Friday, May 15, 2015

Notes and Thoughts from the CiRCE Pacific Northwest Regional Conference

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty

Much of this week has been spent decompressing from the previous few weeks. I’ve slept in, finished off a couple more books, started a few more books, worked on a writing project, and reviewed my notes from the CiRCE conference.

While I’ve been preoccupied, Lola covered herself and some of her toys/bedroom in paint. Luke learned how to breathe fire, eat fire, and light steel wool on fire [not kidding]. Oh, yeah. He baked cookies for me, too.

I’m also having technical difficulties with my blog. I apologize if you’ve had trouble with my blog redirecting. We are trying to solve the problem. And by “we” I mean my overworked husband. He was gone again last week, on a trip with one of his swimmers to a camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. I’m so thankful to have him home again (as are the kids), but he has been burning the candle at both ends this whole week with work and coaching and consulting. Isn’t he handsome?


Enough about all that. I’m assuming some of you might be more interested in reading my notes from the CiRCE conference last weekend.

Day 1

Andrew Kern—The Radiance of His Glory: Christ as the Truth, the Good, and the Beautiful

I laughed as I reviewed my notes from Andrew Kern’s opening plenary talk/sermon. I wrote almost nothing. Andrew Kern is one of the most non-linear speakers I’ve ever listened to. I’ve found it helpful to just listen and let it soak in rather than try to take notes.

He began with Hebrews 1:1-3.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

I think that will be our next passage for Bible memory.

The only Andrew Kern quote I wrote is this:

“What is true is true and your soul needs it.”


Sarah Mackenzie—The Art of Schole: Restful Teaching, Restful Learning

This was a breakout session. Sarah had beautiful handouts for us at this talk, so I didn’t need to take as many notes in her session. I was able to relax and just listen. The session talk was based on her book, Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace. Sarah is so real and delightful and encouraging. It was a pleasure to get to know her a little better over the two days.

:: Sarah blogs at Amongst Lovely Things. She leads the Read-Aloud Revival (have you listened to the podcast or joined the membership site?). And she models restful learning with the Schole Sisters.


Gregory Wolfe—Beauty: The Cinderella of the Transcendentals

I read Gregory Wolfe’s book Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age in anticipation of hearing him speak at the CiRCE conference. I’m glad that I did, but now I want to reread the book in light of his talk. I enjoyed seeing a bit of his (humorous) personality manifest in his live presentation. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak in person, take advantage of the opportunity! I appreciated his linear style and visual presentation. [grin]

Greg shared the following quote, and it sums up his talk beautifully [see what I did there?]. I thought it sounded familiar, and I guessed that I had previously encountered the quote in one of Stratford Caldecott’s books. [I was right; it’s in Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education.]

“We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance. We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past -- whether he admits it or not -- can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” ― Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: Seeing the Form


We need a restoration of balance in the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty.

We place emphasis on truth and goodness. Beauty needs to be defended.

Transcendentals: infinitely valuable and ends in themselves. They transcend our reality.

They have qualities of being:

Truth being knowable.
Goodness being lovable.
Beauty being admirable and desirable.

They are equal. A trinity.

In our modern culture there is a scandal of pleasure. Beauty is thought of negatively as either seductive or anesthetizing.

But pure beauty has no agenda. It is disinterested.

Beauty creates desire, a certain restlessness that moves us forward.

“The beautiful is essentially delightful. This is why, of its very nature and precisely as beautiful, it stirs desire and produces love, whereas the true as such only illumines… It is for its beauty that Wisdom is loved. And it is for itself that every beauty is first loved, even if afterwards the too weak flesh is caught in the trap. Love in its turn produces ecstasy, that is to say, it puts the lover outside of himself; ecstasy, of which the soul experiences a diminished form when it is seized by the beauty of the work of art, and the fullness when it is absorbed, like the dew, by the beauty of God.” ~Jacques Maritain (read more here)

The faculty by which we perceive or apprehend truth is reason.
The faculty by which we perceive or apprehend goodness is faith or holiness.
The faculty by which we perceive or apprehend beauty is imagination.

Beauty can be defined as “that which being seen, pleases.”

Beauty penetrates reality and perceives the world intuitively. It is an apprehension of form and pattern that penetrates and reveals reality.

