Why the UK Trip?

My Uncle passed away two years ago in November, and we buried him at the Veterans’ Cemetery in Kent. It was an overcast day, and we were running a little late. We pulled our minivan into the caravan and the long car-line began its snaking progress with military promptness. We used the slow procession to catch our breath, but as we gazed out the window, our breath caught.

Row after row, cross after cross marched into the tree-line, inscribed with name after name, branded with war after war. It was but one cemetery in one city, but the weight of the cost of freedom hit us hard and fast. We were all silent as we gazed at generational faithfulness and sacrifice – lives laid down to secure the laughter and the roads that had brought us to this place.

Those crosses and the ring of Taps and the casket that sat before my girls that cold afternoon were inescapably physical. We learn about sacrifice from textbooks, but its heavy actuality settled into the young creases of my girls’ souls as their wide eyes gazed at the markers of duty that surrounded them.

This is one of the main reasons we are traveling to the United Kingdom and Normandy this August, and hopefully again in the future. We desire for ECS students to encounter the reality of what they have only experienced imaginatively; to actually walk the walls laid by the 9th Legion in York, to stand in a shell hole from D-Day, to gaze from the walls of Mont St. Michel where Arthur vanquished the giant. On a purely practical level, the UK and Normandy offered us the most Omnibus bang for our buck; when we highlighted all the texts in the Omnibus corpus, most of them intersected in some way with England and Normandy, from the Parthenon’s Elgin Marbles in the British Museum to Tolkien and Lewis’s pint-nook in the Bird and the Baby in Oxford, to the citizen soldiers crossing the English Channel towards the Normandy beaches.

Moreover, such a trip helps grant perspective on history and your position in the river of God’s story. When you look down between two skyscrapers in the middle of London onto a remnant of the Roman wall, your whole horizon realigns along a different angle. Certainly, all travels have their benefits. When you go hiking around Washington, you are like a dragonfly gazing at the beauty of a creek cascading through your backyard; if you travel to Washington D.C. or Boston, you have become a bird soaring above the the county which contains the creek; but if you can travel to Europe, you board a jet, traveling to the stratosphere where you can begin to gain a bigger view of the catastrophic, natural, and man-made forces that have shaped the banks, trees, boulders, and cascades of a vast terrain.

However, all is not sun and puffy clouds in this aerial view. Traveling to the UK and Europe also serves as a warning. Much like reading a Science-Fiction or dystopian novel straps you into a futuristic ride of the here-and-now to whirl you through a hyperbolic vision of where your politics, worldview, media, education, and entertainment may take you, so too does Europe act as a 15-year-fast-forwarded version of America’s worldview trajectory. The bright blinking lights of policies and philosophies are messy and ugly and good to see so we can unbuckle now and stand our ground.

Also to be clear, this isn’t to mimic the Grand Tour as some 19th century flouncy Victorians. It also isn’t to create a sense of longing for a place other than home, but a true appreciation for home. Just as walking a cemetery should cement a love and appreciation for your own life, and a thankfulness for the generations before you, so too does walking the ancestral boneyards of America during a sunrise hike along Hadrian’s Wall.

Unrelated to the UK in particular, traveling abroad has some unique benefits. It unseats potential cultural snobbery and unsettles presumptions. It is good for our students to understand there are other accents, foods, means of caffeination, sides of the road to drive on, languages, and means of mixing flour and water and yeast to make glorious and glutinous gastronomies. On one hand, it is good to feel uncomfortably out of place – like sojourners – to be where we are not understood, where we don’t recognize the landmarks. We need that feeling more: traveling abroad provides insta-stranger. We are too often comfortable, and it is profitable to find situations where we are sustainably uncomfortable.

Furthermore, if Omnibus unsettles chronological snobbery, then traveling abroad unsettles cultural provincialism – something is not automatically best because it is American, and it is not obviously right because it is the way we do it. Strangely, God has unique ways of doing things all over the planet, and we are blessed with the resources to see how He is doing that. How can it be that a particular cow, who eats a certain kind of grass that only grows in the soil and conditions of a particular county in the middle of the Cotswolds, can produce the most stupendous cheese and butter you have ever eaten?

Lord willing, our students will learn to appreciate more ways that more people are taking dominion of the millions of things God has given us. They have the opportunity to see an entirely different part of the body doing an entirely different thing in an entirely different part of the world: but it is still Imago Dei, and it is glorious, and it is a fierce fuel that, every time I have traveled, has revved my engine and focused my vision and added colors the palette of my own sub-creation and worship.

We recognize that not all students are able to go, nor desirous of travel, and that is glorious in its own way. God teaches and grows and expands us through many means, and the trip to the UK is but one potential tool. That said, we truly believe it is a unique tool; there are many screwdrivers, but we all know how it feels to try and use a flat-head when you just can’t find the Phillips. And, perhaps more than the cultural and intellectual interaction, there is sweet life-on-life that occurs during turbulent airplane rides and sleep-deprived missed Tube stops and cramped hostel quarters and deep philosophical ferry rides that you can’t get anywhere else. Sure, there are unknowns and travel advisories. Sure, traveling can create a disjointed wanderlust, but no matter how good the tea tastes or the clotted cream slides on the biscuits or the croissant smells in that pastry window, the gravitas and taste of our home is stronger still if we have prayed and labored for hands ready for the plow and muscles eager for the labor upon returning to our own field. This is merely adding a new layer and line of latitude to our Raggants’ plane of vision.

