Without question, the best advertisement for our school has been our people. Word-of-mouth marketing has been fantastic for us; when families tell other folks about the school, they will often include the good and* the bad, so by the time inquiring families get to my office, they usually have a good idea what they’d be getting into. Almost every single ECS family is here at the recommendation of another current ECS family, and I like it that way.
At the end of this month, we’ll have our annual Information Night, which means this is a great time to tell others about ECS. By now, the school families ought to have received some invitations to hand out at church or elsewhere to those whom you think may be interested in ECS. As you’re thinking of who you could bless with such an invitation (HA!), I wanted to offer a few reminders as to who the ideal candidate for enrollment would be.
Evangel Classical School would be classified as a discipleship school (sometimes called a covenant school). This means that ours is a school for churched families. The alternative would be what is sometimes called an evangelistic* school. Both models have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Evangelistic schools obviously appeal to a much broader demographic than discipleship schools. Unchurched families can send their kids to evangelistic schools and be reasonably confident that their children will receive a good, moral, private education; the class sizes will probably be smaller than at the public school down the street; there’s a good chance someone will be giving their kids some exposure to the Bible that they may or may not be getting at home, which is good, if you’re into that sort of thing.
A potential drawback is that evangelistic schools often include families who do not share the worldview of the school. The school and home – while enjoying a degree of partnership – may occasionally undermine one another. Imagine the confusion when a sixth grade teacher informs a student that fornication is sin, but the student lives with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. What is now the student’s standard for conduct? What he’s learning at school, or what he’s seeing at home?
Discipleship schools appeal to a much narrower demographic: churched families. A family who sends their child to a discipleship school can be reasonably confident that the school and the family are speaking the same moral language. And when they aren’t, the Bible (which is an authority common to them both) should serve as the arbiter between them.
A potential drawback to discipleship schools is that some really fantastic kids who would thrive in our schools are not good candidates to come, because we cannot support their parents – the very thing we exist to do.
With that as our context, and as we gear up for our Information Night, I offer a few requests:
Think about families who would be an excellent addition to our school community. These would be churched families whom we can support well as they obey God’s commands in their child-rearing. Then go ahead and invite them!
Pray for the Information Night, that we’d be able to showcase the school well in a very limited presentation.
Pray too that God would provide for us a place to put our new families, as we are quickly running out of space at Reclamation Church.
Thank you in advance for the crucial part you play in expanding the reach of Evangel Classical School.
As you haunt the halls of Evangel Classical School, you no doubt witness much that disturbs you. I understand your annoyance. Each giggle of any pigtailed grammar girl represents a small blow to your tranquil and pathetic existence. Each act of charity on the part of one student toward another means you’re going to have to deal with still more happy sounds later on. You cannot abide laughter, you loathe happy conversation, and above all, you abominate the singing that sometimes wanes, but never dies at ECS. I get it. If I were you, I’d be grumpy, too.
But I have news for you. And to be frank, I’m glad to be the one bringing it to you. You ready?
WE’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE.
In fact, we are only getting warmed up. We have entered a time of the year when the singing and mirth crescendo to decibel-levels to make a tarmac at SeaTac blush. It’s Christmastime, and we have even more reasons than usual to laugh, sing, and feast.
I don’t expect that you will understand, so let me explain the cause of our celebration.
Long ago, in the very early days of our kind, our first parents sinned, violating the perfect standard of the holy Creator God. Our parents and their progeny were forever estranged from Him unless and until we could be given the righteousness of Another. But there were no suitable substitutes. Wishing to demonstrate His grace and mercy, God purposed to rescue us from the consequences of our sin by providing a suitable substitute in the form of His only begotten Son.
At Christmastime, we celebrate this Son’s entering our world as a man, providing a suitable substitute for sinful men. But He also retained his divine nature as well, so His sacrifice could be applied to more than one man.
Our Creator sent His only Son into the world as a tiny baby who would soon bear the sins of the world. This would restore the fellowship with our Creator that had been broken since the sin of our first parents. When the Son grew up He died on a Cross as a sinless substitute for us. Sin and death suffered a death-blow of their own at the Cross, but it all started when the Son of God came to Earth as a baby. Obviously, this is a big deal, and it’s why we are exceptionally noisy at this time of year.
God gave His Son; we give gifts to each other.
Angels sang announcing the Advent of the Son of God; we also sing in marvel at the Incarnation and in triumph over sin and death.
Earth received her King at the first Christmas; we receive lots and lots of good gifts from God with gratefulness and purpose at this time of year…so we feast.
Gnomes of District 93, I implore you to gird up your beards and join us. It’s way more fun than what you’ve been doing. But if you cannot, then you may want to make plans to haunt some other places…for a few weeks, at least.
On behalf of your friendly neighbors, I wish you MERRY CHRISTMAS!
The Unruly Headmaster (U.H., for short)
Ideally, when their training is complete here at ECS, we’ll be able to tell the Raggants, “Go! Read, watch, sing, and pursue whatever you want.” And we’ll be able to do so knowing that they’ve developed appetites and loves that evidence maturity, discernment, and love for God and His people.