It has elements of both surprise and inevitability. We first have a jolt of amazement, but it leads to “yes, of course.”

Art fails when it merely tells us what we already know in the ways that we already know it.

Beauty strikes with a sense of newness. Beauty is not merely prettiness. It is not only harmony, proportion, and symmetry.

Beauty lives in tension between ideal and real. It is prophetic. It is a challenge to complacency.

Beauty brings us to the threshold of mystery with opaque but shining truth. We understand in part—with a certain tenuousness.

Truth without beauty is propaganda. It is moralism (rather than mystery). It is fleshless abstraction.

Only beauty can incarnate truth. Real beauty asks us to think for ourselves. It brings us back to the ordinary and invites us to cherish it.

Beauty makes us care about the world and want to protect it, defend it. It gives us a sense of empathy, helps us to see through the eyes of the other. It infuses goodness with mercy.

Beauty sets us on the path, so that we are dynamically striving for goodness.

Goodness without beauty is moralism (a “better than thou” mindset).

But we must put the same constraints on beauty if we are striving for balance.

Beauty without truth is a lie and a mask, empty and hollow.

Beauty without goodness is frigid, lifeless virtuosity. It is form without meaning.

Interested in reading more?

:: The Wound of Beauty by Gregory Wolfe @ Image Journal [This article is generally the same content as his talk, so it is a more fluid and complete version of my notes above.]

:: Read more about Image Journal here.

“Understandably, religion and art also need each other. When we lack the kind of stimulus which only the imagination can provide, we make it more difficult to live the life of faith. And art, when it sees no creation to celebrate, and no soul in need of nurturing, loses its respect for truth.”

:: Check out Gregory Wolfe’s book here: Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age. [I just finished it a week or two ago and highly recommend it!]


Day 2

Tim McIntosh—Becoming Whole: An Education That Knits Together Heart and Head

Tim has a strong presence, personality, and humor as a speaker. He tells great stories.


We learn with both our head and our heart. Our head processes text, objective fact, and logic. Our heart asks, “What does it mean? How does it feel?” It applies and understands.

We are constantly creating internal models of the world. These internal models often involve our perception of our value in the world. We experience negative emotions when reality does not line up with the internal model we’ve created. [Our homeschooling schedule, for instance?] We experience positive emotions when our internal models are accurate.

Learning is model building, world discerning. Curiosity bridges the gap between our present model and our future model.

You can’t have curiosity without a willingness to explore something unknown. This is a risk. It takes courage.

The thing we care most deeply about is the hardest thing to say. More risk.

A teacher must have presence in a classroom. Be passionate. See your students. Create an environment of respect and safety for students.

Don’t shut a student down during times of emotion. Ask ‘the tender question.’

“Why are you so angry?” is a statement that interprets the situation for a student. Instead, observe details and invite the student to interpret. “Bobby, your voice has gotten loud and you pounded your fist on the table. What’s going on for you?”

[During the Q&A, someone asked what age this technique is appropriate for. Andrew Kern observed that younger children are very honest but not always perceptive. Older students are more perceptive but it is much more difficult for them to be honest. Starting to ask this question early trains the student to ask it of himself when he is faced with emotions as he gets older.]

:: My notes on this talk are fearfully inadequate. I highly recommend reading the article Fear and Education by Tim McIntosh @ Gutenberg College.


Sarah Mackenzie—Beauty in the Chaotic, Ordinary Homeschool

This was another breakout session. Again, Sarah shared beautiful handouts for the talk. She shared many ways in which we can find and embrace beauty in our ordinary, chaotic homeschool.

One of the highlights of the whole weekend for me was when she invited us to stand together with our hands raised and sing the Doxology. The experience was exquisitely beautiful. I plan to add this to the liturgy of our homeschooling days!

I also loved all the quotes she shared, but this one by C.S. Lewis (from The Weight of Glory) was my favorite and summed up so much of the conference:

“The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers.

For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”


David Hicks—Quo Vadis: An Amplification

David Hicks has a brilliant mind (even if he claims an average intellect). I’m still working my way slowly through his book Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education. I have to stop and re-read several times, and I still don’t understand everything. A couple of us were (laughingly) wondering if we were at the right conference since we needed to pull out a dictionary for his breakout session title, “A Colloquy on the Previous Plenary Session,” as well as for the instructions in the conference program [under “10 Ways to Optimize Your Conference Experience” we were instructed to “be profligate in the exchange of contact information”].

