Friday, December 30, 2011

Weight of a Flame - Truth and Fiction (part 3)

I am continuing the explanation of what is truth and what is fiction in my book, Weight of a Flame - the Passion of Olympia Morata.

Chapters 7-8
What is true - once again, the events are true. Olympia returned home, sometimes she met Andreas Grunthler, her father got better then worse, John Sinapius took care of him at first and then left for Germany. Finally, Fulvio died, Olympia returned to court and was rejected.
What's fiction - We don't know how any of those events really developed. I was especially trying to find how Andreas and Olympia met. In one of her later letters (after their wedding) she said, "I still love you. If I didn't, I would tell you, just like I used to tell you that I couldn't stand you." That gave me a clue. I imagined that during their first meeting she couldn't stand him for some reason.

Chapter 9
What's true - Again, the events are true. At some point, Olympia realized that she had lost sight of what is really important - the knowledge of God.
What's fiction - No one knows how that realization came to her. The letter she finds in a drawer is really a letter her father wrote to Curio, but there is no indication that she found it at this point. It's just a tool I used to develop the story.

Chapter 10
What's true - The main events and what is told about Fanini. The description of the prison is fairly accurate since I have visited the place, but of course I had to imagine how the same prison looked in the 16th century.
What's fiction - How the events developed and how the characters interacted. I also had to invent a way for Andreas to propose. A friend of mine who is a medieval history major told me that in those days men often proposed in writing, usually to the girls' father. Since Olympia's father had died, I imagined that the letter was addressed to her but Andreas asked for her mother's permission.

Chapter 11
What's true - The poem was really written by Olympia. The traveling plans are true, and Renée really gave some money and a wedding dress.
What's fiction - How the plans were formulated and presented to Olympia.

Chapters 12-13
What's true - It's true that Andreas went to Germany first, and then returned to take Olympia and Emilio with him. It's also true that Olympia missed him desperately. All letters are from her. The news Andreas gives are also true. The rendition of Psalm 23 is really Olympia's. It's also true that they stayed with Georg Hormann and visited the Fuggers (and the main description of the Fuggers and their financial empire is true).
What's fiction - I had to imagine Olympia's loneliness, Andreas' return, and then their trip. I actually used mapquest for parts of it! I had to also contact a Museum in Trento, a city on the border between Italy and Germany, to find how the roads had changed since then (I thank Dr. Giovanni Kezich, director at Museo degli Usi e Costumi della Gente Trentina for his kindness in answering my numerous questions). He was actually the one who suggested Olympia might have met a flock of sheep in transhumance, since it was summer (see photo). I also read Goethe's Italian Journey, where he talks about his experience crossing the Alps (he went from Germany to Italy and Olympia went from Italy to Germany, but more or less the experience was similar). About Olympia's meeting with the Fuggers, I don't know what really happened. I know that she had always wanted to give them her poems, but there is no mention of it after her visit. So I imagined what may have happened...

Photos: 1. Prison cell in the castle of Ferrara, by Massimo Baraldi, wikimedia
2. Sheep transhumance (seasonal migration), by Falken, Wikimedia

Weight of a Flame - Truth and Fiction (part 2)

Weight of a Flame - the Passion of Olympia Morata
Truth and Fiction (part 2)
Chapter 2 -
What's true - the description of the castle of Ferrara and the background information about Renée, Ercole, and the Duchy of Este.
Fun fact - some people asked me how to pronounce Ercole. Italians don't have a separate "er" sound, so you just pronounce the initial "e" as a short English "e". The accent goes on that "e". And of course you pronounce the last "e". Don't worry about rolling the "r". If you are totally frustrated, you can call him Hercules, because that's what the name means in Italian. But then, don't be offended if I translate your name into Italian next time I see you. All the names of Ercole's children and tutors are real.
What's fiction - the whole scene. I don't know how Olympia spent the first few hours at the castle.

Chapter 3 -
What's true - Everything the teachers said about Olympia and her talents. The poem is true. It's also true that some women were saying she needed to forget the pen and pick up some bed sheets.
Fulvio's suggestions on speech are from a letter to Olympia, including the Tite Tute Tati tongue-twister. By the way, my father taught me the same tongue-twister when I was a child, so I felt a strong connection there.
Olympia's speech on Cicero's Paradoxes is recorded and what I have quoted is taken from her actual words.
What's fiction - Again, the scene and her feelings. We do know that she was sick just before giving the speech, so possibly the tension was there.

Chapter four
What's true - The background story and the quote of the letter from Calvin to Renée.
What's fiction - How the events progressed. We have no indication of a conversation between Renée and Ercole that was overheard by Olympia, of a discussion between Olympia and Anne, nor of one between Olympia and Renée on the Mass.

