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Bradbury’s Expecting in June! (Book Review: The Harvest Raise by Katie Schuermann)


For those of you who haven’t read the first two books in the Anthems of Zion series, Bradbury is a small town in Illinois, and Zion is its Lutheran church. What Bradbury is expecting, specifically, isn’t a baby, but rather its third and final book, The Harvest Raise, on June 13. And boy, the people of Bradbury will take any and every opportunity to gossip about those who are expecting!

Having devoured the first two books of the trilogy in under 24-hours each, when the opportunity presented itself to read and review an Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Harvest Raise, I jumped at the opportunity. The book surely did not disappoint; author Katie Schuermann brings small town, Lutheran living to life. Here’s why I loved The Harvest Raise:

THR Honestly Portrays Lutheran Life and Doctrine

So much more than generic Christian fiction, The Harvest Raise incorporates the application of Scripture into the life of the Christian. In addition, because both the author and the setting are conservative Lutheran, the characters quote from the Scripture, the Hymnal, and the Confessions. Because of this, the characters seem like real people that I could find among my own congregation and friends.

THR Is Instructive, But Not Preachy

Because the people of Zion are both sinners and saints, just like us, it’s easy to learn from the characters’ mistakes. As we watch the foibles of the characters, we’re reminded of the Biblical virtues of humility, self-control, friendship, and patience. And all this without quoting a single sermon from Rev. Fletcher!

THR Features Diverse Characters

I especially love that THR features such a diverse cast, without glorying diversity for its own sake. Often, books in a wide-variety of genres show only a very small segment of the population. The Harvest Raise portrays both the Christian church and the community as being made of many kinds of people, all of whom contribute to the edification of others. The cast includes:

  • Scripture-quoting toddlers (yes, it can be taught!)
  • old folks and the struggles inherent to aging
  • the challenges and sacrifices of pregnancy and raising a large family
  • the sorrows of the barren and bereaved
  • college kids falling in love and planning a life around Christ
  • the ache of widows and widowers
  • the mentally and physically disabled
  • the rich and poor
  • those who struggle with sexual sin
  • those who care for or mourn for their aging parents
  • those with memory loss
  • those with marital struggles

Whatever you are going through in life, you’ll probably find a character in THR struggling through the same. It’s also likely that you’ll grow in grace and charity for your neighbor, whom you may get to know better figuratively by studying the characters from this book who are different from yourself.

THR Tackles Social Problems in the Context of Truth

Think small-town Lutheran life is boring? Think again! Besides all of the interpersonal drama featured in this book, the author crafted several plot twists regarding drugs, violence, abortion, and homosexuality. But rather than glorify these, as happens in so many modern books, the author shows the deeply human pain behind these social problems, and the unending comfort that Jesus can offer to those who are hurting.

 

The Harvest Raise is just plain a good story. It is satisfying and real-- as far as fiction can be! It was extremely difficult to put down when my vocations (other than book-reviewer) called! The Harvest Raise exemplifies Christians working and loving and living and forgiving, all with humor and reliance on the merits of our Savior.

If you are a fan of Christian fiction, be sure to prioritize the Anthems of Zion series for your summer reading list! You will NOT be disappointed: This is most certainly true!

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Teaching from Rest: A Book Review


Last night, I spent 2 hours reading this book from cover to cover.

It’s a little gem for the homeschooling parent and reminded me of some important truths. Below is a summary, using mostly quotations from the book.

Teaching from Rest (Schole) is…

… preparing for life, not finishing curriculum.

“In Latin, curriculum means ‘a running’ or ‘a racecourse.’ Figuratively it means one’s career—one’s life course” (ix).

“Rest is not the opposite of work, but rather work of a different order” (61).

“Rest is the virtue between negligence and anxiety…. [W]e aren’t meeting [our children’s] needs or tending to their real nature when we swing like a pendulum to either the vice of anxiety or the vice of negligence” (7).