I was thrilled (and somewhat amazed) that I could process the words in his plenary talk title. “Quo Vadis” is a Latin phrase that essentially means “Where are you going?” [I know this in part because I once read a book titled Quo Vadis, which my very intelligent grandmother said that all young people should read.] I now know, from learning the form of persuasive essays this past year, that an amplification basically states who cares and why?

But I still wondered what he was going to say about where to go from here and why we should care.

It turns out, David Hicks can lead two breakout sessions and give a plenary talk without preparing any formal notes. He is able simply to use all the copiousness going on in his head and to synthesize all the talks and information and ideas presented and swirling about in order to lucidly connect all the dots for us in a linear, efficient, radiant speech. (Do you think I’m using hyperbole?)

The man exudes grace and clarity. He also is hilarious in an understated sort of way. I loved that he said he thought Andrew Kern was eccentric. And I loved that he made faces (laughing, rolling eyes, shaking his head) at things Andrew Kern said during the Q&A panel (particularly when Andrew Kern kept saying that all one needs to know about education is on pages 72 and 73 of Norms and Nobility—I don’t think I have anything underlined on those pages, probably because I didn’t understand anything enough to underline it). I love that he finished his talk by saying that he hoped we disagreed with something he said because the disagreements are where things get interesting. I also think that only David Hicks could get away with saying something about our “parents getting horny.” Twice.

A few specific notes:

Truth, goodness and beauty are called the transcendentals because they transcend a naturalistic, materialistic world.

Our modern culture says that truth is relative, goodness is situational, and beauty is subjective.

These modern qualities of being negate the terms. They are gutted of meaning, become non-existent.

The transcendentals are derivative. They must trace back to something outside our material world. A Son.

Christ is the incarnation of the transcendentals, the transcendentals embodied in a person. They are not ideas, laws, or art. They are embodied in a complex person who is in a profound relationship of love. It is a subordinate father-son relationship, and yet Christ is given all glory and power. He is heir of all things.

Christ expresses truth not in precepts but in parables. He expresses goodness not in laws but in love. He expresses beauty not in majesty but in humility, holiness, obedience.

[Thanks, Tonya, for filling the hole in my notes!!]

(These were bizarre ideas in the classical world.)

[Hicks shared more about truth, goodness, and beauty in the ancient pagan world, but I am not proficient enough to turn my notes into something clear enough to understand!]

[He also shared some beautiful thoughts on the story of the prodigal son, and the grace and absolute freedom the story embodies.]

What kind of story are you telling your children? Is it big enough for them to fit their world in it? Can new experiences fit into the story?


Q & A Panel

The conference ended with a Q&A panel. David Hicks, Andrew Kern, Sarah Mackenzie, and Tim McIntosh answered questions. I don’t have many notes. It was mostly fun to see them joking around and having fun together.

Kern’s answers were always “Homer” or “Pages 72 and 73 of Norms and Nobility.” Specifically, one of his answers (in reference to a visual during Gregory Wolfe’s presentation) was, “You can have Thomas Kinkade. Or you can have Homer.”


“We spend our time polishing the chariot and neglecting the horses [moral imagination].” ~Andrew Kern


I think that about wraps it up!


Christine said...

This was great! I feel like I should take notes from your notes.�� So much wisdom there. Thank you for taking the time to share!

Unknown said...

Loved your summary post. Brought me back to the conference! Thanks! My notes say "beauty not in majesty but in humility".

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these awesome notes! I attended the conference too and was so overwhelmed with new information and thoughts. I didn't catch the missing word either, but I'm wondering if it was form....?

Heidi said...

Christine~ You are most welcome!

Tonya~ Thank you, thank you!! I feel so much better now. :D I'll put that in my notes.

Anon~ "Form" is what came to my mind as well. But I think "majesty" makes sense paired with "humility."

Laura at By the Bushel said...

I laughed out loud, 'needed a dictionary'... oh yes. Every book I'm reading these days. But I'm learning so much. Thanks for taking the time to share your notes. A million thanks- :)

Windhover Farm said...

thank you, thank you for sharing the wealth.

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your thoughts and remembrances, as you took a lot more notes than I did. Thank you for sharing!