A Generation with No Last Name

This note from Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr was included in the Raggant Standard from June 7, 2017.

When a child is born, we give him a name. A first name. A Christian name. There’s usually a story behind this naming, and it tells a little bit about what he’ll be born into. But unlike his surname, his last name tells where he came from. There are generations of stories in a last name. Crane. Walker. Marlatt. Higgins. Harsh. Stories.

How tragic would it be to divest children of their last names? To do so would be a step toward making them placeless, sons of nobody. Or at least acting like it.

How can we know who we really are if we don’t know where we’ve come from? How can we know why we think as we do without knowing who has influenced our thinking? And who influenced them? And what did they write? Modern American children are becoming less and less capable of answering these questions, and their teachers and parents are only a little better off. I embody this bitter indictment, but I’ve repented, and I’m trying to learn…that I may have something to pass on to my children.

Culture is a baton, and the point of education should be to pass that baton to the next generation. We ought to be training our kids to receive that baton in full stride and run faster and farther than we have. The operating assumption of classical educators has been that the culture-carrying tools are the liberal arts, including the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (Astronomy, Arithmetic, Geometry and Music). If students have these tools, they are not only becoming competent culture carriers, they’re equipped to learn just about anything they want.

Additionally, classical educators believe that passing on culture is impossible without the inculcation of virtue in the pupil. With the advent of the Scripture we have an objective and consistent authority when it comes to virtue training. We can trace the influence of the gospel from Jerusalem to our doorstep as our forebears have carried the baton to us.

Meanwhile, our culture not only pretends there is no baton, we cut off the feet of the next set of runners. So even if we do hand them something glorious like Paradise Lost or Tchaikovksy’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor (a personal favorite of mine), they have no idea what to do with it. They think it’s not worth the effort it takes to appreciate it, so they opt for choose-your-own-adventure novels and Taylor Swift.

There are a number of strategies that our culture is using to divest our children of their heritage. Some are more subtle than others:

  • Keep them from good books. The right books teach us why we think the way we do, and they train children to think in biblical categories, as they learn what evil and good look like. Sometimes fiction is clear where reality is fuzzy. Additionally, many of the right books are primary resources that teach us our history (while many of the wrong books are secondary resources that spin our history).
  • Keep them from character training. If truth is relative, as our culture insists, there’s no point in telling a child he’s wrong about anything, whether it’s the sum of 2 and 2, or poking his classmate in the eye with a pencil. This is bound to end badly. But it’s alright if we’re all just soulless protoplasm.
  • Make them believe we’re all the same. At the heart of multiculturalism is parity.
  • Make them hate where they’ve come from. This is the telos to all of our multicultural talk and training. If we can get them to believe we’re in a bad place now, they’ll soon want to be someplace else.

Conversely, at ECS we want our students to know and love their heritage…not because it’s perfect, but because it’s a gift, and it’s ours. We didn’t ask for it, but it has produced us, and that’s worth learning about. Like having a last name.

Many of you are trying to make educational decisions for your children for next year and beyond. And when you do, it’s important to ask a number of big questions (since this is a big decision). Look your child’s teacher (or principal) in the eye and ask these sort of things:

  • What is the ultimate point of education?
  • Why are we learning this stuff?
  • How do you decide what to teach?
  • What standards do you (or your decision-makers) use?
  • Why do YOU do this? Is it to reproduce yourself in the lives of your pupils or to get the summers off?
  • What do you think of old books? Are they obsolete or foundational?
  • Is there an objective standard of morality?
  • How do you determine your classroom rules?

There is a wealth of presuppositions behind the answer to each of these questions, and conscientious parents should care about all of them. May God grant us wisdom as we prepare to pass the baton.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan Sarr

The Gravity of Glad Sacrifices

The following notes are from the address Mr. Higgins gave at the recent Fundraising Feast.

