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.
Summer break begins for Raggants a few days from now, but it’s not too early to be thinking about how you can optimize your regret for how you squandered the precious twelve weeks between June 7 and September 4. Effective slothfulness takes some planned neglect, and some of you need help being lazy. The Unruly Headmaster is here for you!
Before I offer my list of hot tips for wasting your summer, it’s important to remember that undergirding all these recommendations is a principle of selfishness. Do your best to make your decisions based on what is in your best immediate interest. When in doubt, do whatever you want, and trust that others will pick up your slack (or your Kleenex) whether now or in the fall. Make sense? Good.
Now, as promised, here are the U.H.’s Hot Tips for Completely Wasting Your Summer!
Tip #1: Sleep In Every Day
The school year is brutally stable. Week in, week out, it’s the same schedule. This summer you’re freed from the shackles of school bells. Sleep is sweet, and you’ve earned what’s coming to you over the last nine months. So unplug that alarm clock, turn on the white noise app on your iPod, program the DVR to record anything you might accidentally sleep through, draw those heavy blackout curtains, and catch some Z’s. You deserve it.
While you’re at it, this is a great time to become the night owl you’ve always wanted to be. Staying up late has its allure. Once the sun finally sets around here, it’s a great time to start a movie, right? Just think about how many movies you could get through if you practiced this discipline this summer. That takes us to our next point….
Tip #2: Take a Break from Reading
The reading load many of you face during the school year is downright oppressive. So much mental stimulation can hardly be good for a young brain. Fiction? Too much conflict and adventure. History? Too much irrelevant information from a past that probably doesn’t pertain to you anyway. Theology? Boooriiiing! Take a break from reading. It requires a lot of mental energy, and you’ve probably exhausted your supply for the year though it’s barely June! This is your time to build up your attention stores that you’ll need to draw on again in the fall.
A wise alternative is the television. It is far less mentally-demanding than reading; you can passively receive information while reading requires actual mental initiative. It’s possibly your mental muscles may atrophy a bit before September, but it’s okay! You can start building them back up some other time! That’s what school is for, right?
Tip #3: Abstain from Work
The misguided and industrious among us look at the summer weeks as offering more time to get projects done, to make repairs on the house, or to build and produce. The poor simpletons have it all backward. This is a time to rest, and I don’t mean the occasional recuperation and recovery that humans normally need to operate at a high level. This is prime time to log some serious R&R minutes. So do your best to work as little as possible.
In the Pacific Northwest, the summers are glorious; you can rest in the sun or the shade, inside or out! The anti-work options are limitless. To help us out, it’s peak movie season, so hit the theaters. Or hit the hammock. Or hit the remote control. Stock up on paper plates now so you don’t have to hit the dishes later. You’ll probably get fat, so you may want to pick up plenty of stretchy pants (enough to last you the summer without having to do any laundry).
This is YOUR time. Don’t forget that. Work is largely for others; summer is for you.
While there are infinite ways to squander the coming weeks, I trust you’ll find this short list helpful. You’re welcome to email me with your own ideas, but, you know, I may not read that email until the fall.
ECS is a classical Christian school which means, among other things, that we are concerned about the classics. In our curriculum we read and reference some of the all-time greatest works as not just relevant for today’s snobs, but as part of how we got to where we are today as a society.
I’m trying to build up my knowledge and appreciation of these rich resources, and also pass that culture onto my kids. One of the iconic pieces in the canon of Western Civilization that I recently shared with my kids is Back to the Future, the 80’s movie starring Michael J. Fox. Since I am speaking to adults here tonight, I’d like to think that many of you are familiar with this pop-culture staple from 1985 (even those few of you here who are parents but who weren’t born then). We’ve since passed the date that Doc Brown set the DeLorean to reach, October 21, 2015, and, disappointingly, we still don’t have the hoverboards teased in Back to the Future II (when Doc and Marty actually got to 2015).
I’m not going to exegete the movie, but there is a clear image that I’d like to borrow, though I’m going to spin it in the reverse direction. (Also, for those who might be wondering, I don’t actually think that Back to the Future is one of the classics of Western Civilization on par with stories such as The Illiad and Beowulf. Those are in a different category of great, and they are in our curriculum, while the McFly family saga is not.)
In the first movie Marty inadvertently escaped from the Libyan terrorists back to 1955 when he met all the key characters, but when those characters were their thirty-years-younger versions. In particular, he met his dad and mom, and he met the family nemesis, Biff. Doc Brown was also there, and that’s good because Doc understood the momentous responsibility of not changing anything in the past in order to avoid disastrous consequences in the future.