Chapter five
What's true - It's true that Calvin mediated in the marriage between Francoise and John Sinapius. All the facts about Lavinia and Paolo, and about Renée's earlier marriage proposals are true. Olympia's poem about nuns is by her hand. It's true that she translated (probably with Anne) two tales from the Decameron. The whole story Curio tells here is true (according to his account of it). Her questions about prayer at the end are also true. We know she discussed these doubts with Lavinia but didn't work hard to find an answer.
What's fiction - again, the various scenes. For example, Curio's tale is true, but we don't know if Olympia asked him to repeat it for her and her friends.

Chapter 6
What's true - The whole papal visit is true, to the smallest details. Her letter at the end, praising the duke, is also true. This type of letters led me to infer some form of denial about any negative aspects at court.
What's fiction - We don't know what the pope said to Olympia (if anything). We also don't know if Olympia saw her mother and brother in the crowd.

1. View of Ferrara from the top of the castle tower.
2. My kids on the drawing bridge in front of the castle.
3. My kids on a cannon behind the castle. I wonder if kids were allowed to do this back then.
4. A photo of a print in the kitchen of the castle. I think it's a floor plan.
5. My daughter pretending to be Renée of France in her chapel. The lighting is bad. The marble is white and black.
6. The Castle of Ferrara, by Massimo Baraldi, Wikimedia (all the photos above are mine)

Weight of a Flame - Truth and Fiction

As promised, I am beginning to write a list of what is historically true and what is a fruit of my imagination in every chapter of my book, Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata. I will start with the first chapter. Your comments are welcome!

1. Cover - Olympia's looks on the cover are the fruit of the artist's imagination of Robert Papp. There is only one portrait available that depicts Olympia Morata. There she is much older, and we don't know for sure if it's an accurate portrait, so our artist has taken the liberty to take those basic features and come up with a younger Olympia.

2. Map - the map is quite accurate, between my knowledge of Italy and my map artist's (Tom Carroll) knowledge of Germany. Fun fact - we used mapquest for much of the route, including an approximate time of their trip (I chose "on foot" because the wagon probably traveled quite slowly). BTW, Tom Carroll did not get credit for the map, which was a sad oversight. We will remedy in the next edition. For the time being, please know that he has been very accurate and patient. It's not easy to find 16th century maps and retrace someone's steps.

3. Chapter One -
What's true - In 1539, Olympia went to live at the court of Duke Ercole and Duchess/Princess Renée of France. It's true that her parents were Fulvio Pellegrino Morato and Lucrezia Morata. The tailor's conversation about the duchess is based on reported facts. It's also true that Fulvio had to leave Ferrara for a while and had just returned. He was a teacher at the University and a tutor at the ducal court. And it's true that he wrote a book on colors and flowers (the quote is from the book) and taught Calvin's Institutes to his students on some occasions.
What's imagined - We don't know any of their personalities. We know nothing about Lucrezia. I deduced something of Fulvio's personality by his writings (letters and his treatise on colors and flowers). He seemed a little extravagant and pedantic, but in a letter to Celio Curione he manifested a great excitement for the Gospel. Did I capture who he was? Who knows? The tailor and his wife are a product of my imagination.
One note about clothes. Oddly, in Olympia's letter there is a recurrent interest in clothes. When she had to leave the ducal court, she was particularly upset that she was not allowed to take one of her dresses. In Germany, she describes a dress she received as a gift, even guessing its value. Even when she escaped the city, she took care to describe the ragged clothes she was wearing. I thought it was interesting, so clothes are mentioned here and there at key times in my book. You will find them here at the start and again at the close of the book.

Photo1 - Statue of Olympia Morata at Schweinfurt, by
Photo2 - Portait of Olympia Morata, Wikipedia

Saturday, December 3, 2011

New Book Blog Tour!

Weight of a Flame
on blog tour

December 2011 - January 2012

Olympia Morata, arguably the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation, struggles to use her talents for God's glory despite rejection, religious persecution, and the hardship of illness, poverty, and war.

YA Biographical Historical Fiction

Click here for the publisher's description and read the first chapter and table of contents.

Tentative schedule.

Tuesday, December 13

Interview and giveaway

Thursday, December 15
Guest post

Thursday, December 29
Guest post

Friday, January 13
Review and giveaway

Tuesday, January 17

Wednesday, January 25

Monday, January 30

Tuesday, January 31
Guest post and giveaway

Sunday, February 5

Monday, February 13

Saturday, February 18

Monday, March 5

Review Giveaway

Wednesday, March 14


Thursday, June 29


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Questions from Indonesia

Here are some questions I was asked during my seminars and talks in Indonesia. The title of the seminar was "Why Is It Important to Teach Theology to Children?" In some seminars, the word "theology" was rephrased as "doctrine."

