to remove barriers to businesses creating jobs, and legislation is Congress's department (Article I Section 1).

Trump: "As far as child care is concerned and so many other things, I think Hillary and I agree on that. We probably disagree a little bit as to numbers and amounts and what we're going to do, but perhaps we'll be talking about that later."

 So, this reference to childcare is pretty vague -- the fact check/analysis version of the debate has a bit more information:

Trump’s plan would allow parents to deduct their state’s average cost of child care, and he would also introduce rebates for lower-income parents. There would also be new savings accounts for parents to set aside money for child care. As for Clinton, she has said that families should not pay more than 10 percent of their income for child care, though it’s not clear how that would be implemented. She also has called for more Head Start funding, as well as universal pre-K programs.

The power to tax is among the powers delegated to Congress (Article I Section 8), and so the President may rightly recommend to Congress measures he deems "necessary and expedient" (Article II Section 2) including amendments to the tax code, but I think it would be wise if we encouraged our candidates and the sitting Presidents to move away from "I will do..." kind of statements because it normalizes the transfer of power from Congress to the President - which is a very common brand of usurpation. Thanks to the Sixteenth Amendment, it is no longer necessary for taxes to be evenly borne among the States, nor for them to be tied to the population of the States in any way, so that requirement is not a hindrance to a childcare proposal. However, Congress is still bound by the description of their powers in Article 1 Section 8:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
*To borrow money on the credit of the United States; 
*To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;
*To establish an uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform rules on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
*To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
*To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
*To establish post-offices and post-roads;
*To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
*To constitute tribunals inferior to the supreme court;
*To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
*To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
*To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
*To provide and maintain a navy;
*To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
*To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
*To provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
*To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings; And,
*To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

This list is an exhaustive list of all the things about which Congress may legitimately legislate, and I don't see how childcare could be a federal matter. If it is to be done by government (a questionable proposal), then this would have to be matter left to the several States to do or not do as their populations see fit to instruct the various legislatures. The Tenth Amendments makes clear that powers not delegated are reserved, and therefore off limits to the federal level:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. 
-Tenth Amendment

Therefore, both Trump and Clinton are calling for an unconstitutional expansion of federal power when they call for federal meddling in childcare.

Trump: "Under my plan, I'll be reducing taxes tremendously from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses. That's going to be a job creator..."

 The President may recommend legislation he deems "necessary and expedient" (Article II Section 3),  but Trump's "I'll be reducing taxes..." indicates that he thinks this can be done by the President alone, which would be unconstitutional and a usurpation of Congressional power.

Trump: "We have to renegotiate our trade deals and we have to stop these countries from stealing our companies and our jobs."

Trade deals, as with all treaties, are made "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate" (Article II Section 2), so it is conceivable that the President could do this, and it would not be too big of a stretch for the President to take credit, though it would be more proper for him to acknowledge the input and consent of the Senate.

Trump: "First of all, you don't let the companies leave."

He doesn't have any specific plans stated, so there's not much to analyze here, but it's worth pointing out that our country was founded on the concept of inalienable Rights, among them the right to life, to Liberty and self-determination, and the right to control property. This comment shows that Trump places little value on either self-determination or on property rights. Given his record, this should come as no surprise.

Trump: "And once you say you're going to have to tax them coming in and our politicians never do this because they have special interests and special interests want those companies to leave because in many cases they own the companies."

Clinton: "[Experts] looked at my plans ... and I intend to get it done..."

 Working with Congress, and within the constraints of the laws that Congress passes, is the heart and soul of the work of the President. The President cannot expect to get his way on every single issue because he is not a monarch; he is a leader of a representative government within a system of principled limitations on the government's power. Trump and Clinton both show here that they fail to grasp that concept.

Johnson: "Free trade, not isolationism, is what will lead to more US jobs. (Source)

Trade deals, as with all treaties, are made "by and with the advice and consent of the Senate" (Article II Section 2), so it is conceivable that the President could do this, with a willing Senate.

Clinton: "Scientists say [climate change is] real... And here's what we can do. We can deploy half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That's a lot of jobs."

First, there would have to be laws passed allowing the Executive to act to bring in more solar panels - but there is no authority for Congress do that in the Enumerated Powers of Article I Section 8. The measures she's talking about here could have various regulations added (though adding to the regulatory burden isn't an effective way to stimulate anything) or regulations could be taken away, but the actual instillation and the funding from it need to come from private, or possibly State funds, but to do it at the federal level would be illegitimate.

Next there's some unpresidential and highly irritating bickering (preschoolers typically behave better than these two), where neither one of them says anything of substance. Then this:

Trump: "I'm going to cut regulations. I'm going to cut taxes big league..."
Clinton: "Clinton: I will not add a penny to the debt..."

More of the same: promises for unilateral action -the Founders would have said monarchical action- by the President. These types of comments are not indicative of a solid understanding of or respect for the Constitution. Our candidates act this way because We The People let them; this is on us.

Castle: That is what this whole debate is about: power and the desire to keep it. I doubt whether the president or Congress really care how much we owe or what it costs us. What they care very passionately about is staying in power ... What is the root of the debt problem? Borrowing is the problem that makes our entire monetary system unsustainable. You can't solve a problem caused by borrowing by borrowing more; but the attitude seems to be "let's do more of what's not working - perhaps we just haven't done enough of it." The problem then is not just borrowing to pay bills and finance debt but literally borrowing our money into existence. (Source)

Borrowing against the credit of the United States is a power of Congress (Article I Section 8), but I have no problems with the assertion that we are well beyond what could be termed "responsible borrowing".  Mr. Castle, as President, could potentially take this problem on by vetoing bills that included what he deemed to be too much borrowing (Article I Section 7), though Congress could override him (Article I Section 7).

Clinton: "What I have proposed would cut regulations and streamline them for small businesses. What I have proposed would be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy because they have made all the gains in the economy..."

At least in this breath she's talking about proposals.

Clinton: "I think it's time that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share."

If by fair, she means a just proportion, then we should have skipped the Sixteenth Amendment: prior to that point, taxes were to be uniform throughout the United States (Article I Section 8)- which is the only just way to do it. But now there's specifically and deliberately no requirement for any kind of equity in the tax code, which leads to this sort of inequitable and pandering to the covetous by wrangling about so and so "paying their fair share".