It turns out, messing with the past is the big plot problem that Marty has to overcome, and he has a sort of measuring stick to help him, and us as viewers, know how he’s doing. Marty had a picture of himself with his older brother and sister from 1985. As the sequence of original 1955 events get knocked out of order, the siblings start to fade out of the 1985 picture, and even Marty himself comes close to evaporating out of existence. He finally gets his mom and dad to fall in love and the family is back on track to become a family. When George and Lorraine kiss, just a kiss, at their high school dance, then Marty secures his own future for when he gets back to it.
Time travel is fun to think about, and reading good classics lets us travel back, and forward (think 1984 and Brave New World) in our imaginations. If God really wanted us to, I’m sure there would be a way to do it that wouldn’t be sinful. But my point isn’t to get us to invest in making a machine.
My point, though, is very much about where to invest, and when. What if we discovered a picture from 2050 (thirty years in the future, rounding up), a picture in which we could see our kids, our grandkids, our great-grandkids, or actually, let’s modernize it and say we found a Snapchat snap or an Instagram story (or maybe a FuTube—FutureTube—video?) about our future people, about Evangel Classical School, about the great city of Marysville and the Marysvillian suburbs, what would you hope to see in the picture?
I am going to be 76 in 2050, so there’s some possibility I’ll even be around. In 1985 I was eleven, and from that perspective, 2015 seemed as far away in time as the moon seemed from the earth in distance. But we made it (even with watching Back to the Future II and III). And if Jesus doesn’t return, many of us here tonight will make it to 2050. I don’t know everything I’d like to see, because I’d like to think that our kids are going to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture; so hopefully they will make it better in ways that my imagination is too weak for.
Yet I can name some of my hopes, hopes that I want to share with you, not as in I just want to inform you, but to get us to hold them together.
I don’t really care if I could see where we’ll be having classes in 2050. That vision would be nicer for later this year (ha!), but in 30 years who knows what the new facility needs and opportunities will be. Having an education outpost, on property strategically located for community influence and that includes structures well-equipped for training our students, is and will be a real, material, and constant need. I just don’t feel the need to see what it looks like right now. And I don’t really care what sort of fancy playground we have, or if after three more decades every one can finally remember the difference between dress uniform and event uniform.
What I would love to see/hear/watch in that snippet from 2050 are current students (our kids) who have their own students (our grandkids/great-grandkids) about to graduate and who are wearing these sorts of characteristics:
They will be unyielding in their stand for God because they know that they God’s image-bearers. They will know that their lives have meaning and purpose, and that they are not “cosmic chattel” (Ben Shapiro, The Right Side of History).
They will spend their lives as weapons, obeying their Master, Jesus Christ, and they will give themselves like a farmer gives seed to the ground, eagerly and faithfully and trusting God to grow great fruit from their sacrifices.
They will be the kind of generation who love making things, with their hands and with their words.
They will be young men and women who haven’t stopped learning. Their interests will continue to expand according to all the things Christ is interested in, and they will be wiser than any AI algorithm and see the world more clearly than any AR filter.
They will be young men and women who haven’t stopped learning. Their interests will continue to expand according to all the things Christ is interested in, and they will be wiser than any AI algorithm and see the world more clearly than any AR filter.
They will hardly be able to speak without expressing thanks, partly because their lives will be overflowing with God’s blessings, and partly because they will default to seeing good rather than grumbling.
And they will be laughing long and loud. It won’t be a laughing from too much leisure and silliness, but from so many stories of last minute deliverances and battle scars, along with good wine and good friends and their great Lord.
If that’s the sort of future we hope to see, if that is the kind of people we desire to see in that picture, then those are the kind of people we who are here tonight need to seek to be, or repent from not being. For a blessed future, what can you do?
The French author André Gide wrote,
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
Maybe tonight requires a key kiss—I’m talking to you younger married folks now—that brings a new class of 2038 raggants into the world. (This could be a new school motto: We get more students the old fashioned way, we breed them. Ask the Headmaster with further questions here.) Maybe it is a kiss that doesn’t lead to a new soul but that shows your current raggant(s) that you love your wife and that you love your life with her and them altogether. Maybe you need to lighten up from all the fake news foofaraw, and laugh a little, like the Lord in Psalm 2 when He sees His enemies making plans to revolt. Yes, it’s bad out there, but it’s not actually as bad as Back to the Future II showed 2015 to be, or as Orwell predicted 1984 would be. And more importantly, fight with laughter. Laughter is war! Hahaha!