Oxford defines gravity as “the force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.” Isaac Newton calculated the movements of planets based on their masses and the distance between their centers. Albert Einstein argued his theory of general relativity that the curvature of spacetime accounts for the direction and momentum of free-falling objects. Scientists have measured gravity grasping objects toward the center of the earth at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared. These all involve observations and formulas and theories, and maybe a stopwatch, but none of them demonstrate what gravity does better than dropping a bowling ball out of a three story window.

Evangel Classical School is not large but, by God’s grace, we have a little bit of gravitational attraction. This isn’t scientific or philosophical speculation, it is something that can be seen. It is also a reason to give thanks to God and something to ask God to bless even more.

The journal app I use recently showed me an “On This Day” entry from four days before our school’s first Information Night in April of 2012. I had written the following:

With just a few days to go before the announcement meeting for ECS, a fall start with our current plans seems less likely than ever. There are only a few families who seem excited about the idea, and even fewer who seem committed to the work it requires.

Five years later ECS has almost 60 students, a modest number for sure, yet that is close to a 500% increase from the 12 we had day one, and it’s manifestly more than none. We have a headmaster, three full-time teachers, and a troop of part-timers. We have textbooks and literature books and hula-hoops and footballs and tables and chairs and whiteboards as well, but those things are only as weighty as the people who wield them. Our people give the school gravity, and the gravity is growing.

There are other words for it, too: energy, buzz, traction, momentum. But I prefer the image of gravity, where mass and energy become an attractive force.

You’ve seen it at work before. Some individuals have a personal gravity; they can’t help but draw a crowd. Organizations can have gravity. There is a kind of pull that not only works to increase the numbers, it also works to change the attitude of the group itself.

In one of my classes this year I noticed a crippling lack of interest and effort from most of the students. Teaching felt like sweeping water uphill with a broom without bristles. But more than a month ago one of the students started to work. Her parents had come alongside of her and encouraged her, and she took to it. In just a couple days of class, her eager participation and obvious effort turned the tone of the entire class around. She didn’t stand up on her chair and exhort the other students to get with it. As far as I know she didn’t track them down between classes and threaten them if they didn’t work harder. She changed the culture of the classroom by her happy diligence. That’s gravity.

The whole school has a type of gravity to it. Not everyone is won by the gravity, but many are.

We start every morning of school at school with Matins. We say the Pledge of Allegiance, we say the Apostles’ Creed, and we sing a song from the Cantus. I’ve found it almost impossible to get through the entire 5-7 minute mini-meeting and keep a good grip on my grumpiness. I’m reminded that I’m a part of a group of 70ish people—students and staff and some of the parents who are still around at that point—who are committed to loving our neighbors as we express our belief in and love for God. Mr. Sarr is always ready to lead us joyfully, and that joy of being together and getting ready to work for the Lord pulls us further up and further in. That’s gravity.

It is a question we ask when considering whether or not to accept a new student. If the student (and his family) are not quite aligned with us, but still interested, do we have enough gravity to pull them in, or will they knock us off track?

We’ve seen a phenomenon with our end of year evaluation tests. We give spelling tests that include words a grade level or two above where the students are to see if they can take their understanding of phonograms and other rules they’ve learned to make educated guesses. There are two types of students: those who get upset, if not break down in tears, because they don’t know, and those who know that they don’t know but are totally up for the challenge. The ones who are up for the challenge—which is different than knowing how to spell everything correctly—are consistently the students who’ve been at ECS for more than a year, who’ve seen others around them joyfully trying things they might not succeed at. That’s gravity.

What is it that causes this kind of cultural gravity to grow? What is happening at ECS that God is blessing?

Jesus told His disciples, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), which was a reference to the kind of death he was going to die (verse 33). The cross was the purchase point of salvation, it is also the sun around which the eternal life of every believer revolves. And the author of Hebrews said about Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him [He] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). His life wasn’t taken, He spent it without resentment. I think we could summarize the principle as follows: by God’s grace there is great gravity around glad sacrifice.

Both the glad and the sacrifice are required. Gladness without sacrifice may still be gladness, but it will probably be light. Dandelion seeds are playful in the breeze, but not much of a draw. Sacrifice without gladness may still have an effect, but it’s demanding, or done with a heavy stink. This is the Thanksgiving hostess terrorist, holding her guests hostage until they see and acknowledge all the work she did. Who wants to be around that? Who can sustain sacrifices like that? None is attracted to this, no, not one.