And that's enough for today. I'll try some more, probably on Friday.

26 September 2016

20 Principles: Justice (part 2)

This post is part of a series. Please to visit the series index for more thoughts on the writings of Charlotte Mason.

Go here to read Justice (Part One), which covers Truth and Integrity, the first half of Miss Mason's four aspects of Justice:

Truth: justice in word
Integrity: justice in action
Sound Opinions: justice in thought
Sound Principles: justice in motive

Now we're moving away from that external behavior which is seen and on to that internal motivation which is unseen:

Sound Opinions: Justice in Thought

On our journey toward Justice in our actions, I think that, to get the details right, we are going to have to come to a place where we require justice of ourselves in our thoughts -- which will greatly impact the opinions that we allow ourselves to form and to hold. Miss Mason explained it this way:

There is another form in which the magnanimous citizen of the future must be taught the sense of justice. Our opinions show our integrity of thought. Every person has many opinions whether his own honestly thought out, or notions picked up from his pet newspaper or his companions. The person who thinks out his opinions modestly and carefully is doing his duty as truly as if he saved a life because there is no more or less about duty.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:61-62

At first, I was more than a little startled by the assertion that sound opinions could be as weighty as a life saved. Then I thought of the current political debacle with Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton as our candidates, and how unsound opinions are endangering our Liberties -- and how Agency is God's most priceless gift to man, next to life itself. And I thought how the careless opinion, repeated, become gossip and can ruin the reputation of a good man undeservedly, and the pain and heartache that causes. All the sudden, opinions seem much more important.

I have no idea if this is a legitimate Einstein quote, memes from the internet being what they are, but whoever said it, I think there is a great deal of wisdom in it:

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.

In recent years, I have become more inclined to say, "I haven't researched that topic enough to have a well-formed opinion on the matter," and when I think about this idea of sound opinion reflecting justice in thought, it makes me want to be all the more cautious about forming and especially sharing hasty opinions.

Sound Principles: Justice in Motive

It was the marital arts that really taught me to see what a principle is; it's really remarkable how  techniques, when examined closely, are just so many ways of manipulating the opponents' spine this way or that way.  Once I learned to think of principles as the underlying idea that governs body movement in the martial arts, it was a concept that quickly transferred to and enriched my understanding of my faith.

Take Sabbath observance, for instance. We make "Sunday Cans" to help children think of things that they can do on the Sabbath. That's a technique. There are long lists of techniques that are all aimed at helping people think of things that are acceptable for the Sabbath. I've seen people get into some pretty intense conversations about whether this or that ought to make the cut. But once you understand the principle, it becomes a whole lot clearer: The Sabbath exists to create an opportunity for us to worship alone and in community,  and to assist us in coming to Christ. That's the point; the principle. It's the movement the technique is designed to create. It's the underlying unifying idea that causes us to include or exclude any specific activity. And the passing of the principle to our children is far more important that passing a list of techniques; the understanding and acceptance of the principle is what's going to make the teaching stick over the long run, and help them to sort out what to do with new options that they discover as potential activities for the Sabbath day.

For what, after all, are principles but those motives of first importance which govern us, move us in thought and action? We appear to pick up these in a casual way and are seldom able to render an account of them and yet our lives are ordered by our principles, good or bad.
-Charlotte Mason, 6:62

Christ told the lawyer that all the Law and the Prophets hung on just two principles,  which can be summed up in only six words: love God and love your neighbor. It is no accident that the principle that guides the entire Gospel of Christ deals with the things going on in the heart, and the reason that it's the principle is because love is the motive that guides and creates just actions. And educating children in sound principles - good and just motivations - is at the very heart and soul of what it means to educate a child.

True education seeks to make men and women not only good mathematicians, proficient linguist, profound scientists, or brilliant literary lights, but also honest men with virtue, temperance, and brotherly love. It seeks to make men and women who prize truth, justice, wisdom, benevolence, and self-control as the choicest acquisitions of a successful life.
--David O. McKay, quoted by Ted E. Brewerton, "Character - The True Aim of Education"

Miss Mason put it succinctly, both outlining the duty of the parent and educator, and also pointing out the predictable result of failure to properly instruct:

If a schoolboy is to be guided into the justice of thought from which sound opinions emanate, how much more does he need guidance in arriving at that justice in motive which we call sound principles. ... Small wonder that juvenile crime increases; the intellectually starved boy must needs find food for his imagination, scope for his intellectual power; and crime, like the cinema, offers it must be admitted, brave adventures.
-Charlotte Masons 6:62-63

It's easier, I think, to consider what we justly owe to our fellow men in our behavior and attitudes and motivations. But Justice is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways:

"You ask: Have we then no rights ourselves, and have other people no duties towards us? We have indeed rights, precisely the same rights as other people, and when we learn to think of ourselves as one of the rest, with just the same rights as other people and no more, to whom others owe just such duties as we owe to them and no more, we shall, as it were, get our lives in focus and see things as they are."
-Charlotte Mason, 4:139

Here, of course, we see the problem of trying to separate religion and education. For, if you banish faith from education, on what grounds will you lay your principles? And without a solid principled foundation, how can you build the sort of education that will encourage children to become adults who are honest men of virtue, temperance, and brotherly love who prize Truth, Goodness, and Beauty? These principles are at the heart of religion, which is why Miss Mason said that education is, rightly, religion's handmaid. Others have said it in other words:

Alma discovered this same principle, that “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just--yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword” (Alma 31:5). Why? Because the sword focused only on punishing behavior--or do--while preaching the word changed people’s very nature--who they were or could become.
-Lynn G Robins, Apr. 2011

And that's what we're after - not just a change in behavior, but a mighty change in the very nature of our students. We want Justice not only in the behavior that is seen, but in the unseen, quiet parts of the soul. We want Justice, in all its facets, to be written in the fleshy tables of their hearts.