… not dependent on circumstances.

“[Schole doesn’t mean] teach your calm children in a calm manner on a calm afternoon… [It means] that we ought to enter into God’s rest and then serve Him wholeheartedly—not out of anxiety, but out of love and trust” (xii).

… considering your own insufficiency.

“[M]ore than anything else, I desire to teach and mother in a way that pleases God. Some days that feels like feeding the five thousand. But He is not asking me to feed the five thousand; He just wants me to bring my basket of loaves and fish and lay them at His feet” (xiii-xiv).

“Bring your loaves and your fish, even if you think them completely insufficient. They are insufficient. You are insufficient. But His grace is not” (15).

“Our souls are restless, anxiously wondering if something else out there might be just a little bit better—if maybe there is another way or another curriculum that might prove to be superior to what we are doing now… We’ve got to drop the self-inflated view that we are the be-all and end-all of whether the education we are offering our children is going to be as successful as we hope it is” (xvi-xvii).

… putting people before things.

“What is keeping you from speeding through the reading curriculum, flying through the math books, checking off the lesson plans and maximizing efficiency? Usually the answer is: people” (2).

“Surrender your idea of what the ideal homeschool day is supposed to look like and take on, with both hands, the day that it is” (3).

“[Experienced homeschooling moms] don’t tell me to worry over what the neighbors or my mother-in-law or anyone else thinks. They don’t give me lists of their best curriculum choices and tell me to replicate them. They tell me to focus on relationships, to help my children preserve wonder and perceive truth, and to do each day’s work as diligently as I can” (35).

“It’s true that becoming a habitual multitasker will mean that you check a lot more off your list at the end of the day. It also invariably means that you will have missed the critical point of truly educating your child. She is not a project to be managed but a soul to be cultivated” (49).

“By definition, to be efficient is to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense. But relationships don’t flourish or grow that way. Relationships need time, spent lavishly. Homeschooling is all about relationships, and relationships just aren’t efficient” (50).

… faithfully executing your vocation.

“Faithfulness is showing up every day to do the work He has called us to. Whether or not things turn out in the end as I’m hoping they will… is not actually within my span of control. It’s not my assigned task. He isn’t asking me to succeed on the world’s terms. He’s asking me to faithfully do the work” (9).

… acknowledging God’s sovereignty.

“You do not have to have a ‘productive’ homeschool day to please the Savior.… You are cultivating your child like a tree, and trees will bear fruit in time. We are taking the long view.… Faithfully tending to your work each day is what success looks like for the homeschooling mother” (70).

“We make a grave mistake when we think that the success of our homeschool hinges on whether or not we can pull together the ideal curriculum or read the best books … God doesn’t need you. But He wants to work through you” (80).

“Take a deep breath, mama. This isn’t as dependent on you as you think it is. Give God your ‘Here I am. Use me.’ Let Him carry the burden” (81).

Commentary:

1. Schole is instructive for any style of homeschool.

Initially, I avoided reading this book because I had the mistaken impression that teaching from rest would involve throwing away my plans and schedules. But I like plans and schedules! However, schole assumes a schedule, though a simple one, and it reminds mothers to build in margin to that schedule for the unexpected. Whether you choose a rigorous classical curriculum or prefer the laid-back style of unschooling, Teaching from Rest reminds all educators that we are teaching people, not just subjects, and that God can and will work regardless of our shortcoming.

2. Faithfulness is God’s, not ours.

Faithfulness to the task before us is emphasized again and again in Teaching from Rest. Part of that faithfulness is based on the good works which we do daily in our homes. “Smile a lot. Lavish him with love” (10). To hear these so-called “simple” things we are to do as mothers, and yet, realize how we utterly fail is condemning. Satan can even use a simple term like “faithfulness” to burden us with the law, or conversely, tempt us to trust in our own works. As a Christian, however, I remember that God is the Faithful One, forgiving me all of my sins and daily keeping me in the promises of my baptism. He even feeds me with His body and blood for the strengthening of my faith.