Glad sacrifices are a product and picture of the gospel, this is the Evangel.

We pray for God’s Spirit to make us glad in giving up our lives and He has given great grace for this so far. Mr. Sarr sets the mead hall tone that makes Grendel’s mom mad, the Board is on board the joy train, the teachers embody the war of laughter day by day, especially those on the “Full Time Team.” Mr. Bowers makes science lovers in one hour a week because he loves biomes (and everything else in creation). Mrs. Hall never walks a lap around the parking lot—and she makes a lot of laps—alone. Mrs. Bowers collects kindergartners around her desk and contrarians around her discussion. Because we live in the world God made, the world God loved so much that He gave His Son for, those who make glad sacrifices can’t help but draw others in. It doesn’t draw everyone in, but it is picking up size and speed.

You can be part of it. You can gladly sacrifice with us and make the ECS gravity a pull to Marysville: from some who are already in it, for some to come to it. You can gladly sacrifice your words, telling others about the school. No Facebook boosted post can do what you can. You can gladly sacrifice your minutes, coming in to volunteer in a variety of ways, using your gifts to serve the students. You can gladly sacrifice your dollars.

We hope to add 18 students to our total number for next year. This would enable us to hire (and pay) another full-time teacher. Why not two more, or three? The people are the most important piece of the gravity, but how great would it also be to have a playground, a field, facilities that show off what we’re doing? We can’t do that yet, and that’s fine, but you could help us get to a spot where others want in. That’s gravity that comes from glad sacrifice.

If it seems too smug to talk about our not-quite-five-year old gravity status, as if we’re the Pluto of wanna-be planets, I’d say these things. First, we’re not too smug to quit working. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton wrote,

[T]he old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.

We know we must excel still more in laughing and laboring. Second, we’re not too smug to invite others such as yourselves to join us or to ask you to help. That’s part of why we’re here tonight.

And third, we’re not too smug to feast in thanks to God. That’s the other reason for this evening.

Great gravity sustained through generations won’t happen without God’s blessing, and it will be God’s blessing, proportional to our glad sacrifices.

A Festal Curriculum

This note about the Fundraising Feast from the U.H. (that is, the Unruly Headmaster, a.k.a., Mr. Sarr) was included in the Raggant Standard from April 19, 2017.

Some disciplines are more fun to train than others.

Getting up early? Hard.
Going to bed early? Harder.
Laughing when things look bleak? Super-hard.
Feasting? Hard. And easy. And requires clean-up. All of it.

Allow me to offer some context for my observation.

As Christians, we do a lot of asking. We ask God to save us, to sustain us, and to meet our needs, both small and great. This is right and good, and–when done in faith–it brings God great honor. He loves to work through the prayers of His saints. When He answers our prayers, then, it is right to give Him thanks. Feasting presents such an opportunity.

When we feast, we discipline our hearts. We consciously make merry, enjoying gifts that come from the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). These gifts often include good food and drink as well as other merrymaking souls around us. When we enjoy God’s good gifts with gratefulness, we honor Him.

Feasting also disciplines our minds. We consciously give God thanks with our words and our grateful actions. John Calvin suggested that fasting is effective for subduing the flesh while demonstrating contrition. In a similar fashion, feasting is good for us, too. When we feast, we respond deliberately to God’s blessing, and we do so with thankfulness, singing, fellowship and enjoyment. It takes “Thank You” to the next level.

I’m convinced that this needs to be a part of our curriculum. With the Raggants, we celebrate the start and end of school and Reformation Day with feasting. We throw in a Christmas party for good measure. And for the adults, we also have our Fundraising Feast. In this, we schedule a night for the adults in our immediate and extended school community to gather and enjoy some of God’s blessings to the school with full-throated (and full-bellied) gladness. Fittingly, we express additional needs as a school and invite the guests to be used of God to meet those needs.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work. From planning to putting up decorations to childcare to food service to cleanup, it’s hard work. And even for the guests, it’s our job to make sure our hearts are in a position to receive as well as to give. Fasting is a lot less mess. But this discipline of feasting is worth the effort it takes.

