The Future in a Snap

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. 

A Feast to Remember

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 lbowers@evangelcs.org.

Risus est bellum!

U.H.

Party Enough for the Occasion

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 (lbowers@evangelcs.org) or to myself (jsarr@evangelcs.org).

And remember as always: RISUS EST BELLUM!

Mr. Sarr

The Smorgasbord of Story around Us

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.

—Mrs. Bowers

With the Tools

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.

Classical Education

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.

Weaponized Laughter

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.

Sacrificial Labors

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.

Thank you.

Mr. Sarr

Raising…and Being the Cool Kids

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.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Stink, Stank, Stunk!

Did you know ECS has its very own resident Grinch residing in a spare room in the back corner of ECS? When it comes to Christmas, he truly has garlic in his soul; no tinsel will grace his toes, no Jingle Bells tickle his ears. He is about as cuddly as an eel…but that has nothing to do with the yuletide.

In truth, he’s not really a nasty-wasty skunk, and in a grand twist of irony, both his wife and his mother-in-law are some of the most festive Whoville-ians you will ever meet. No, Mr. Weinberg’s Grinchness resides in his adamantine dislike of all things kitsch* and his bedrock insistence on the genuineness of things (after all, Mrs. Bowers, Jesus was probably born in July, not December).

* Kitsch: /kiCH/noun

  1. art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality

In this, he is a true Raggant. As Raggants we reject things that are sentimental, garish, and just downright ick. We work every day towards an embracing of the real, whether that is the absolute nature of 2+2 equaling 4 or the revealed truth about a dicey portion of Scripture involving a concubine and a Levite somewhere in Judges.

So we love the baseline real, that which we know only by the grace of a God who revealed His absolute realness in creation and His Word, both written and stuffed into a single cell in Mary’s womb. Plato, whom the Omnibus IV students are reading right now, would have killed – theoretically – for one piece of the straw in that manger, one atom of the realest real he longingly pursued his whole life.

Plato may have been a contemporary of Nehemiah, and in my wildest dreams, I imagine they somehow met, or Plato discovered one of Daniel’s dust-covered scrolls holed up in a library somewhere. What if, in a wild turn of history, in the last days of Plato he discovered the prophecy of the true Philosopher King? What if he finally found an answer to his famous Allegory of the Cave? In that illustration in The Republic Plato argues that we are all chained in a cave, forced to only see the shadows (our world) playing out before our eyes, while the real things (the ideal Forms and Ideas) exist somewhere beyond our reach, operating behind a fire at the back of the cave. He hypothesized that it was a philosopher’s job to free humanity, turn our heads around, and show us the True instead of the shadow. But he knew something was lacking. He knew the philosophers were bound by their own limitations and failings.

Fast-forward to Advent of 2018, where we walk the toy aisles, knowing that a little baby was born into a cave to set the shackled captives free. He became the true Carpenter-King, who broke our bonds of sin and shattered our false illusions. Like the Grinch emerging from his dank mountain cavern, this also enables us to see blinking lights of Christmas that picture the Light of Christmas, to smell fresh-baked gingerbread that incarnates the Aroma of Emmanuel.

Some of the tinsel, rotund figures, ugly sweaters, and Santa-baby songs are Plato’s false shadows – puppets dancing upon the walls of a hollow screen-projection of reality. They present us a cardboard cutout of sentimental love that selfishly fulfills but requires no sacrifice of ourselves. But so much of Christmas is real because it points to the Reality, and the real traditions that emerged from a horde of groggy cave-dwellers whose eyes were adjusting to the blinding light of the Truth that had pierced their eyes and the joy that was remaking their broken souls. Those men and women of Christmases past took little bits of this broken shadow world, and they pieced them together in an attempt to physically celebrate their God who took on physical flesh. They sang songs and lit lights and feasted and gifted to incarnate an Incarnation that made the angels sing and fired a star in the sky and brought the bread of life to Earth and gave its very life unto death.

It’s why the Grinch’s heart grew a few sizes: he realized that the true spirit of Christmas does live in our hearts, but it also works itself out garlanded along our hearths, hung across our gutters, wrapped beneath our trees, in the poetical lyrics of our Whovillian singing…and swaddled into a stinky feed-trough beneath a star pulsating with brilliant light.

–Mrs. Bowers

The “Other” Graduation Requirements

Forging potent worshipers is hard. It’s hard enough to just remain in fellowship all the time with those we love. How much more difficult is it to develop – in others – loves that you cannot see?