The woman in Proverbs 31 “laughs at the time to come” (verse 25). Why? Because she fears the LORD and works her butt off in the present for her people so that when they get to the future they will have seen what it’s like to laugh.
In a fiction book I was reading recently, a character named Grandpa Podo, when caught by the Stranders, gave encouragement to Janner not by an exhortation but by his laugh:
“His laugh was like the sound of trees bending in the wind, the bubbling of a river where the mill wheel spins.” (North! or Be Eaten, Location: 1,951)
Others maybe need to drink a glass of wine as from the Lord to gladden their heart, or maybe need to say no to wine if it’s only a mask for lack of gladness. Eat some sugar, have another piece of bread and butter both sides. God is good! Others need to give money, because dollars are also given by God to be used for building.
Because you are here you are one of the persons being used by God in some way to bring Him glory 30 years from now, possibly 130 years from now. The investment is not linear; it’s not simple addition. Tonight is more than the number of seats filled or donations collected. 30 years from now will be a mash-up, a remix, not just of our actions, but our interactions, as image-bearers, as families, as churches, and connected to ECS.
As usual, it’s not a whether or not you will shape the future, but what shape you’re giving to it. You are always doing something to the picture; there is no opt-out, you can’t delete your account, you can’t really even slow it down.
We don’t have a Marty—like-measurement, but we have something more sure: God’s promise that when we abound in laughing for, and abound in giving to, and abound in the work of the Lord, He says it is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” (D. Elton Trueblood, The Life We Prize, p 58)
Let’s sow not just for future shade, but for future fruit.
Feasts in the Bible are associated with special occasions and remembering. Passover (instituted in Leviticus 23) was a feast to recall Israel’s deliverance from Pharaoh; the wedding at Cana (in John 2) was a feast to celebrate the union of a husband and wife before God; the Supper of the Lamb (in Revelation 19) will be a big feast celebrating the union of Christ and His bride, the Church.
So is it a misnomer to call our annual fundraising effort a feast? Wouldn’t it rake in more dollars if we had a gala or an auction? Maybe. But that’s not the point. If it is a feast, what exactly are we celebrating? What are we remembering?
Well, the Fundraising Feast is a combination of two things: a fundraiser, and a feast. We have financial needs as a school, and we’re not bashful about sharing those needs with those who love the school and are glad to be used by God to help meet those needs. But as those who affirm happily that God is in control and He will ultimately meet our needs, we trust God to raise the necessary funds. We don’t need to freak out if we don’t meet our fundraising goal in one night, and we don’t freak out if we do. Our job is to be faithful, and part of that faithfulness requires expressing those needs.
But we also want to remember the ways God blesses the school (especially contrasted with what we deserve), so we want the fundraising element to be enveloped in the grace-saturated context of feasting and revelry. Every week we conduct classes and sing psalms and chant multiplication tables and scrape knees beneath a Niagara Falls of God’s blessings. We are getting inquiries from awesome families, we currently comprise awesome families, we have teachers who are discipleship-oriented, and our Raggants love their classmates and their teachers. We sin against each other all the time, but God has given us a handbook for dealing with that, too! (See Matthew 18:15-20.) While we watch and even take part, these students are being trained to engage culture, love Scripture, debunk Nietzsche, love their families and worship robustly Sunday through Saturday. For my part, I just don’t get tired of talking about at the great things He is doing at our school.
Our school is financially stable, growing at a healthy pace (to keep us dependent and humble), failing with a healthy regularity (to keep us dependent and humble), deeply committed to our mission, and bafflingly blessed. And we boast of our blessings because they’re God-wrought. All such boasting is humility; we make no claim to be worthy of our situation or to be the makers of it. God is at work among the families of ECS, and let us remember!
To be sure, God uses faithful human elements to effect His will; I don’t mean to downplay the role of the parents, grandparents, friends, students, teachers and the Board in all this. But what we are reaping is far greater than what is commensurate with the academic and spiritual seed we’re sowing. The difference can only possibly be attributed to a gracious God. And that is worth a feast.
There are a few dozen spots left, and I hope you’ll join us at our feast on May 10. You can RSVP to Leila Bowers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s hard to believe that we’re only a month away from our annual Fundraising Feast. But here we are! There remain but a few short weeks until one of the best nights of the year.