But I want the Raggants to be able to both ask well, and to receive well. Let’s show them how.

May God help us to receive well on May 5.

–Jonathan Sarr

Why Uniforms?

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from March 3, 2017.

When most people think of uniforms they conjure up ranks of faceless soldiers, grease-spattered and braces-bespeckled McDonald’s workers, or straight-laced English schoolchildren standing rank and file under a grey mizzle.

Certainly there is a type of uniform that seeks to flatten and deface–a bit like the Green Witch of Underland and her Earthmen, or the above instances. The point in these scenarios is to not be unique–to efface individuality in the interest of uniformity and obedience to orders (sometimes with life-or-death consequences).

I would like to argue not for uniform uniformity at ECS, but for harmony. As I was discussing this with Mrs. Higgins, she brought up the example of singing, and as we like singing here, it seemed an apt analogy. We love all the individuals of ECS with their quirks, strengths, weaknesses, and oddities–and we love all of that being present within our two choirs. However, the goal of a choir is harmony. We have some strong singers, but those strong singers need to learn to harmonize so everyone makes beautiful music together. There will come a time–within the school and without–for that individuality to shine, but that is not the primary emphasis of daily song, nor daily learning. Much like within the Church, we love the toe-ness of toes and the finger-nail-ness of fingernails–and sometimes we stub our toe and it has its moment of grandeur–but we are part of one body. Our students are part of one school–as they learn and are equipped, they are in it together, encouraging and edifying and challenging and even teaching one another. Our harmonizing of gifts and talents is liturgized (of course that’s a word) in our uniforms.

We desire blending in this sense, but we also want close-knit unity. Students can hit all their notes while casting a vicious sidelong glance. We may not be seeking the same uniformity of the military, but we are in a fight, and there are a lot of arrows being whittled around here. And what exactly is school for? It equips them to be winsome, deep-souled worshippers of the triune God. This is squire-academy for valiant fighters-in-training. We are part of the same squad, team, group, and unit–this is the training ground and boot camp for future battle, and as such, we come dressed for the occasion. This is not so kids won’t be distracted by others’ clothing choices (because you can’t prevent distraction in a world of squirrels and snowflakes), nor for the ease of knowing what to wear in the morning, and not to equalize the playing field of fashion (because the mayfly and Michael Jordan alone evidence that no playing field, animal or otherwise, is equalized).

It is to remind the students that this is their job–this is their people–this is their fight, and they are all in it. Little or big, fast or slow, older or younger, a uniform presents a physical, instant recognition of inclusion and solidarity.

Amongst this harmony and unity, we also seek clear identity. To borrow yet another analogy, did any of you fuss when you donned the uniform of your high school or college sport’s team? You may have disliked how something rode up in the wrong place, or the shortness or tightness of an item, but you didn’t mind wearing it. Your parents may have gulped when they wrote the check. But they did it. It was worth it.

Why? First, it was an accomplishment. You were proud of where you were, and you were excited about the history of that school and program. It identified you as part of something. We want the Raggants to feel the same way – they are all a part of something BIG and AWESOME. I will try to tease it out in a future article, but we even wear the plaid skirts as a nod to Scottish Presbyterians who planted Classical schools as they moved across the country. There is history and weight here, and we want to rejoice in that (and identify with the Scots, because….haggis. And golf.).

Second, it was the accepted and pragmatic uniform for the sport. We wore these hideous full-body leotards in crew because you didn’t want anything catching in the shell (and chafing is a beast). Swimmers wear suits that will minimize drag. In the same way, uniforms help us to minimize academic drag – we are here to work – we are here to be part of the team – we are here to learn and fight and win and be proud of the whole process.

