Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Immigration Update

The latest news on my family’s immigration saga is that we have not been able to expedite things on Esther’s visa. Neither have we succeeded in getting Joseph and Miriam’s visas issued separately, even though their documentation was acceptable. And finally, we have not been able to get a refund or a date change on any of their tickets. This is rather unfortunate seeing that three of our children are enrolled to begin CCA in September. Moreover they cannot even use their tickets to come out and visit since their passports are in the hands of the embassy while their visas are being processed.

The good news is that Matthew (who has an American passport and therefore does not need to get a visa) will be coming out on the 29th. His uncle is bringing him so that he can start school on time.

Meanwhile, I continue to be engaged in hurriedly writing 6 years of history curriculum, trying to get my house painted (if anyone would like to help me in the evenings that would really be a blessing) and ready for my family, and sorting out a load of paperwork.

Thoughts on Eastern Orthodoxy

I have recently had the opportunity to have some long conversations with Eastern Orthodox brothers. In both conversations it was suggested to me that the Eastern Orthodox church is the true church.

Now in principle, reformed Christians such as myself can accept all the arguments about the Eastern Orthodox church being the true church. Where we would differ is in accepting that the Eastern church is the only true church. This is because the New Testament shows that a church is defined by faith in Christ, as evidenced in baptism (Galatians). To make anything other than faith in Christ the defining feature of membership to God’s people (the church) is to fall into the error of the Judaisers (Acts 15; Galatians 1 & 2). Paul’s great defence of justification by faith in his letter to the Galatians arose from the divided table at Antioch. Table fellowship had been divided between two types of Christians, and Paul’s answer to this was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Thus, in its original context, justification was an ecclesiastical doctrine, since it affirmed that all who profess faith in Christ belong to the same common table. The Westminster Confession recognises this by stating that anyone with a Trinitarian baptism is part of the visible church, unless there is a specific instance of the church exercising its authority to excommunicate someone.

When talking with an Eastern Orthodox priest about this a few weeks ago, he kept coming back to the fact that the Eastern church is out of communion with the Western church. Although I initially denied this, after some reflection I realised that he had a point. The Eastern church is out of communion with the Western church. I can likewise agree on the fact that this is bad. As a consequence of these two premises, I can affirm that the Western church and the Eastern church ought to get back into communion with each other. Where the reformed tradition would differ with the Eastern Orthodox tradition is in what it means for the Western church and the Eastern church to get back into communion with each other. I would argue, on the basis of the scriptures cited above, that what is required is a joint acknowledgement of each other as fellow members of Christ’s body. On the basis of this, there could (in principle) be ecumenical table fellowship between the two traditions. Even without actual table fellowship, when we partake of the Lord’s supper every Sunday we should be conscious by being connected, through the Spirit, to Christians throughout the world in all different denominations.

The Eastern church does not accept this. Since they believe that they are the only true church, they are not allowed to have communion in other churches. Similarly, if a Protestant visits an Eastern Orthodox church, they would not be allowed to join them in celebrating the Eucharist unless they first came under their patriarchs, which in practice means joining their organisation and doing whatever they have decided that involves in practice. Once we joined their organisation they could then have fellowship with us. This means that until there is organisational unity, we are excommunicated. But on what basis has this excommunication occurred? To justify this excommunication, the burden is on the Eastern Orthodox to first prove that anyone who is not already in fellowship with the patriarchs is not part of the true church. But such an argument is a blatant non sequitur since we already accept that they are the true church (as are all who confess faith in Christ). The key is for them to first establish Biblically and historically that Eastern Orthodoxy is the only true church. That will be difficult to prove, given the decision of the first ecumenical council at Jerusalem (Acts 15), and the subsequent fleshing out of that decision in Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.
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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hard Work, Good Fellowship and Tasty Pizza at my new house!

Day of hard work, good fellowship and tasty pizza at Robin’s new house!

I will be moving into my new house this weekend. On Saturday I will be cleaning and painting as much of the upstairs as possible. Everyone is invited to come and help!

Although I will be supplying paint and painting supplies, if you have any brushes, ladders, rollers or old sheets, bring them along as well.

I will be providing free pizza at 1:00, and in the evening there will be left over pizza. Bring your own drinks.

If an hour or two is all you can spare, feel free to come along anyway. Every little bit helps. Or you can just show up for pizza and fellowship.

