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Five Questions for Clay Clarkson, Author of Educating the WholeHearted Child

Clay Clarkson is a relatively new friend of mine, but one I greatly appreciate and treasure. His contribution at Story Warren has been crucial, both in his wonderful posts, and his wise counsel to me leading up to our launch. I treasure his friendship.

Clay’s book (written with his wife, Sally), Educating the WholeHearted Child, is truly wonderful. Reading it was a joy and a relief. Finally, a book on home-education I can…wait for it…whole-heartedly recommend. Seriously, this book means a lot to me, because it hits just about every button. It is enjoyable and well-written. It is graceful in tone and message (and this is fundamental to its charm and power). It is not only full of grace, but is also truth-saturated. It’s faithful to Scripture. It is well layed-out and profoundly helpful. It is simply a brilliantly constructed book, a treasure for parents of any variety, most especially those who are considering, or are engaged in, home education.

Clay was kind enough to answer a few questions and reveal at least one more of his famously coined words. –Sam

1. You have spent many years working to serve families. What is the core of the message you love to share with families? What would you say, “Miss everything else, but don’t miss this!” about?

We were in southern California back in the later 1980s, and I was on staff at a large church as the Pastor of Single Adults. Sarah (yes, the Rabbit Room author) was about four years old then, and one day out of the blue she blurted out to Sally and me, “When I get my divorce, I want to come and live with you.” Most of our singles ministry leaders were from broken families of one sort or another, so it was just what she had heard. Our nearly three-plus years in California planted a seed in our hearts that we wanted to strengthen families. After a couple of moves, we landed in rural Texas in 1993 and that seed grew into Whole Heart Ministries, a ministry to “encourage and equip Christian parents to raise wholehearted Christian children.” It’s still our mission today, but I’d say our ministry slogan—“Keeping Faith in the Family”—probably best captures the three core messages of our ministry. First, we have faith in God’s design for family. We provide lots of places to jump on the biblical parenting path, but we confidently hold up a biblical ideal for family because we believe it offers the promise of greatest blessing for parents and children. Second, we believe family is where faith is grown best. We write, speak, and create faith-building resources and tools because our heart is to help other parents bring up their children in the Lord. Third, we are faith-driven in all that we do. We believe in the concept of faith-based, as opposed to formula-based, parenting. We want to give parents the confidence and freedom to parent in the power of the Holy Spirit. We also have lived that way in our own family, as well as in our ministry.

2. What do you consider healthy ambition for parents in regards to their kids? Is there danger in our aspirations?

Aspirations are fine, as long as they are not projected personal aspirations. I suppose one of my secret personal aspirations was to have a child who would be a web-tech and graphic design wizard from a young age. It didn’t happen. Frankly, it would have created great stress and unhappiness if I had tried to press that aspiration onto one of my children. Our aspirations for our children were never about what they would do, but always about who they would be. We always aspired that they would walk with God, discover their own gifts and drives, and become all that God meant for them to be. We invested many hours and dollars into helping our children discover their God-designed talents, develop their unique skills (whatever they may be), and discern how God could use them for his kingdom. I suppose if there was an aspiration, we were very verbal in our expectations that each of our children would have an impact for Christ and his kingdom no matter what they chose to do with their lives. We also were very intentional (which I suppose is also aspirational) about helping them find and release the unique message we believe God has put into their hearts, and training them to be communicators, whatever their personality may be (and we have a very unique mix of them). Our aspirations for our children have always been spiritual and faith-driven. We took the idea of “making disciples” seriously with our children, believing that if we got their hearts right, then we could trust God to direct them into a profession, career, endeavor, ministry, marriage, or anything else. It was never about a program, but always about a vital, active, and always-engaged relationship as we walked the path of life with them.