Third, uniforms are a representation of something–we identify uniforms with teams and countries and cities–if we are doing things right, the longer our students wear uniforms, the more they love them because the more they love what the uniforms represent. Of course it could all dissolve into high-flung legality and high-nosed pomp, but that’s part of why we are the only school on the PLANET who wear a little, tubby, basset-hound-unicorn-rhinoceros on our uniforms. It’s just downright cool, and it helps keep us in our place.

Finally, uniforms are utilitarian. They make it easy to tell who is who in the parking lot or on the court. They make dress code enforcement far easier, and mornings less complicated. In the long run, especially with a system and numerous offspring of the same gender, they save a good deal of money. They (hopefully) reduce the stress and pressure of the Fashion tyrants who exert their iron will in back-to-school sales and commercials.

Uniforms carry the force of tradition and weight of history–from the slums of Haiti, where students without enough food still get dressed in crisp uniforms on school days, to the robes and jester-hats of Medieval Professors, we stand with them. Uniforms are, in the end, just exterior. But like a squire who finally proves himself worthy of knighthood, as our graduates lay aside navy cardigans and white button-up shirts, our hope is that they will do so with a sense of fondness–a thankfulness for the training they received in those uniforms, training which now well equips them to don new uniforms in new adventures.

–Mrs. Bowers

Why Latin?

The following article was written by the Unruly Headmaster, Mr. Sarr, and is included in the Raggant Standard from February 7, 2017.

Lately I’ve had a couple of curious parents ask me respectfully and sincerely why we study Latin. A lot has been written about this subject, and much of it is very helpful.

Let me commend to you a couple of very accessible resources:

  • An article from Memoria Press entitled “Why Latin is Not an Option.” One snippet: “[It] is the ability of Latin to teach students how to think that is the most underrated of its benefits. A grammar-based Latin study is not simply a grammatical study, but an exercise in what modern educators like to call ‘critical thinking skills.'”

  • Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” If you’ve never read this, do yourself a favor and read it. If you have read it, and you’re still wondering why or what it is we do, it’s worth revisiting. One taste: “I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar.”

And there are lots and lots more, but those two are a good start.

Now that I’ve done that, let me offer a few (quite unoriginal) thoughts of my own…many of which have been inspired by the above (and other) resources.

  • Latin is the most important language of Western Civilization. (And yes, I realize the New Testament was written in Greek.) We’re Westerners, we love the West, and our love for the West helps us to better love other cultures. And if the whole story of the West had to be told in one language, it would be Latin. When we look at the great books of Western Civilization, almost all the writings are either Latin, contribute to Latin, or were written by Latin speakers.

  • Latin grammar aids in English language mastery. Generally speaking, students who can make sense of Latin parts of speech and who can capably translate a Latin sentence are well- equipped to make sense of English. Additionally, most polysyllabic English words come from Latin. As an added bonus, learning (Latin-based) romance languages (i.e., Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian) after mastering Latin is far easier than without a prior study of Latin.

  • Latin requires precision. As an inflected language, Latin is far more precise than English. Depending on its endings, a Latin noun can be identified as a subject, direct object or indirect object. And in order to apply the proper ending, the Latin student must first know what an indirect object actually is. But this also frees up the speaker or writer to switch around word order for particular emphases.

  • Latin is a classical language. And classical education requires the studying of a classical language. Otherwise, it’s the studying of new and old stuff in an old way. The study of Latin has only fallen out of vogue in the last few generations; it served our fathers very well, and has contributed in no small way to our Protestant and Western heritage. When we study Latin, we study the language of Virgil and Calvin. And when our students are fluid readers of Latin (as is our ultimate aim), they will not be at the mercy of translators when engaging with many of the most influential works of our culture.

I wish I would have studied Latin when I was in school. It would have made my English studies (my college major) more interesting and easier. It would have made learning Spanish (my college minor) simpler, as well. But I’m thrilled that my kids are getting something that I did not. And they’re well on their way to surpassing their father in this way, too.

We still have some wrinkles in our Latin program and offerings that we continue to work out, but we’re convinced that, as G.K. Chesterton famously said, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” until we can get good at it. Latin is worth working for, and our children will be better off for it.