We ask you to pray for safety, enlarged capacities, faithful witness, and exuberant joy. May we look like joyful Christians who are ready to give a reason for the hope within us and be ready to laugh, no matter what comes.

Unfinished Stories

Here is a story I wrote for the final assembly. It references a bunch of books our students read this year, so your appreciation may vary.


In the year of our Sayers 71, a small group of children and adults prepared to enter something they called Summer Break. To initiate this sense of freedom they performed a variety of very old rituals. They exchanged ashen colored vestments for royal colored ones, they sang and chanted verse, they ate meat grilled over fire, and many of them sought to hold back tears of exhausted gleefulness. The festivities lasted throughout the afternoon until all the students and teachers said goodbye to one another and loaded up their heavy bags one more time for home.

Only a handful of people returned over the next week to do different sorts of work. Many things were moved around, sorted, counted, and put away. Eventually even those activities came to an end, and the campus became uncommonly quiet.

But if anyone had walked through the now desolate building ten days later, and if they had ears tuned to hear, they would have heard murmurs of discontent, disappointment, and disturbance. The noises came from multiple rooms, usually smaller rooms called Closets in our world, or rooms the size of a closet. Sounds could be heard coming out of beige boxes, off of burdened shelves, and even from stacks that looked like tapered chimneys on the floor. If you had listened closely, you would have heard voices coming from books.

An ominous word had begun to spread among the characters in the books left behind: school was done for the year. Students, and therefore the Readers, were not expected back. This caused no little worry, not because the characters feared to be forgotten, but instead because they feared their stories would be unfinished.

Each assignment came directly from the Ministry of Fiction under the command of the Curriculum Controller for Division 17 in the SnoHoPaNoWe Region. These deployments were a crucial piece of the plan to equip a new army, though they called themselves Students rather than soldiers, which was part of the Ministries’ strategy of inconspicuous conquest. Each character had arrived from the Terra of Truth, the Ordnance Depot of CP, or even the Amazon Arsenal. Each had been recruited to do a specific job. But some of their jobs were only partially done.

Though in most situations it was not the fault of the character, too many of them were left only partway through the plot. The Reader had just left, left the book, and left the story hanging. If you have heard of the land of misfit toys, these were the characters of unfinished books.

A meeting was called of the Committee for the Finishing of Books for Character Squared, or “CFBC2” as the patches abbreviated. Characters were elected to represent the various grades, though not all could make the journey to the far corner of the Desk of the Unruly Headmaster. Some of the characters required extra travel time because when they asked for directions from the local gnomes, the gnomes were drunk on the joy of so much silence without so many laughing students around that good directions were hard to gather.

Presiding over the meeting was Henry York Maccabee. While not the oldest or most mature of Committee Members, it was he, as a seventh son, who was most fit for helping a school seeking to begin its seventh year. Mr. Maccabee had great personal interest in the proceedings because he himself was caught in a dark valley of the shadow of the unfinished, less than a third into the third book of his work. It was only the previous day that his father had left for Endor, his uncle had been taken captive, and his raggant locked in a closet. It was not a good time to stop reading his story. There were rumors that his book would be completed, and so his case was not quite as desperate as some others. Nevertheless his precocious cousin pestered him for a quicker resolution, and young Mr. Maccabee called the assembly to order.

The first to speak was Morris the Moose, who was very angry. Though some students at K-Level had finished the story, others had not, and so he was arguing with Cow again and hearing her complain that she was not in fact a moose even though she had four legs, a tail, and things on her head. Morris yelled above the crowd, since yelling was a thing he did, “It’s maddening to be stuck here. I’m tired of making moosetakes, and just want to see myself in the stream again. But what if the stream dries up in the summer sun before I can see my reflection?“

Representing Level Half (those under the “1/2” symbol) were Uncle Nick and Uncle Pete, along with Mr. Gump and his seven hump Wump. Granny and Grandpa Amos stayed in their walls to watch Baby Betsy, and the Red Fish and Blue Fish were trying to figure out along with One Fish and Two Fish if a Yink really does like to wink and drink ink that is pink. The Littles and the Seuss families were phonetically and poetically up in personified arms about not getting to their ends.

On behalf of TertiaQuarto, the brave squirrelmaiden Triss had traveled by herself. Though she had already tried many things, including a party with treats and costumes, she still could not get readers to send she and her friends to Riftgard to free the slaves of the ferret king, King Agarnu (who was a second cousin to Gary Gnu). Triss had not yet figured out the riddle and needed to find a good sword. “Why won’t they finish the story?” She cried. “We can defeat the Ratguards and the King if someone would just turn the pages!”

A guy named Guy spoke next. “We have traveled 451 miles, as the pages turn, to represent the High Grammerers of Eejitsland. They have been so busy that they have left a fire burning that must be put out or great libraries of the world will be destroyed.” His traveling companion, a Mr. Underhill, explained that some fires can be very beneficial, even necessary, but that humanity is doomed if they destroy the wrong items.

The next to present were those speaking on behalf of the Logicians and the Rhetoricians. More of these characters came to make a case for themselves because they knew how important their work was, and they even argued among themselves whose story was most important as they rode together on a six-story bus. One was named Pilgrim, and despite his name, he did not desire an endless journey but rather sought the end of his journey. There were two Toms, both headed south on rivers for different reasons and neither with all their plot lines tied to the shore. There was a Mr. Gatsby, who’s story was short, and meaningless, but regardless, he wanted to get to his party. There was also a Mr. Ahab and a Miss Emma, who hadn’t met each other prior to the trip but shared a fate of still not finding what they were looking for. “Perhaps that has happened to you, too,” they said.

