Monday, October 4, 2010

Religion-less Home Schooling

I am still home schooling this year, my last student's junior year. As I sit here and write, my teens are in the living room watching a cheesy zombie movie from the '80s. If you told me ten years ago, when my children were in elementary school, that there would ever come a day that my kids would watch zombie movies in my house, I would have been very offended. Perish the thought! I was much too righteous for that! 0.0

Funny thing, my son is much happier as a home schooled high school student than my daughter ever was. That's because there is so much less religion in our lives than she grew up with. Oh this is a Christian home, so it stands to reason it will never be religion free. But less religion? Definitely. There is conversely a lot more of a sense of the presence of God, but isn't that like God? When we stop going about to establish our own righteousness, we find He was here beside us all along.

When my daughter was in her elementary years, there was religion everywhere in our lives! Morning, noon and night- religion. I used a major religious home school publisher for the background of our academics. I bought the Victorian era collections of moral stories for sale at the home school conventions, and we read them! I bought the Anabaptist moral stories too, and we read those. I also spent a ton of money at the local Christian book store, buying up all those evening devotional guides for children.

We studied the history of the peoples of the Bible first, before we looked at any other ideas about early man and early civilizations. That was our first set of morning devotions. As if that and the Christian readers and the evening devotions was not enough religion, I also sent my children to AWANA every week, in addition to Sunday school and church services. Of course television was very limited, but Christian videos and story tapes were encouraged! And yes, the radio was set only to the Christian station, naturally.

After AWANA Bible memory, we would have our own times of scripture memory. We would pantomime whole chapters of the Bible together as a family. I remember Luke 15, Proverbs 3 and 1 John 1 as favorites. Those family times were actually a lot of fun, and those words will no doubt be a light to my children's paths as long as they walk this earth. I wish I had limited scripture memory to those family times alone. Memorizing with laughter, fun and family connection was way more productive than memorizing scripture for stickers, patches and public honor.

Some of this religious activity honored God and drew us closer to home. Some of it would have been salt in the flavor of our lives, enhancing our relationships with God, each other and the world around us. But just like one can overdose on salt and ruin a dish, we overdosed on religion and it became very unpleasant.

Loathsome, even.

I never thought I would ever come to say that I regretted cramming religion into every facet of my children's lives (especially my daughter's early years) but I do. Do I love the Lord Jesus less? Not at all! Jesus is my life! He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother, my Savior, my Counselor, the Lover of my soul. I love Jesus more than ever.

But what I thought was life to my children, was not life at all. It was the letter of the law that kills, not the life giving Spirit. (2 Corinthians 2:6)

As I commented on Quivering Daughters:

Hillary, I love your writing style. It's so poetic and comforting. It helps to soften the blow I often take to my heart when I read your work.

You openly explain so much my daughter wanted to say to me, but feared my defensive reaction too much to speak. Instead she retreated into depression and despair, and I spent years trying to coax her out again. Slowly she opened up, and as she did, she became defiant, deliberately challenging us parents, "You love me, huh? Well how about if I do this? Do you still love me, huh?"

Painfully, shamefully, repeatedly - my pride broken, all my dreams of creating the perfect Christian child dashed- I would affirm- "yes, even still I love you".

I am crying as I type this. What was life to me- the wonderful Word of God- became death to my daughter. I think of Saul insisting David wear his armor to face Goliath.

That's what all the devotions and character training and constant quoting of Bible verses was to my child. I put an adult's armor on her tiny frame, and expected her to march around in it. I expected her to grow into it, and one day be a Giant slayer because of the godly training in righteousness she received.

Instead, the visor kept her world dark and constrained her ability to see the beauty around her. The weight of the armor limited her range of motion and wearied her constantly. Defeated, despondent, she simply stopped moving and collapsed, numb with failure.

Ashamedly I confess that I first saw this as rebellion. I would yell at her- get up! get moving! why are you so resistant?! Finally a friend mentioned depression, and I looked it up on the internet and BINGO. My precious daughter was depressed.

Well, it was the beginning of a road to healing, one in which I had to (and still have to) chunk out all my expectations of the "godly girl of virtue" I held dear. I had to (and still have to) remember our frame, that we BOTH are but dust, and that Christ came for sinners, not the righteous. This includes me, as I knew all along.