Risus est bellum! (That’s Latin.)
Mr. Sarr

The Nuts and Bolts of Education

These are notes from my talk about the Trivium at last week’s Information Night.

One of the best things about the daily nuts and bolts at our school is that we have separate bathrooms for boys and girls. I don’t start this way to get a laugh or to cause a shock. Gender specific facilities are important for modesty—though that’s not my primary reason for mentioning it. They are important for morality—though sin doesn’t depend on any given door being closed.

I bring up the distinction between male and female because we cannot have true learning or lasting culture without it.

Of course we couldn’t have following generations without male and female because humanity requires sexes in order to reproduce. Efforts to deny observable biology are efforts that destroy not only individuals, but also the future where any individuals could exist.

But I bring up male and female because God created and identified us that way.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27, ESV)

This means that part of bearing God’s image is being social, a reflection of the “us” and “our” in verse 26. We are made in the likeness of the Triune God. This also means that both males and females are equally image-bearers. They are different, so they receive different names and different responsibilities, but neither man or woman is more like God than the other.

It also assumes that our image-bearing relations and image-bearing responsibilities require us to acknowledge what God has made and what God has said. Boys and girls share some things yet they do not share all things, nor are they interchangeable. To deny or even to confuse this truth is to deny or confuse any possible foundation for learning.

After the poetic, lyrical celebration of male and female in Genesis 1:27 (if our culture succeeds at obliterating the distinction, what kind of songs will we be left with?), God gave a mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28, ESV)

We must must receive the definitions and boundaries created by God. What are animals? What kinds are there? What are we supposed to do with them? What is dominion? What can we subdue? What are we going to eat (see verse 29)? These are necessary questions, but if we won’t accept the created realities of male and female, realities that are self-evident and Spirit-revealed, how can we be trusted with anything?

A classical Christian education begins with basic facts like these. It is called the Grammar stage of the Trivium (which means “three ways”), and it acknowledges that every subject of study has created realities or historical realities or revealed realities. We are not trying to rewrite or redefine. We’re receiving what God has made, what God has done, what God has said.

Birds and fish and bugs, planets, and plants are all different, as are the letters and phonograms of the alphabet. Numbers classify and quantify objects and ideas, narratives show truth in a different way. These are particulars to be acquired.

The school board is reading a book by Gresham Machen, Education Christianity and the State, and he lamented that so many school systems (in 1925!) want kids to be thinkers but the teachers don’t give them anything to think about. “It is impossible to think with an empty mind” (p 7). No facts and no figures because they aren’t fun. There is no est, only non est.

[Such a student can] not succeed in unifying his world for the simple reason that he has no world to unify. He has not acquired a knowledge of a sufficient number of facts in order even to learn the method of putting facts together. (p 4)

New things are collected all the time at every stage, but collection is the special focus of our Grammar School. The youngest students delight to soak in dates and names and conjugations by song and chant and sound-off and reading. They learn about the sun and moon, right and left, right and wrong–in math and morals. They are taught definitions about masculine and feminine, without which they cannot decline any Latin nouns.

The second stage is the Dialectic or Logic stage. The emphasis during these years, roughly corresponding to Junior High, is less on collection and more on categorizing, less on soaking in and more on sorting out. Students are taught formal logic, learning what constitutes an argument, what is valid, what is sound, and what is empty or false.

In her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers tipped her hand:

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands.

During this time students are systematically exposed to various ideas and worldviews, especially through the classical works of ancient, medieval, and even some modern literature. They’re learning to see what fits and what is false. They are able not only to distinguish between male and female but also to develop convictions about it.

The third stage is known as the Rhetoric stage. While students are always answering or writing or performing, the emphasis of this stage happens in the last few years of high school. Students learn things to think, how to think things through, and then how to express their thoughts in speeches and papers.

This is a time not just to know the truth or to defend the truth but to adorn the truth. Even as male and female, men and women ought to be adorned differently. We not only recognize a difference between genders for sake of bathrooms and uniforms, but even in what we want them to become. Both our young women and our young men should be well educated, both bearing the glory of God’s image, and both expressing things that the other can’t and shouldn’t even try to do.