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
As you’re probably aware, he goes on to explain that spiritual pursuits and satisfaction satisfy far more deeply than world pleasures. After all, we’re spiritual creatures. But there’s a broader principle in view here, as I see it.
Let’s fast forward twenty years, when all the current Raggants are grown and gone, with families of their own, and having a bunch of children of their own roaming the halls of ECS. Imagine if those grown Raggants sing psalms for fun (and for fight); imagine if they mow their lawns and coach soccer and run the corner drug store and vote and worship in their churches and train their kids to ride a bike in the driveway like culture shapers. How awesome would it be to have grownup Raggants reading and rereading The City of God or The Canterbury Tales or Macbeth or Beowulf or That Hideous Strength because they love them, not because they’re assigned? This will only come about if they have the right appetites.
Only when we have the right appetites will we have the right pursuits…at least with any consistency. If our students properly love the Word, they’ll read it; if our students properly love their neighbors, they’ll serve them; if our students properly love their spouses, they’ll be faithful in heart and body; if our students properly love the Beautiful, they’ll pursue the True and the Good.
I say all this because (per our Mission Statement) classical education and sacrificial labors are tools that we use to “commend the works of the Lord to another generation.” Classical education is not the end. As cheesy as it may sound, this is but the beginning of a life of worship and living so as to shape culture. That’s why we care about whetting in our students the right appetites.
As I get opportunity to interact with a host of schools these days, I am impressed at how much trouble we can get in when we adhere to traditional Christian teaching and morality. I don’t want that to be the case for Evangel Classical School and our community. (Sadly, that was not the case in recent months at Kings.) I wish to be crystal clear, for the record: We love the Bible, we are training the Raggants to submit to it, and we embrace what we are convinced to be the clear and traditional teachings about marriage and human sexuality. God’s intended plan for marriage is to be between one man and one woman for life. Sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, and when Christians engage in such behavior we act like unbelievers and it betrays our status as new creations in Christ. God created male and female (Genesis 1:27); this is not socially constructed, and it is not fluid.
I realize that’s a doozy of a first paragraph, and not what you’re accustomed to reading from me, but I assure you, it’s because I love ECS, our community, our mission, and our opportunity to shape young minds and form tomorrow’s culture-shapers. If that is going to happen, we cannot compromise where God has been clear, though many in the pale of the Church are doing that very thing today.
And sometimes it causes me to wonder.
What would the Church fathers argue to be “of first importance” if they were drafting a creed today?
To be sure, these are morally-confusing times, and Christians are doing little to introduce clarity to the confusion. It comes as little surprise that – in the spirit of Romans 1 – even professing Christians are inventing new ways to muddy the waters of Orthodoxy. We have a whole new list of lines between the false and the true today.
In its ongoing effort to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, our culture is spending the spiritual capital our fathers left us like entitled teenagers with a besetting addiction and old money…and the Church is not far behind. We’ve invented our own morality, traded in our freedom for shackles, and crafted diabolical knots for the consciences of our neighbors.
And where has that gotten us?
We murder our infants in the womb and call it “freedom.”
We normalize what God abominates and call it “love.”
We jettison the culture of our parents and call it “education.”
But I return to my original question. If the Church fathers were drawing lines in the sand today, would they insist on Sola Fide? The inerrancy of Scripture? Would they articulate afresh that a marriage is between a man and a woman? I wonder.
At ECS, our aim is to equip “another generation [to] carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.” This necessarily includes spending time studying the Bible, the Great Books of the West, and equipping students to think logically and speak clearly and winsomely. Along the way, we see some recurring lessons.
First, we see that the key to human flourishing is obedience to God’s commands. For instance, take my comments above on marriage. When we love and encourage marriage between one man and one woman for life, which is God’s intended arrangement, we find ourselves in strangely rare company…and our kids flourish in security and think that this sort of thing (i.e., a husband and a wife together in happy matrimony) is normal. Of course we live in a Genesis 3 world, and we’ve all been affected by divorce (including many in our own ECS community and the Sarr family tree), but I’ve never met a person who argued that divorce was consistent with God’s obvious design.
Or consider human sexuality. Two men can claim to enjoy romantic love for each other, but that’s not a sign of God’s blessing, and it is not fruitful as the marriage bed is intended to be.
Or what about politics? When we study history and the Bible, we can see what happens when Church and State blur their jurisdictional lines and try to do each other’s jobs. (Take the power struggle between Thomas Becket and Henry II. Juxtapose this with the the prophet Samuel and King Saul. What do you see?)
Through our study, our students see what happens when men dismiss what God has said and follow their own wisdom. God gives us just the sort of freedom, love, and education that we demand.
I realize that it’s becoming increasingly offensive to draw lines like the ones I’ve drawn here, but as many among us try to deny or redefine what God has said, we wish to be faithful to God’s Word and enjoy the variety of fruitfulness that comes of that faithfulness. Nor can we deny the results that we can see historically when men prefer their own wisdom to that of the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
The trendy thing in our culture today would be to label ECS as anti-gay (as happened with Kings) because we love biblical and traditional marriage, for instance. Not only is this lazy and inflammatory, it doesn’t go far enough. We believe that homosexuality is sinful. We also believe that pride is sinful. And adultery and gluttony, too. The list of things we’re against can fall safely under one big umbrella: sin. We want to be anti-sin…though we’re a community of sinners trying to kill that sin and live in fellowship with God and with one another.