Question - How can we teach doctrine to children if we don't obey the doctrine ourselves?
This question was asked at least three times (with different wording) during the different meetings. It seems that some had identified "doctrine" with rules and regulations. Since, from the start, I had used the catechisms (Heidelberg and Westminster) as main references for teaching doctrine, I explained how the Heidelberg catechism is divided into Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude, and Christian doctrine includes all three sections. The rules and regulations (do's and dont's) are part of the last section. We obey God out of gratitude for his grace, bestowed on us in spite of our guilt. The catechism also explains how we are all - parents and teachers - struggling against our sinful nature but are preserved by God through his Spirit.

This actually opened the door to more questions. When I gave the example of my son driving my car when he was four and watering my bed with a hose when he was three, and I explained how he was irresistibly drawn to all things forbidden, everyone's interest perked up. I actually brought up this story to explain how the Reformed faith changed my view of education. Before, I wanted perfect kids so I could look like a good Christian. Now, I know that my children and I are both sinners in God's eyes.

The next question after that was, How did you deal with him? I replied that recognizing the grip that sin had on this little guy gave me compassion for him. I punished him, of course, but I also talked to him heart-to-heart. We read Romans 7. I explained how I have similar struggles, but through Christ we also have the power to fight.

This led to more and more questions. Later, I was told that in Asia parents never confess their sins to their children (or in front of their children). They are supposed to provide a perfect sample and to expect perfect obedience. In further talks, I made clear that I also expect respect from my children, and that the distinction parent/child is very clear in our home. At the same time, in God's eyes we are equally sinners and fellow pilgrims in this valley of tears.

Question - Isn't doctrine too abstract for children?
This question also was rephrased in other ways. Isn't doctrine too dry, too difficult to grasp, not exciting? In this case, I referred to Michael Horton's explanation of the Story (or Drama) behind the doctrine. Doctrine is abstract and dry if it's not based on the Drama - the Story of God redeeming a people for Himself through Jesus Christ. We should always remember the story while we teach the catechism, and we may also remember the catechism as we teach the story. Drama and doctrine are tied together.

Question - How can we make doctrine exciting for our children?
This question is tied to the previous one, but many have asked this separately. Obviously, first we need to be excited ourselves. We need to always remember the drama behind it. As Dorothy Sayers said, "The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man." We need to capture this excitement and pass it on to our children. Then the need to study doctrine, or theology, will be compelling. When we realize the wonder of the Gospel, this message of good news that is delivered outside of us and that is so foreign to our sinful nature, we want to know more just like a child who sees a rainbow wants to know how it's made.
Children are curious by nature. They usually have many questions about God but they don't always ask. The catechism helps to put some of those questions into words.
We all know that teaching doctrine CAN be dry. Some of us have experienced boring teachers or have at least seen them in movies (caricatures of this kind abound). While memorization is important, we don't want to limit our teaching to rote memorization. The questions help to engage the children. Think of the first question in the small catechism for younger children. "Who made you? God." It opens up a whole world of discussions between parent and child. The following questions then flow easily - What else did God make, and why? We can join our children in the excitement of discovery of what God has revealed, and in the sense of awe and mystery about what God has not yet revealed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Practical Tips for Teaching the Catechism

(This is an article I wrote for the Outlook. It was published in the March-April 2011 issue. Since my lectures and discussions in Indonesia centered on the importance of teaching the catechism to our children, I am reprinting it here with permission from the editors of Outlook Magazine.)

On the first Sunday this year, I opened with interest a small insert in our church bulletin. It was a plan for a full year of family worship. I was excited. My many years of homeschooling have left me with an instinctive appreciation of pre-made plans. I studied it carefully. On one side of the page there was a list of Bible passages, with the goal of reading through the whole New Testament in a year. On the other side, a list of catechism questions to memorize.

It didn’t look intimidating. The first few months are going to be especially easy. We know these questions already. As I turned the small pages, however, I realized that there will be new questions soon and, at that point, we will need a stronger commitment... and I was actually quite content to go without new resolutions this year!

I have lived through enough new year resolutions to know what a lasting commitment requires: a strong motivation, good planning, and lots of patience.

I became absolutely convinced of the importance of catechisms several years back, during a casual conversation with a relative on the importance of reading the Bible. I was in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) at that time, still fairly new to the Reformed faith, and was helping my children to memorize the Shorter Westminster Catechism.

In the course of our discussion, this relative asked me a familiar question, “What does the Bible teach?” Years earlier, I would have been fumbling for an answer. I might have given a generic reply, “It teaches about God,” most probably reinforcing his belief that he had already grasped that message. This time, instead, the answer came effortlessly, “It teaches what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” (cfr. SWC, Q3)

His interest perked up. “What duty does He require?”