3. Is there a book with a similar topic but a different perspective?

I’d love to read a book on the same topic, but from the specific perspective of a former teacher finding schole in the home. It’s hard enough to find rest for any homeschooling mother, but I imagine there are unique challenges to teaching from rest as a homeschooling mother after coming out of the academics expected as a school teacher: The rule of the classroom does not need to rule her home. I think this perspective could be invaluable for taking schole to the next level.

 

Teaching from Rest reminded me that homeschooling my children is not a checklist, but a labor of love for the Lord—the same Lord who promises to carry me through each and every struggle. “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Read a book review on another wonderful homeschooling perspective: Eternal Treasures.

 

Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Mankato, Minnesota, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).

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Gauging Interest: Your Opinion Needed About New Book Idea


Into Your Hands LLC is considering publishing an anthology of short stories and poems concerning Christian family life. Sample genres and themes may include short stories, poems, hymns, home devotion ideas, parenting, grand-parenting, sibling relationships, virtue training, elder care, family reconciliation, forgiveness, and the like.

Interested in reading a book like this? Interested in contributing to a book like this?! Please take our survey and help us shape this book idea into reality!

We also continue to welcome homeschooling families to contribute to our upcoming publication Lessons Learned at Home: Christian Families Tell Their Homeschooling Stories. The deadline has been extended as we seek diverse and non-traditional journeys!

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Building Bridges: Fostering Cooperation between Christian Day Schools and Homeschool Families


Christian homes, Christian congregations, and Christian schools are all places in which the Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, gives and strengthens the faith of His children. Yet, it’s easy to see ourselves in vastly contrasting “boxes” which emphasize our differences and weaknesses, rather than our similarities and strengths. All too often, suspicion and misunderstanding exists between school leadership and homeschool families. Instead, what we all need is proactive, constructive curiosity and mutual respect.  How can we build bridges between churches, schools, and homeschools, working together for the Christian education of all of the congregation's children?

Below is an outline I recently prepared and shared with two different congregations, both of whom have Christian Day Schools. If you are interested in developing cooperation between your congregation and homeschool families, I encourage you to print one of the links below, prepare a cover letter specific to yourself and your family, and pass it on to the leadership in your church for reflection and discussion. Of course, not all suggestions are feasible for implementation at a particular congregation. As a comprehensive list of ideas, however, this handout can get the conversation started toward mutual understanding.

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How Are Statistics Helpful to the Church (and How Are They Not)?


The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod reports that an unusually high number of people have downloaded the December 2016 issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission, which included three special articles concerning the demographic trends of that church body. Clearly, many people wish to understand the factors that have contributed to the decline of church membership—2.8 million to 2.2 million over the past 40 years, a trend in “post-Christian America” that has become all too common across denominations. Many people also are wondering whether there are steps that congregations could take to fulfill the Great Commission more faithfully.

The March 2017 issue includes a letter to the editor that raises important questions about the use of statistics when evaluating past mission programs or planning for future programs. That issue also published responses from the two authors of the original articles. I was one of those authors.

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Addressing the Problem of Evil and Suffering in a Moral Philosophy Class


Despite all the catalogs and free samples that come my way, it is not always easy to find a book that serves my students well.

A few months ago, I shared the story of why I chose to assign Randy Alcorn’s book If God Is Good for one of my philosopshy courses. Today he thanked me for doing so, and continued the dialogue by noting:

I’m convinced that Christianity’s explanation of why evil and suffering exist beats that of any other worldview. Its explanation of why we can expect God to forever deliver His redeemed people from evil and suffering is better still. The answers revealed in Scripture not only account for how the world is, they offer the greatest hope for where the world is headed.

Amen, brother Randy!

 

Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Mankato, Minnesota, where he teaches American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College. He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.

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