Instead of thinking of our anti’s, it may be more helpful to think in terms of our pro’s: We are pro-obedience to God’s commands, pro-personal holiness, pro-relational harmony, pro-loving our neighbors sacrificially, and lots more! Beyond this, every day at ECS is more like a work party than it is like what I grew up thinking of when someone said “school.” So we are pro-partying.
We want our kids to be trained to love what God has said, to submit to it (even when they don’t feel like it) and then to be wildly blessed and happy as God rewards the faithfulness He effects in them. We want for them to be able to discern truth from error, see through the lies of the enemy, and to stand strong in their biblical convictions to love and honor Christ in their choices. Amazing blessings await the faithful, and we fiercely fight for this on behalf of every Raggant.
May God give us the conviction of the Church fathers to know where to draw lines with grace and wisdom, and the courage to remain on His side of those lines.
This September, amidst cheers and hoots and hollers, ECS welcomed the largest entering Secondary class seen to date. As the dust settled from Field Day and the bright stage lights dimmed after the House assignments were decreed, it seemed an apt time to address why we even have Houses at ECS.
It’s not because we want to be like Harry Potter. Really. Not even a little bit. We do want to enhance the Secondary experience and are admittedly borrowing the concept from a system that originated in England’s public schools, particularly boarding schools, where students literally slept and ate in a particular house. Since then, Houses have developed into a grouping of students that provide a sense of smaller community within the broader context of larger and sometimes impersonal schools.
Now clearly, ECS is not a public boarding school, but we do hope our Houses operate as microcosms within the larger whole of the school – a way for students to get some on-the-ground, unique training for how their individual gifts, weaknesses, strengths, and actions affect the larger household of their families and their houses of worship.
On a practical level, Houses help to tear down the false boundaries built-up between middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, welcoming the incoming seventh graders with great excitement into an immediate, smaller community of Secondary students. It also practically allows for more fun throughout the year – who doesn’t like a good competition? Finally, it just makes organization easier when we can group the entire Secondary into four distinct units in twenty seconds flat.
On a deeper level, though ECS is concerned with students feeling both inclusion and enjoyment, the Houses are meant to mature students…and maturation is often not fun. Certainly our students know what it’s like to be a member of a family and a church body – but this is a new opportunity as they begin to unfurl their proverbial wings. It’s a chance to exercise leadership potential amongst peers, flap into new aeries of creative endeavour, and sharpen their talons in both easy and challenging relationships. The House system uniquely qualifies for this because it fosters individual growth and maturation within a context of close community, mirroring a core Christian truth that our individual actions must affect the greater whole. When one cries, we all weep; when the little toe runs itself against the bed-frame yet again, the teeth clench; when one member leaves trash strewn through the Sanctuary, the whole House takes a five-point hit.
The House system hopefully shows the students that their individual efforts, talents, and abilities are a gift from the Creator for the benefit of the whole. Likewise, their weaknesses, sin, and apathies have consequences. In a world that worships autonomy, the House system is a weapon in our arsenal to showcase the value of an individual and the supreme value of that individual dying to bring life to others. Certainly this can be seen in larger contexts – even the school as a whole – but the House system provides concrete, quick, quantifiable feedback.
Thus we hope the Houses are a special means to balance individual growth with sweet fellowship as students learn to love others as themselves. This is the primary reason we keep families together in Houses: because we are commanded to love, and we believe the Houses help us to love our neighbors…and the hardest neighbors to love are the ones we share four walls with. Also, for those without siblings (or as the eldest sibling), the FTT (Full-Time Team) takes many things prayerfully into consideration when choosing a House for a student, including others in the House, the House leader, and the strengths and weaknesses that come bundled in the student, all with the view to how that student’s placement will both strengthen the House and the individual.
There are also some things the Houses are not. They are not meant to be representative clubs or personalities or identity markers. When the Houses were first announced a little over three years ago, the Secondary was still quite small, and a few families comprised each House. By God’s sovereign decree (and I am sure to His amusement), those Houses developed distinct personalities overnight – but this was not by any design on our part. Since then, none of the House leaders have sought to encourage nor entrench such flavors. Instead, we desire for the Houses to reflect the triune God, who delights in both unity and diversity everywhere His thumb-print touches (See: animals of Madagascar). The Houses should be diverse – we want every House competition to truly be up for grabs, and we want very different members learning to work as joyful teams to His glory.
The Houses are also not a chance to avoid doing work or making certain people into leader-trophies – as though if a House wins, it doesn’t have to take a clean-up day in the lunchroom. We treat winning as a chance to lose – in this, we hope our Houses follow the model of their Savior, who was first in line unto dirty feet, lepers, and tortuous death. Our prayer is that the Houses will be a mechanism that brings abundant life to the school, not a vehicle for conflict, proud competition, or pug-nosed leadership.