“Obedience to His revealed will, the moral law, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments.” (cfr. SWC, Q39-41)

As the conversation continued, covering man’s inability to perfectly keep the commandments and the answer to that problem, I realized that most of his questions were in the catechism, and I had answers - not only ready, but written and revised with amazing precision and care by godly men of old. Besides, these answers kept our conversation focused on relevant issues rather than generalities. More than ever, I wanted to pass on such an effective tool to my children.

Most of us are familiar with Dorothy Sayer's 1973 essay on "The Lost Tools of Learning," which decries the loss of clear answers and definitions in progressive education while advocating a return to the medieval trivium (grammar, dialectic, and logic). I see this loss quite frequently as an Italian instructor. While older students are a little rusty in their study and memorization habits, they have a tremendous advantage because they have studied grammar with its proper definitions. They can easily understand why the word molto, which means both “much” and “very”, changes its ending when it refers to nouns but is invariable when it refers to adjectives or adverbs. Their minds immediately relate to adjectives as modifiers of nouns and adverbs as modifiers of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. When I talk in these terms they nod, while my younger students look absolutely puzzled.

I found the same need for definitions in my Sunday School class. A few years ago, when teaching 1st-3rd graders, I realized that in order to facilitate our communication and impress specific notions, I just had to use words like justification and sanctification, and the catechisms provided clear definitions. There was no way around them, just as a school teacher needs to explain to the class the definitions of "polygon", "triangle", and "equilateral", so that they can talk about an equilateral triangle without having to repeat each time that they are referring to “a flat shape with three straight lines, all of the same size.”

With the help of the catechisms, children can understand theological definitions quite simply. It is also reassuring to a parent or teacher to know that, when talking about realities like faith or providence, they and their children can have a common understanding of their meaning.

Katharine Olinger, a baptized member of Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA and an 8th grade student at Phil-Mont Christian Academy, shares a similar experience. "Catechism has indeed helped me in my life," she said, "especially my curricular one. As I attend a Christian school, I've found that during our Bible classes I'm always a step ahead of my peers and I can even impress my teachers with the catechism's well structured responses. In my spiritual life I more often refer to the Bible than the catechism, but I do particularly rely on the first question in the shorter catechism. It's comforting to have such a big question (what our purpose is) answered in black and white."

Marti Calderaro, a 16-year old baptized member of Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Filadelfia in Milan, a URCNA plant in Milan, Italy, agrees that the catechism is a great source of comfort. “It has helped me and my sister Erika to face not only difficult times in our lives, but also those our church is experiencing right now with the terminal illness of Elder Giuseppe Ferrari. It gives us comfort and helps us to share this comfort with our sister Ivana [Giuseppe’s wife].”

Marti began studying the Heidelberg Catechism about a year ago. She had never learned a catechism before, but didn't find it difficult. "It has been fairly easy, because our pastor, Andrea Ferrari, explains it very well."

Besides, learning the catechism as a family has other advantages. “It has set up an environment where theological questions come up naturally as we cover the various questions and answers,” said Roy Lopez, elder at Christ URC in Santee, California. “It has also deepened our love for God as we see all that He has done for us week by week. I believe it unifies us as a family, making us more of one mind (as it does for the church).

A Plan and a Method

We all know how quickly new resolutions become discarded when we don’t plan how to include them into our lives. That’s why the insert I found in our church bulletin is so helpful. The portions are well marked and within reach - a long catechism question or a few short ones every month. It's a very simple plan, and some families may choose to go beyond it.

While churches using the Westminster standards normally expect their children to memorize the Shorter Catechism in its entirety, it’s rare to find children who have memorized the entire Heidelberg Catechism, because of its length. Roy Lopez, however, has decided to challenge this trend. Last year, he has embarked on a three-year plan for memorizing the whole Heidelberg Catechism with his family.

“At the end of every year I try to plan what the family will do next in our devotions,” he explained, “something that can be done in one year. Several years ago we memorized Colossians which broke down into roughly two verses a week. It was great because we had the context and the rhythm of the whole passage. The Catechism seemed too long to memorize in a year (comfortably). So I went through all the questions and answers and broke them down into what I figured we could memorize per week. Sometimes it will be one or two per week and sometimes it will take two weeks to complete a long one. We mainly practice at night at the beginning of family worship but sometimes we practice in the car while we travel."

Roy has found that sharing the motivation with his family and coming to an united decision is very important before embarking on a long-term commitment. "I brought it up to the family and asked them what they thought about it. Everyone except Mikaela, our youngest, was enthusiastic about it. Mikaela, who is twelve, said that she didn't think she could do it. So, wanting it to be a free choice for everyone, I told her that we would be studying it and that she should just do the best that she can (no pressure). I didn't want it to become an empty ritual. Much to my surprise, she ended up being the one who was the most disciplined and is usually the one first to have the questions memorized. It started as a decision, then a discipline and it is now our habit."