But it also includes my daughter, which by my training I had sought to make righteous. Imagine had I succeeded, how would she ever come to know grace?

Grace is not something we can train or teach. It is experienced, and it is only experienced by those who need it.

Well, I've gone on long enough. Thanks for writing, Hillary. Keep it up!

September 17, 2010 8:25 AM

My hope in writing this is that other Christian mothers starting down the path of home schooling will not make the mistakes I made. My hope is that they will not isolate themselves into "Christian" home school support groups, choosing only "Christian" curriculum, "Christian" activities, "Christian" television and movies and sports teams and museums and (as Steven Taylor wrote in the 80's) becoming so relgious that we'll "only drink milk from a Christian cow".

There really is such a thing as overkill in the attempt to share your faith with your children. I urge you all to think of your overt teachings about the faith as salt. You need it in your home. It is a must have. But it must not be overdone.

The covert sharing of your faith, the life-giving Spirit, is what you can't overdo. You can't be too gentle, too kind, too loving, too joyful. When your children see you joyfully singing songs of praise while you wash the dishes, that is the life-giving Spirit. In other words, be a living epistle known and read by all in your family (2 Corinthians 3:3). Let them memorize the feel of your hug, the way you delight in their play, the sight of you serving the Lord and your family with peaceful satisfaction. Above all, as Hillary wrote, remember that both we and our children are but dust: delicate, temporary, yet very precious to God.

A final thought to consider for all the Christian home school moms zealous for God who might be reading here, not yet convinced that my life experiences are in any way inevitable for all who choose religious overkill. Do you consider yourself totally committed to the Lord?

Did you get there by a steady, continual diet of religious instruction as a child, or by experiencing the love of God in your moments of weakness in life? Who influenced you most, a Christian who showed you mercy or a master theologian? Even if that person had a lot of Bible knowledge, was it their knowledge or their love that drew you to the faith?

If you, then, became a committed Christian because of the mercy of God to you in your time of need, then does it not stand to reason that massive amounts of religious instruction are not necessary for a person to come to love Christ? Take heed from Jesus' warnings to beware the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees, those professional believers who studied God's Word all day, every day. Their continual study of scripture blinded them to the reality of God in their midst: they didn't recognize the Messiah in front of them because they were blinded by their love of scripture. They loved their scripture/religion more than they loved Life itself.



  1. ps I am not knocking AWANA, only stating it was part of the overkill in my family.

    I know of other families who were active in AWANA, so that to them it was a time of laughter, fun and family connection.

    It's religious overkill, not the means of acquiring it, that I caution against. =) Just so it's clear.

  2. I think that you have a good point. There's a lot to be learned from "secular" resources. And if being bombarded with Christianity in school was always successful, we wouldn't hear about non-Christians in Christian schools and universities. If anything, I think that "Bible" shouldn't be treated like a school subject where you have to progress at a certain rate.

  3. I grew up a third generation Christian. When new converts would come to our church or I'd help out my dad with his work with street people and addicts, I used to wish I hadn't grown up in a Christian home so that I could see God's grace as actually saving me from something. These people with their newly-converted zeal--which sometimes lasted for many years, at least as long as I knew them--had an experiential understanding of salvation that I could only glimpse intellectually. My Christianity was a mental exercise of theology--doctrinal statements, lists of rules, and worldviews--I longed for what those homeless drunks found in God. What had I been saved from after all? My big sins were arguing with my brother and having "an attitude" with my dad, and those certainly didn't go away with a conversion experience. I never saw that I had been "saved" from anything nor to something that was experientially different than my "former" life.

  4. WE are made able ministers of the life-giving Spirit, not of the letter that kills. (2 Corinthians 2:6). The fundamentalist obsession with the letter of scripture to the point of denying the living ministry of the Holy Spirit in people's lives today is a soul-destroying heresy.

    It's called dispensationalism, and a lot of dispensationalists only give lip service to the doctrine. They deny that the Holy Spirit is active in people's lives today- no gifts of the Spirit, no miracles, no dreams, no visions, no divine revelation- because now that scripture has been canonized, God will not deal with us personally or in reality. Nope, he left a written record of how he used to relate to people and we're supposed to read it, mentally wrap our minds around it, and submit to it's teachings.