And within all of this, the House system at ECS is still emerging from the toddler phase. We are adding new events and new leaders. We are graduating students out and adding them in. We are solidifying our own telos of the “whys” and clarifying our views. But our prayer all along has been that the Houses will provide a close ring of compatriots to laugh with and fight alongside – that it will enhance the Secondary experience in small, seen ways, and unseen marks that indelibly etch the soul with wisdom, grace, and joy.
The following notes are from the talk given by Mr. Higgins at our Convocation on the first day of school.
Or, Paying Attention to Curriculum and Character
There is an ancient Egyptian myth about Osiris, a god known for many things, including being the ruler of the dead. This is not a Bible story, but it is its own kind of mirror to problems that people have.
Osiris represented tradition, and even more than tradition, he came to represent dangerous failure to change. Osiris had a scheming brother named Set who was eager to overthrow and destroy Osiris. It wasn’t that Osiris was dumb or even deceived by Set, but Osiris didn’t want to see his brother’s evil intentions. Osiris chose to be blind. Eventually Set took a chance and attacked his brother, hacked him into pieces and sent his parts throughout the kingdom and his spirit to the underworld. Humpty Dumpty would have had an easier time pulling himself back together.
Some time later Osiris’ son Horus came to fight Set. You may have seen the symbol of Horus as the single Egyptian eye. He was also represented as a falcon-headed man; falcons are known for incisive vision. One story teller put it like this: “Osiris is tradition, aged and willfully blind. Horus, his son, could and would, by contrast, see. Horus was the god of attention” (12 Rules for Life, 222).
Seeing is not less than, but it is more than, mere knowing. This seeing beyond what is already grasped. Because Horus could see, he could see the wickedness of his uncle and fought him. He defeated Set, but not before Set tore out one of Horus’ eyes. Later Horus took back his eye, and then in a surprising twist, Horus went to the underworld and gave the eye to his father so that Osiris could see.
There are a couple angles in this story. The first is that it may hurt to see; Horus saw his uncle’s evil and lost one of his own eyes fighting the evil. The second is that seeing is the necessary act to move forward. Seeing was necessary to defeat Set. Seeing was what Osiris needed. If we do not see, if we refuse to learn and mature, our knowledge will grow stale or corrupt.
“Every bit of learning is a little death” (ibid., 223). It is death to our pride to acknowledge that we didn’t know everything already. It is death to our reputation as our ignorance is exposed, or worse, our pet blind spots. But when we learn, when we pay attention, we are sacrificing what may feel secure for something that is better. To get perspective, it’s easier to stand on a dead long than climbing a growing tree, but the dead log will only let you see so far.
There are two general categories that I want to exhort you to open your eyes to see this school year. For simplicity sake, let’s refer to them as head and heart, or we could summarize them as curriculum and character.
Pay attention to the curriculum.
This may surprise you, but our school does not exist as a proving ground for experts. Our school is a provoking goad to learning. What I mean is that we don’t meet here in order for you to Show and Tell all that you know, let alone that you know it all. One thing we know is that you don’t actually know it all, and more importantly, what you know should become a foundation to see more, not a fence to keep you from going further. Knowledge should increase your attentiveness, not your apathy.
One of the most fundamental principles at ECS is that not only are we permitted to, but we are accountable to, grow in Christlikeness. But what does that mean? It does mean that we should obey the Father like Christ did. But it also means that we should observe what Christ has made. Being like Christ means being interested in the things that He is interested in, and He made the world. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
Christ made the heavens and the earth, He made the visible and the invisible. He not only created but He continually sustains all things. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t keep the stars in place, but we can at least pay attention to them. Science, subtraction, Logic, letters, poetry, and history are all His delight.
Your current knowledge is not absolute, as in, you do not know everything. There will be times when you wish you knew more than you do, but the solution to that frustration is not to complain about the work required to see more. Teachers must keep seeing, and so must parents, so that you can keep seeing. The mission of ECS is that you would carry and advance Christ honoring culture. If you don’t have anything more to learn, then here we are, and here we’ll stay.
I remember my first day of 7th grade, and in particular my literature teacher Mr. Brenner. He had a sign hanging on his podium that he made sure to emphasize: “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.”
Pay attention to your character.
It often hurts to look at our own hearts. We don’t like what we see, so we go out of our way not to see. I mean, who wants to see his own sinfulness, more deeply, more clearly? Considering how we’ve offended God is nerve-afflicting. Looking at ugly things is not a good time, especially if we are the ugly ones.
But this is where you make or break your joy. You cannot be one of God’s children and thrive with unacknowledged sin. Willful ignorance about your sin, or proactive defensiveness of your sin, will choke out your joy. What is true for each individual is also true for a culture made up by those individuals. One weed can get its root deep, but if there are a lot of weeds in the garden, things are going to be a snarled mess.
If you don’t watch your heart, the sin in your heart will cut up your gladness into little pieces and scatter your soul all over the place. It won’t feel good. Paul told Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself,” and that such attention had effect not just on himself but for those Timothy led (1 Timothy 4:16). It requires looking, and admitting, and sometimes even getting help to grow.