3. What role do you believe imagination and the arts play in raising children?

Early in our parenting journey, we heard the statistic that children enter school with very high measurable creativity, but by third grade it is very low. Why? Because children in classrooms quickly learn that in order to succeed they have to conform. It becomes all about right answers. Obviously, every child needs to learn the Three Rs in order to gain knowledge, but not at the expense of the natural creativity God has built into our brains. Our answer was to give our children learning skills, but also to build what we called their mental muscles, the ones that would enable them to be strong, independent, nonconforming learners. We identified those muscles as language, appetites, habits, creativity, curiosity, reason, and wisdom. Taken together, I believe those muscles are the building blocks of a strong imagination. Not just the idea of envisioning fantastic imaginary worlds (which is a fine but very limited view of imagination), but the idea of an “imaginal intellect” that is able to conceive of new things, explore new solutions, find new answers, and forge new directions. A core part of giving our children that kind of strong imagination was an intentional emphasis on creating a verbally rich environment and arts-enriched atmosphere in our home—literature, visual arts, music, storytelling, poetry, Scripture, acting, creative play, nature, and much more filled our days. We found the more we would build and strengthen their mental muscles, the more they would exercise their “imaginal intellect” without our prompting, and the more naturally and easily they would acquire the learning skills of the 3Rs. It was never either-or, but always both-and.

4. You are, quite famously, the inventor of the title, “Hutchmoot,” for the Rabbit Room’s annual conference/gathering. Other than signing autographs, what do you most enjoy about Hutchmoot and what are you looking forward to this year?

As a writer and an amateur neologizer, I am delighted to have created such a useful new word (I’m checking OED regularly). Just for historical provenance, it was Saturday, April 24, 2010 around 11:00 AM in the back room at the Panera Bread on Old Hickory in Nashville. Andrew and Pete had come to meet with Sarah and me while we were in town for other matters (they were being nice to meet the aged father of Sarah, the young and newly-minted Rabbit Room author). The table conversation took a turn in the direction of naming the unnamed event, I tossed out “Hutchmoot” as an idea, Andrew looked funny at me, and the rest is history. Due to an unavoidable ministry conflict, I had to miss the first Hutchmoot that August (offered gratis by Pete…arrrgh!). When the 2011 Hutchmoot came around, I was early in line online to get my place, but had to come without Sarah who had, wait for it, an unavoidable ministry conflict. Still, it was a life-changing event. I have attended other music, literary, and faith and arts kinds of events, but Hutchmoot had such a warm and familial spirit and authenticity about it that I knew immediately it would be a special kingdom-thing that God would use. I met you, Sam, and ended up writing on your wonderful Story Warren blog. I met Eric Peters, and ended up coordinating a tour to introduce Colorado Springs to his new album and artwork. Of course, I connected with so many others over that weekend who are driven to use creativity and the arts to express the reality of our Creator God. Now I am champing at the bit (note: not chomping, which I will do at Evie’s table) to get to Hutchmoot 2012. There are no UMCs on our calendars, so Sarah and I will be there together this time. As a long-time singer-songwriter myself, I love the music, but it’s also just the atmosphere of Hutchmoot that draws me back. It’s a re-energizing and refreshing weekend in the company of other creatively-driven followers of Christ. That’s a time worth looking forward to.

5. I’ve known you as a man of vision and imagination. What’s out there that you haven’t yet done, but are itching to do?

It seems I have many more creative itches than I am able to scratch in this season of my life (or will be able to before I’m done here). On the ministry side of my itchy life, there are some nonfiction books, short ebooks, and parenting resource products that are in various states of development; a library of 400+ public domain books (1860-1920) to get back in print and in digital; and some websites to develop. But there is also a very itchy personal side of my creative life. I hope to begin working soon on an illustrated children’s book allegory about the heart called The Lake of the Boy. There’s also a preschool children’s book and accompanying app on the drawing boards, and some other children’s book ideas. I’m also working on an Advent song cycle called “Come to the Light” using my own songs with an original monologue by a 70 year-old Mary. Andrew permanently removed the self-descriptive term “creative” from all Hutchmooter’s vocabulary this past year, so I am using a new term to describe that aspect of my life. I think of myself as a “creativator.” It’s not about being, but about doing. It’s not about how I perceive myself, but about what drives me; not what I think I can or should do, but what I must do. Frankly, it can be a bit of a curse at times. I often feel like Job, relentlessly scratching at all these itchy ideas and concepts breaking out in my brain, digging at them futilely with the broken potsherd of my limited creative skills and abilities (not to mention time and resources). But, being a creativator can also be a blessing when one of those ideas actually makes it out of my brain and into someone else’s hands. That’s what I consider the real joy and blessing of creative effort—to bless others in a way that lights up the imago dei in their spirits. There are, and will be, a lot of ideas left on the table, but I keep pressing on because it’s just what I do. Thanks for asking.

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