25 September 2016

White Chicken Chili

A friend of mine asked me the other day about some ideas for easy, healthy recipes. After we talked a bit, I suggested that she get friendly with her crockpot - so many crockpot recipes involve little more than dumping things in, then ignoring them a while, but they're so delicious, and it's easy to make them healthy. And I promised to go through my pinterest board for crockpots and pick out some likely recipes to start with. Here's the first one I've come up with:

White Chicken Chili
based on Crock Pot Chicken Chili by Budget Savy Diva

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can sweet corn, with juice
1 can fire roasted tomatoes (or other diced/crushed tomatoes) with juice
1 package ranch dressing mix
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbs chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
8oz cream cheese (full fat tastes best - and fat is not the enemy)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 onion, diced
1-2 Tbs diced garlic (be generous, it's yummy)
1-2 Tbs olive oil

In a skillet, heat oil over med-low heat. Add diced onion, then garlic, and cook slowly until the onion is a little transparent, around 8-10 minutes. Set your crockpot to low, add everything, putting the cream cheese on top. Cook for 6-8 hours. Shred chicken with two forks.

You can easily convert this to a quick one-pot dinner by using canned chicken, and if you don't have one of the spices, it's probably going to be fine without it; I made it the other day and forgot to add a bunch: ranch dressing, cumin, chili powder, onion powder... all the powdered spices. I got distracted. It was still yummy. And when I make it with the "right" spices, it'll almost seem like a whole different dish.

24 September 2016

Psalm 13: Mercy, Justice, and Forgiveness

I love this, from verse five, where it talks about trusting in His Mercy. I've been studying Justice in the stuff I'm working on studying for our homeschool, and it's really remarkable to see the inter-relation of Justice and Mercy. Here, David starts out with a plea for mercy:

How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God...
-Psalm 13:1-3

I read this plea, and my heart goes out to him. But I also remember that there were some very legitimate demands for Justice against him, among them the complaints of Uriah and Bathsheba.

My experience is that we can sometimes forget that the Atonement has two sides. Usually, when we think about the Atonement we focus on how mercy can satisfy the demands that justice would impose upon us. We are typically quicker to accept the idea that when we sin and make mistakes the Atonement is available to pay our debts. Forgiveness requires us to consider the other side of the Atonement—a side that we don’t think about as often but that is equally critical. That side is the Atonement’s power to satisfy our demands of justice against others, to fulfill our rights to restitution and being made whole. We often don’t quite see how the Atonement satisfies our own demands for justice. Yet it does so. It heals us not only from the guilt we suffer when we sin, but it also heals us from the sins and hurts of others.
-James R. Rasband, Faith to Forgive Grievous Harms

Uriah and Bathsheba had a right to expect Justice and restitution from David, and Christ will make it right -- but He can do that and extend mercy to sinner: the scriptures talk about the "sure mercy of David". Looking at the interrelation of Justice and Mercy has been really comforting to me, both as it applies to my debts to others, but especially as it applies to wrongs committed against me; forgiveness is not incompatible with Justice -- but I don't have to bear the burden of Justice; the Lord does that for me. And He handles the restitution. When I think of it this way, the lines between Justice and Mercy that once seemed so sharp start to feel softer; it all starts to look so merciful, no matter which direction I look.

23 September 2016

A Day in the Life

A pretty typical day in our life. The kids are 5th grade, 1st grade, and preschool.

4:00am - Wake up (I heard the Daddy's alarm) and send him off to work. It's really early.

4:20 - back to bed.

8:00am - Wake up again, still tired. I think that I'm anemic, so I'm thinking about what I can have for breakfast that will help with that. Look at my phone -- text helps my brain to focus.

8:10 - The kids attack me for snuggles. Hero asks if he can make mac n cheese for breakfast. Gross. I say yes, but there's no way I'm eating that. They laugh; they're used to me hating it. We snuggle a few minutes, then I get up and try to think. I hate being anemic; makes morning time really rough, no matter how much sleep I get. Hero shows me the dragon he drew this morning.

8:40 - Hero's got the mac n cheese almost done. I'm putting up today's list of things that need to happen. There's cool art on my markerboard again; I try to make the list around it, so that it doesn't get erased too soon. I also move last week's Brahms piece to the bottom of our playlist so that we can listen to a new one first this week. Dragon asks for his Legos down.

9:00 - I'm done messing with the computer, and inspect a transformer Dragon made on my way to turn on Brahms.

9:15 - I have the Duplos off the floor, and I'm enjoying the Brahms, about to do some yoga. Hero turns up with his violin, and I ask him to do that after we've had a few more minutes with Brahms. He decides he'd like to vacuum for his chore today instead, so I put off my yoga and ask him to do the computer room as well as the living room. And I remember that one of Dragon's books grew legs yesterday and walked away. Gotta find that book, soon, or something else that will work in its place.

9:30 - Hero's done with the vacuuming and moves on to reading; Dragon is working on some 100s chart games on the computer. I give him a couple patterns to color on his chart, he makes up a couple patterns, and then chooses some other educational games. I text the Daddy a couple times -it's his break time- and then go try again with the yoga.

10:05 - Yoga's done, and it went well. I started working on Crow Pose about a year ago because I read that it was a good beginner arm balance. I have no idea how long it usually takes people to learn to balance (though I've read the scoliosis makes it harder to do - and mine was bad, before I started yoga), but I'm super happy to finally hold it for a second or two today. This is the first time that I'd say that I was actually able to balance in the pose for a second or two; that feels good.

When I'm done with yoga I look at Dragon's game he wants to show me, then remind him that (although Christmas lights games are cool) he's supposed to be playing math games. He heads back to do some dot-to-dots when I tell him his math time is almost up. Peanut is sitting next to him, watching what he's up to, and commenting on the pictures he makes. "That's a purple dinosaur!" 

I pick up a towel left on the floor last night, and straighten out the bookshelves, hoping that I'll find the missing book -- which I do. Hero starts practicing his violin. School ran late yesterday, almost till bedtime, and he is not looking for a repeat. We try to finish everything early, but it seems like every now and then the kids need a reminder of why that's a good idea.

I put my clothes in the bathroom, planning for a shower, then tell Dragon his math games are done, and help get Peanut some day clothes. 

10:30 - Dragon and I finish reading about ancient Egyptian gods and mummies. He narrates beautifully. Hero is setting up our calendar and wants to do Morning Basket next. Works for me. 