There will be all sorts of exposures of your heart this year. You will get to see how much patience you really have, how much diligence you really have, how much truthfulness you really have, how much skill you really have. Will you look for the opportunity to repent?
Don’t lie to yourself, or to others. You need to grow. We’re not going to freak out that you have immaturities, ignorances, and sins. Don’t you freak out either, and also don’t cover your eyes.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15)
Do you know what you don’t know? What do you want to learn more about this year? You don’t necessarily need to have a plan, but your teachers will help. They have books for you to read and homework to assign and tests to give. They have curriculum, they have maps to show you more places that Christ loves and wants you to love. Listen to them, follow the path of their dry erase marker. Knock on their doors until they open up library of their own looking.
And also, are you prepared to become more like Christ in head and heart? Do you have an eye for learning the right loves, for seeing more ways to obey, for attending to the parts of your heart that need to be wrapped into integrity?
Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, ESV)
‘Tis the season to make a hundred shopping decisions related to school uniforms. In the spirit of playful clarity, I’d like to share with you some helpful reading material. We have had the same Uniform Committee for eight years, answering the same questions for eight years, and they’ve normalized some responses for our benefit…and amusement. And though the responses to the supplied questions and objections are intended to be smarmy and playful, they are nonetheless accurate. So here ya go.
Uniform Un-standard Deviations
AKA Teacher’s Uniform Cheat Sheet Addressing Common Confusion, Questions and Offenses
Length should be at the knee, not mid-thigh OR mid-calf. It is purposefully not a precise measurement as a kindness to those tall, skinny girls among us who are unable to conform to the policy length without purchasing a skirt eighteen sizes too big and wadding up the waist in a rubber band.
Boys need to be wearing a black belt. Even if they don’t like it.
Pants can’t be saggy or droopy. Even if you have the above-mentioned belt on.
Nope, for real, no high-tops.
No boots. Think of these as high-tops that had real ambition in their rebellion.
Dress and Event Uniform requires DRESS shoes. Everyone really does know what this means. I promise.
Tights need to have feet. No leggings or footless tights. This is because the girls have feet and we don’t want them feeling left out.
Dress and Event Uniform Confusion
There is literally only ONE difference between these uniform requirements:
Dress: NAVY tights or socks
Event: WHITE tights only
No outerwear other than uniform jackets and sweaters are allowed in the school or classrooms. (That means no hats, too.)
Yep, not in the school at all. No, not even in the hallways. But yes, outside during recess is great.
Everyone except for secondary girls must have their shirt tucked in at all times.
The tucking exception for secondary girls is to allow for modesty when it can be difficult. However, the look shouldn’t be sloppy and the shirt can’t be hanging out beneath any sweater or jacket worn on top of it.
Hair should be clean, neat and modest in style and appearance. Be wise.
Hair needs to be off the ear and collar. Unless said boy has a very, very short neck.
No jewelry. Except a wedding ring would be okay. But hopefully none of the boys are married.
Girls are allowed to have subtle feminine detailing on their shirts like modest ruffles or shaping. It is a glory for girl Raggants to look beautiful while still looking generally…uniform.
Jewelry should not be distracting in any way. Necklaces should be tucked into shirts. Earrings should be a single stud or post earring per ear.
Makeup should be natural and not over-done.
Here’s a short Q&A to sum up many of the discussions about the girls’ uniforms:
Q: But…how will my daughter look special enough to really stand out?
Okay, it’s me again (Jonathan). While these represent our most common uniform questions, “common” shouldn’t be confused with “frequent.” It’s not as though we have a community of uniform fussers. I’m grateful for a culture where the students generally don their uniforms with pride and joy. I’m grateful for the parental contributions to that culture. I’m also grateful that our Uniform Committee has reasons for the decisions they’ve made, and I hope you find this to be as worth reading as I did.
I am often impressed that our school is uncommon, and most of the evidence is of a cultural (rather than, say, a curricular) nature. High schoolers commonly hang out with kindergarteners; all sorts of quirky individuals fit well in our hodgepodge of personalities; clusters of chatting parents bring this administrator delight rather than angst. But one cultural ingredient that brings me particular encouragement is the singing.
If you walk the halls of ECS during an afternoon passing period, the odds are you’ll hear one of the cool kids singing. Strange, I know. If you go to one of our obligatory choir classes, you’ll see (and hear) students who are being challenged and stretched and who are having a great time doing it together. I suppose it should come as little surprise that the singing often carries on long after (and before!) the bell.
Recently (yesterday, as I write this), I got to be in Leavenworth (of all places) with 28 of our secondary Raggants where we had stopped for lunch on the return trip from the Trinity Evangel Church youth retreat. As we were readying to leave, the students congregated on the grassy hill in the town center. When I came to join them, one suggested that we should sing something. This suggestion was greeted with general enthusiasm. Next thing we knew, we had two dozen junior-high and high school-aged students belting out Psalm 94 (which shares a melody with the German national anthem, which is only fitting for a Bavarian village rendition) and Psalm 128 and Doxology in four-part harmony for all the tourists to hear, enjoy, or to resent.
Someone forgot to tell these students that Psalms are for church, that choir is for school, and that singing isn’t cool. Oops.
