Thursday, March 31, 2005


I was reading Thomas Watson's The Lord's Prayer this morning and looking at the very first phrase, "Our Father". Watson comments that all men can claim Him as Creator and Judge, but only His children can call Him Father. What's more, we are just "dust with sin mingled", and yet the Lord of Hosts gladly claims us as His own possession. I am trying to get my brain around this.

Reading the Puritans is like eating fudge -- the stuff is so rich it's hard to handle in large chunks.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Beginning Chinese

Here are my observations, after several weeks of "beginning Chinese":

1. The most common word in Mandarin is sh. Depending on inflection, this means "is" (sh.), the number 10 (sh!), or "to eat" (sh-), or maybe "to go" (sh) unless it occurs at the end of a word like -shi, meaning a master of something. Practice this.

Note: This is easily confused with the word s! which means "four".

2. The most common sound in Mandarin is /tchzz/. This is spelled ch, ts, z, zh, j, x, or q. I am not making this up. As a word, for example, j means "to eat" or "know" (with dao). I know I said sh means "to eat". It's the same thing.

3. You should not confuse the word ma (horse) or ma! (mother) with the word ma , which is a question word like the Candian eh? Questions in Chinese always sound Canadian, like "You are American, ma?"

4. You should always be sure to distinguish zhong! (the center of something) from zhong! (clock) and Zhong- (Chinese), not to mention zhong! which is the sound made by a gong. Gong however means "work".

5. You should always respond to comments about your excellent Chinese ("Knee pooting whah shoot the hen house!") with the modest statement, "Why, shoot the blue cow!", which means "I do not speak well."

6. It is rude to interrupt someone and say "Gesundheit" if they say cashew, which is a conjunction, "but"

7. Ta means he, she, or it. It's obvious if it's written.

8. Zi! Nar? means "Where?" Zi! Nar! means "Over there." Zi! Jar! means "Rat cheer."

9. Wo? means "I" but it can also mean "me", "my", or "mine". Women means "we" but it also means "us", "our", and "ours".

10. The number "two" is pronounced are? but you don't use it for people or beer.

11. If you have a Western name, you might be given a phonetic equivalent by combining Mandarin words to yield roughly the same sound. From the Chinese translation of the Bible, then, "John" naturally becomes Yue Han which seems to mean "monthly check" but sounds vaguely like "Johann". Likewise, "Caleb" becomes Jia Lei which appears to mean "Lord Buddha strangles" and doesn't sound like "Caleb" at all.

More helpful information to follow as we learn even more useful Mandarin phrases.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Busy, Busy, Busy

It has not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, not this one. There have been several deadlines since the last post, including two articles for publication (my regular column in NCHE's Greenhouse Report and a revision of a previously published piece, to go in the Florida Parent Educators Association magazine, Agenda)

BTW, after much innocent merriment by my fellow board members, my column was given the name "Hal's About It" (I decided it was less edgy than "Hal, Caesar" or "What the Hal"). After cranking out about fifteen of these the past couple of years, I wonder if readers aren't asking, "Isn't there something better than this?" and finding the answer is, no, Hal's about it.

Anyway, the push to finish several projects in short order has left little time for blogging, other than a few posts at The Locker Room and a few news items for NCHE's statewide blog page.

Back at the ranch, we are making an effort to learn basic Chinese -- everyone over the age of two. Eldest son John and I are taking a "Chinese As a Second Language" class at the Raleigh Academy of the Chinese Language (meeting in a church every Saturday), while we're all reviewing the Pimsleur Method CDs and spending an hour on Sunday afternoons with a student from Shanghai, working on pronunciation and cultural questions.

Oh, and we have a student driver who just had braces removed, immediately after a week as a N.C. Senate page.

Just another week in homeschooling ...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Executive Session

Our family has been reading the Gospel of Mark for evening devotions the past few weeks. Something struck me anew this time and I've pointed it out to the kids.

In Mark 4:1-9, Jesus relates the parable of the sower (or the soil, or the seed -- all three are appropriate). He finishes, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." In verses 10-20, He explains the symbolism to His disciples, privately, because "to you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God." (v.11)

Unlike the multitude who walked away, we are invited to hear Jesus' private teaching. We modern Gentile believers, or anyone who cares to investigate, have the opportunity through the printed Word to receive the same revelation of this parable that Jesus reserved for the hand-picked inner circle of friends.