We start with our calendar, which we do in Japanese. Mostly. Except for the part where I tell Dragon to stop acting crazy. That's English. 

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man, in Japanese, with actions. We skip the new one, Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree. Up next: poems. Those are a fan favorite. All of the kids have their own set: Peanut gets Nursery Rhymes, and then as usual, insists on looking at the pictures in her book; Dragon is in A Child's Book of Poems; and Hero's meeting Emily Dickinson. They each get one:

I Saw Three Ships
I saw three ships come sailing by,
Come sailing by, come sailing by,
I saw three ships come sailing by,
On New Year's Day in the morning.

And what do you think was in them then,
Was in them then, was in them then,
And what do you think was in them then,
On New Year's Day in the morning?

Three pretty girls were in them then,
Where in them then, were in them then,
Three pretty girls were in them then,
On New Year's Day in the morning.

One could whistle, and one could sing,
And one could play the violin;
Such joy there was at my wedding,
On New Year's Day in the morning.

The Friendly Cow
The friendly cow, all red and white,
 I love with all my heart;
She gives me cream with all her might,
 To eat with apple tart.

She wanders lowing here and there,
 And yet she cannot stray,
All in the pleasant open air,
 The pleasant light of day,

And blown by all the winds that pass
 And wet with all the showers,
She walks among the meadow grass
 And eats the meadow flowers.

The Bee is Not Afraid of Me
The bee is not afraid of me,
I know the butterfly;
The pretty people in the woods
Receive me cordially.

The brooks laugh louder when I come,
The breezes madder play.
Wherefore, mine eyes, thy silver mists?
Wherefore, O summer's day?

We also do our memory work - most of it fast and yelling, and do the scripture boxes. Dragon's attention is going fast today, and he ends up in a timeout near the end, but recovers quickly. We've had three days or so of rain, and he needs to be outside; it shows.

11:00 - I eat some peaches and to leftover deviled eggs, set Hero up with reading Age of Fable, then take his narration. And finally get my shower. There's voluntary reading going on; I like that, and don't interrupt it.

11:30 - When I get out, I announce that everybody needs to get shoes on and go outside for 20 minutes. In the middle of the happy scramble, there's a squirrel out front that needs to be watched, so they pause and do that. Hero goes out the door with a book in his hand; that must be my kid.

While they are outside, I work on this blog post, and start gathering up some easy crockpot recipes I promised a friend of mine. I've got a timer set so that I don't get too involved and sabotage the kids' efforts at doing school efficiently today.

11:55 -- There's tears outside; Peanut got too close to an active swing. Everybody comes back inside and has a cheese stick. I need to do some lunch. Probably with black beans, since they have iron. Hero grabs our Japanese text and we finish off the first unit; next time we'll be in chapter 2! We're moving slowly, but I think it's working pretty well. After that, he reads some stories to Peanut. Dragon is playing with his Legos again. 

12:30 - Hero wants math. I'm trying to get lunch, but stop and get him started. I persuade Dragon to get out his violin. He does a nice job once he settles into it. 

Peanut builds a cool circle track for the "train-train" -- all by herself!

Next I have Dragon work on his hiragana (Japanese alphabet) using flashcards today. He's doing a really nice job, and getting better at recognizing the exotic letters -- and reading them. I am pleased. 

1:15 - Lunch is getting close. I have got to get better at doing it earlier. Our new schedule is still foreign-feeling, and hoping that the Daddy finds something better, soon, isn't helping me adjust. I put some biscuits in the oven to go with the chili, and check Hero's math. He needs more practice on multiplying; I send him back to correct his work. He's really ready to do something else. I tell him to finish. And warn Dragon and Peanut that fighting over trains will lose them the trains. Peanut gets sent to her room to finish whining.

1:30 - Lunch is on. It's tasty. Soup - the first soup of the fall - and biscuits. After the prayer, I read Lamb's Shakespeare to the kids; we're working on Comedy of Errors, and everyone is doing really well with it. I am surprised at how much I'm enjoying it; Shakespeare is a new experience for me, too.  This is our second play, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how funny it is. The boys do a sort of tandem narration, with both of them contributing bits, and they're following it quite well.

1:45 - My best friend calls, and I invite her over to join us for lunch. She says she'll be here in 20 minutes, so we quit Shakespeare and I grab Secrets of the Woods. Officially, this is Dragon's book, so he's the only one that narrates, but we don't get far because I realize that he doesn't know what it means to "tap a tree", so we're off to YouTube to learn about that.

2:00 - I get Dragon to take out the recycles for his family work - he's delighted with the job and does it in the noisiest way possible. It is very loud. My friend arrives, and I banish the kids to the yard. Dragon is still experimenting with how loud he can possibly be. Peanut joins him. I tell them no water; it's not warm enough. Go. Out. Side. My friend and I exchange stories of our days - mine with the kids, hers driving school bus. We laugh and shake our heads at Dragon's antics.

2:30 - The Daddy calls; he's done with work, and do I want anything from Walmart? I do - Hero wants an Optimus Prime cake for his birthday campfire party tomorrow, so I need sugar to make frosting. My friend and I continue chatting.

3:00 - Daddy's home! He joins the conversation, which is delightful. Tells about today's antics from the powers that be at work. It's amazing they stay in business. Dragon asks for some computer time; Hero is reading. Peanut finds her purple boa and is prancing around with it.

3:45 - My friend has to leave, and the Daddy heads out again to do some home teaching.

4:10 - Dragon and Peanut request play-doh. And all the play-doh tools. Hero is playing a video game; he asks me to set the time for 30 minutes, which is about half his screen time. I set up the play-doh, then go look for the cake pan Hero requested. 

4:20 - More dishes. Only, I need to do some laundry. So I get that started first. {Can I just say how much I love me a labor-saving device!}Back to the dishes While I work, I set up some Japanese YouTube videos for passive listening; passive exposure makes a huge difference in our language study.

4:25 - My sister called. Yay!! We chat for a while, she wants to know about how the new job is going; I ask about her kids. And tell Dragon, "Go find a thing to do," about 4 times in the half-hour conversation. When it's done, I turn the Japanese back on. And try to get a few dishes done. And do a thing for a kid. And wash a dish.