Yesterday’s episode reminded me again of how grateful I am for this part of our school’s culture…and for a number of reasons. I’ll offer three for now.
Readiness to sing is a hallmark of joyfulness. Generally speaking, folks with a song on their lips are in a good mood. God has given us much, so it is proper that we should be grateful and ready with our thanks and praise. Raggants sing a lot and they’re happy doing it.
Songs with substance are a fantastic cultural weapon. With Psalms and hymns, we combat the Devil’s lies and dour defeatism. Last summer, I was there when a smarmy knot of students stood near an altar to Jupiter inside the Vindolanda Roman Fort and sang (you guessed it!) Psalm 94. Risus est bellum! These same students sang an Isaac Watts’ hymn beside his grave and later sang “The Son of God Goes Forth To War” in a chapel frequented by Scottish Covenanters…many of whom were later martyred.
Each morning at Matins we give the students opportunity to get some good theology stuck in their heads before they head off to first period. The Apostle’s Creed is great, but “Crown Him with Many Crowns” is catchy. Singing loudly about the “Potentate of time, Creator of the rolling sphere, ineffably sublime” can have a powerfully orienting effect before parading off to Logic or Math class. Even better when you’re parading off to Walmart or the library.
Singing is countercultural. Sure, there are talented pop artists who can sing well, and many of them are today’s cultural idols. But generally speaking, if you want to make beautiful vocal music with your family or friends, you’re regarded as weird. And the more theologically substantive your song, the less you’ll fit in.
It turns out our students are immersed in a cultural context where singing Psalms is both cool and fun. That is grace. We sure couldn’t manufacture it. But I can’t help thinking that it pleases God, who is giving us the reason and the ability to sing. By His continued grace, may this only increase.
I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It would probably be helpful to read The U.H.’s Hot Tips for Completely Wasting Your Summer first, and it may also be helpful for me to say that what stuck out to me from the U.H.’s article were things such as bed, T.V., and being lazy. : )
There is a road that is only visible for about three months of the year, or twelve weeks if you count more precisely like a pregnant woman. The road is free to all, but not all find it. If they do find it, though, they can see things that other roads don’t pass. Pages could be filled with stories told on this road. Many who have made this journey have been inspired to make things, whether helpful things or beautiful things, and sometimes both. Others have found sweet fruits to carry and taste and share. It is the road called Aestas. As I said, not many find it, and those who do find the entrance, are often blocked by the three-headed dog who guards the gate named Dweebus.
You perhaps have heard of Dweebus’ cousin, Cerberus. Cerberus is nicknamed “the hound of Hades,” the three-headed dog who prevents the dead from leaving hell. A man named Dante once toured hell and wrote about seeing Cerberus in the Third Circle watching over the gluttons. Well, Dweebus never could get into eating mud, and he actually didn’t do that well in the heat. He applied instead for a position to guard some thinker’s stone, but he lost that job to a second-cousin named Fluffy, which isn’t really much of a threatening name, but Fluffy got the job anyway. So Dweebus eventually took the position at the Aestus Via. Besides, it gave him nine months a year to chase his tail.
What many people don’t know is that three-headed dogs have three heads for a reason. Have you ever wondered why people say, “Three heads are better than one”? Well, three-headers can be better at being scary, of course. But each head has its own personality, and often each personality has its own name. The more mellow of these creatures talk among themselves, and talking heads are better at making the days go by faster.
Dweebus, as I said, was much less mean than other tri-headers in his family, but he still had ways to keep people from entering the Aestas. In fact, each of his three heads had their own tricks for messing with would-be travelers. His names were, I’m told, Ted, Stevie, and Maizie.
Ted was the head on the right side (looking out from his eyes), and Ted was especially effective during the morning hours. He could almost lay his head flat on the right shoulder, making himself appear to be quite cute, cuddly even. Through his somnolent skills unsuspecting travelers would be covered with a blanket of drowsyness, until they just wanted to lay down. Once they were sufficiently snoozy, he would swing his head as if on a hinge and bite the now torpid traveler. It is never good to get on the wrong side of Ted.
Stevie was the head on the left side (the right side if you were looking at him, but directions get tricky without illustrations). Stevie was a master of evenings and on into the night. There were times when both Ted and Maizie watched Stevie work his spell during the day, but Stevie especially loved when the sun went down. He himself could channel a variety of bemusing and befogging techniques, from the comedic to the dramatic. At times his antics were even cartoonish, while at other times he could talk your head off. When a traveler came to the Aestas gate when Stevie was on, Stevie would hardly take a break. He earned the nickname among his friends as the Drooler of Distraction. Too much time with Stevie and most travelers forgot they even wanted to go anywhere.
The third head’s name was Mazie. If you were thinking that Mazie sounds like a girl’s name, you’re right. If now you are thinking that I’ve been referring to Dweebus as “him,” you are also correct. But that means you haven’t met very many three-headed dogs in your life; they are weird animals, and now you’ll be less surprised if you do ever meet one.
As I was saying, the third head was Mazie and she was in the middle between Ted and Stevie. Only on occasions were Ted and Stevie tempted to snap at each other. But Maizie always reminded them about how much they had in common, and mostly what they had in common was her.