The address is:

1040 W Palouse Road
Post Falls, ID

If you need directions or have any questions, phone me at 215-5038.

If there are any changes to the above, including if I have to cancel, it will be announced on my blog at

One final point: I am seeking someone with a good practical mind to help administer and manage the volunteers and who will be able to meet with me on Friday to discuss what supplies and painting approaches would be best. If anyone would like to volunteer for that position, please let me know.

Immigration Update

Many of my readers have expressed concerns following the immigration troubles that I related HERE. The good news is that the tax returns are now in the hands of the embassy. The bad news is that my senator is not able to speed up the normal processing time, which is a minimum of 8 weeks. It is clear now that Esther will not be able to join me before October or November, much to both of our dismay.

I am still waiting to find out whether Joe and Miriam can be issued their visas separately, and whether our airline tickets can be refunded. Further updates will appear as the information becomes available.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wisdom & Eloquence

I have been reading Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning, by Robert Littlejohn and Charles Evans. (Crossway, 2006).

Those who are involved in the Classical Christian Education movement will benefit from reading Wisdom and Eloquence. Though not as engaging as Doug Wilson’s books on the subject, it goes further in offering practical support to those involved in running classical Christian schools. Both authors are Heads of Schools and draw from their years of experience.
One of the benefits of the book is the authors’ ability to successfully integrate theory with practice. I think it must be easy for those involved in the Christian classical school movement to come to education it with a lot of abstract ideas about goodness, truth and beauty, as if that is sufficient. But the key to success - whether success in religion, business, education, art, etc – is to know how to make one’s ideas take on flesh. That is why Littlejohn and Evans book is so useful.

Although the book is very down to earth, it also has some good theological insights. Consider the following:
“To the extent that the curriculum structures in our schools do not uphold a consistent, pervasive integration of the sacred into the students’ academic and social experiences, we have allowed ourselves to become secularised…. It is through [spiritual, cultural, and intellectual] formation that we can help reduce our students’ susceptibility to the dualism that plagues so many Christians, causing us to separate our religious life from our everyday life.”

“Oddly, the likelihood of having a genuinely biblical worldview is less dependent upon our personal knowledge of the Scriptures or our parents’ knowledge of the Scriptures than it is upon our parents having consistently lived an integrated, Christ-centred life before us. Our world-and-life view is caught much more than taught. It is the result of enculturation and not just education (theological or otherwise). Enculturation comprises the influences of parents, teachers, pastors, peers, television, music, and even video games (not necessarily in that order). The enculturation process is often passive and barely discernible.”

The authors argue that it is important for educators to have a theological system or grid in which to structure the worldview they seek to impart to the students. The system which they suggest is one which is most clearly stated as “Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation” thinking (this is very similar to the system I utilized when I wrote my Bible Overview). At the heart of this system is the doctrine of the image of God, the creation mandate, an understanding of common grace, and the need to implement Christ’s redemption into every area of life and society. On this last point, the authors sometimes come close to sounding like functional postmillennialists: “people need redemption, but so does every other aspect of creation, including the physical universe and all social constructs and institutions (such as marriage, churches, governments, and, yes, schools – even Christian schools).”

The book also takes a few knocks at what has come to be a primary paradigm in Christian classical education, namely Sayers’ understanding of the Trivium. If Littlejohn and Evans are to be believed, Sayers was in error to describe the Trivium as a methodological schema. The ‘language arts’ of Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric, they argue, were always understood as subjects and belonged within a seven-fold scheme that included the four ‘mathematical arts’ of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music). Thus, they write:
…we take strong exception to Sayers’s characterization of the trivium as a systematic pedagogy and especially to her attachment of the trivium’s component parts to her three stages of cognitive development. We disagree with the notion that dialectic and rhetoric are not subjects but are merely methods of dealing with subjects. From ancient times these, together with grammar, have formed the curriculum – not the pedagogy – of the language arts….

“On the contrary, the tradition handed us by our forebears says little to nothing about pedagogy, while saying everything about curriculum. The trivium is not a pedagogical paradigm, but a collection of disciplines, the study of which imparts a set of linguistic skills and knowledge that are transferable to other subjects. From Pythagoras to Augustine to Hugo of St. Victor, the evolution of the liberal arts has been about curriculum, curriculum, and curriculum!”