And yet that’s what we believe we’re called to do here at Evangel Classical School. Our work of enculturation includes the important and necessary element of academic training. We believe education is a good thing (which is probably good, since we’re a school), but we also believe that education is an element of enculturation. Immersion of our students in a certain kind of culture is our self-conscious aim. And our students flourish when they move from the spiritual greenhouses of church, home, and school with regular forays into the world.

As parents, our task is to fashion arrows, and we’re enlisting the loving help of the ECS community to help us.

We happily affirm Psalm 127:3-5:

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
   the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
   are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
   who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
   when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

The effectiveness of these proverbial arrows depends, in part, on their academic training. We utilize the classical and Christian model as we straighten and smooth out these fresh shafts.

As a guy who likes to shoot bows and arrows, I can tell you that not all arrows are effective or of lethal design. Some are built more effective than others. The more effective the arrows, the greater the confidence of the father who “speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

Indulge me for a moment, as I tease out this illustration a bit more.

If academic training can be likened to the straightening of an arrow shaft, training in character is like the application of feathers to the back end of the arrow. If you’ve ever tried to fire a featherless arrow, you’ve seen that it flies erratically after ten feet or so. Character steadies the scholar to “fly” truly.

Since this is all so important, we think it is also important to check in on our students regularly to gauge progress in the forging of Raggant character. How do we do that? Glad you asked.

The HOW Behind the Other Graduation Requirements

We’ve identified six different descriptors for the fully-trained Raggant. We want our Raggants to be…

  1. Stout Image Bearers
  2. Generous Disciples of Christ
  3. Copious Producers
  4. Prodigious Learners
  5. Thankful Stewards
  6. Jovial Warriors

Now, we recognize that we will not enjoy full maturity in any of these areas this side of glory, but we all need to be progressing in these areas if we would be the sorts of people we’re aiming to produce…the sorts of people who are a threat to our enemies and a fragrance of life to the world.

And if this is our aim, then it behooves us to keep these attributes before our people. We do that in three ways:

Application for Enrollment

In each of our application packets, we have a document with the “Other Graduation Requirements,” and as a part of the application, the applicant must review and sign the document. This signature is not itself a wholesale endorsement, but it requires that the incoming family at least be exposed to the character pieces we aim for.

Report Cards

The attribute grading on each report card includes six different headings (one for each of the Requirements above), and each of our criteria for evaluation falls under one of these headings. For instance, the criterion “Accepts Responsibility” falls under the category of “Stout Image-Bearer.” Maybe you can take a closer look at these headings next time you review your child’s report card.

Interviews with Secondary Families

We implemented this piece last spring for the first time, and it was met with good success. If, for instance, we want our graduates to be identified as Copious Producers, then it is good for us to check in with families along the way to ensure they’re making progress in this area. It’s a pretty bad idea to bring this concern to the fore on the doorstep of graduation. Just because a student has collected twenty academic credits does not mean he’s ready to graduate as a Raggant.

So we meet with each eighth, tenth, and twelfth grader (and his or her parents) in the fourth quarter to talk through these requirements, identifying strengths and areas where each student needs to grow. Before the meeting, the students (for themselves) and their house advisors have completed an evaluation of the student in light of these six Requirements and compared (and talked through) the responses.

By God’s grace, may this be effective for helping us to identify areas where our students need to be shepherded, and may God give their parents (and us!) the grace and wisdom to do so well. Please pray for us to maintain faithfulness to our mission, and we’ll be praying for you as you fletch those straightened arrow shafts…and speak with your enemies in the gate.

What ECS is Not

It’s Thursday morning, as I write this. On Wednesday afternoon, two completely disconnected and unexpected parties dropped by the school to check us out. Times like these give me surprise opportunities to articulate our mission and vision. When a conscientious parent lobs me a softball like, “I saw a lot about laughter on your website; tell me more about that…,” I get to talk about what we are. When another conscientious parent says something like, “I want a place where my kid is not going to be influenced by punks, drugs and porn…,” I get to talk about what we are not. So I thought – for sake of my own mental clarity, if nothing else – I’d take a moment to revisit some about what Evangel Classical School is and is not.

Support vs. Substitue

ECS is a support system for parents. Parents own the ultimate responsibility to “bring up” their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). As parents, we have the responsibility not only top love the commands of God ourselves, but also to “teach them diligently to [our] children” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). When a family chooses ECS, they are soliciting our support as they answer this charge from God. As a school, our authority to train and admonish our students is delegated authority from like-minded families. When that like-mindedness is threatened, we must come to an agreement or part ways, because those parents still bear that responsibility with or without the school’s involvement.