Dishes are the job I used to throw tantrums over when I was a kid. They're still not my favorite. But that's not why they're not getting done very efficiently today. I have actually learned to enjoy a clean kitchen -- enough to put forth the effort necessary to get it there. But I have a hard time staying on task. {sigh} One of these years, I'll have a clean house.

5:10 - The Daddy calls. His home teaching people asked for a little help, so he's slower than he anticipated. I love when he calls; I know very well that he doesn't have to do it, but it's so nice. I work very hard at not dropping the phone into the water -- I'm holding it with my head while I attempt to get a few dishes clean.

5:20 - The Japanese is back on, now that I'm not on the phone. (Nobody's paying attention, including me, but it's amazing what the brain does in the background, as far as sorting patterns, when you're not really paying attention.) I just want a nap. Which reminds me: I still haven't looked to see if I've still got iron supplements, or if they're still good. I need to do that. And it's about time to move the laundry. And I've got to make that cake. Which means butter needs to be out warming up...  I feel like I'm not getting any closer to the bottom of my to-do list... which just might be getting longer. All I want is a nap.

Hero is building Poke-balls from cardboard to play with his friends tomorrow. 

6:00 - I found the iron. It, along with a good collection of other expired stuff is now in the trash. I flipped the laundry. And finally made some progress on the dishes. {When we finally fix or replace the dishwasher, it will be nice.} But the kitchen is looking almost reasonable, and it shouldn't be too bad to keep it that way while I make dinner. I hope. 

After a while the Daddy came home again. Dragon enlisted his help cutting out a Poke-ball of his own. 

I remembered that Peanut hadn't practiced her violin yet. She was delighted to do it, and she's making really good progress at fingering. After that she gets a shower.

7:30 - One pizza made; two warmed up, and a birthday cake in the oven. We settle in for some Avitar: Last Airbender. 

8:30 - Show's over; ice cream is eaten. The cake is out and looks good. Hero is super excited about; totally worth the effort. 

8:40 - Family scriptures and prayers.

8:55 - Kids head upstairs to brush teeth and stuff. Everybody is tired. There's tons of things still on my to-do list, but I feel pretty good about most of the day anyway. Somehow, there's always more tasks than time, but the important stuff gets done most of the time.

9:00 - Personal scriptures and prayers with the boys; Peanut barely made it. Since she's not wearing diapers to sleep anymore, I send her potty one last time. She looks asleep by the time it's her turn for scriptures, but when I go to leave, she manages to mumble, "I not asleep..." So I kiss her and read her two verses. 

9:25 - All the kids and the Daddy are asleep. I sit in the dark and do some Japanese flashcards and make a move in my chess.com games.

9:40 - Downstairs again. The house is delightfully quiet. I check on the baked goods, but some of them aren't cool yet, so I play Minecraft for a little bit, have a drink of water, and listen to some clawhammer banjo.

10:15 - I'm itching to play my own banjo, so I turn off the tunes, and get mine out, just for a couple minutes. Can't do long; it's getting late.

Day In the Life Aug 2015
Day In the Life Nov 2011

20 September 2016

20 Principles: Narration - A Backbone of Classical Education

This post is part of a series. Please to visit the series index for more thoughts on the writings of Charlotte Mason.

There's a lot of chatter on Ambleside Online about narration right now, it being the first of the year; there's a lot of people trying it out for the first time, and it's unfamiliar and easy to feel uncertain, because narration is different from anything most people have done prior to homeschooling. It's also under discussion in the Twenty Principles group right now, which works out well: lots of people reading good things at the same time as people are questioning; I get to be in both camps, and both learn and share.

One of the moms, with a daughter doing Year One, was looking for someone who was willing to make a video for them, so they could see someone else doing it. I asked Dragon(6) if he would be willing to help out, and he was pretty excited about the idea of helping another family with their homeschool. So we did. I didn't do anything special - just set up a camera to catch our normal thing. Including the usual bouncing around and wiggles - this is an active boy.

The foundation for narration is laid in selecting excellent literature for our homes; princesses and race cars and other formulaic books are mental junk food -twaddle- and we owe our children more than that in their education.

To introduce children to literature is to install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served. But they must learn to know literature by being familiar with it from the very first. A child's intercourse must always be with good books, the best that we can find."
-Charlotte Mason vol 6 p 51

There are lots of resources to help with choosing best books to use as we educate our children (and in the process improve our own education). Ambleside Online has some of the best that I've seen in the book lists they recommend for each year. They have a great selection of beautiful, challenging books, and the more I use them, the happier I am with them. Another place that I like to look when I need an idea for what to read is the 1000 Good Books list. Every single book we've tried from the list has been a good one, and I love the idea behind their books, that before we read the 100 or so truly great books from Western Civilization, we should have read 1000 good books. There are a number of reasons for for this: it assists the reader to develop the educational maturity to handle the difficult works that are the great books; it exposes the reader to a multitude of ideas; the good books on the list have been specifically selected to showcase the Good, the Beautiful, and the True and will assist our efforts in teaching by example through the stories' examples of upright people and heroic actions.

The points to be borne in mind are, that he should have no book that is not a child's classic; and that, given the right book, it must not be diluted with talk or broken up with questions, but given to the boy in fit proportions as wholesome meat for his mind, in the full trust that a child's mind is able to deal with its proper food.
-Charlotte Mason vol 3 p 232

So you have your literature; now what? Basically, what happens is you read to the child, or when they're able, they read it, and then they tell back to you what was read. It sounds simple, but don't dismiss it out of hand: narration is work, and can take serious mental effort, especially at first. This type of narration is the backbone of what we do for our content areas, and if the word "narration" sounds odd, you can think of it as oral composition - we are asking the kids to communicate back to use the things that they learned from the passage that they are narrating. They are learning to pay close attention, to locate something good or true or beautiful in the text, to connect with what the author is saying, and then to communicate that with others. And Miss Mason recommends teaching them to do all that after a single reading.