Littlejohn and Evans seem to have history on their side when they argue that Sayers’ explanation of the “trivium” is anachronistic. I think we would be hard pressed to find references to ‘the grammar of history’ or ‘the grammar of mathematics’ anywhere in the classical or medieval tradition, while there are plenty of examples of grammar being used to refer to a subject alongside the other 6 primary disciplines. But this does not mean that Sayers’ basic thesis has no historical precedent, even if she called it by the wrong name. I find it almost impossible to believe that our tradition says little to nothing about pedagogy and would like to see more extensive research undertaken in this area.

Nevertheless, questions of history are logically independent to that of cognitive development. On cognitive development, Littlejohn and Evans suggest that “A better understanding of the liberal arts and sciences as an educational paradigm, which long preceded Ms. Sayers, insists that we separate the arts from the question of cognitive development altogether.” In so far as the liberal arts are understood as ‘subjects’, I would agree that they are separate from cognitive development, just as apples are separate from teeth and the digestive system. But the action of eating an apple is not separate from teeth and the digestive system, and neither should teaching liberal arts be separate from question of cognitive development. In focusing so exclusively on curriculum, the book downplays the role of pedagogy to a degree that I think is unhelpful.

Wisdom and Eloquence is also useful in that Littlejohn and Evans have broken new ground in a number of areas. For example, they share ways in which they have been able to bring classical education to children with learning disabilities and Asperger Syndrome.

While this is not the first book I would choose to give to a parent who is considering jumping on board the classical education bandwagon, it is an excellent resource for teachers. It will hopefully provoke us to take a fresh look at the foundations of classical education and to further refine and clarify Sayers’s casual suggestions.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Immigration Update

After we found sponsors for Esther, Joe and Miriam (see HERE), we anticipated that getting the visas would be a straight forward matter. Because airplane tickets were selling out about a month in advance, we decided to go ahead and buy six tickets for the 29th of August.

That was a big mistake. On the 8th of this month, they had an interview at the American embassy which would normally have resulted in the visas being issued. They were told that all their paper work was in order and that everything was fine…except for one thing. One of the sponsors had not included a copy of his 2006 tax returns because they were not yet finished (the government had granted his accountant a routine extension). Instead he included his 2005 and 2004 tax returns with proof of 2006 income to show he was well above the financial level which determines eligibility to sponsor an immigrant. However, proof of income was not good enough for the government, which insists that they can only issue Esther’s visa after they have a copy of the returns.

After the tax returns are finished, they must be sent to the embassy. There will then be a processing time of at least 8 weeks (even though the actual work only takes a couple hours) before the visa can be issued. Although the sponsorship forms for Joe and Miriam were fine, we are told that their visas cannot be issued independently of Esther’s.

This means that there is little hope that my family will be able to fly out on their tickets of the 29th. To make matters worse, the travel agent has told us that it is impossible to change the date on our tickets or to get a refund. Moreover, they can’t even use the tickets to come and visit me because their passports have to go to the embassy along with the tax returns (which by then will hopefully be finished).

As can be expected, I am not very happy about these developments. Having been in America since early June, I am very much missing my lovely wife and family.

Matthew is enrolled to start at CCA this fall, so I am going to see what can be arranged to get him out here on his existing ticket (because Matthew has dual citizenship, he can come and go as he pleases).
I have written to my congressman to see if anything can be done to expedite things and also to find out why Joe and Miriam’s visas can’t be issued independently. Further updates will appear on this blog as they become available.
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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Counting My Blessings

There's been a number of comments on my earlier posts about migration HERE and HERE and HERE. One of the comments, left by a friend of mine, I have copied into this post (see below) because it corrects some of the misinformation I presented about illegal migration. The friend, though not a Christian, has reminded me of my Christian duty to count my blessings. And I don't say that lightly, as I have just received word this morning that Esther and Joe and Miriam's visas will be delayed at least 8 weeks because a certain document was missing from one of the sponsorship forms (not a very pleasing prospect seeing as we already emptied our pockets to buy airplain tickets).

The issue of illegal migration is a complex one and I am not proposing any answers. But I would make the following points: The person who said it would be ‘easier’ for you to bring Esther and the children over the border illegally, rather than to continue with the legal migration process, is breathtakingly ignorant.

