Book Review: Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World

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Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again describes seven ways the early Church countered Roman pagan culture and thus changed the world for the better.

The first Christians promoted the dignity of all human beings, in direct opposition to the Roman practices of contraception, abortion, and infanticide. They argued for the dignity of each member of the family in a culture that regarded a wife and children as the absolute property of the pater familias.

The Christians presented marriage as a holy union in a time when the Roman government was facing a crisis of a declining marriage and birth rate. Despite numerous incentives to marry, in a time of prosperity, most men figured they would just pay the extra taxes associated with childlessness and continue a life of promiscuity. Interestingly, the early Church Father Clement of Alexandria noted that the childless in Rome often adored their pets, and the same people who left their infants to die of exposure paid for lavish tombs for the pets.

The early Church preached countercultural ideas about the dignity of manual labor and the importance of service performed out of love for God, for neighbor, or for one’s social inferior. Pagan culture devalued manual labor and designated it to slaves, who were of course property to be disposed of at will. The love of God and neighbor was revolutionary in a culture that could only conceive of performing actions for the gods or others out of duty, or in hopes for something in return.

Lastly, Christians shocked the Romans by their utter lack of fear of death. The martyrs bravely faced execution, but just as surprising to the pagans was that the surviving Christians showed no fear around dead bodies. Most Romans were very superstitious and afraid of ghosts and generally cremated corpses as soon as possible after death. Christians, on the other hand, held elaborate funeral services for their beloved dead and even collected and honored the bones of the early martyrs. For Christians, the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the communion of saints means that we have a real connection with those who have gone before us to be with God.

In each of these areas, the Church established the moral standard that exists today in modern discussions of human rights. The authors also point out ways in which Western society has become similar to pagan Rome, and suggest some ideas for countering that action, such as building community at the parish church level, pro-life activism and the traditional works of mercy, and refusing to participate in the culture of “celebrity and humiliation,” such as gossip magazines and reality TV.

This is an easy-to-read, succinct call to action for Christians. My only criticism is that Roman culture was described with some pretty sweeping generalizations. The strongest parts were those that were supported by quotations from contemporary pagan or Christian authors. Other sections contained footnotes to historical works, but I would have liked to read more quotes from primary sources.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Easter Joy

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Good Friday lunch

(I never knew pretzels were a Lenten tradition!)

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Easter Breakfast

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Easter egg hunt at church

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No suits for the big boys because they were altar serving.

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Another egg hunt at home with cousins

Marie is fetching the eggs above the swings.

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All this followed by a lovely Easter break

complete with strawberries!

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Still enjoying the season here!

Learning Notes for March

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Well, there went the month of March. I’ll try to catch up a bit here with some pictures and learning notes.

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The weather changed from this

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to this.

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We did our share of school work,

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celebrated Pi Day,

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and during a stretch of sick days transitioned into reading chapter books silently (highlight of the month for me).

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We had a fun spring break at the ranch,

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Somehow William missed out on getting photographed this month, probably because he has been so busy planting flowers and vegetables in our yard.

This month he learned about the Great Depression, memorized a psalm, and read a biography of a (hopefully soon-to-be) Depression-era saint, Dorothy Day, along with a tall stack of gardening books.

The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants

Altogether we finished Macbeth, almost finished Pinocchio, and have started A Life of Our Lord for Children, which is a lovely summary of the Gospels.

Life of Our Lord for Children, A

Holy Week is here, so we’ll hit the books for a few more days and then keep the feast.

See more learning notes at Melanie’s.

WWRW: February Reads

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Silence, by 20th century Japanese Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo.

Silence

Silence is a novel about a Portuguese priest, Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues, who attempts a dangerous mission to Japan in 1638, in the midst of severe persecution of Christians. He has heard a rumor that his former superior has apostasized and is now working for the Japanese government.

Fr. Rodrigues is smuggled onto the island by a former Japanese Christian who has apostasized but says he wants to return to the church. This man is obsessed with the idea that if only he had lived in an easier time, he would have lived and died a good Christian.

The Japanese figured out pretty quickly that public executions of priests simply made heroes out of the martyrs, and that torture worked a whole lot better for stamping out the faith, especially torturing the faithful in order to get priests to apostasize. It’s even worse than it sounds.

This book is simply written and a page-turner. Haunting is the best word I can think of to describe it. Martyrdom hangs over the characters at every turn. In this time where Christian blogs and periodicals are talking more and more about the need for Christians to be ready for the culture to turn against us, Silence is a must-read.

(Here’s an excellent reflection on Silence with historical background.)

No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa

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According to Endo, one of the questions he attempts to answer in Silence is how can Christianity take root in an Eastern culture? After close to two thousand years of missionary efforts in Asia,  Christianity is still a minority religion in most Eastern countries.

Mother Teresa answers that question in her own way in this collection of spiritual writings and talks. She says,

In India, I was asked by some government people, “Don’t you want to make us all Christians?” I said, “Naturally, I would like to give the treasure I have to you, but I cannot. I can only pray for you to receive it.”

Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers

I’m a big Agatha Christie fan, and I’m afraid I just don’t like Dorothy Sayers as much. I think Miss Marple could beat Lord Peter to a clue every time. Still worth reading though.

All-of-a-Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor

I’m trying to find some upbeat early 20th century children’s literature to counteract all the tragedies we are learning about in history, and this book is definitely cheery.