With the cast assembled on the Headmaster’s desk Henry called for proposals on how to encourage the readers to finish more of these books. This was an urgent mission for two reasons. If the books remained unread, some characters would be in plot purgatory. Mr. Ahab would be getting more mad, but no nearer to his catch. Henry himself would never know how his family was or what witchery Nimiane would commit.

Mr. Underhill proposed the use of a very old game. He said, “My uncle had a saying. ‘I haven’t read half as many books as well as I should like; and I like less than half of the books as well as they deserve.’ In order to promote more page turning he developed a game named after himself called Bilbo. He later changed it to ‘Bingo’ because he liked the ring of it better. Let the readers cross out various symbols in rows and columns and earn prizes for completing books.”

Triss urged that a proclamation from the U.H. be sent directly to all the concerned parties over invisible wires buried under ground. Most of the characters were not familiar with such technology, but were happy to see an example program from the U.H. Pilgrim similarly advised that a sort of allegory be narrated about the dangers for all involved of not finishing stories as well as the rewards of reading to the ends.

Mr. Gatsby recommended that a spectacular car crash could take out an electrical transformer leaving entire neighborhoods without power for long stretches. Kids without access to telescreens and digital games might be desperate enough to read. A small Seuss said, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere. Send them to the lake, reading on the shore is great. Any sort of trip, packing a book will be hip.”

The characters were now refreshed with hope, both that their stories might be finished soon and that the stories of their readers’ lives would be back on track. As they said their farewells and headed back to their closet or cubby or classroom, they said to one another, “This may be the best summer of our Sayers yet.”

The Headmaster’s Summer Reading List

One of the things I love about my job is the number of things I have to read in order to (try to!) stay ahead of the students. It means blowing through a silly number of books in the course of a year (this year it was 39 texts in Omnibus plus some fun essays). But when the summer comes and some the external accountability goes away, not surprisingly, the pace slackens profoundly, and the focus shifts to one of personal leisure and enjoyment.

C.S. Lewis taught, in essence, that a liberal arts education trains students in how to spend their discretionary time well; it trains you for what to do with your day off. This is on full display in the summer. In addition to a mountain of logistical planning for school next year, I plan to clean my house, pull a lot of weeds, and do a lot of reading…of my own choosing (but with some admitted help from others). So while it may not be impressive, I thought I’d share with you my summer reading list. (Subject to expansion, but not shrinkage). Enjoy.

Bible

This year, I’ve decided to read through the New Testament four times. That’s once a quarter. This morning I read Ephesians, and I’m on track to finish my second round this month. So this summer, I’ll read through the New Testament again, finishing by September 30. It works out to about three chapters a day, in case you’re wondering.

Fiction

Some of these books I’ve read, others are firsts for me. But good fiction is always in order.

First, your illustrious school board (of which I’m a part) has decided – for a host of reasons – that we’d do well to read The Chronicles of Narnia. Since we meet monthly, we plan to tick off one book a month and then talk about it at our meetings. So for the next three months, we’ll be reading…

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Horse and His Boy

Additionally, I’ve just started The Door Before, which is the prequel to the 100 Cupboards series, also by N.D. Wilson. So I’ll finish that sooner than later, God willing.

Beyond this, I aim to read the third book in the Outlaws of Time Series, by N.D. Wilson. It’s entitled The Last of the Lost Boys.

You may have noticed how these are all modern youth fiction. There are a few reasons for this, but chief among them is that I’m a dad, and I want to cultivate the right sorts of loves in my children. I love the imagination and lessons that all these books promote, and I want to talk about them with my kids. If they see me reading them, hear me talking about them, and discuss them with me, I’m hoping it’ll whet their appetites to spend their days off craving good books.

If I finish these, any other fiction reading is just icing.

Nonfiction

With the elders of Trinity Evangel Church, we continue to plod through Antifragile, which is a very thought-provoking book. It’s not a Christian book per se, though a number of the principles promoted in the book are fitting for those who want to raise sturdy children or shepherd sturdy sheep. And it’s about the right sort of rough handling that builds character-muscle.

I simply love John Piper’s The Swans Are Not Silent series. It currently has seven volumes. I read the first five within weeks of receiving them. I haven’t been able to get to volumes six and seven as yet, but I aim to do so this summer. They are…

In each of the books, Piper follows a consistent layout: he takes three historical figures and connects them with the thread of some spiritual lesson. That overview is the first chapter. What follows is a biographical snippet of each of the three saints, with particular attention on the theme-thread he’s tugging through each life. I enjoy the style, Piper’s heart, and the accessible introduction to a variety of figures from Church history. So check them out!

That’s it. But subject to change, as I said. Once more…

  • The New Testament
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Horse and His Boy
  • The Door Before
  • The Last of the Lost Boys
  • Antifragile
  • Swans Series Book 6
  • Swans Series Book 7

I hope that offers you some encouragement too plan your own reading, rather than winging it.

And do have an excellent summer, everyone.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Blessed New World

Good evening to our candidates for graduation, to their parents and families, to the Board and teachers at ECS, along with loved friends, supporters, and guests. How great is this?!

It is funny to think that when both Gabby and Kara were starting school in Kindergarten, ECS was still seven years away from becoming a school. The school was birthed when both of you entered your junior high years. Kara was one of the original twelve guinea raggants (if we can call them that), starting as a 7th grader, and Gabby during her freshman year. In some ways, both of you are more mature than the school.