    I say many only give lip service because fundies seem to approve of stories like the angels singing and carrying away the spirits of the Jim Elliot martyrs that the Auca Indians said they saw. That is okay, for some reason.

    But let a child say that God showed they saw an angel, or God showed them something, and they will be quickly corrected, told that can't be God because he is distant and remote and only left us the scriptures to guide us. Yet they will admit the work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, and maybe using scripture to convict us of sin, but never apart from the sacred scripture.

    If they were teaching the real gospel, Sandra, that God loves people and wants to have a personal relationship to us; that the prophecy fulfilled in Acts about God pouring out his spirit on all flesh, sons and daughters prophesying, young and old dreaming dreams and having visions is for all of us, then your experience of life would have been very different.

    Your mystical experiences with God would have drawn you closer to the Lord and assured you of His love for you and His presence in your life. Instead you were made to feel shame that God had intimate spiritual conversations with you.

    Talk about offending little ones and earning millstones! But that is the end result of worshiping scripture rather than the God that scripture reveals.

    As C. S. Lewis wrote in Surprised by Joy (this is from memory friends so it is paraphrased) when you are lost in the woods and you find a sign post it is a wondrous thing! That sign post will fill your heart with joy. But once you have figured out that it is the destination the sign points to, and not the sign itself, that will do you good, the sign, while still important, is no longer the object of your heart's desire. The closer you get to your destination, certainly the more signs you will have seen along the way. But they no longer thrill your heart, because it is the destination you seek.

    God's Word is meant to lead us to a personal relationship with a Supreme Being of Divine Love that truly exists. Jesus came, died and rose again to let us all know that this Being, holy and good in every way, loves us and has made it his business to welcome us into his heart. The Bible is the story of God reaching out to people in many times by many means, but all leading up to Christ, and to each of us today by the Holy Spirit of the Supreme Being of Divine Love.

    It's tragic that so many today worship the scriptures that introduce the Supreme Being of Divine Love to us, yet reject any personal direct involvement of His Spirit in our lives.

  5. SS--preach it, girlfriend!

    But, y'know what I think the saddest commentary on my experience really is? That when I say "fundy preacher's daughter", I'm sure people think that my Christian experience/education came from one or at most a few isolated whacko church groups. The reality is that we attended, and Dad worked for, a LOT of churches and para-church groups and all of them were were considered fairly mainstream Evangelical for their time (after about 1980 the fundies got fundier and the Evangelicals got mega-churched until now there seems like this big gap between "fundy" and "normal" christian).

    We were just a regular average conservative Christian ministry family in regular average churches--at least 10-12 different ministries that I can remember off the top of my head in all different denominations. So the saddest part is how pervasive this crazy-making teaching is and people sitting in churches right now don't even realize they are part of it.

    Thanks for doing your part, Shadow, to point out with posts like this one how absurd and ultimately misguided so much of the accepted received wisdom of Christianity is. And for continuing to reiterate the Basic Doctrine, the only one that makes any difference at all: Love. God loves me! The more I can revel in only that, the more everything else falls into place (including having children who see God's love), so that I don't have to DO ANYTHING else. Just bask in God's love and let it (not fake it) radiate out through me.

  6. The only real difference between an intellectual, educated fundamentalist and an uneducated, yelling fundamentalist is the preaching style and the choice of vocabulary and sermon illustrations.

    I read this article here ( that comes right out and makes the supposed distinction between the whackos on TV and graduates of fundamentalist seminaries.

    The article is very condescending, even slanderous, to the mere mortals who have not been to seminary (read: most of us) while full of pride and arrogance about exalted status of fundamentalist seminary students. But the truth is that the seminary grads and the cable TV whackos only differ in style of delivery. In doctrine they are very pretty much agreed.

    So yup, I totally believe that your father was mainstream. So were/are my husband's parents. It's a sad thing that has happened in American Christianity.

    Fundamentalism is passed on as the truths the church has always believed, but in reality it relies on doctrines formulated in 1910-1915. It is not orthodox, but new. It is not authentic, but American. All this was hidden from me as I came of age in the faith, though I was taught well the origins of many other modern American religious sects: JWs, Mormons, Nation of Islam. Funny how the fundies never teach the history of their own sect of Christianity.