Just the fact of memorizing together day by day, week after week, brings results. Some parents, however, have come up with creative ways to "spice-up" catechism memorization. Last Spring, I used it as penmanship practice,” explained Donna Link, a homeschooling mother of ten from Tacoma, WA, “by having the kids copy the questions and answers in a composition book.” Some have used the most comforting questions and answers as calligraphy practice, crafting beautiful gifts for their friends. Others use motions or put it into songs for the little ones.

Margaret Laning, a homeschooling mother of eight from Hull, Iowa, has a simple, well-known formula for success: "The main thing I found that works best is repetition, repetition, repetition, starting early in the week to get into the long-term memory work." She is, however, aware of her children's learning styles and tries to adapt her methods to make memorization easy for all. "Some are visual learners," she said. "For them, we have played a sort of 'erase the word' game on the computer. At first, we have the whole answer or verse typed out, and then gradually take a word away while they say the missing word. Eventually all the words are gone and they say the whole thing themselves."

"Some are more auditory learners," she continued. "I have a friend who had her kids record themselves saying the questions and answers on a tape or CD-recorder and then listen to it over and over. Doing both is great. Some other kids are kinesthetic/tactile learners. They seem to enjoy working with index cards. I have also heard of some cutting out footprints and writing parts of the lesson or verse on each foot, and taping it to the floor. The next part of the verse or lesson is on the foot ahead, and then another foot ahead of that. So, they read out loud the lesson as they jump from foot to foot. I have never tried that, but some younger children may really enjoy it."

There is a large variety of activities and games that can be used in catechism memorization. Often, it's possible to modify an activity or a game suggested for academic learning or for Bible memorization. My children and my Sunday School students have a few favorites. Once they mastered a catechism answer, for example, I asked them to say one word each, going around in circle. When one makes a mistake, he or she is out. This works well in large groups. Parents and teachers, of course, participate in the game, and they are often out sooner than the children.

A variation of this, still in large Sunday School classes, is dividing the class into two groups, and dividing the white board so that each group can go up and write one word of the catechism answer at a time. It's like a catechism relay race. To win, a team has to get the whole answer right, not just finish first.

Ideas to motivate and inspire the children are countless. Of course, there is always "candychism" (a word apparently coined some years ago by Rev. Leonard Coppes to describe the practice of rewarding children with candy for memorizing catechism answers). "I am not a big fan of 'candychism,'" Roy said. "I am not opposed to others doing it. It is just not something I would do. I guess it has a place with very small children. My philosophy is that I will pay my kids when they go above and beyond their chores around the house, not for spiritual things."

Katharine, on the other hand, loves the idea. "I wish my parents used candychism! They had the same kind of thought, only instead of little things for each question, they gave a big privilege for saying the whole Shorter Catechism in front of the session. For example, when I finished, I was permitted to get my ears pierced - something I had been wanting for quite a while."

The goal, however, is not only to motivate the children to memorize but also to help them to understand what they are saying, and that can be done, in small ways, even with younger children.

Being a logical thinker, I have usually tried to break down the catechism answers for the children, memorizing one section at a time, and sometimes drawing diagrams on the board to emphasize the organization and progression of thought. For example, in HC21, the first two sentences describe one part of faith, the next two another part, and the last sentence shows three things we believe God has given us, and three ways in which He has given them (freely, merely of grace, and only for the sake of Christ's merits). I have found this useful with the long paragraphs typical of Puritan writers.

To help the children to understand the meaning of difficult words, I have tried to use them repeatedly during the same lesson (or the same day, if we are at home). For example, since most children don't know the meaning of "merely," I explained that it means "only," and then used it often in my common interaction with the children, by saying, for example, "we have merely five minutes left."

"I try to relate each question to something that was said in a sermon or something that has happened to us recently or to the children in school," said Roy. "I definitely try to explain the importance of a proper understanding of each doctrine and any heresies that are opposed to that teaching."

Catechism vs. Scripture Memorization

The most common objection I have heard to teaching the catechism to young children is the obvious need to give a strong foundation of Scriptural knowledge. The concern is quite founded. Some Reformed children today are well versed in the catechisms and basic theology but are unfamiliar with biblical narrative and find it difficult to find passages in the Bible. What we often forget, however, is that the catechisms were never meant to be a substitute for Scriptures. On the contrary, they were to be used in synergy with a thorough study of the Bible, the preached Word, and pastoral instructions. In particular, the Puritans who wrote the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity were steeped in Bible knowledge, which permeated every facet of their lives, and they expected other Christians to be likewise.

For most of us who are far from the Puritans' devotions, striking a balance between catechism and Scripture memorization can be difficult, but it is again a matter of planning, including both in our family worship or Sunday School curriculum. In this respect, Roy has found Starr Meade's devotional book, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, very useful, with verses to look up daily.