It has been fun watching everyone grow up together, both of you as young women, along with your teachers, and even the book choices and curriculum offerings for secondary. Whether you know it or not, you have given us the great benefit of needing to figure more things out for you. Thank you for your patience, your work, and your endurance.

Last summer, after the school finished her fifth year, the Board decided on a 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.

This is a big deal, both in what it says and in what it does not say, and I’ll return to some of the ideas in a moment.

The year before that, when we came to commence our first graduating class, we decided that in order to graduate from ECS, a raggant must not only pass a certain number of classes but must also portray a certain set of character traits. These virtues are non-negotiable because they are, in many ways, eternally more important than your grades. In fact, grades are not mentioned in the mission statement at all, and we really mean that. Your grades in Algebra and Music and Omnibus and other classes do reflect parts of your character, so we’ve not done away with them, but our target for your education is too big for only five letters of the alphabet, plus or minus.

So we are interested in developing character, in doing our part to educate:

  1. Stout image-bearers
  2. Generous disciples of Christ
  3. Copious producers
  4. Prodigious learners
  5. Thankful stewards
  6. Jovial warriors

In other words, we are educating you toward Christian adulting. We—alongside your parents—hope and pray and work that you would be steady and giving makers who are grateful and laughing through it all so flagrantly as to make Grendel’s Mom mad. This is a large-hearted person ready for no end of callings, and I would like add a little bit more about what I hope your post-ECS raggant life looks like.

If I could be sure to have one prayer answered for you both, I pray that you would never be happy again. That could be taken the wrong way and so requires explanation, of course. In other words, I pray that you would both know two serious blessings that go together: that of being 1) discontent and 2) demanding.

It would be the worst for you to leave here and think that you are finished. I don’t believe that to be the case for either of you two, but this is a Charge after all. You are finished with this stage of learning, and now is not the time to retreat from learning.

Don’t be satisfied with what you’ve learned. And because of what you’ve learned, you also should have better taste for what you’re being served. How can you possibly be content with anything false? Many fake news prophets have gone out into the world; test them. Be discontent with lies, including the deceitfulness of excuse-making. Be discontent with laziness, with tyranny, with ignorance, and I mean this about your own failures first. These are things that do not belong in a Christ-honoring culture. Do not carry any water for the sin of self-justification. Do not shut your eyes, or even wink, while rationalizations for your selfishness or bitterness are at work.

Demand, then, truth, diligence, liberty, and more learning, especially your own.

You have tasted something better. You can’t go back. You musn’t go back.

Peter wrote something similar to his readers about their tastes: “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” It is the good taste that makes one crave more of the truth. “Long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation,” into maturity. And though in context, the first set of sins must be put away first, it works in reverse as well. “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” You won’t have an room for these. They won’t fit. You will have a better appetite. His Word and ways will be like honey to your tongue.

Your education so far has only been a launching pad, a kick in the plaid skirt. Now you need to go learn more. It’s time to go off the rails, not off the road of of righteousness, but off the rails of expecting others to lay the course ahead of you. You know some of what you know, and there is a lot more that you’ll find out you don’t know, and you’ve been given a taste and many tools for getting more.

You are headed into a world that wants you to think it is brave, but it more like a sickly chicken running from its shadow. You are headed into a world that will try to buy you with cheap pleasures. It will try to distract you from your image-bearing purpose, and will try to keep you from rocking the boat. This is what you must resist. This is why you’ve been prepared to be free.

A liberal arts education is for those who love liberty. Liberty is not easy, as you’ve read hundreds of pages about wars to gain or protect independence. You will not always feel happy. Wounds earned in battle can’t be healed lightly; a pedicure won’t fix trench foot. But you will be a better generation if you do not get content with easy conveniences and comforts.

Since Aristotle, men in the west have believed that liberal arts education was for those with leisure. Training for a job was training for slaves. That is not completely Kuyperian, since we believe that every lawful labor in the Lord is not in vain. But these questions still test the success of your schooling; what will you do when you have a day off? How will you spend your free time? When your bills are paid, what will you purchase (or go into debt for)? Will your understanding of fun and pleasure be like the world’s, or will you demand true truth and beautiful beauty? This is the point of your education: how you will spend your time after class?

Because Christ Jesus died and rose again, because of the evangel, this is a blessed new world. His sacrifice for sin frees us from slavery to lies and blindness and into truth and sight. You know. You see. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). But “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (verse 6). You know the glory. How could you be happy with underhanded and ugly alternatives? Refuse refuse.

Since God has called you to believe in Christ He has also called you to obey Christ and grow up into the fulness of Christ. This means you are called to bless others. You are called to give yourselves rather than get for yourselves. You are called to lay down your life for His sake; it’s in the sacrifice of losing your life, Jesus says, that you will find your life. The world is going to offer you a thousand other ways. But He is the way, the truth, and the life.

To be clear, this discontented and demanding spirit must not be driven by fussiness, which is selfishness, which is pride. It will only be a blessing if it is driven by faith, which is God-centered, which brings humility. And God blesses the humble.

So may you never be happy again unless that happiness, that blessedness, is from God and through Him and to Him.

Congratulations to both of you, Gabby and Kara. We give thanks to God for His work in you. It is now your charge to commend the works of the Lord to another generation so that they will carry and advance Christ-honor culture. Don’t be content with less.

