Monday 10 September 2018

Christian Classics: By Searching by Isobel Kuhn (1901-1957)

“To every man there openeth
A way, and ways, and a way,
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
To rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A high way, and a low.
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go.” 

John Oxenham

Isobel Kuhn and her husband, John spent twenty years working amongst the Lisu tribe, a minority people group, in South-West China. The Communist occupation of China forced them to leave China in 1950 and to enter Thailand to work with the Lisu people there.
Isobel wrote about her experiences with the Lisu people and the Communist take over in some of her other books: Ascent to the Tribes, Nests Above the Abyss, and In the Arena. By Searching is the story of her girlhood and the years before her marriage up until she sailed for China in 1928.

Isobel was brought up in an ‘earnest Presbyterian home,’ and had been carefully prepared by her parents to refute modernism before she was allowed to enter university. However, she had a crisis of faith after a highly regarded university professor told his students that the only reason they believed in God, Heaven and Hell, was because their parents brought them up that way.

‘Our twentieth century believed only when there was a test and a proof. We were scientific in our investigations; we did not swallow the superstitions of our ancestors just because 
they were handed to us.’

Although she understood the conflicting claims of modernity and fundamentalism, Isobel was unprepared to explain why she believed what she did. She came to the conclusion that she would accept no theories of life which she had not proved personally:

And, quite ignorant of where that attitude would lead me, I had unconsciously stepped off the High Way where man walks with his face lifted Godward and the pure, piney scents of the Heights call him upward, on to ‘the misty flats.’ The in-between level place of easy-going; nothing very good attempted, yet nothing bad either; where men walk in the mist telling each other that no one can see these things clearly. The misty flats where the in-between drift to and fro; life has no end but amusement and no purpose; where the herd drift with the strongest pull and there is no reason for opposing anything. Therefore they had a kind of peace and a mutual link which they call tolerance.

This is a great book for Christian young people as the author is honest and transparent about her life during her time on the ‘misty flats.'  By rejecting the foundation laid in her life as a child, she had no objective standard for truth and no basis for making the right choices. She describes her struggles with relationships, including a broken engagement with a young man who has no intention of remaining faithful once they were married. Her weaknesses, financial difficulties, and her search for a purpose to her life are winsomely described, as is her quest to find God by seeking Him with all her heart. Her abandonment of her childhood faith was especially painful for her father. To those parents who are going through this with their own child, Isobel's journey would be an encouragement that a parent's prayers are not only important, but effective.

One of the memorable incidents in the book occurred when the author was twenty years of age. She had just broken up with her fiancée, had trouble sleeping and her father was concerned for her. One night he knelt by her bed and prayed to God to help her but it just irritated her:

“Thanks, Dad,” I said wearily, “I know you mean well, but it doesn’t go beyond the ceiling, you know,” and I never forgot the groan with which he turned from my agnosticism and left the room.

One night, not long after this episode, she describes how ‘the Tempter came’ and convinced her that life had no purpose and she might as well slip out of it. She was on her way to the bathroom to ingest a poison when she heard her Dad moan in his sleep and she was startled into remembering how much he loved her and how devastated he’d be if she committed suicide:

In agony I turned and sat down on the edge of my bed and faced the darkest moment of my life. I didn’t want to live and I couldn’t die!

Interestingly, the professor who had ‘first pushed her off the High Way' had given his students an essay to study which included quotations of poetry from the classics. One of these was from Dante which was written in Latin. Isobel had studied Latin and translated it as ‘In His will is our peace.’

Now that sentence wrote itself across the dark of my bedroom. Dante believed in God. What if there were a God, after all? If so, I certainly had not been in His will. Maybe that was why I had no peace?

And so her search for God began.

I read this book as a fairly new Christian and I was very impressed with the author’s candid way of writing. Simply told but profound in many ways, it hasn’t lost its relevance in the sixty years since it was written. I’d recommend it for about age 14/15 years and up. I'm using it in Term 2 of Ambleside Online Year 8. Update: I decided to leave it until Year 10, which is this year (2020) and it's been a good fit for my 15 yr old daughter.
A true Christian classic.

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Initiating Interests: Architectural Science

Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life. - We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We wish to place before the child open doors to many avenues of instruction and delight, in each one of which he should find quickening thoughts... 
We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. 

School Education by Charlotte M. Mason; Pg 170

One of the many reasons I was attracted to Charlotte Mason's ideas on education was her emphasis on a wide and generous curriculum - setting children in a large room:

Thou hast set my feet in a large room; should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. 

Often the temptation we have is to allow a narrow focus, to follow our child's desires or main interests. On the surface of it, it appears educational and wise. I mean, how satisfying is it to see them completely taken up with something? They don't even want to stop for lunch let alone other studies. Of course, this focus means excluding other things, and the room they are in shrinks.

In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him? I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. What I complain of is that we do not bring our horse to the water. 

Which brings me to...

Architectural Science

We added Architectural Science studies in Year 7 because Moozle expressed an interest in modern architecture. She wasn't interested in Ancient Greek or Roman architecture and would have been quite happy to jump in at the 20th Century. However, I wanted to 'bring my horse to water' and place her feet in a large room, not limited by her idea that older architecture would be boring. I also wanted to lay a foundation and build upon that, so we started with the books I posted here - if you scroll down to 'Fine Arts' in this post you will see what we've used.
As well as watching some of Kevin McCloud's Grand Design DVD's, which she loves, Moozle has done some hands on activities and keeps an Architecture notebook.

The other week my husband showed Moozle our original house plans. The couple we bought our house from built it themselves but obviously departed from some of the plans as they went. Over the past 10 years we’ve done some renovations which included knocking out a weight-bearing wall so there are even more changes that are not in the original plans. My husband went over the plans with Moozle and she worked out how many square metres our house is, what has changed from the original design and using a free app, ‘built’ an updated version of our house on the Ipad. The second photo below is the free app she used. She had a lot of fun doing this but the free app doesn’t let you save the plans ☹️ although you can pay for the upgrade that does.
This exercise was a good one for a girl who would much rather not do Maths!

The books we're using this year for Architectural Science were chosen after a visit to one of our favourite independent bookstores. I was interested to see what books Moozle would be drawn to and I thought she showed a wider interest than she had a year ago when we first started. These are the books we chose:

50 Architects You Should Know by Lowis, Thiel-Siling, & Kuhl

This book starts with the Renaissance and covers a selection of architects from then to recent times. It's concise, but covers a wide range of architects and buildings and is our basic spine for this year.

The series of books by James Gulliver Hancock, All the Building In... are beautifully done coloured sketches of buildings in different cities where the author has lived at different times. We bought the Sydney and Paris books to start with and plan to collect the others in the series which cover Melbourne, New York, and London.

All the Buildings in Paris by James Gulliver Hancock

A Concise History of Western Architecture by R. Furneaux Jordan is a comprehensive book we are using mostly for reference. The author starts with ancient Egypt and continues through to the 19th Century & Modern Times - great to see it includes the Sydney Opera House! Out of print; ISBN 0500 20087 4

The Ambleside Online years are full and generous so if you do add something, it is a good idea to substitute it for something else. We skipped a couple of the science books in Year 7 (Adventures With a Microscope & a large part of Signs & Seasons because we're in the Southern Hemisphere) in order to fit in the books we added. We'll be doing the same this year.

Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking - the strain would be too great - but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest.

All quotations are from School Education; Pg 170