To Imitate the Strains I Love

THE REDBREAST AND THE SPARROW

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As a Redbreast was singing on a tree by the side of a rural cottage, a Sparrow, perched upon the thatch, took occasion thus to reprimand him: “And dost thou,” said he, “with thy dull autumnal note, presume to emulate the birds of spring? Can thy weak warblings pretend to vie with the sprightly accent of the thrush and the blackbird, with the various melody of the lark or nightingale, whom other birds, far thy superiors, have been long content to admire in silence.” “Judge with candor, at least,” replied the Robin, “nor impute those efforts to ambition solely which may sometimes flow from love of the art. I reverence, indeed, but by no means envy the birds whose fame has stood the test of ages. Their songs have charmed both hill and dale, but their season is past and their throats are silent. I feel not, however, the ambition to surpass or equal them; my efforts are of a much humbler nature; and I may surely hope for pardon, while I endeavor to cheer those forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

Long before I had the desire to write well I had the desire to sing well. I wanted desperately to sing with an enchanting, ethereal, soprano voice that soothed, uplifted, and inspired all who heard. No other activity made my heart swell like singing.

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I received many compliments on my voice as a child. Certain it was a gift, I sang confidently and with gusto whenever asked. But when I grew a little older I came into contact with girls who sang better than me. Girls in my church’s children’s choir. Women on the radio. As I began to understand music theory and vocal control my own inadequacies were revealed to me as I’d never seen them before. Suddenly my “gift” seemed a lot less extraordinary.

I looked around me at all the world’s talent and a tightness crept into my throat. I became cripplingly self-conscious about my voice. I demurred when someone asked me to sing and squeaked an off-key tune if I gave in. Compliments unnerved me because I felt them to be either ignorant of the true talent there is in the world or else to be insincere, the kind of compliments people feel obliged to give when someone has presented some trinket they’ve made. I cycled through emotions of jealousy, discontent, shame, and a “why-bother?” attitude. I had swallowed without knowing, the lie that the gift that is not great is no gift at all.

The reproofs of the Sparrow are not unknown to us. We are spurred on by ourselves and our self-centered culture to gain a step ahead of the rest whenever we can. We are bombarded by comparisons on social media–an unspoken, sometimes even spoken, contest for who is the prettiest, the hottest, the sexiest, the smartest, the wittiest, the most pious, the coolest, the nerdiest, the craziest, the most sold-out for God. And it’s a contest, no matter how hard we try, that we are always losing. It doesn’t matter how much you are these things, there’s always somebody out there who possesses them more.

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Reading “The Hidden Art of Homemaking” by Edith Schaeffer helped open my eyes to the beauty hidden in small gifts, expressed in unassuming ways.

“…be satisfied” she writes, “with the fact that although your art or talent may never be accepted by the world as anything ‘great’, and may never be your career, it can be used to enrich your day by day life: enrich it for you, and for the people with whom you live.” (pg. 48)

“Even as the edelweiss which grows unseen by human eyes beside some distant mountain rock, or the violet under a fern at the edge of the wood, is unappreciated by any human being because it remains unseen, yet still has purpose because the living God sees and appreciates each blade of grass and each flower as well as every sparrow; so the lovingly prepared meal which may not seem to find any response or appreciation from any human being is being shared by Him in a very real way.” (pg. 127)

“…one does not need a degree, nor even a tremendous talent, to enjoy and bring enjoyment to others through gardening.” (pg. 85)

“If you feel you have an unrecognized talent for writing, or if you simply love to write and want to do it, my advice is write. But write without ambitious pride, which makes you feel it is a ‘waste’ to write what will never be published.” (pg. 136)

Pursue excellence, be the very best you can be, but remember our standard is not notoriety, power, or wealth. Our standard is not entrance into the Guinness Book of World Records. We can and should admire those of spectacular gifting but not to covet them. Let efforts of excellence be not for “ambition solely” but “flow from love of the art.”