Uncomfortable Blessings

When I give a talk I prefer to build up to a Big Reveal. This time I will tell it to you up front, then go back and explain what I mean and why it’s important and what you should do about it. Here goes: Since the start of ECS I believe that no one has learned more than me. I have reasons for this claim and, if it’s true, I also believe that no one has been more blessed than me either. Of course, I’m happy to share, the blessings and a bit of the story.

On a spring afternoon seven years ago my wife wanted to talk. She had just finished a marathon math lesson with our oldest daughter, who was in third grade at the time and whom we were homeschooling. Math was a sore spot in those days; things just weren’t adding up, if you know what I mean. But math was merely part of the problem, and there was no answer key. Both Mo and I were coming to realize how big an education we wanted for our kids and we were detecting a mismatch between that vision and our capacity to give it. I had attended public school, Mo had been homeschooled, and I was excited for her to homeschool our kids. I thought I was a pretty impressive husband for how supportive I was of her work.

But that discussion on that afternoon was less like realizing that we needed to upsize to a mini-van and more like realizing that we needed to get a 747, and that we were going to have to build one with instructions ordered from the back pages of a Popular Mechanics magazine. While we talked about a few options, she finally said, “Look, Sean, you are going to need to be exhausted educating our kids, so you better figure out the best way to do it.” That is a haunting, prophetic exhortation, and I wouldn’t be giving this talk without it.

One of the options we discussed was trying to convince some other crazy families to start a classical Christian school. But since all she and I had done at that point was read about those elusive creatures called classical schools, we decided it might be good to get some experience at one of them to see the theory running around in plaid skirts. We enrolled our kids at Providence Classical Christian School, located in Lynnwood at the time, a 40 minute drive one way without traffic. Maggie entered in 4th grade, Cal started Kindergarten, and we knew within a week that we found the good wine, like the kind Jesus made.

Around the same time we bought a three-ring binder from the Association of Classical and Christian Schools on how to start a school. Ha! Jonathan was excited about the possibility, as were a few other people that were at least willing to indulge the dream. We started reading, a lot. We talked, a lot, about truth and goodness and what is beauty and why bother. We wrote a vision document and statement of beliefs, chose a name, a mascot, and a motto. It took us another five years to get the mission chiseled into one sentence. It’s easy to blather and hard to summarize for that elusive elevator chat. It’s even harder to get off that elevator and do something.

While we loved homeschooling, and we loved PCCS, we wanted more people to have access to this worldview-ing in the Marysville area. One option we discussed, and I’m not joking, was to buy a bus and commute en masse to Lynnwood every morning and afternoon. Instead, we started with twelve students, K-10th, in a farmhouse basement in the fall of 2012.

Initially, I thought I was going to be exhausted telling students all the things I knew. I mean, I was an involved parent, pastor, board member, teacher of Latin, and reader of school-starter notebooks. Turns out, I was exhausted trying to figure out all the things I didn’t know. I had to learn what sort of scissors exercises help penmanship in the pre-polly stage and why cursive handwriting is better than printing. I needed a better answer for Why Latin? than that “it’s classical,” and hard. How old should someone be to start Kindergarten? Why are school desks actually a thing? What do you do when you don’t have lockers or desks or your own space to leave things so that 8 year-olds are carrying 30 pound backpacks around? What sorts of character do we want our graduates to have?

Sheesh. That doesn’t include trying to read and learn from the books and history that I didn’t pay attention to when I was a student. I’m part of a group of auditors that will finish the 6th and final year of Omnibus in a few weeks. We’ve done Hammurabi, Homer, Herodotus, Hitler, Hobbes, Hemingway, and Huxley, and that’s just one letter of the alphabet. I had a master’s degree with almost no mastery of economics and politics. Or fiction. We had to start a fiction festival just so I could do my penance to generations of librarians and literature teachers.

How do you know when it’s too much lazy complaining about homework, or that it’s actually too much homework? What is the maximum student load for a class? What if you have five more students than that number, but you don’t have that money to pay another teacher?

How do you encourage teachers who are exhausted and trying to figure out the best way to love and teach their students, but also enable them to have a life for serving their own spouse and kids?

These are all great questions. Weighty questions. Pressing questions. Exhausting questions. And, would we really want it any other way? This is our place, and it is the place where God grows us.

If you listen to professional educators, and especially education lobbyists, they’ll rant on repeat that the system needs more money. Let’s raise a levy. Get more government grants. But, many schools have gotten more money and not gotten more smart. Maybe some day God will give us such an overfunded budget that we don’t know what to do with it, but money never made a mental muscle. No check ever created hunger to learn. Gifts may be sweet, but they don’t increase strength.

The feast we’re enjoying is festive because of vision of something great and many sacrificial labors to deal with the difficulties of getting to that vision. It’s true of this barn, of this meal, and of our school. Those for whom it is the tastiest are those who have given themselves to the voluntary work of being uncomfortable.

We’ve hired full-time and part-time men and women who will and do give their lives for their students, not because they know it all, but because they hate that they don’t. They’re not education experts, they’re education desperates.

This is not a bug, it’s a feature. While we are giving our kids an education that we didn’t get, we are giving them an example of being exhausted toward something that’s worth it. This isn’t because these are the only people we could find, it’s because it’s the kind of people we want to graduate.