This, of telling again, sounds very simple but it is really a magical creative process by means of which the narrator sees what he has conceived, so definite and so impressive is the act of narrating that which has been read only once. I dwell on the single reading because, let me repeat, it is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again.
-Charlotte Mason, vol 6 p

Brandy, of Afterthoughts Blog, said it really well: "Knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced." And that's exactly what narrating asks of the student -adult students, too: written narrations, following reading and taking notes on a passage really help clarify my thoughts and understand, which is part of why I love blogging: it's narration, and as such helps me think more clearly and assimilate more completely that which I have been reading. When you only allow a single reading before the narration, then you are not only training the compositional faculty, you are also helping the child develop a habit of attention and focus that will serve them well throughout their life: we are teaching perceptiveness and clarity of thought. 

Additionally, this is a very efficient way of teaching, which both subtly teaches the child to appreciate efficiency, and also makes maximum use of the few precious days and years we have to educate our children. Going back over a passage again and again is, for the child who can take it in in a single reading -and I am firmly convinced that, lacking any special disability or trauma, this is possible for all or nearly all children- so to go over repeatedly what could be done just once is a colossal waste of precious instruction time and a terrible disservice to our students. It denies them time for learning other things, and, worse, encourages lax mental habits.

The mind is trained to do all of this work, the very first time. What a blessing to help our children develop these habits — habits many of us wish we had — when they are young and it comes more naturally.
-Brandy, Afterthoughts Blog

It sounds so simple: read the text, then explain it to someone. But it really is remarkable how effective it is. As the kids get older and their writing skills begin to catch up to their mental skills, you start having them write down their narrations and it grows up very naturally into essay writing, because all along they've been practicing the composition elements, and absorbing the rhythm and style of the great authors through extensive exposure to authors who are masters at their craft. 

16 September 2016

In Process of Time

There's this interesting phrase: in process of time. It's used a couple of times in scripture.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.
And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
 -Genesis 4:1-3 (emphasis added)

Eve had a baby: Cain. And as babies do, he grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he became a man. And once he was a man, he took up farming, and the land produced. In process of time; not all at once. Not in a hurry.

Here's another one, from Exodus:

And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 
-Exodus 2:23 (emphasis added)

It doesn't sound like anything happened to hasten the king's end, just he came to the end of his days. In process of time. Like happens to most of us. We grow old a little at a time, slowly, almost imperceptibly, not all at once.

Righteousness grows, bit by bit, little by little, line upon line as well. You can see that in the City of Enoch:

And it came to pass that the Lord showed unto Enoch all the inhabitants of the earth; and he beheld, and lo, Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven.
-Moses 7:21
(emphasis added)

Lately, I've been pondering how "all things testify of Christ", and watching for it, trying to see how it happens. It's so easy to walk past so many good things, to not see the forest for the trees. I want to be able to see. So I've been watching. I've been thinking about this idea of "in process of time" -- not in the process of time, it never says that in the scriptures. It's always, "in process of time".

I read an article a while back (sadly, I've lost the link and can't find it) about how hard it is for city people - people like myself - to understand how things can improve over time. The author pointed out how cities degrade, properties devalue. The old television doesn't gain, it loses over time. The couch, the television, the car, all the trappings of urban and suburban life are like that. They age, they wear out, they get thrown away. The process of time is a process of degradation and decay, at least in the urban environment.

But in nature, it's not like that. Nature is different, and suggests different lessons.

The sapling grows up into an apple tree, and, in process of time, it starts bearing. It becomes more beautiful, more useful as it ages.

The chick grows to a Robin and fledges, and then the cycle renews with another generation of songbirds.

Seeds go into the ground, and in process of time, we have tomatoes, peas, and other delicious things.

Green apples will ripen in time.

Good things come to those who wait.

Time leads to growth, to maturity, to ripeness.

It's an interesting thing to ponder.

15 September 2016

20 Principles: Justice (part 1)

This post is part of a series. Please to visit the series index for more thoughts on the writings of Charlotte Mason.

Everyone has Justice in his heart; a cry for 'fair play' reaches the most lawless mob, and we all know how children torment us with their, 'It's not fair.' It is much to know that as regards justice as well as love there exists in everyone an adequate provision for the conduct of life: general unrest, which has its rise in wrong thinking and wrong judging far more than in faulty conditions, is the misguided outcome of that sense of justice with, thank God, we are all endued.
-Charlotte Mason, v.6 p.60

The first thing that jumped at me was the connection between that and the scripture:

And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil.
-2 Nephi 2:5

That verse has always kind of mystified me. People certainly don't always act like they've been "instructed sufficiently" to know the difference between wrong and right. Isn't that what parents are for? To teach our children about good and bad, about faith and baptism? I didn't understand this verse.

Everyone has Justice in his heart; a cry for 'fair play' reaches the most lawless mob, and we all know how children torment us with their, 'It's not fair.' It is much to know that as regards justice as well as love there exists in everyone an adequate provision for the conduct of life...

I don't know why that makes more sense to me, but it does. Sometimes I'm like that. I'll hear a thing again and again, and it won't click. Miss Mason really said the same thing, and it's not phrased too terribly differently "in his heart... there exists in [ ] an adequate provision" vs. "instructed sufficiently that they know" are not tons different, but the idea that this instruction, it exists within us, independent of either us or the teaching we've had in this life, it really made things come into focus. And I love that she's named it Justice. That fits so beautifully.

So she goes on to talk in a unique way about several different types of Justice:

Truth: justice in word
Integrity: justice in action
Sound Opinions: justice in thought
Sound Principles: justice in motive

The whole three page passage is fabulous. Well worth the time to go and read it, if you haven't already, before you read my ramblings. I'm going to share some highlights, but there is a lot in this section. There's so much possible application here, so many things that could be said, so many topics addressed {universal principles are like that}, but this is an educational treatise I am reading, and I'm writing a blog series on educational thought and practice inspired by it, so I'm going to attempt to stay on topic. We'll see well I do; education touches all facets of life.

Truth: Justice in Word

"What is truth?" that's what Pilate asked, and it's a tough question. I know it when I see it - when I feel it, because the Holy Ghost testifies of truth. The Holy Ghost and Reason are powerful tools for finding truth. But to pin it down, define it with words, I couldn't have done that. Miss Mason's done an admirable job, though:

Young people should leave school knowing that their thoughts are not their own; that what we think of other people is a matter of justice or injustice; that a certain manner of words is due from them to all manner of persons with whom they have to deal; and that not to speak those words is to be unjust to their neighbors. They should know that truth, that is, justice in word, is their due and that of all other persons; there are few better equipments for a citizen than a mind capable of discerning the truth, and this just mind can be preserved only by those who take heed what they think.
-vol. 6 p61

My first reaction to this paragraph was pretty rebellious, actually: What? My thoughts are not my own? Says who? Of course they are! The privacy of my mind is absolute!