Crossing the Mexico/US border is extremely dangerous. 500 people died trying to cross it in 2005. This is typical for the annual number of deaths. By no stretch of the imagination could a legal immigration process involve the risk of death.Those illegal migrants who get into the US face a whole new set of risks. They have to live life below the radar, usually working for less-than-minimum wage (as you noted). If mistreated by their employers, they have no recourse; complaining means deportation. They are entitled to no medical benefits apart from the fact that in case of medical emergency, hospital emergency rooms cannot turn them out. (They will still be billed for the medical services they receive.) They live with the constant knowledge that they could be deported at any time, even decades after they and their children have made a life in the US. How is this “easy”?

Your remark that you chose the legal route because you are a Christian strikes me as smug, for want of a better word. Laudable as the policy of honesty may be, the migrants you are talking about do not have a choice between honesty/dishonesty. You are in the incredibly privileged position of possessing a US passport. They aren’t. Believe me, if they were married to someone with an American passport, they would go the “honest” way and migrate legally, because their position once they were finally admitted to the US would be 1000 times better.Yes, there are problems with the way the government handles legal migration. I am acutely aware of this, as the red tape of the immigration branch of Homeland Security meant that I had to give birth in the US alone, while my husband was excluded from witnessing the birth of his child for no legitimate reason. That situation was not easy, but at no point did I contemplate smuggling Matthew in through Tijuana. I wanted my husband free of incarceration, and alive.

However, these are two separate issues here: injustice toward legal migrants and injustice toward illegal migrants. US policy is a mess on both fronts. But the “irony” of which you speak – “easy” illegal migration versus “difficult” legal migration – does not exist. It is a myth perpetrated by those who know nothing of illegal migration.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Bible & Migration

Following my last two posts, a professor from Oxford, who has spent many years engaged in the academic study of migration, informs me that my comments about illegal immigrants “leeching public benefits” reveals a “breathtaking” level of “ignorance and prejudice.”

I will have to let the Californians know that immigrants who use Medicaid are not leeching public benefits through using Medicaid. (That doesn't sound right - am I missing something?)

The professor didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “even with your amended comments…You provide ample evidence to confirm my view that those concerned with the poor and downtrodden in society should stay a million miles from the kind of Christianity you claim to represent.”

The point I had been trying to make concerned the disproportionate treatment between of legal vs. illegal migrants. I’m not quite sure how that makes me harsh against the poor and downtrodden in society, especially since I have yet to articulate a position on migration in general.

As a general principle, however, let me make clear that "the kind of Christianity [I] claim to represent” is particularly compassionate towards immigrants. This is because the theology of covenantal continuity to which I subscribe acknowledges that it was our forefathers who were strangers in the land of Egypt. The premium which the Lord put on corporate hospitality to sojourners and aliens apply equally within the new covenant:

Exodus 22:21

“You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:33-34

“The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Matthew 25:35-40

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me ... And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me'."

America has a strong tradition of welcoming migrants, and this has contributed to our rich and diverse cultural legacy. One can recognise the need for USA to have migrants (at a rate the nation can manageably assimilate, to be sure) while still questioning the justice in a system that fails to protect its borders and yet functionally penalises those who want to migrate it legally.
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Friday, August 03, 2007

Clarification on Illegal Immigration

Some clarification is required after my PREVIOUS POST about illegal immigration elicited some strong feedback (even, apparently, causing a dear friend to have “lost respect for [me]”).


My comments criticized the disproportional response of the US government towards illegal immigrants compared with legal immigrants. No where in my entire article did I complain that things are so easy for illegal immigrants; rather, I complained that it is not equally easy for legal immigrants like my family.

My polemic on the economic effects of illegal immigration (“bankrupting the system”, “leaching public benefits”) simply reinforced this point a forteriori: since the government’s actions show functional unconcern with the fiscal effects of illegal immigration, why do they seem even more worried about the effects of legal immigration, even though the later poses less risk than the former? I suggested some possible answers in my article, but this should not be construed as an actual position on the problem of illegal immigration.

Even my comment about building a wall along the Mexican border did not actually advocate that this should be done, but simply observed that current restrictions are not being enforced, lending irony to the inconsistency in their approach towards legal immigration.

Where I am willing to plead guilty is that my data about immigration in America may not be accurate. I avoided spending too much time researching my sources as I think my overall point remains valid even after any adjustment of the relevant statistics.

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