    But then, they hold us in such contempt, regarding us as unable to understand religion since we are from "a culture of entertainment has reduced most Americans ability to tolerate difficult discussions. Pity the pastor, with seminary training in ancient languages and a carefully constructed sermon, who must face a congregation taught by television to anticipate education with Muppets and Katy Perry."

    Why do we allow such arrogant, unlovely, contempt-filled men to hold any positions of power and influence in the Christian faith?

    By the way, he is trying to rebut the hypothesis formed from recent research about religious knowledge in America. It seems atheists and agnostics scored higher than religious folk on a quiz testing religious knowledge in the US. The researchers then hypothesized that people become atheists/agnostics after taking religion very seriously and studying it, then deciding ultimately to reject it. The converse hypothesis is that people who are religious are so because they just accept their faith without putting much effort into understanding it.

    I have a third hypothesis. They became athiests/agnostics after realizing how ugly and arrogant the John Mark Reynolds of the world are, and decided if there is a god, they best stop hanging out with spiritual riff-raff like him and get busy loving their fellow man. =D

    Snark. Snark.

  7. I was reading along and was thinking what I was going to say because I LOVE this post and then saw your comment that you left on my blog, here, and nearly cried! I love how you are so honest and genuine ~ thank you. One of my closest friends (who doesn't homeschool by the way) gets a lot of flack from other Christian mothers because she is careful not to cram religion down her children's throats...rather she lives out the gospel, and talks about Jesus in her life, and they see her pray and struggle and have faith and doubt and everything that goes into Christian spirituality...but does she make them repeat the 'sinner's prayer' right now? No. Does she repeatedly go over the abc's of salvation with them? No, not yet anyway. And by breathing her life with Christ onto and around her children, they have become the most tender-hearted, Jesus loving, compassionate kids I've seen. It touches me everytime I see them. I want to just sit and bask in it.

  8. Kind words from a kind heart. Thanks for all of your own honest, genuine words, Hillary. They have touched my heart and brought me near to tears many a time.

    I am happy you have friends who are firm in their decision to limit the salt and go hog-wild on the love! Give her kudos from me. n_n

  9. They loved their scripture/religion more than they loved Life itself.

    So true! If the joy is gone, is it true Christianity?

  10. ShadowSpring,

    are you aware of any 'eclectic' home-school or unschool groups in your area? If anything groups online [check yahoo], for your state,

    these are good support for those who do choose alternative education but who do not want to go the fundie curric route, etc. Those zombie films btw, there are some fantastic film critic/social comparative analysis, using film, on Zombies. I've often used films, foreign films esp [with sub titles] and music, etc., the learning opportunities are just Endless, using just every day things, even those things out of the Christian [churchianity/religion] norm so to speak--

    but it really does help to have Support, with others of like mind, who just love education, without all the dogma, etc. To note however, many of the eclectic groups are non-religious as they are a Mix of people of all different beliefs, etc., but now the one in my area, they have some of the best field trips, resource avenues and so forth, I just can't get to the group near me due to transportation [well it's two hours away so not so sure how near they are] but if one isn't into all that Bible curriculum [fundie that is] and all that, these groups are the way to go,

    and I found, their membership numbers are higher than the fundies--WE just don't hear about them because they aren't peddling loud mouth fundie dogma and books and all that, but they Do exist, and they are some of the nicest people you could meet. And a great resource for the teens/children especially.


  11. Thanks for leaving a comment Jane! =D

    We have found an eclectic home school teen group in our area. They do Gavel Club, Drama Club, the kids formed a Dead Poet Society and right now I am teaching a semester course in Brit Lit with them.

    It is a word-of-mouth only group, which I think is a shame. But then again it is just about maxed out in attendance now, since there are waiting lists for the Gavel and Drama clubs.

    I think it's imperative to be part of an all-inclusive group, especially for a Christian home school family. Otherwise it IS religious overkill.

    Can you send me any links to your zombie analysis? =D Peace and good will, SS

  12. Religion plays a significant aspect in our lives that even in schools, they are taught. American Academy provides a christian home school curriculum that combines academic and values all in one roof. We provide tasks to our students that will serve as their achievement for every milestone every time they are able to complete one task. Our programs will definitely keep your child motivated because we promote goal setting and reward system. With our Christian home school curriculum, we provide easy tasks for your child to perform everyday according to their free time. They work on these tasks at their own pace which allows them to complete a school year’s work.