The classical model values the Trivium as scaffolding for the building. The blueprint itself comes from God’s Word. He has said, He has given, He has created, so we give thanks and receive and study and steward. The Trivium helps teachers cut with the grain as students are generally suited to soak in and sort out and speak up as they mature.

  • Grammar – learn the good; know and enjoy things (res) as they are. Collect and comprehend.
  • Logic – identify and distinguish the good from the bad; account for things, put things together. Consolidate and cultivate convictions.
  • Rhetoric – fight for and persuade others to love the good. Consecrate ourselves, our talents and knowledge for letting our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.

Google may be able to marshal facts, but it can’t train a student in logic or rhetoric. Without grammar logic falls and rhetoric is vacant. We’re educating our students with all three.

We start by acknowledging Christ as Lord and Savior, and then acknowledging our identity and created definitions by God. Otherwise learning collapses in a heap of inconsistent relativities and society ceases because no one even knows what male and female are, let alone which bathroom they should use.

Mr. Higgins

Platonic Hammers

The following article was written by Mrs. Bowers and is included in the Raggant Standard from January 11, 2017.

I grew up watching This Old House with my Dad. I actually couldn’t care less (then and now) about nuances of carpentry or dovetailed joints, but I loved spending time with my Dad, and the information proved invaluable when working at Home Depot and smugly telling a pretentious lumber associate that OSB stood for Oriented Strand Board.

The other valuable thing I learned while watching carpentry shows with my Father was the need for the right tools – and the many uses for those tools. I learned about the basics like socket wrenches. I was amazed at the power of a radial arm saw, or the beautiful application of a lathe.

Recently during a Sunday morning sermon, Mr. Higgins asked parents, “What do you want your children to be?” In light of your child’s education, as you round the final proverbial lap with your eighteen- year-old shaking Mr. Sarr’s hand and clutching an ECS diploma, what type of soul do you want to see?

As parents and educators for both young women and men alike, we need to establish – perhaps simply daily remind ourselves – of the foundational goal of classical education. It is not to get a good job, get good grades, make good money, or even change the world. It is not geared to boys more than girls; the intellectually gifted nor the intellectually different. The end construction project all these tools are aiming at – what we want our students to be – are worshippers who glorify God. We desire to aid young people in their love, devotion, adoration, service, and delight in the triune, magnificent Almighty. Every algebra equation should be a small peg upon which to hang their wonder of fractals and bodily chemical equations and reactions – every diagrammed sentence a tiny glimpse of the Word that spins spider webs every day and the intricacy of language and relationships – every music class a mini-study of Three-in-One, diversity in unity, the necessity for major and minor chords in all things. The main point of classical education for parents, educators, and administrators is the carpenter him or herself: a full-bodied, fully-equipped, fully individualized sub-creator.

But this formative process is hard, and really, you have to believe that Latin actually does influence you as a worshipper of God – otherwise, why are you here? Why are you panting along the marathon? The 5K is just around the corner, and it’s free. As your son or daughter stands with their metaphorical tool bag before you, see the future carpenter first. See how education shapes and strengthens the hands, heart, mind, and soul. See that education is about virtue and character.

Then, look to the tools themselves. At ECS, we are trying to give your student a huge variety of tools; each young man or woman will use those tools differently. You have to trust that reading Plato equips a student for engineering and for mothering equally. The application will vary wildly, but as your student reads hard books from Kindergarten to 12th grade, educators are placing a powerful tool in the child’s bag. Let’s say it’s a hammer. Basic. Essential. Wildly useful. Your 12th grade son graduates and goes on to an Ivy League university where he seeks to become a biologist. He encounters Evolution in his survey class, and all of a sudden he pulls out the hammer and uses it for an application he hasn’t before: when the professor states Darwin introduced Evolutionary Theory, the student asks about the influence of Socrates on Darwin. Bang.