Purposeful feasting is wonderfully orienting. When we gather consciously to celebrate the goodness of God over a bountiful meal, replete with laughter, singing, entertainment, coffee, dessert and friends, gratitude flows like the wine…especially at our feast.
The Fundraising Feast is always particularly special for me as I wonder at the goodness of God. I know it sounds corny, but I mean it: every year at the feast I am amazed that God would show such favor to the school as to bring into our circle amazing people like yourselves.
I admit, however, that more than planning logistically for the Feast, I have spent recent days wondering what needs I’ll have to share with our people. Sharing the needs is not hard, because our people are so wonderfully supportive. What’s hard is not having more answers about the logistical future of the school. We are trusting God to take care of our needs – all of them – while trying to be faithful to be used by Him along the way.
So with confidence that God will provide for us and with gratefulness for His innumerable blessings, we will gather to feast on May 10th.
Now, I’m not much of an alarmist nor a manipulator, but we barely fit in the barn last year, and we’re going back this year, so I would encourage you strongly to RSVP for this spectacular evening very soon. At this point, seating is limited to the first 150 guests (adults only please) who RSVP. (Admittedly, we may choose to have the feast on the patio, which can seat more guests, but that’s a major gamble in Arlington in May. Ha.) The tentative plan is to have it inside the beautiful barn.
The dinner is for adults; sadly, childcare is unavailable for younger siblings, though your Raggants will be supervised before and after they perform. I guarantee they’ll have a good time.
The dinner is free, but we do ask that you RSVP, and that if you do RSVP and then your plans change, please let us know so we can give your seat to someone else.
One more word on feasting. In the book Prince Caspian, when Aslan shows up in a Calormene-controlled Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes into the story a redeemed version of Bacchus, because the Roman god of wine and fertility is the only partier in all of antiquity who knew how to party hard enough for the occasion. Remarkably, the revelry was devoid of drunkenness or debauchery (the behavior or Selenus notwithstanding), but was full of breathless merrymaking in the presence of the True King. Let’s party like that, because God has been very good to ECS and very lavish with His gifts, and we have great reason to celebrate. I can barely wait.
This promises to be a fantastic evening with dear friends of the school, so don’t miss out: join us on May 10th.
You may RSVP by email or in person to Mrs. Bowers (email@example.com) or to myself (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Stories have worn many adjectives over the years: escapist, imaginative, devilish, deceptive, sub-creative. They have worn many outfits: epic poem, history, speech, play, novel, short story, film. They have changed civilizations and civilians; they have brought down walls and plastered them together; they have unchained the slave and bound the free in post-modernism’s free-love. With this kind of power, it is easy to eschew fiction of any kind out of fear. Oddly, we can also minimize it, treating it as mere entertainment and popping a Twinkie here and there from the Bestseller list.
In this smorgasbord of story around us, from the screen to the page, Christians lack discernment. If stories be a kind of formative food for the soul – certainly lower on the food pyramid than the perfect Word of God, but still with nutrient value – we are far too apt to roam the entertainment aisles dumping everything into our cart from chintzy picture books to sentimental teenage drama novellas to the latest blockbuster. Or we run from the supermarket entirely, holed-up on a hilltop somewhere and missing out entirely on the formative value of incarnational art.
There are a host of reasons for this failure of discernment – lack of sound, biblical teaching and anemic fellowship within thriving Churches being two of the most prominent. These and more have smudged the glasses of our vision – we simply do not see the world correctly through our crinkled contacts and stifled imaginations. We also haven’t been taught well by our schools to understand things like worldview, literary analysis, and more. We do not grasp and love reality as God has made and revealed it to us, and do we not see what those created in His image are creating around us. We need to embrace that fiction “is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system” (Flannery O’Connor). The best fiction is anything but escapist; it takes ideas and enfleshes them, which makes it very powerful. And very dangerous.
As Christians, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and a renewed heart to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). We have every blessing and ability to see the lies the world is packaging in moving images on a screen, through lyrics synthesized with vocal pitch machines, and in paperbacks with gold-leafed covers. We of all people should know when to pick up the book and read, and when to put it down…when to walk into a movie theatre, and when to walk out.