ECS is not a substitute for parents. When I’m speaking to a student in my office, I do so only with that delegated authority. I’ll sometimes envision a student’s dad standing behind me as I’m talking to his child; I always want to represent parents well when shepherding their children, enjoying that paternal support, but also not going too far as I represent him in that conversation.

In some other contexts (which I’ve even experienced), the school-home relationship is adversarial. I’ve spoken with parents who expected me (as the “professional”) to “do [my] job” and keep their disobedient kids in line. When the school starts to do the parents’ job, we’re substitutes (or even usurpers), not supporters. When that happens, sinning parties need to repent or the family needs to withdraw.

Boot Camp vs. Summer Camp

ECS is like a spiritual boot camp. Like in boot camp, we use live rounds, not blanks or Nerf guns. Our conversations are real. Our wounds are sometimes inflicted by friends (in the spirit of Proverbs 27:6), and they actually hurt. The students train hard as they prepare to fight a real enemy. They study the battle plans of previous victors and losers. They are surrounded with trainers and fellow soldiers who are invested in their success, and – importantly – they are all on the same side, with their enemies on the outside. With the muscles they build and the skills they develop, they’re prepared to do spiritual battle, with weapons like logic, holiness, and a grin.

ECS is not like a spiritual summer camp. Summer camp tends to be a retreat, or an escape from difficulties. It’s a shelter of protection where we’re safe from the harms of the world outside of camp. Summer camps often are characterized by the so-called “mountaintop experience,” where a spiritual “high” arrives around Friday night of the camp. The bummer about summer camp is that you have to leave. And when you’re on a mountain top, there’s only one way to go.

A Collection of Christians vs. a Church

ECS is a collection of Christian families. The school exists to support churched families as they shepherd their children. We love Jesus, we love justification by faith alone, we love singing psalms and hymns, we love to laugh, and we love being together. When there’s conflict, we appeal to Scripture. We thank God for our Western (and Christian-scented) heritage, while loving those with other heritages. We help one another to grow and encourage one another amid failures. We sip coffee, feast, and pray…together. These are sweet joys because of a Spirit who indwells us all.

This does not make ECS a church.

ECS is not a church. We teach Scripture, but we do not preach the Word in the same sense as your pastor does. We don’t practice church discipline, and we don’t take communion. These are classic hallmarks of a true church, and we don’t do them. Neither does the Board of Evangel Classical School give account for the souls of the Raggants (or their parents) in the same way your elders do. Of course, Christians love Christ and we love His people, and we do wise to surround ourselves and our children with Christian influences. But it is a mistake to rely on ECS to shepherd our families.

The work we’re doing at ECS ought to bear sweet fruit in the fifteen churches represented at the school. By God’s grace and with the Spirit’s help, our work should grow greater appetites for Bible teaching and worship that can only be satisfied on Sunday mornings.

Of course this list is not exhaustive, but it is orienting. I am grateful for each of you and your contributions to our community. May God enable us to sharpen one another in like-minded labor.

Immeasurable Blessings

To the one who fears God and lives faithfully, immeasurable blessings await.

This is the message of Psalm 128, and worth our consideration here at the start of another school year.

First, here are all six verses of the psalm:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
    who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
    you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
    within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
    around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
    who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion!
    May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
    all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
    Peace be upon Israel!

The first week of school, we sang this psalm (Blessed the Man That Fears Jehovah) four times as a group, because I want this to be a theme for the school (whether officially or otherwise). It is a fantastic tone-setter for our days and our lives, and the message (mentioned above) is simple:

To the one who fears God and lives faithfully, immeasurable blessings await.

These sorts of blessings cannot be purchased, but they’re common in the home of the faithful. For instance:

  • A full belly as the result of hard work (v. 2).
  • A flourishing wife and children (v. 3).
  • The blessing of our community (v. 5).
  • Watching our grandchildren grow up (v. 6).

We want the Raggants thinking generationally, so we study the labors, victories and failures of past generations, all with thankfulness. We also want for them to realize they have a job to do in this culture as they represent Christ in the world and as they serve their own families. This helps them to think about generations that will follow them.

We have over forty households represented at ECS, and it’s my prayer that they would all look like the vignette in Psalm 128. One day soon our eighty students will represent more than seventy (note the probable overlap as some may well combine) households of their own and they will grow up knowing this reality: To the one who fears God and lives faithfully, immeasurable blessings await. What would Snohomish County look like if it included seventy more Christian households with men laboring diligently, wives thriving like vines, children sprouting up like olive shoots, and grateful grandparents looking on with a smile?

Our changing of the culture will no doubt begin around our own dinner tables.

So with that in mind, let us fear God, live faithfully, and sing Psalm 128…a lot.

Risus est bellum.

Jonathan