Ted had his dazing ways, but he worked to please Maizie. It was the same with Stevie’s powers. Though the three of them agreed to go by the collective name Dweebus, everyone knew that the whole attitude of this three-headed being centered on being Maizie.
She could convince any would be traveler to turn around from the glories of the Aestus and make it seem like it was their own idea. Maizie was a master at argument, wiser than seven sensible men (or one man with seven heads, though I’m not sure any of those exist). I heard that one time her conversation spun a man around so much that he threw up, and then she convinced the poor man to lie down in his own vomit, which is usually something only dogs do. No matter what interests travelers had, or things they wanted to do, after talking with her for a while, everyone just wanted to be Maizie.
But there is a legend of a lad, I don’t know if he was six or sixteen or somewhere in between, it doesn’t actually matter, who soundly defeated every trick Dweebus tried. His name was Zeke. Zeke didn’t dare do it all on his own. He knew that the three-headed monster had ruined many who sought the glories of the Aestas, so he did the most unimaginable thing in the history of stories: he asked his parents for help.
It turns out, both his mom and his dad had made it past Dweebus, and had done so many times. In the process of getting tips and tools from his parents, they also encouraged him to seek the counsel of his teachers, and many of them also knew about confronting the dogheads and getting down the road.
To get past Ted, Zeke’s mom gave him a small bell. It didn’t make a lot of noise, but it was impossible to ignore and just loud enough to interrupt Ted’s hypnotic hold. Ted became so alarmed by the bell that he lost control and Zeke was able to get out of Ted’s pull.
Zeke’s dad offered a couple old school suggestions for outwitting Stevie. One option was simply to keep moving. Stevie, who preferred to stay in one place, wouldn’t be able to keep up. Zeke could run, but Zeke asked his dad if a bike would work, and his dad said a bike was perfect for speeding around Stevie. A bike would also move a traveler down the Via Aestas to meet up with other travelers and explore more sites. If he didn’t want to use a bike, Zeke’s dad had no doubt that he could turn off Stevie’s powers with a ball. The size of the ball didn’t matter, and throwing the ball directly at Stevie was not a good move. But Stevie’s distraction abilities were dwarfed by his distractibility when others seemed to be having more fun. Zeke selected carefully and when Stevie tried to drool on him, Zeke bounced a ball in Stevie’s face and Stevie’s mesmerizing power was turned off.
Maizie, you might suppose, would be the hardest to get by. Yet she does have a nemesis. The mere mention, let alone sight of this enemy, causes her to foam at the mouth and dart around like a three-headed dog with the center head missing.
Though Zeke had bested Ted and Stevie, Maizie was sure that he was too immature to get by her. But Zeke pulled out of his pocket the one thing she hadn’t considered: an ant. Ants are very small, but they are quite fearsome, at least by way of analogy. Just the sight of one ant caused Maizie to enter a state of shock. Zeke scratched her behind her ears for a moment and walked through the gate into Aestas.
Down the road called Aestas are great stories to read and songs to listen to. There are lakes for swimming and splashing. There are games to play. There are projects to start, and some to finish. It is a place to find fun and fruit, but you have to get by Dweebus. All you need is just a bell, a ball, and an ant.
I gave the following remarks at our school’s graduation ceremony on June 2, 2019.
Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our seniors. All of you have worked a great work to get here tonight, and it is an honor to celebrate with you, as well as to address our two candidates for graduation.
It is often a dangerous thing to speak about dichotomies, to divide things into only two. Our world dislikes generalizations—which, of course, is itself a generalization—because we want to be seen as special shades on the paint palette. But I don’t mind slathering paint on the wall with 48″ rollers, and there’s not enough time to get out drop-cloths. Before us tonight are two very different colors. We have two graduates ready to commence, and though they are not quite black and white, they are yellow and violet.
If Mrs. Bowers had assigned her Omnibus class to list all of the differences between Gideon and Kelly, the length of such a list might endanger the edges of an infinite canvas. If Mr. Sarr had assigned his Capstone class to write a paper on each senior’s favorite five world-and-life-view spheres, I am not sure there would have been any overlap. It is not just that Gideon and Kelly come from separate families, Gideon and Kelly live in two distinguishable cultures.
When I say “living in a culture” I mean how one reacts without needing to think about it. We do not walk into any Starbucks in Snohomish and think about what language to order in, we naturally start speaking in English. But there are smaller cultures, not just between schools but also in schools of thought. There are shared assumptions, shared values, shared priorities in a culture that may sometimes be talked about, but are usually obvious to anyone watching from the outside. Gideon and Kelly look at many of the same things, but they do not look at the same things and have the same response.
Both of our seniors have taken mostly the same classes for the last few years, but that didn’t stop one from talking more about Math and the other from talking more about Music (or, more usually, pounding on the public piano before school). One leans toward the Aristotelian world of fact and the other toward the Platonic world of ideas and ideals. One is drawn to the mechanical, one is drawn more toward the magical. One prefers science, the other prefers stories.