My daddy didn’t have to be born with the eloquence of Apollos to become a Pastor. He doesn’t have to be the next Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon to craft sermons every week to feed the sheep entrusted to his care, sermons rooted deep in the springs of the Word, enriched by his study in the stream of historical orthodoxy and by his love and understanding of metaphor and story, weaving a message I am on the edge of my seat every week to hear and drink from that fountain of grace.

My mama didn’t have to have to be uniquely innovative or revolutionary in her methods of education to homeschool me and my five siblings. She didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be the next Charlotte Mason or Susan Wise Bauer to give me and my siblings a rich childhood full of memories of cardboard igloos and log cabins in the dining room, hotel-room forts where we did our school in between a move, spontaneous raccoon dissections, endless read-alouds and field trips, a love of stories, a love of discussion, a love of learning, a love of God.

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I don’t have to be the next Norman Rockwell to illustrate fun taxonomy flash cards to help my siblings and I learn about the marvelous creatures God has made.

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I don’t have to be the next Rachel Ray to give my mom a break from cooking now and then or labor alongside her to prepare a meal that is both flavorful and nutritious, a facilitator of memories and meaningful conversation.

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I don’t have to be the next Carol Klein to cultivate a small butterfly garden to delight my younger siblings and my family’s guests.

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I don’t have to be the next Martha Stewart to upcycle glass bottles and jars into works of art to make a sick friend smile.

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I don’t have to be the next Shakespeare or Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald to write reviews and stoems that are beautiful and useful to my friends and family.

I don’t have to be the next Robin Williams to kindle a love for stories in my younger siblings by reading aloud to them with the couple of voices and accents I have taught myself over the years.

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I don’t have to be the next Shin’ichi Suzuki to teach children the basics of piano and instill in them a love for music.

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I don’t have to be the next Steve McCurry to capture through film the little joys that make up my family’s memories and the life of our church–moments, that if I waited for greater talent to come along wouldn’t be captured at all.

I don’t have to be the next Alison Krauss to sing a lullaby to sooth a crying infant or help teach my younger siblings to sing praises to their Creator or join my voice in harmony with my church congregation.

I don’t have to be the best the world has known and neither do you. We just have to find a way to use the measure of gifting God has given each of us. Stop trying to determine how great your gift is and instead, use it greatly. Even a small gift is still a gift, a gift to give as well as receive. Will you join me in saying with the Robin of Aesop’s Fable, “I feel not…the ambition to surpass or equal [the great singers]; my efforts are of a much humbler nature…I endeavor to cheer…forsaken valleys by an attempt to imitate the strains I love.”

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Miss the previous posts? Catch up here:

An Introduction to Aesop’s Fables

The Man and the Lion – Revisionism and Reductionism

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

Wisdom, Virtue, and Reputation – The Guardians of Reputation

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Revisionism and Reductionism

This is the second post in a five-part series on Aesop’s Fables. You can read this post independently from the others or you can also read the introduction here for more background on the history and use of Aesop’s Fables.

THE MAN AND THE LION

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A Man and a Lion once argued together as to which belonged to the nobler race. The Man called the attention of the Lion to a monument on which was sculptured a Man striding over a fallen Lion. “That proves nothing at all,” said the Lion; “if a Lion had been the carver, he would have made the Lion striding over the Man.”

One story is good, till another is told

Most homeschoolers have run into this problem at one time or another in their education: revisionist history.

It’s what distorted Christopher Columbus’ voyage of discovery and evangelism into a revolutionary attempt to prove wrong the flat-earthers.
It’s what distorted the Pilgrims into Indian land-thieves.
It’s what distorted “the War of Northern Aggression” into “The Civil War”.
It’s what distorted the long legacy of creation scientists into an embarrassing lineage of frauds and anti-progressives.

The list could go on and on. True is it said that “he who wins the war writes the history books”.

And those who have been a faithful student of history will also have recognized a sub-category of revisionism that is subtler, and that is: reductionism.

Revisionism is the complete refabricating of a historical event. In brief: it’s making things up. The men of Christopher Columbus’ crew did not believe in a flat earth–no one did–they were starving to death and feared their supplies would run out before they reached land. So much for battling against Christian anti-progressives.