Memorizing the catechism is a great way to learn the doctrines of Scripture: it teaches theology in a very succinct way,” said Donna Link, a home-schooling mother of ten from Tacoma, WA. “Memorizing Scripture is also excellent and memorizing the catechism along with it gives a fuller understanding of what the different passages of Scripture are talking about.”

Used in synergy with the Bible, the catechism becomes all the more valuable. We can memorize Matthew 10:29-31 and Luke 21:18 and find comfort in the promise that every hair of our head is counted, or Romans 8:28 and know that all things work together for our good, but when we see those verses in the context of HC1, and are reminded that those same promises are given to us because we belong to Christ, in virtue of His sacrifice and in conjunction with the great benefits of forgiveness of our sins and deliverance from all the power of the devil, those words become much weightier and firmer in our minds.

This school-year, I have been teaching the trials, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ to my 4th-6th grade Sunday School group, using the Heidelberg Catechism alongside each lesson, as an aid both to emphasize the overall importance and meaning of the Bible account and to notice the significance of often neglected details, such as the mention of Pontius Pilate in the Apostles Creed and the relevance of the cross as instrument of death.


One of the most comforting thoughts I have learned as a parent in a Reformed Church is that we are just to do what we are commanded and let the Holy Spirit work in our children’s lives. We take our children to public worship every Sunday, let them hear the preached Word, and prepare them to receive the Lord’s Supper. At home, we have times of family worship and learn the catechism together. It sounds reassuringly simple.

Whatever our plan may be for memorizing the catechism as a family, whether we set a very approachable goal of one or two questions and answers per month, to allow for the unexpected and to give more time to review, or we take up the challenge of memorizing it all, small steps are easier to maintain at a regular pace.

"We memorize a different line pretty much every day and by Saturday or Sunday we recite the whole thing together," explained Roy. "On Monday, we move on to the new question. I don't put pressure on us to go back and remember all the previous questions. I am happy if we can recite the answer at the end of the week and don't want to overburden my family by making too much of it. Some weeks are better than others, but we do the best we can."

With these affordable steps, Kristen Lopez, Roy's 13-year old daughter, has learned to enjoy memorizing the catechism. "At times it is hard because of different schedules and late nights," she said, "but it is always easy to catch up on Sunday."

Roy knows that it's important not to miss a week. "We may fall behind a few days but then I try to make sure we practice it more to be caught up by week's end. If we ever had to skip a week, I would continue with the program and just try to learn that portion later on. Of course, the memory work is much easier for the children than it is for Faith and me."

Faith Lopez, Roy's wife, agrees. "My motivation are my kids. They are so good at keeping up with their reading and memorization, it puts me to shame. It is very difficult for me and I struggle to find more time in my busy schedule and more space in my head for new information. I've had to make it a priority. It's just something that we do, part of our day. Besides, so many times God has used our memory work to encourage me. I would find myself in a particular struggle, and some words that I had memorized that week have come to my mind, helping me to reflect upon His love, grace and mercy towards me in my time of weakness."

By now, the Lopez family has discovered that their persistence had paid off. "What started as a decision has become a discipline and is now our habit," Roy said. Of course, there are still obstacles. From time to time, the motivation and discipline need to be rekindled. "Sometimes it feels like no one is motivated to do it, or we get especially busy, or the schedule is off for some reason, but that is where the discipline comes in. We continue to do it because we have set a goal and I have tasked myself with the responsibility to see that we get there."

Back from Indonesia

"Indonesia? What in the world were you doing there?" sometimes people ask. It all started in 2009, when I was searching the web for conferences on John Calvin so I could introduce my new book for children. It was then that I discovered a conference in Indonesia. I had been there, thirty years ago, and a piece of my heart was still in those islands. I sent Rev. Sutjipto Subeno, pastor and overseer of an international school and a publishing house, a copy of my book in English and he loved it! Soon after, it was in Indonesia and they committed themselves to publish the rest of my series. It was really the only foreign publisher to do so. My first two books have been published in Italian, but then they stopped because apparently they were not selling well.
In 2010, Rev. Sutjipto came to San Diego. It was a short-notice visit. He called me from LA the day before and I was only able to pick him up at the train station, take him to Santee, have breakfast at Starbucks and lunch with my husband, visit my church, pick up my kids from school, and take him back to the station. I felt like a very poor host.
My mother died in May this year. She died before I could go and see her so I canceled my trip to Italy. My emotions were pretty haywire at the time, and it was then that Rev. Sutjipto invited me to Indonesia, offering to pay almost all my expenses. I didn't think very hard. I emailed my husband who was at work, asking if I could go, and when he said yes I started to work on the tickets.
For a man, an invitation to speak at conferences and meetings might seem like work, but for a woman, it means no cooking, no cleaning, and no driving for two weeks! I was definitely excited. Soon, however, I realized that my schedule included talks in seminars, and the topic was "How to Teach Theology to Children." When I told my sixteen-year old son, his response was less than encouraging, "I didn't know you were an expert on that!"
My host told me to talk as a mother, and as a mother I shared how a sound theological education has benefited my children. I told them of my journey from evangelical churches where the children were in Sunday School instead of participating to the service, with very limited instruction, to a Reformed church where they were included in worship and were taught the catechism from a very young age.