But we need to be trained, and I heartily believe that the Fiction Festival is an invaluable tool to train you and those in your community to see clearly and engage the battle about us with wit and vigor and fervor. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “but solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is some fantastic literary food out there, and The Chronicles of Narnia offer some of the best meat-and-potatoes you can find. There are a few mushy peas here and there, but they are easily picked out, unlike arsenic-laced Marvel fare. Because make no mistake, there is devilish food available on every corner, and they are choice morsels that sink down into the heart.
At the Festival we will dive into some big questions: How do stories operate? How do they glorify values that you find detestable, possibly without you realizing it? How, as a parent or grandparent, can you grow your children with Nebraskan steak instead of JELLO? How can you grow by identifying with characters, seeing how a certain sin or virtue works itself out to the end point of a plot? How can your worship and feasting and glorifying be better because of some make-believe story about something that never even happened?
All of Lewis’ novels have been some of my greatest teachers. I have seen myself in the mirrors of Jane and Orual, reading my own thoughts back on the page…and it has terrified me. I have seen the virtuous faith of Lucy or the pessimistic realism of Susan amplified within a world not my own, so that I could own some of my failings and fan some of my baby virtue. I have read biblical truth, and then seen it incarnated in a story – of looking to Christ’s standard instead of my own, of walking out in obedience as my faith caught up, and of knowing that ultimately, the battle is won, and all the trials and tribulations of this life are the worst it will ever be for those with whom He is well pleased; that pleasures here are but the beginning of the most wonderful story that has ever been written, world without end.
So we hope you will join us for this year’s Fiction Festival, perhaps to strum a few pages for the first time, or to wipe your glasses with the dish-towel of discernment, or go romping in a thunderstorm. We can’t promise you much, but we can promise you one thing: it won’t be entirely safe, but it will be good.
In a sense, education is easy. Buy a box of books and have your kids go through them. Train them the recipes of math and they’ll get the same outcome every time, as with a calculator. Give them a list of dates and templates for five-paragraph essays. We could call that education, in a sense. But by that measure, education is not our aim. Enculturation is our aim, and while education is easy, enculturation is hard.
Our mission statement speaks to this, and it’s printed at the top of your programs for this evening. It invokes Psalm 154:4, and reads as follows:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation, with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
We are trying to equip the next generation of culture carriers. And we employ a host of tools in order to make that happen. With the next few minutes I wanted to speak a bit about each of these tools.
Our version of classical education utilizes the curriculum of the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric), teaching all of the subjects as an integrated whole with the Scriptures at the center.
Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric don’t just represent increasing levels of familiarity with a subject like Math or History; Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric are subjects by themselves. Most of our formal grammar relates to the basic building blocks of languages. We teach our middle school students Logic, and – then building on the Grammar and the Logic – we teach our high schoolers to express themselves winsomely and persuasively in Rhetoric.
Additionally, classical education involves classical language study. Some classical schools offer Greek, but we offer Latin two days per week in grades 3-10. Latin grammar requires precision of thought and it provides a fantastic foundation for English mastery, given how much of English is derived from Latin.
Last, for now, classical education involves the study of classical literature. In order to understand how we got where we are religiously, ideologically, politically, socially, and more, we study many of the books that have been the vehicles of important ideas for the course of the last 4,000 years of our history.
This also offers us opportunities to wrestle with hard concepts and puts oil in the students’ apologetic engines. We read the Bible, we read Augustine, Calvin, Aquinas, Luther, Lewis, Piper, Packer and Sproul. But we also read Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Camus, Hemingway, Orwell and Hitler. We have entire units on the Constitution, the Hippocratic Oath, the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.
So in this business of commending the works of the Lord to another generation, we employ classical education because we believe it best equips students practically to be culture carriers.
Our school’s motto is “Laughter is War.” We try to wield the weapon of laughter for a number of reasons. I’ll suggest a few.
We laugh because it keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. When you’re reading Cicero and studying Latin, there’s a temptation to become a snob. When you’re aware of your privileged position as a 21st century Christian, there’s a temptation to be judgmental in your study of prior generations. Laughing with gratitude helps to orient us.
We laugh because our God has given us wild blessings and riches in Christ, and we are happy in Him.
We laugh in order to make the world jealous. We’re working to promote in them the right kind of jealousy; we want for them to want what we have, because God would lavish His grace on those who trust in Him. And our happy laughter ought to be enticing to the world. This is contrasted with stuffy, dour, serious Christianity. We are serious as a heart attack when we laugh with confidence.
We laugh in victory to taunt an already-vanquished enemy. And this sort of laughter actually produces a grateful humility rather than pride.