But reductionism on the other hand, involves the telling of true facts…selectively.

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This problem plagued me when I studied American History in homeschool. “Founding Brothers” by Joseph Ellis, demonstrated by many proofs and direct quotations from the founding fathers the heavy influence of the enlightenment on their ethics, values, and worldview, but also quietly discredited the Christian faith of these men. This wasn’t a prominent discussion in the book–more like something running in the background. There was one section where the author claimed that Jefferson and Adams looked forward to Heaven not because they would be with God but so they could continue to debate. The author quoted several of their letters. Then there was one off-handed, unsupported comment about George Washington believing that Jesus had possibly been buried alive. I almost missed the comment because it seemed to come out of nowhere. I kept thinking that Joseph Ellis would bring it back up later but he never did. So I looked it up online. Though I could not find any source material about George Washington’s stance on the resurrection I did discover that Joseph Ellis believes that George Washington was not a Christian.

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George Washington in Prayer at Valley Forge (public domain)

I then pulled out “Christianity and the Constitution” by John Eidsmoe, thinking to lay the matter to rest once for all. But I was shocked to find that one of Mr. Eidsmoe’s primary sources for his statements about Washington is the Rev. Weems! Weem’s biography on George Washington is where “The Cherry Tree” and other anecdotes originated.

In “Rediscovering George Washington” Richard Brookhiser points out that “the only problem with these stories is that, in order to tell them, Parson Weems had to first make them up, since we know very little about Washington’s education or his father.” He said that Weems responded to the needs of the public for an emotional bond to the austere president and that he assumed, like many people over the course of history, that George Washington was born with the qualities we so admire rather than that they were cultivated over a lifetime. “We treat what was a result as a natural condition, as if Washington had been carved from the same stone as his monument” says Richard Brookhiser.

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Gilbert_Stuart,_George_Washington_(Lansdowne_portrait,_1796) Public Domain

Yet, John Eidsmoe uses Parson Weem’s book as one of two primary sources for his chapter on George Washington, arguing that just because Weem’s account is unsubstantiated does not mean it is false.

This is an unpardonably sloppy assertion for a historian to say, an argument that would hold no ground amidst serious historians. Yet John Eidsmoe’s book remains a popular source among many Christian homeschoolers because it gives them the Christian nation they desire to claim as their heritage and uphold as a precedent in modern politics.

I am just as wary of Christians with an agenda as I am with secularists. When you have an agenda, you will always see what you want to see.

But this is an instance of reductionism not revisionism because there were, in fact, enlightenment thinkers and Christians both among the Founding Fathers. I believe that there is no denying the strong humanistic convictions of Thomas Jefferson and the lesser influence humanistic ideals had on others of the Founding Fathers. But, that is not all there is to the story because you also find Christian men seeking to apply their Christian principles to the constitution and establishment of America. It’s not one or the other but both. Any position that denies the influence of either Christianity or humanism in our nation’s founding is guilty of reductionism.

History is rarely as clear-cut as we’d like it to be.

My favorite book on George Washington ended up being “Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington” by Richard Brookhiser quoted above. Though written by one whom, as far as I can tell, is a secular author, I found in it the historical integrity I was looking for. The author pointed out the opposite errors of historical traditions in making George Washington the epitome of piety on the one hand and on the other, renouncing all marks of a Christian worldview on the man.

It did not personally matter to Richard Brookhiser that many historians say George Washington “never referenced the Bible” but because he desired truth, Mr. Brookhiser took these historians to task for their suppression of the truth–then went on to discuss the famous president’s lesser-known affiliation with the Freemasons, a back-door entry to enlightenment principles blended with Christianity, a fact which best explains the duality of ideas present in George Washington, evidenced by this famous quote:

“[Americans] are, from this period, to be considered as the Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity.” GW, First Farewell Address, Circular to the States, June 14th, 1783

Christians leap on the references to Providence and the stage metaphor but sail over “the display of human greatness and felicity”, a statement which, if closely examined, demonstrates the blending of enlightenment ideals with Christianity that marked both the man and his time.