A Jewish family of 5 girls in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. I’ve mentioned this book before, and I think it gives a great window into Jewish culture. I’m fascinated by the ways they keep the various feasts and Sabbath. It’s interesting to me to see how the family unit is the primary place of worship, not the synagogue, and the family meal is where the faith is celebrated. My kids liked picking out the ways the Sabbath dinner and Passover dinner prefigure the Mass.

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Linking up with Jessica @ Housewifespice

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7QT: Seafood, Pope Francis, & Lent

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1. During our Ash Wednesday dinner of baked salmon, rice, and asparagus, William turned to me and said, “This tastes really good. Is it okay to eat this on Ash Wednesday?” Compliments aside, I felt a little guilty. Salmon is kind of a luxury for us, and I was enjoying it too!

Then this today from Pope Francis: Don’t let meatless Fridays be an excuse to splurge on a seafood feast. So maybe I shouldn’t consider salmon a penitential food anymore (unless they’re salmon patties).

During the Lent I was in RCIA and deciding to join the Church, I was working for a logistics company. On Ash Wednesday that year I learned that most of my co-workers were Catholic, because they all made a big deal out of ordering Filet-O-Fish sandwiches instead of their usual Big Macs at lunch.

Fresh from an evangelical college, I would never have guessed that those folks were Christians, seeing as how everything else was “F-ing this” and “F-ing that!”

I like that the Church has so many material practices that stick with us and draw us back if we start to slip away. But I also like that Pope Francis doesn’t want to let me get away with just following the letter of the law.

2. I love all the activities that we can do for Lent. I try to push myself in Advent and Lent to do some kids’ crafts and baking that I wouldn’t normally make time for. But it’s so easy (for me) to make it too complicated. This piece from Better than Eden captures the essence of what I really want to strive for.

That said…here comes another “a few ideas for Lent” kind of post.

Some new books for Lent

3. Nathaniel is reading Pinocchio to the kids before bed. The book is darker than the film (so he says–I haven’t read it) and is much more a warning about the effects of keeping bad company.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons

4. And, after hearing the “double, bubble, toil and trouble” bit on a poetry CD, the kids really want me to read Macbeth to them. (Actually they want to watch a movie of it–umm, NO.)  But I could read/summarize/censor it for them. It’s another great literary warning about the cumulative effects of sin, right?

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The Three Witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,

by Daniel Gardner

5. Last year we purchased an Easter candle making kit from Illuminated Ink, which was very lovely

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but perhaps not worth the $20 price tag. In years past we have just bought a large white candle from Dollar Tree and poked 5 cloves into it in the shape of a cross, and we will probably do that again this year.

6. Here’s a meatless recipe I’m going to try out this week (although I’ll probably skip the heavy cream): Penne with Spinach, Gorgonzola, & Walnuts. I used to make one like this with linguini from my Betty Crocker cookbook. I think the kids might be ready to try gorgonzola if I don’t tell them beforehand.

Another simple meal we like is just Broccoli, Penne, Red Pepper Flakes, and tons of garlic.

7. God’s Lenten gift to me: Teddy seems to be almost completely potty-trained…notwithstanding the last accident chronicled in yesterday’s post. He just turned 2 1/2 this week, and we’ve been at it with limited success for 2 months. That’s so much longer than it took the other kids, BUT they were all older–all around their 3rd birthday. So, yes, it is much more work with a younger child, but there is still a net gain in the diaper budget category!

Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to visit the always awesome 7 quick takes host Kelly!

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See Me Homeschool

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Since I write looong, wordy learning notes posts each week, I thought it would be fun to do something different for once, and the See Me Homeschool link-up hosted by Ordinary Lovely and California to Korea is just the thing.

And, I’m going to link up with Melanie too!

Here’s a day in our homeschool, all in pictures–no words. (I do have to give credit where credit is due for the craft, however, since that’s something I’d never come up with on my own!).

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Now if you could only hear the soundtrack…

Lenten Spiritual Growth for Kids

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How will not eating candy during Lent make me less reckless? one of my kids asked last night as they were all either finishing up the last of their Valentine’s candy stash or packing it away for Lent.

A few nights ago N. asked each of the four big kids to identify one of their strengths and one of their weaknesses to work on for Lent. The strength needed to be a virtue that came easily for them, not a talent like running fast or writing well.

We did this at the dinner table, and everyone got a chance to name what they thought the others’ virtues are. Without identifying each child, I’ll say the virtues they came up with for each other were diligence, friendship, quick obedience, and thoughtfulness.

We talked about how your temperament makes some virtues come easily, but when you are aware of your strengths you can try to practice them consciously out of love rather than just automatically because of your personality.

Then the vices–this was done privately with Dad. The vices you tend towards are usually the flip side of your personality. Our kids came up with hitting, yelling, recklessness, and tattling.

Now here’s where giving up candy (or whatever) comes in. We told them that giving up candy doesn’t automatically help you improve your behavior. BUT, since it’s much easier to give up food than it is to give up sin, disciplining yourself to not eat candy on certain days helps to strengthen your willpower, which you need to overcome vices that have become bad habits.

ALSO, you can use giving up candy as an opportunity to pray for help in becoming a better person. Every time you would normally eat a piece of candy, say a prayer to God to help you stop your habitual sin.

It always warms my heart when very young children offer to make little sacrifices for Lent, like offering their allowance or candy to give to the poor. But once they’ve reached the age of reason, kids are ready to use the practice of sacrifice to exercise their spiritual muscles and grow in holiness.

I hope everyone has a very blessed Lent!