The best work doesn’t need to get stuck in the founders generation, the ones who walk from cup of coffee to cup of coffee. The goal isn’t getting established, with enough faculty and facility and funds. The goal is not getting settled, and having a faculty and facility and funds that get us into new uncomfortable positions. The fundraising feast is not about meeting our current needs. It’s to make it so that we have more needs and bigger needs.

The very first assembly message I gave was about how wise people change their mind, regularly. Either you know it all at the beginning, or you stay in your bunker, or you have to learn.

Little did I know how little I knew, or how costly and painful it would be to learn. I’ve learned more than anyone because I had more than anyone to learn. But thanks be to God who delivers us from sin and ignorance, who gives us freedom in Christ to learn about, and love, all that Christ claims as His. Thank God for kids who love it. Maggie told me this is one of her favorite nights of the year; I wouldn’t have imagined. Thank God for teachers who keep growing, for a school community that keeps singing more loudly and harmoniously.

Many of you feast on similar blessing already (even if mine is bigger!). Others of you could join. It is costly. It takes time, repentance, even money. But as Paul told the Philippians, he didn’t want their financial gift for himself, but “the fruit that increases to your credit.” To train a generation of those who will give (produce, create) rather than take (consume), we must show them what it looks like to have skin in the game, which means we’ve got to roll up our sleeves.

So thanks for enjoying some of the labored for fruit with us. Consider giving, not so that we can be more comfortable and get out of work, but rather so that we can get more people to enjoy the work of learning, and all its blessings.


These are the notes from my talk at last Friday’s Fundraising Feast. –Mr. Higgins

Fundraising Like a Calvinist

If God is in control of everything, then why do we bother to work? Why bother to pray? If He’s got it all figured out, knowing which blessings He plans to dole out and the best times to do so, why ask for anything at all? And more to the point, why should we ask Him to bless the school financially when doing so doesn’t change His plan?

In brief, knowing God is in control is not intended to prevent our faithful behavior. Rather, it ought to energize it.

First, God commands us to ask. Knowing our anxious thoughts doesn’t keep God from wanting us to bring Him our requests: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:4-6).

Our faithful praying makes God’s act of blessing an answer to prayer. And He loves to answer the prayers of His saints.

What’s more, God commands outcomes as well as means to those outcomes. When it comes to growing our school, we all have opportunity to be used by God, whether it means bringing in families or funds.

Last, our confidence in the sovereign control of God frees us to rest and feast. Come next Friday night, my biggest concern will be that my heart is rightly oriented to give God thanks along with you, as I fully trust that He will bring in as many dollars as He wants. No more, no less. And while I care deeply about the school, I won’t fret a moment over the dollars; He is in charge, not me.

If you’re reading this, consider feasting with us on May 11 and becoming part of the extended family of our school. If you can give cheerfully to the school, awesome. If your contribution is grateful and merry feasting and packing away a second dessert, then cheers! Regardless, please RSVP to Jolie Hall (jhall@evangelcs.org) by this Friday (May 4) so we can plan for your presence.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Lessons from the Trenches

In Omnibus VI, we’re currently reading Citizen Soldiers, which is a treatment of “The US Army from the Normandy Beaches to The Bulge to the Surrender of Germany.” It’s been a fascinating study, and many of the students have devoured the this hefty historical volume, intrigued by the European Theater of WWII.

This week as we discussed the book, we took the helicopter up another thousand feet to examine how the young men whose character was forged in the foxholes and firefights of France and Belgium were uniquely prepared on their return to lead America into a time of remarkable prosperity.

I’m sure there are a host of factors, but I would suggest that at least part of the explanation is that in post-WWII America we had introduced to our workforce and society thousands of men who had been forced (in battle) to perform under pressure, to adapt to terrible circumstances, and to persevere in unfavorable conditions. These skills transferred well to just about any context, and the result was America’s economic and political flourishing.

But there were down sides, too. These very young men went off to war before many of them had learned how to be faithful husbands, loving fathers, and sacrificial leaders. In war, many of their leadership examples led from a safe distance, making some terrible decisions because they were so safely removed from the grind of the front lines. Not surprisingly, many of the front-line soldiers returned to American society and practiced the same thing with their children. Many of those Baby Boomers were then born to incredibly capable but sometimes detached parents who wanted their children to have a great life, but who did not train their children to handle responsibility and adversity as they had learned in battle. The moral revolution of the 60s and 70s didn’t come from nowhere.

I really wish that I could say that our culture learned its lesson, repented, and started taking more proactive measures to disciple and provide for our children. Quite the contrary, we’ve outsourced their training to the state. We’ve modeled for them that work is bad and we should do as little of it as possible. We’ve even taken measures to eliminate them before they’re born if they’re too much trouble.

We still reap the benefits of the remarkable, dominion-taking labors of The Greatest Generation. But three generations later, we have nearly none of their work ethic. It’s our desire that Raggants who are stout image bearers and copious producers have the work ethic of their great grandparents while also having modern resources.

But in order to cultivate that in them, we have to try as best we can to reproduce some of the lessons from the Belgian trenches and make them happen in the classroom, the kitchen, the back yard, or our imaginations. (Praise God for good books). May God bless our efforts as we do so.

–Mr. Sarr

An Invitation to Our Fundraising Feast

Evidently, feasting is important.

Throughout the Old Testament and the Church Age, the people of God have feasted for a number of reasons. The practice continues today. We feast for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, and more. At Evangel Classical School, we feast for Reformation Day, at Christmas, and again in the spring at our Fundraising Feast.