In the next heartbeat, this came to mind:

For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.
-Alma 12:14

God knows. Even our thoughts; He knows. And if thoughts can condemn us, then it is possible to have wrong - unjust - thoughts. I caught myself at this this afternoon, actually. I had some unflattering thoughts about a woman I am somewhat acquainted with, but then quickly realized that if the same measure was applied to myself, I would not fare so well. Banishing thoughts is not so easy. I stopped that line of thought, but you can't un-think an unjust thing. Being just is not so simple. Now that I'm thinking about it, the fact that our Heavenly Father is perfectly just, and perfectly just all of the time, is amazing. Astounding. Awe-inspiring. I start to measure myself against that standard, and the reasons why the prophets describe the division between the righteous and the unrighteous as an "awful gulf" become dauntingly clear. As does the reason why people sing about Amazing Grace.

So the challenge is to monitor our own behavior, and to strive to constantly make it reflect the ideal more and more. After all: our children pay more attention to what we do than they do to what we say. They see our efforts to become just, to speak justly, to think justly, and that is more powerful than 100 lectures or Family Home Evenings. Although we'll probably utilize that type of teaching as well, we can count on it not taking if it's not something that we are, ourselves, living, becoming, to the best of our ability.

 ... the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.
-Dallin H. Oaks, The Challenge to Become, Oct 2000, emphasis original

We need to become the type of person who can treat others as we ought to treat them, remembering that the root of ought is to "owe"-- that which we ought to do, is something that we owe. And Miss Mason isn't just pondering esoteric theological points; she outlines a specific relationship to education in the development of the character of the student:

They should know that truth, that is, justice in word, is their due and that of all other persons; there are few better equipments for a citizen than a mind capable of discerning the truth, and this just mind can be preserved only by those who take heed what they think.

Integrity: Justice in Action

When I was in the Young Women's program (our youth ministry for girls from 12-18), one of the values we learned about was integrity, but even after completing the program, I was still pretty fuzzy on what, precisely, integrity is. Some kind of amped up honesty, that's deeper - honest actions, as well as honest words. And that's good, as far as it goes, but I think Miss Mason's explanation is better:

If justice in word is to be duly learned by all scholars still more is integrity, justice in action ;integrity in work, which disallows ca'canny methods, whether those of the artisan who does as little as he can in the time, or of the schoolboy who receives payment in kind - in his support, the cost of his education and the trust imposed in him by parents and teachers. Therefore he may not scamp, dawdle over, postpone, crib, or otherwise shirk his work. He learns that "my duty towards my neighbor" is "to keep my hands from picking and stealing," and, whether a man be a workman, a servant, or a prosperous citizen, he must know that justice requires from him the integrity in material which we call honesty; not the common honesty which hates to be found out, but that refined and delicate sense of values...
-Charlotte Mason, volume 6 p 61

Integrity doesn't do right or say right just when someone is watching; integrity happens when that honesty becomes part of who we are. At some point, acting with justice is going to be more that just a little inconvenient, it will be hard. Integrity finds a way to get it right under pressure as well as when it's smooth sailing. I've heard it said, and I believe it, that honesty -integrity- isn't developed in the big moments, it's the sum of the small ones, the innumerable practice runs, that give us the depth of character to be able to act justly when the stakes and the opposition are high; we cannot wait until we need good character to begin to develop good character!

It's always interesting to me to see how the various things I study always seem interconnected, especially if I ponder them for any length of time, and justice is proving to be a topic that touches many things. Yesterday, I read this:

 It ought to be stated that the purpose of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is injustice, instead of justice, that has an existence of its own. Justice is achieved only when injustice is absent.
-Frederic Bastiat, The Law (emphasis original)

So, if we take the two, Miss Mason and Bastiat, and learn from them both, we may conclude that when we are developing integrity ourselves, or encouraging it in our students, then what we are doing is learning to be just in our actions toward all people, regardless of status or any other consideration; we are learning to exclude injustice from every action, large or small, visible or invisible: real integrity doesn't care if anyone is watching. We will set our children's feet on this path, but I think that we all will be very old before we have truly mastered this task in all its possible facets.

More in Part 2.

10 September 2016

Nephi and Laban

One of the more difficult passages in the Book of Mormon is the one where Nephi kills Laban. At first glance, it's easy to mistake this for cold-blooded murder, but Nephi claims that it was done at the instruction of the Spirit. I've been asked by a friend to share my thoughts on this apparent contradiction.

After reading several comments, I want to clarify: there is a lot going on in this passage, and I haven't tried to address all the things that are happening in this story, and I'm not going into reasons why Nephi was commanded to slay Laban at all. This post is only addressing one narrow concern: is this a murder. I believe it is not. But there is a whole lot of other things that could be said about this episode, and many of them are, arguably more important. 

Anyway. To the topic at hand:

My husband and I have spent a great deal of time studying and discussing the fighting and killing that goes on in scripture; there is a great deal of it, and, being martial artists, we feel it's very important to understand clearly when fighting is not ok -- and when it is the right thing to do. This passage is a difficult one, and took a while for me to come to peace with. I have no particular claim to authority; I can only share the line of reasoning that my husband and I have traced in our efforts to understand this episode. The reader should, of course, do their own study and draw their own conclusions about the validity of my thoughts.