What is the solution to overcoming revisionist and reductionist history? –Reading the history books of both man and the lion. Read original documents. Look for historians who love the truth too dearly to sacrifice it on the altar of their agenda. This gives them credibility because it demonstrates integrity. If a man defends a lion’s show of strength though he ultimately disagrees with his mission, mark him, for that is a man of integrity.

In addition to the proverb: “the story depends on the teller,” I would also add: “An honorable man acknowledges the truth even when it’s not in his best interests.”


You can read the rest of the series here:

The Snail and the Statue – The Injudicious Eye

Wisdom, Virtue, and Reputation – The Guardians of Reputation

The Redbreast and the Sparrow – To Imitate the Strains I Love

The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0830819479/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0830819479&linkCode=as2&tag=livinheassha-20

Review below written in 2012, when I was 17

Reading Francis Schaeffer is like falling out of a fishing boat into the ocean. Both the depth and vastness is overwhelming. It takes but a few pages before you begin floundering and coughing up sea water.

And Mr. Schaeffer’s subject matter, philosophy, is like studying the cellular structure of the vast, deep, sea’s water molecules. It is the ocean itself–culture–that he is studying, but with a stronger magnification glass than most people trouble themselves to pull out. Most are satisfied with the view from the boat and their sweeping observations of the ocean’s surface but with the extra magnification comes a stronger, more comprehensive, more precise, understanding of the whole ocean.

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Walking the Bible: a Photographic Journey

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http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060799048/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0060799048&linkCode=as2&tag=livinheassha-20

The next best thing to walking where the saints of Ancient Israel walked is walking it through the eyes of a skilled photographer, recalling to life the very air they breathed. History is tied not only to real people but real places–places you can revisit, relive, places retaining insights even in its soil into the lives of those who trod there.

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Spiritual Warfare

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http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601782845/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1601782845&linkCode=as2&tag=livinheassha-20

 

Brian Borgman walks through first a balanced perspective on spiritual warfare and the dangers of leaning “too far to one side or another” (denying all demonic influence or attributing everything to Satan) then he walks through each piece of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20 and walks you through the possible meanings of each, examining, for example, what the “gospel of peace” means elsewhere in the Bible then applying it to the life of every believer, always pointing you back to Christ’s sanctifying work in you to grow and sustain you.

It’s a short book, available on kindle–I would highly recommend it! It would be an excellent introduction to the topic for a new believer as well as an encouraging reminder to the mature believer.

The Problem of Pain –review

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060652969/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0060652969&linkCode=as2&tag=livinheassha-20

 

Written in September 2012 when I was 17

As is often the case with C. S. Lewis, some chapters deserve a five star rating, while others a perplexing “1”.

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Denominations or Associations? (a summary)

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This is only a summary, read my review and analysis here.

Purchase on Amazon here.

“What is the Biblical paradigm for inter-church fellowship?” “Does independence and autonomy exclude Baptist churches from association of any kind?” “Is casual fellowship or informal association between churches sufficient to fulfill the Biblical requirements for churches one to another?” Five Reformed Baptist pastors, one of them a widely recognized scholar of the 17th century, tackle these questions and more in “Denominations or Associations?” examining both Biblical and historical example, comparing their combined portrait with our own status quo.

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Not Just for Pastors

Denominations or Associations? (A review)
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for Topic Importance and Relevance
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for Strength of Arguments
⭐️⭐️ for Layperson Accessibility

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You can read my summary here and purchase the book on Amazon here.

“What is the Biblical paradigm for inter-church fellowship?” “Does independence and autonomy exclude Baptist churches from association of any kind?” “Is casual fellowship or informal association between churches sufficient to fulfill the Biblical requirements for churches one to another?” Five Reformed Baptist pastors, one of them a widely recognized scholar of the 17th century, tackle these questions and more in “Denominations or Associations?” examining both Biblical and historical example, comparing their combined portrait with our own status quo.

Continue reading