I told them of my apprehensions when I first took my children to a Reformed church, wondering how they would adjust. But it was my son Jonathan, then about five years old, who told me that he actually liked the new church better, as he felt he was finally learning something! "In the old church, we just learn the same stories over and over," he said. It was Noah and the animals going into the ark, with an emphasis on the animals, and Joseph with the coat of many colors, with an emphasis on the colors. He was ready for more.
I have written on the benefits of teaching catechism in other articles, which I am hoping to post here. Overall, I think Indonesian parents were encouraged to see that the catechisms were originally written for children and can and should be taught to children.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Athanasius Through Children's Eyes

The winning entries in the contest issued by Carl Trueman on Reformation 21. Someone is certainly teaching these children well, and they can definitely articulate their thoughts very clearly! Maybe they should be my advisers as I write future titles...

The first picture, with the interesting diagram, is done by Lydia Joy Aloisi, age 9, and the second one, with a very happy Athanasius, by her brother Micah Aloisi. The third one and the letter underneath were done by the same author/artist. The names of some children have been omitted to protect theirprivacy. They will only be added at the parents' requests.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Athanasius, by Simonetta Carr
4th title in the series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers

The blog tour is nearing its end. Here you can read all the reviews. Thank you again, everyone who has taken the time to read and review! If anyone else is interested in writing a review or hosting a giveaway, let me know.

Wednesday, September 14
Book Moms
Giveaway (closed)

Friday, September 16
Christian Book Notes

Tuesday, September 20
The Children’s Hour
Giveaway (closed)

Saturday, September 24

Monday, September 26
Wednesday, September 28

Thursday, September 29

Friday, October 14

November 4

November 9
Review and giveaway (closed)

Thursday, November 24
Short review


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Errata Corrige

Since one of the qualities most people praise in my books is their historical accuracy, I want to point out a couple of mistakes that, in spite of my best efforts, made it into this series. They will be corrected in our next edition, but in the meantime, you should be aware of them as you teach your children.
1. Calvin, first edition, page 6. The map in the first edition was not totally accurate because the line marking the Papal States was drawn too high. This has been corrected in the newer version.
2. Augustine, page 7. When Augustine was born, Milan - not Rome - was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.
3. Athanasius, pages 4 and 29. Nicea has been marked too far from Constantinople.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking Back - and Forward

The idea for my series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers came a few years ago, in 2008, just before Calvin's 500th anniversary, when I was burdened by the lack of serious Christian biographies for children under 12 years of age. The books on the market (for that age bracket) were mostly hagiographies, historical fiction with an emphasis on fiction, and a few other oversimplified accounts. Not much (if any) on theologians, because most doctrine seemed to be out of children's reach. On the other hand, my children were reading biographies of presidents, world-changers, artists, and musicians, many of them quite sophisticated in contents. Meeting that need was my primary motive, and John Calvin, first volume in my series, was published. I tried to be simple without being simplistic and to add photos and illustrations to provide both a sense of reality and context and vehicles to excite the imagination.

Then came the second volume, Augustine of Hippo. This time simplicity became a greater challenge, as it's difficult to reduce Augustine's life and thought into a few pages. The third volume, John Owen, was a little simpler, because his life and thought were quite straight-forward. The greatest challenge so far has been the fourth volume, Athanasius, with all the complexity of 4th century controversies. The fifth volume, Lady Jane Grey, still underway, is not proving to be any easier.

In between all this, I was asked to write a historical novel for young girls and I tried my hand at that too. I chose Olympia Morata because I am Italian and I believe the Italian Reformation has been largely ignored. Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata is now scheduled to be published next month. While this is historical fiction, it is based on thorough research.

In all these books, I have been trying to be as objective as possible. If my first goal was simply to fill a need for informative accounts, my second goal was to avoid turning these books into hagiographies. Some people have commented that I portrayed Roman Catholic authorities very positively in my novel, and I took that as a compliment.