How incredible that is, and what a rebuke to us if we are slack in our study, or ungrateful for the invitation.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Dangerous Reading

Nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney wrote an excellent essay, "On Dangerous Reading", on the subject of indiscriminate or incautious literary exercise. That is probably one of the more prevalent problems in modern Christian culture, and I'd include unquestioning scans of the funnies or over-tolerant settings on the car radio in the mix.

That being said, there is a great deal of literature which is not explicitly "Christian" in content but can be incorporated into a Christian world view. Francis Schaeffer and more recently Doug Wilson understood the concept well and, as Schaeffer said, promoted artistic work which had not only a good message, but good art (much on Christian radio fails the latter test, as Schaeffer's son observed in Addicted to Mediocrity).

I started keeping a record of my reading several years ago when I wanted to ensure a proper, profitable, and God-honoring balance of my time in the library. Looking over last year's tally -- sixty-two books completed in the course of 2004 -- a few things show up:

The two "general nonfiction" titles were actually the two which have shaped my thought the most this year. Milton and Rose Friedman's market manifesto, Free to Choose, is somewhat dated, coming out just as the Reagan Revolution was dawning and reflecting the problems of "stagflation" and "malaise" which propelled him into office. As such, though, it clearly shows how much Reagan's policies improved economic life in America. Mitchell Stephens' study of the organizational nature of the homeschooling movement, Kingdom of Children, was recommended by a friend/attorney at HSLDA. Stephens' insights into the personality of both the right and left wings of the movement have helped me both to appreciate and to effectively interact with the full range of characters forming the homeschool community in our state. I have urged other leaders to read and see whether Stephens' observations hold true for them -- to me, they appear to be right on target.

I read twelve books of history or biography, all in the range of late-17th to mid-20th century (from The Diary of Samuel Pepys -- this is not one for the kids! -- to The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck). Two were standouts -- Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers, and Hagedorn's The Roosevelt Family of Sagemore Hill. I am still collecting biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, and the latter was a good read on the trip to the Republican National Convention.

Eight were classed as "literature", or ten if you count re-reading Lewis' That Hideous Strength and move the Diary of Samuel Pepys out of the history column. I'm helping Melanie keep ahead of John's "great books" curriculum, which is no slight task, even though it was a good excuse to re-read Sayers' The Nine Tailors.

The balance of the list reflected, as much as anything, the presence of a two-year-old who didn't want to go to sleep at nights. I often found myself walking the floor carrying son David, and reading things which were (a) light enough to carry without straining my hand -- no Baxter's Christian Directory here -- and (b) light enough to read without straining my brain. These tended to be mysteries (Erle Stanley Garner, Rex Stout, and Josephine Tey), a fair sample of C.S. Forester (I found his non-Hornblower books more profitable, actually), and a smattering of P.G. Wodehouse, Garrison Keillor, P.D. James, and Louis L'Amour.

I plan to expand on 2005's reading more as I go along. Here's to good art, with a good message, and reading no more dangerous than Aslan, the "not tame" lion.

Among these are life

A couple of pieces on the question of life and protecting it showed up today -- Matt May in The American Thinker, and my friend Paul Chesser in the Washington Examiner.

Paul offers an interesting idea -- if historically pro-abortion politicians are serious about reaching out to the pro-life voters, why not use that leadership to encourage some dialogue between the two factions?
Setting aside the flawed logic that abortion should be rare instead of banned altogether, crisis pregnancy leaders should take pro-choicers at their word and propose a few ideas. How about an arrangement to work together? They could offer to create co-counseling teams to advise each of their clients, so that all who seek help would receive both points of view. Crisis pregnancy centers, which are collecting more and more ultrasound machines, could provide free sonograms for patients of both facilities, which few abortion clinics appear to offer. As it is currently, neither group would be constrained in how they advise. Both organizations would still distribute the supplies (condoms from Planned Parenthood clinics; baby clothes from crisis pregnancy centers) that they've always provided.

Of course the question before the house in some respects may not be when does life begin, but rather, when should we be allowed to end it? My own contribution is this -- What if we simply applied the same test to abortion that we do for causing death in self-defense?

I think most pro-lifers would concede at least that point; it would harmonize with the liberal abhorrence of death by [judicial] decree, and it would naturally exclude the sex-selection, personal convenience, and ex post facto contraception cases which both sides (officially) criticize.

All it would require is the admission on the left that there are two people, not one, on the table. But that, I fear, would be too much to ask.