I write now to invite you to join us at this year’s Feast. As I do, I’d like to consider quickly some reasons why we feast.

We feast to remember. Carving time out of the calendar to rehearse God’s blessings and provision is a good practice. Where the Israelites celebrated Passover to remember God’s provision of the Passover Lamb and their subsequent delivery from Egypt, we feast to remember God’s many and various blessings to ECS. Whether physical or spiritual, they all come from Him.

We feast to receive. Good earthly fathers love to give good gifts to their children, and they love it when their children receive and enjoy those good gifts. How much more is this the case with our heavenly Father? He gives us good gifts, and loving the Giver enables us to rightly enjoy the gifts. Our proper receiving and enjoying what He has provided doesn’t make us idolaters; it keeps us from becoming idolaters.

We feast to give thanks. When we eat, drink, sing, and make merry with grateful hearts, we can be sure the God looks on us with delight. Routine and frequent giving of thanks shapes our hearts like water over a rock. As we rehearse God’s generosity and our unworthiness, it elicits proper gratitude from us, which is a necessary ingredient to feasting.

It’s little wonder that our enemy hates our feasting. Feasting is a sword for which there is no shield. There are spray-painted cardboard counterfeit swords of gluttony and entitlement, but what shield can our enemy raise to stop our merry feasting? Right. There isn’t one.

So this isn’t just another private school fundraising dinner. This is a low-pressure, high-mirth call to thank God, enjoy His blessings, lock arms, and advance culture…and all together. I invite you to join us. If this is your first introduction to our school, this is a fantastic opportunity to hear our mission and vision. And the company is first-rate. Please pass along this invitation to those whom you believe would be interested in joining us.

This year we are going to be at a new venue. It’s at Marion Field Farm outside of Arlington (about 20 minutes from ECS). It’s a beautiful and elegant setting for the Feast, and we’re very grateful for the opportunity to dine there. All of the ECS student will be performing. We will provide dinner and activities for the students when they’re not singing in the program. Unfortunately there is no childcare facility or staff available for small children or younger siblings of the Raggants. (If you need help finding a sitter, I recommend the ECS Parents Facebook page, as some ladies have already done a bit of brainstorming.)

The dinner is free, but your RSVP by Friday May 4 will be most helpful so we can make the appropriate arrangements. (Please RSVP to Jolie Hall: jhall@evangelcs.org)

Once more, here are the details:

  • What: 6th Annual Evangel Classical School Fundraising Feast
  • When: Friday May 11, 2018, 6:30pm
  • Where: Marion Field Farm, 10611 Moran Road, Arlington WA 98223
  • Who: Friends of Evangel Classical School
  • Why: To remember, to receive, and to give thanks
  • RSVP: Please RSVP by May 4 to Jolie Hall: jhall@evangelcs.org

Please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions at all.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan Sarr

Tofu Christians and Cultural Bouillon

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten tofu…at least on purpose. Some people are not sure they’ve ever been around a Christian. This ought not be the case.

If you ask any vegetarian or fan of Asian cuisine, they’ll tell you that tofu takes on the flavors of other ingredients around it, whether they’re salty, spicy, or sweet. This parallels the cultural influence of many modern Christians. We are told to flavor the culture like salt on a steak, but we perform like spongy tofu instead. And this is what our culture not only expects, but demands of Christians.

Many modern Christians are like tofu, taking on the cultural flavor of those other social ingredients around them. They don’t stand out, they don’t make waves, and they contribute about as much value to their social context as a lump of tofu in your curry dish. Perhaps you can’t taste it, but it gives you a bit of nutritional benefit (some protein, amino acids, etc.). Having Christians around is nice, isn’t it? They’re easy to push around, they don’t make waves or even curse. How pleasant! But beyond that, many Christians, like tofu, don’t actually do much of anything. They’re more identifiable for what they’re not: they’re not unbelievers…and tofu is not meat.

Increasingly, Christians are shouted down in the public square by those who have read neither the Bible nor the Constitution. We’re told to keep spiritual principles and practices to ourselves. Our opponents may cite a separation of Church and state, or invoke anti-discrimination clauses, or even spin some of the Bible back at us (Judge not, lest ye be judged. Turn the other cheek. What do you have against love?)

Decreasingly, our children are taught to submit first to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to obey Him first and principally in private, public, and political matters. The world is not asking for a reason for their hopefulness and joy. But then again, the ginger-scented tofu is rarely asked how it got its unique aroma, either.

The more we capitulate to the tyranny of this moral revolution, the less distinct we are from the world. We even take on the world’s cultural flavor. We all know this, but few Christian parents know how to navigate (and flavor!) these waters when the waves just keep getting bigger and bigger.

Which is why I’m excited about the mission of Evangel Classical School. It is this:

> 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.

This is big, but it’s not really complicated.

We’re trying to train our students to face their opponents with a gracious word and a confident grin. As they read many of the great works of Western Civilization, our students gain an understanding of where we have come from and where we are headed, philosophically, historically, ideologically and otherwise. They learn that Scripture provides the key for unlocking and answering many of the mysteries that have confounded Western thinkers from Plato to Nietzsche.

When we teach them Latin, we aim to teach them in precision of thought and the chief language in which the story of the West is told. There’s no room for ambiguity in Latin.

When we teach them Logic, we aim to teach them in order of thought, giving them the ability to identify flaws in their own reasoning, and we teach them to identify the fallacious tricks that our opponents employ to deceive us and others.