These two seniors embody an academic division that has really only been around for a century and a half, but in our society the split spreads wider every year. There are the STEM people: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and there are the Humanities people: Language, Philosophy, Literature, Art. There are the natural sciences and what used to be called the moral sciences.
In May 1959, a British scientist-turned-novelist named Charles Percy Snow gave an address called The Two Cultures in the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge. This was only 12 years after Dorothy Sayers gave her address, “The Lost Tools of Learning” at Oxford, which became a catalyst for the classical education movement of which we are a part. Snow expressed his concern over the hostility, the dislike, and most of all the lack of understanding between the literary intellectuals and the physical scientists. He lamented that the two cultures had “long since ceased to speak to each other; but at least they managed a kind of frozen smile across the gulf. Now the politeness has gone, and they just make faces.” The debate continues 60 years later, and faces are still being made, including mean emoji on social media.
Snow gave a simple test for recognizing the groups. “Without thinking about it, they respond alike. That is what a culture means.” For example, the children of Karl Marx don’t think about the nuts and bolts; nuts and bolts are just used to oppress the poor. On the other hand, the children of Adam Smith think a lot about nuts and bolts, and how many people it takes to make a nail, and how making nails frees the poor and fastens our economy together.
There are rationalists and romantics, there are accountants and accompanists, there are left brain and right brain people, but which is true? That is a complex question, a logical fallacy, which suggests that only one could be true. Let’s try this, which is better? That is perhaps a tougher question, but still one that requires more context.
At ECS we do emphasize the liberal arts and great books and robust singing, but we enjoy those studies having arrived in motor vehicles driven from drilled and processed fossil-fuels, meeting in climate controlled rooms, reading by artificial light from an electrical grid that spans the Pacific Northwest. We order these books using the digital fiber-optic system that connects us to the rest of the world wide web, to the world of living men as well as the vestiges of the generations before us in Western Civilization. Plus, Algebra, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus classes figure into our curriculum as well.
We can sit back and read the classics because science and technology have made it so that we’re not fighting for our existence. Of course, electric light and heat, and microwaves for fish sticks, don’t tell us why we exist.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Gideon is a fish out of water when it comes to The Faerie Queene, but he would rather swim closer to prose than poetry. It also wouldn’t be right to say that Kelly falls flat in the so-called practical subjects, but he is more attuned to the melodies and harmonies of imagination.
They graduate in the same class on the same day and they live in two different cultures. There is the athlete and the musician. There is the social flag pole and the social floor-looker. Which culture, the Sciences or the Humanities, will be better suited to succeed? Which culture will bring more blessing to others?
Of course, for those of us who believe the evangel, the answer to this dichotomy is to recognize that both cultures fall under the Christ-honoring culture. Neither math nor music is ultimate (not to mention that music requires math and math accordingly demonstrates great harmony). Neither Aristotle or Plato hold the answer because the ultimate answer is only in Christ.
In his book Wisdon and Wonder, Abraham Kuyper wrote that only those who understand the Bible by the work of the Spirit can learn about “the origin, the coherence, and the destiny of things.” Life’s three big questions are: “From where? How? And to what end?” Graduates, you know the answer to all of three questions.
Science that treats everything as nothing more than material and mechanical processes sucks the God-breathed soul out of creation. Stories that have no plot or purpose, no redemption or character development deaden the souls of reading creatures. We don’t exalt Science, we value Science studied in submission to the Lord of creation. We can’t be satisfied with Stories, we need Stories written in submission to the Lord of words.
So neither culture is ultimate or sufficient, but both are untied and both serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is what you share in common, Gideon and Kelly. You also share in common the inability to remember and recite together the Apostle’s Creed, but the Jesus in the Creed is yours. You share in worship, you share in the cultus, from which the meta-culture comes. You have been marinating in this Christ-honoring culture, and it is now your responsibility to advance it.
Take your gifts and your interests and your energies and take them further up and further in. Whether you write formulas to build bridges or write fiction, whether you swim laps or compose lyrics, do it all in the name of the Lord. Also, ten years from now, it will not be surprising if you change lanes, if your advance of Christ-honoring culture has moved you to put together a different part of the puzzle. You have been equipped, but in some ways graduation is just the kinder-prep for a life and family and vocation of serving Christ.
The Swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton wrote,
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”
Next June, if you attend the graduation of the current class of Juniors, you should look back and wonder what you were doing, not because what you were doing was wrong, but because you’ve continued to learn and grow. Even asking that question of yourselves will show that you have not squandered your education, but that you are advancing with it.
The Corinthians had at least four sub-cultures in their church, aligning themselves in four different directions. The apostle Paul didn’t tell them to lower their appreciation for any one leader, but that they were limiting themselves unnecessarily. It is the way of the world to identify with just one (and get snobby about it), while the Lord knows that such self-imposed limitation from all that He’s given is futile.
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)
In Latin Omnibus means “all things,” but Omnibus also means that all those pages you’ve read are just some of the things of the all of the things that are yours.
Psalm 77:12, “meditabor in omnibus operibus tuis,” “I will mediate on all Your work” (NAS). Gideon and Kelly, you both are God’s work, and He has work for each of you to do to advance a Christ-honoring culture. All are yours.