It was also encouraging to see my book on John Owen nominated as finalist in the 2010 San Diego Awards. The book is now in the San Diego County Library and the San Diego Public Library (a separate entity) is considering it for inclusion in their catalog. This has prompted a new line of thought in my mind. Why don't we have this type of books in public school libraries? Are my books objective enough to be included? Then I read an interesting quote by Dr. Diarmaid MacCullogh, professor of the History of the Church at Oxford and author of several books on the history of Christianity and on the Reformation. "It seems to me that the history of Christianity is absolutely essential to talk about because there is so much bad history about it, and arrogance, conceit, dogmatism are all based on bad history. [...] I hope to give other people a sense of balance by complicating the story because all stories are very complicated."

I am now more convinced than ever that accurate books on the history of Christianity are a must for children in all types of schools. We all know how difficult it is to remain absolutely objective when writing history, but I think Dr. MacCullogh hit the nail on the head. Christian biographies (or other history books) for children as well as adults must communicate the natural complexity of history in simple words. Can it be done? Historically, this type of books has been oversimplified, but today's children are exposed to much more information and I believe they are ready to understand the idea of complexity. This has now become my third goal.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Blog Tour

Athanasius, by Simonetta Carr
4th title in the series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers

The book is scheduled to be published by the end of August. I am giving everyone time to receive it and read it, then the tour will start! Thank you everyone who agreed to host the tour!
Wednesday, September 14
Book Moms
Friday, September 16
Christian Book Notes

Tuesday, September 20
The Reformed Reader
Thursday, September 22

Saturday, September 24

Monday, September 26

Wednesday, September 28

Thursday, September 29

Thursday, September 29

Saturday, October 1
Wednesday, November 9

Wednesday, December 7

Monday, January 2 2012

September 2012

Most of these blogs will also host a giveaway, so stay tuned for a chance to get a free copy of the book!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Latest News

Since my website is down for a while, here are the latest news regarding my books.

1. Athanasius, fourth title in the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers, published by Reformation Heritage Books, will be out at the end of August. I am excited about this book! I think it will bring the Nicene Creed to life for children of all ages, raising relevant questions on the divinity of Christ and the importance of creeds and confessions. As in my last book, masterful oil illustrations keep the imagination alive while maps and photos confirm the historical facts.

2. Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata, is my first historical novel (aimed mostly at young girls), and the fifth title in the series Chosen Daughters by P&R. It will be out on September 20th. In the story, Olympia Morata, a young Italian scholar (arguably the most prolific woman writer of the Reformation), learns to overcome the pain of rejection, religious persecution, exile, illness, poverty, and war by resting her hope on God's promises. Although her circumstances may be exceptional, her responses and feelings are universal, and young girls will easily identify with her. It's a true story - dramatic, but also poetic and inspiring.

3. Lady Jane Grey, fifth title in the series Christian Biographies for Young Readers, published by Reformation Heritage Books, is under way! Matt has just started sketching the illustrations and I will be taking photos of our models in the next few weeks. I am also in the process of re-checking my manuscript. Professor Eric Ives, Emeritus Professor of English History at the University of Birmingham and author of Lady Jane Grey, a Tudor Mystery (arguably the most authoritative book on the subject), has graciously agreed to check my final manuscript. Dr. Diarmaid MacCullough, Professor of History of the Church at the University of Oxford, has also kindly answered my questions on the intriguing time of English history when Lady Jane lived. I could never thank them enough!

4. I am also working on a bite-sized biography of Renée of France for Evangelical Press. This is part of a series of books directed by Dr. Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The deadline for the manuscript is January 2012. Emanuele Fiume, expert on Church history and author of several books, has graciously agreed to write an introduction.

5. Besides these projects (and my normal workload as mother), I am also hoping to continue my series of articles on parenting for the Outlook, and I am trying to finish a Study Guide for my book on John Owen.

6. Upcoming interviews. An interview with White Horse Inn will be included in their September CD, which is sent out to their supporters. Another recent interview with the staff at Westminster Seminary of California bookstore will be posted on their website and other places on the web soon.

7. Book talks. I am scheduling book talks for my upcoming book, Weight of a Flame. The first talk will be held at the Mission Valley Public Library in San Diego. I will update this post when I receive the exact date.

8. Blog Book Tour. I am organizing a Blog Book Tour for my upcoming books. Details will be published soon.

9. Other Book Tours. I have been invited to speak about my books and about Christian books for children in general (and about the importance of teaching theology to children) in Indonesia! The tour will take me to Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bali. My gracious host is Rev. Sutjipto Subeno, pastor of Gereja Reformed Injili Church in Surabaya and head of Momentum Christian Books I will be leaving on October 23 and returning on November 8. The hero at this time will be my husband Tom who will be filling both his and my shoes!

I think this is all. On paper, it looks daunting. In reality, I am not doing much more than before. I am still driving my kids to practice, trying to come up with something original but not too strange for dinner, keeping the house somewhat decent, teaching Italian classes, and translating. Sunday is the highlight of my week, a day of refreshing in God's house, feeding on the means of grace.