When we teach them Rhetoric, we aim to train them in expression of thought. Those who can speak clearly, winsomely, and well…and who have something to say, will be the cultural bouillon cubes of the next generation.

We’re trying to train them not to be free from work, but to be free to do a lot of work with joy. As we train them rigorously, they grow a big capacity for work. Work is good; it predates the fall. We don’t want for our students to try to escape it, but rather to do a lot of it happily.

We’re trying to train our students to laugh and sing at the right times, for the right reasons. We can laugh because we serve a sovereign and good God, and we’re on the winning side of an already-determined outcome…even if it’s still playing out right now. Happy Raggants have a song on their lips and a psalm in their hearts. People like that are hard to beat down. And boy, does that make Grendel cranky.

In an age of tofu-like Christians, what we need are for Christians to be cultural bouillon cubes. Bouillon cubes are not obnoxious, but when they’re introduced to the boiling pot of veggies, it boosts and determines the flavor of the mixture. A few years from now, when our Raggant bouillon cubes are dropped into the spheres of politics, education, the arts and sciences and commerce, by God’s grace may they have a potent and delightful impact…with that confident grin.

–Mr. Sarr

Why Rhetoric?

It happens often enough: I meet a nice lady in the line at Costco who asks me what the stubby orange flying rhinoceros is on my jacket. I say it’s a Raggant. Puzzled look. I quickly explain it’s our school mascot, a fictional creature from the book series 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. By-passing most of that explanation, the lady has identified I am a teacher, and so she asks where: at ECS. Typically, between the evasive “evangel” portion (which at least sounds slightly familiar), and “classical,” she chooses the next ever-popular question, “Classical? What does that mean?”

I now have around six years’ experience answering this question, and have rarely done so well (or quickly, as at this point that cashier has rung through my mountain of provisions, the debit machine is beeping, and one of my children has to use the potty). I have learned to employ an analogy, which may be helpful to you in future shopping excursions, but will hopefully also aid in explaining why we teach Rhetoric proper at ECS.

Classical Education is like Legos. In the Grammar stage, about Kindergarten to sixth grade, the students are learning the basics of all the subjects: the colors of the Legos, shapes, how many dots are on the top of each one, how those fit together, and how to add and subtract them when constructing large towers. You start to give them rudimentary instruction manuals as they progress, and they begin to assemble the pieces into forms, putting together buildings or cars, like writing a paragraph or completing a math equation. Then, they progress to the Logic stage in late sixth to about ninth grade. Here we hand them the advanced manuals, and start studying why these Legos work the way they do and introduce strange new things, like hinges and motors and mini-figures that can act upon the stage of these large Lego worlds and do odd things like fight entire wars over one pretty girl-figure with nice hair. We hand them some Lego creations to disassemble and reconstruct. They may begin debating with each other the best way to construct a Lego colony. The final stage is the Rhetoric stage. This is the Master Builder stage, where we take everything they have learned in the previous two stages and tell them: Build. Build excellently, beautifully, and truthfully in a way that matters to The Master Builder and changes the world.

Rhetoric is the capstone of Classical Education. It is what everything in the early stages of your child’s education is building towards. That said, actually defining Rhetoric is tricky. It is a bad buzz word in political circles; it is a subject; it is field of study; it is a stage of development. And, ironically, definitions vary widely. Aristotle defined Rhetoric as “the faculty of observing, in any given case, the available means of Persuasion”; Plato defined it as, “the art of enchanting the soul”; ECS’ composite working definition of Rhetoric is “the art of a virtuous man writing or speaking well.”

Accordingly, Rhetoric is aiming for three primary things:

  • Crafting Art
  • Cementing Virtue
  • Communicating Excellently

Students work on all three of these elements through their early years at ECS, from needing to rise from their seats to give an answer in class, to the Character Evaluations before them on every quarter’s Report Card, to Art and Music classes. The Progymnasmata exercises which students are completing in their Writing & Rhetoric texts (pro meaning “early” and gym meaning “exercise,” so early writing exercises) are a critical part in all of this, giving students foundational ways of writing about and processing the world. Thus, they will have actually studied and gained the skills of Rhetoric before they ever reach upper-Secondary.

But Rhetoric class is an essential time of special training which takes every tool in the tool-bag and uses it in new and creative ways. We start with studying virtue, personality, and identity: How are you formed? How do you, as you have been crafted, now craft to God’s glory? Who is the person next to you; how do you know; how do you show him Christ’s love? Next we move into the study of Rhetoric proper, types, and how to present it all well. Logic? You can deploy that in a Rebuttal paragraph to disarm your opponent, and even turn his own arguments against him. Diagramming sentences? To go now boldly and split infinitives, or start stacking substantive alliterations, or use cliches wisely; it’s all up for grabs. We practice through many different forms, employing impromptus, writing speeches, reading books, and discussing it all.

The end goal is, as Rebekah Merkle says in Classical Me, Classical Thee, to make each student “a leader…someone who is compelling enough that others want to follow…the skills you are learning in rhetoric are actually all about beauty, about expression, about learning to articulate clearly and communicate precisely in order that truth will be desirable to the hearer.” This is one of the final classes our arrows experience; it is their target-practice. They fly, they miss; they sometimes hit the wrong targets in the wrong ways. But with each flight they learn the warp and woof of their own making, they learn more of their Maker, and hopefully by the time they are notched into the bow and make their final flight from ECS on graduation day, they will fly uniquely straight, strong, beautiful, and true.

–Mrs. Bowers