We laugh because God is sovereign, He is good, and He is for us. The outcome of the story is written, and we are on the winning side.
We laugh not because our heads are buried in the sand, but because our heads are up, our eyes are open, and we are able to look about us and see evidences of God’s grace and control everywhere.
We laugh because we can be confident that in this world of raging unbelief, cancer, abortions, murders, suicide, wars and lies, God has a good plan for all the evils of the world, and He will bring about good in the end.
So we want to wield our laughter for the weapon it is. We employ weaponized laughter because we believe it best equips the students to be faithful in their cultural advancement.
Last, we employ the tool of sacrificial labors. The gospel is counterintuitive. For as long as men have been around, they’ve been trying to figure out a way to appease the spiritual forces, and all their most valiant efforts fail.
But the just God became the justifier of men, took on flesh to make payment to Himself. The Son offered His Son in love for us. That’s not something we would expect from Zeus. And this is the gospel.
The gospel teaches us that sacrificial love is effectual. It will have its effect in God’s perfect timing. The more I love my wife sacrificially, the lovelier she becomes.
And as a school, the more sacrificial deaths we die for our families, the more life we should expect to come of it. Death brings life, in churches, in homes, in schools and everywhere else.
We talk about this as a staff, but as we die to our own conveniences and schedules for sake of the families we serve, God blesses and brings forth fruit. It doesn’t have to make human sense to be true, but we do want for our students to leave these walls believing this principle to the marrow of their bones.
Their love for their families and their neighbors can (and we expect will) be transformational.
So we employ the tool of sacrificial labors to best equip our students to stay the course, to be faithful even when it violates our natural reason to do so.
Along the way, in all of this, students learn how to write in cursive, multiply by fives, rattle off an Encomium and ask for forgiveness. All good things, and all necessary things if we would transform this community that we love.
Indulge me while I return once more to that mission statement:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation, with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
I don’t know about you, but growing up, the “cool” kids in my school were the ones whom everyone wanted to be. They were the best-dressed, the richest, the best at sports, or the most self-assured.
Years later, with the relentless assistance of Facebook, we see that – in many cases – the life that looked so great in junior high became a sad existence later on. There’s no guarantee that the person with the most alluring life in the eyes of the world is the person who is happiest.
The same holds true when we get older. Everyone wants to be a rock star, but there’s a disproportionately high suicide rate among rock stars, too, and we don’t hear people clamoring for that.
In reality, striving for celebrity status provokes the wrong kind of jealousy. Striving for a blessed status provokes the right sort of jealousy.
Paul was unapologetic when he said the following:
“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:13-15).
All of Paul’s ministry had a telos of jealousy. He was working hard (as a Jew!) to make Jews jealous of the glorious blessings the Gentiles were enjoying….and there were plenty of blessings to go around! All the Jews needed to do was repent and embrace their Savior, and they would share those glorious riches with their Gentile brothers. It would then complete the salvation of the full number of the elect, and usher in the end of the age.
Likewise, I make no apologies when I say that we wish to provoke the world around us to jealousy. We want them to want what we have, because what we have been given in Christ is absolutely glorious. We didn’t manufacture it, and we don’t deserve it.
It takes deep humility to boast in the cross. Those who do so proclaim that they have been bought by Christ’s blood and adopted as sons though we were spiritually dead and haters of God. And so when we are happy about our identity in Jesus, we are the cool kids.
As we shepherd young hearts, we see this in a microcosm. The cool kids on the playground are the ones whose happiness is not dependent on anyone else. This is an interesting phenomenon. The kids that are the most fun to hang out with don’t need you to hang out with them to be happy. They’re happy playing by themselves or happy playing with others. The celebrity is rarely content to be left alone; he’s beefing up his Instagram following and “Likes” count. The cool kid can jump rope by herself or play tag with the others with equal contentedness.
If we have been bought by Christ, we don’t need the approval of anyone else. At the same time, we should be conscious of showing off the gracious goodness of God in how we live blessed and happy lives. The sad and relationally-malnourished world around us is watching with curiosity. And by God’s grace our blessed living will make them jealous in all the right ways…and it’ll make our enemy pretty cranky. Laughter is war.
When I think about what I want for our students to become like, I want them all to be the cool kids whose life is actually worth wanting because it’s a life of blessing that they didn’t earn and that any can have who will live in happy submission to Christ and in fellowship with others.