Quick recap, for anyone who isn't familiar with the story, which can be found at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, primarily in 1 Nephi chapter 3, though some of the back story in the previous two chapters becomes important, and the actual death of Laban is in chapter 4. But the story so far:  Lehi is a prophet in Jerusalem in 600BC. He tells the people that they need to repent, they try to kill him, and God tells him to take his family and flee into the wilderness, which he does. Then, he is instructed to send his four sons, Nephi being the youngest, back to Jerusalem to get the Brass Plates, which is the scriptural record of the Jews at the time, and in the care of a man named Laban. The oldest son, Laman, goes and asks for the plates; Laban calls him a robber and tries to kill him. The brothers then go and gather up the family wealth and try to buy the record; Laban steals their goods and sends his servants to kill them. Nephi goes alone into Jerusalem, following the prompting of the Holy Spirit as he goes along, and finds Laban passed out drunk. The Spirit commands him to kill Laban, which does after some hesitation and additional prompting and explanation from the Spirit, he gets the plates, and they all return to Lehi in the wilderness. That's the bare bones of the story; you can read the whole thing here.

Courtesy the LDS Media Library.

To start with, you need to understand the nature of God. God is perfect. He is perfectly consistent, and perfectly just. It is not in keeping with the nature of God to command sin or to set up situations where sin is the only option. We know that God cannot change -- Mormon teaches that, should He do so, he would cease to be God. Knowing this, we can conclude that what He forbids He will not later command; wrong stays wrong and right stays right. Additionally, because God is perfectly just, He isn't going to command an unjust killing -- not even if the guy is a creep and a crook and the good guys need the scriptures he's guarding. Therefore, the instruction to kill Laban was somehow in compliance with command, and must somehow be just, and to understand what's going on here, we have to look for a broad understanding of the revealed rules of fighting and killing.

 I've blogged a little bit about the rules of fighting as outlined in scripture before, including a bit about how I came to look at the topic so closely. When looking at the topic, the first thing to look at is the Ten Commandments, which we know are still in force today.

The sixth Commandment says:

Thou shalt not kill. -Exodus 20:13

 And for a long time I thought that was pretty cut and dried. But later, right there in the Old Testament, and still in Moses's time, I started to notice some apparent conflict: The Lord gave this commandment, but then He also said:

Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.
-Deut. 2:24 (emphasis added)

That was not the only time that He explicitly commanded Israel into battle - into killing. Now, we know that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever, so I was confident that these things could be brought into harmony with each other. The beginning of that is to consider the meaning of the Hebrew word, ratsach, that was used in Exodus 20:13.

"Ratsach means 'to kill, murder, slay.' (Strong's Concordance, 266)" This same word is translated into various English words, the most frequent being, "slayer" (16 times), and "murderer" (14 times). From the ways that this word is used in other passages, I think it's pretty safe to say that this passage could have been rendered as, "Thou shalt not murder", and forbidding murder is fundamentally different from forbidding all killing. Drawing the distinction between murder and killing does not solve the puzzle of Nephi and Laban, but it does allow the possibility of there being a solution, which there cannot be if all killing is wrong every time.

It makes sense to me that the Lord would require more than expressing faith in His care to keep us safe:

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
-James 2:17

The need for action on our parts is also addressed in the Book of Mormon:

Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain. ... Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?
-Alma 60:11,21

So the next question is, "When is killing the right thing to do?" And can be a hard question to even ask, but I believe it is a necessary question. When I was deciding if I would continue to practice the martial arts, or to drop it for being inconsistent with the Lord's teachings, one of the things I needed to find out is if it is ever ok to fight, and to potentially kill an attacker. Because if it's not ok to defend myself, then it doesn't seem ok to learn how to do it; I was raised rather non-violent, and this was a difficult departure from my early training. The next piece of the puzzle we found in the Book of Mormon's "war chapters,"  in a set of passages that my husband and I refer to as the "rules of warfare".

The passage is talking about the differences in motivations between the Nephites (the good guys), and the Lamanites (the invading bad guys). The Lamanites are invading to expand their empire and enslave the Nephites. The Nephites, on the other hand, were defending home, family, and freedom.

And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies. And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. 
-Alma 43:46-47

So you can derive a couple of rules for fighting from this passage.
  1. Don't ever start the fight: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second...
  2. If you are attacked, it's important to defend yourself: ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies. Because of the consistency of God - He is the same yesterday and today and forever - we can conclude this this principle is still in force today, and that we, like the Nephites, have a duty to defend ourselves should it become necessary.
  3. If you must defend yourself and your family, it's ok to take it so far as to shed blood: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed.  

If we take these rules, we can go back to the story of Nephi and Laban and evaluate it according to these rules. First, Laman went to ask for the plates:

And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house.
And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father.
And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee.
-1 Nephi 3:11-13 (emphasis added)

Laban's accusation was baseless: Laman had merely asked for the plates, not tried to steal them. Additionally, I know of no justification in scripture for deadly force to be used in retaliation for mere theft; all the passages I have discovered so far set a higher standard: our lives must actually be in danger before killing becomes justifiable. Laban's attempt at killing Laman, though unsuccessful, becomes a "first offense". Still. At this point, they ought to turn the other cheek.

Laman survives Laban's attempt to murder him, but they still don't have the plates, so Nephi persuades them to try again and they go to their place, gather up their riches, and head back to Laban's house to try to buy the plates. This doesn't go well, either:

And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property. 
-1 Nephi 3:25 (emphasis added)

This is a second attempt on their lives, and after this second attempt on the family they are justified in defending themselves even to the point of bloodshed, though they are not obligated to do so:

Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified, if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.
Behold, this is the law I gave unto my servant Nephi, and thy fathers, Joseph and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and all mine ancient prophets and apostles. 
-Doctrine and Covenants 98:31-32

The interaction obviously isn't finished; they still haven't got the plates. Laman and Lemuel are convinced it's a fool's errand and completely impossible, but Nephi heads back into the city alone to make another attempt. He didn't have a clear plan, but was following the Spirit, trusting that he'd be shown in the moment what was supposed to happen.

Of course, the story ends in Nephi finding Laban fallen down drunk, and being instructed by the Spirit to kill him in order to get the plates. In addition to Lehi's family's need to carry scripture with them into the wilderness, the Spirit himself reminds Nephi of Laban's attempts at murder that justify Nephi in defending himself and his family when Nephi hesitates over this very difficult command:

And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

Further Reading:
Was Nephi's Slaying of Laban Legal? -A look at Jewish law in relation to Nephi & Laban.
Nephi's Honorable Execution of Laban -Another look at Jewish law's effect between them.
The Symbolic Story of Nephi and Laban -A look at this story as a "type" of Christ.


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