Your daughter graduates from a great school, gets a job, and then marries at twenty. Though she and her husband weren’t planning to have children right away, just nine months later, at the age of twenty-one, they are blessed with a glorious little soul. This soul begins growing, and one day in the wake of the child’s uncle dying, late at bedtime (when children become profound philosophers), he asks about heaven. He is scared of death, and Heaven is just some nebulous cloud in the sky. The young mother, rocking her child, begins to tell him of a Real World, where everything is solid, where there are un-fallen Forms of strawberries and grass so real it would hurt your feet now to step on it. She asks, “Will you help me pick real Strawberries and make Real pie in Heaven? All this, dear son, is but Shadows – Heaven is the Reality.” Bang.

So thank you for trusting us to help teach your child the difference between a phillips-head and a slotted screwdriver; thank you for helping bind up paper cuts and nurse weary muscles; thank you for dealing with the sawdust of intellectual fallout and the splinters of irritating math equations. Thank you for seeing that the carpenter and the carpentry is worth it, because we are part of the far bigger Building of an infinitely good Builder.

Mrs. Bowers

Is Classical Education Obsolete?

aristotleAristotle has been “old” for two thousand years.

People will sometimes dismiss classical education as being old fashioned and out of date. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (an influential character in classical education circles) helped to establish the disciplines of logic and rhetoric…in the fourth century before Christ. By the time Jonathan Edwards was studying Aristotle in school, Aristotle had been dead for two thousand years. Now Aristotle’s been dead 2338 years. One might wonder what’s happened in the last three hundred years to strip Aristotle of his ability to teach us.

Aristotle hasn’t changed since the 18th century; we have. We are not committed to the same emphasis on the communication of values that Aristotle teaches in Nichomachean Ethics. We don’t appreciate the ancient languages that Aristotle used (and Edwards mastered), and our culture shows it. We have (evidently) abandoned the disciplines of logic and rhetoric, and we act like it.

But being an old idea doesn’t make classical education great. It’s great for a host of reasons. For instance, studying the writings of godless men like Aristotle helps to show us how God prepared the world for the first advent of His Son, politically, philosophically, religiously and otherwise. Additionally, the nature of men has not changed since Aristotle’s day, so his reasoning devices are as handy now as they were then…and they’re more novel because they’re so rarely utilized. Still more, the harmonization of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric with the stages of children’s natural development (which Dorothy Sayers nicknamed the Poll Parrot, Pert, and Poetic stages, respectively) is also quite helpful.

But Christians today are able to read Aristotle and take his thinking still further. Aristotle believed that education was about the development of certain virtues in the pupil, but he had no authority for the articulation of those virtues, or their definitions. The best he could come up with were reasonable (and well-reasoned) speculations…from the mind of a natural man.

Enter classical Christian education.

We want for our children to identify and love the true, the good and the beautiful. And we point cheerfully to God as the Source of this classical trifecta. Aristotle could only do this theoretically with a conception about the idea of God, but we can point to Christ and His Word. And we do.

Our fathers seemed to understand some things we don’t yet, as a culture. They found great help and value in the work of Aristotle and others of the ancients. And it’s a good thing they did, or we wouldn’t be where we are. And while the world is working hard to divest our culture of its culture, we point cheerfully to Greece and Rome and Philadelphia (1776) and say, “These are our people.” They weren’t perfect, and neither are we, but God has used them and continues to do so…for His purposes.

Let’s make them proud, equipping our little ones to advance culture for Christ…in all spheres of life.

Heroes of the Faith, and Naming the Secondary Houses

Last Friday I had opportunity to address the Raggants in our October assembly, and the theme was the naming of the secondary houses. What follows is an edited version of what I shared with them. Enjoy

The wise person will learn from the example of those who have gone before him. This is not unique to the Christian faith, although it’s especially important to us. We give assent to sacred Scripture, and it’s full of history and stories and examples for our instruction.

You may recall Hebrews chapter 11, where the writer of Hebrews catalogues example after example of faithful people from the Old Testament, and they were far from perfect. Indeed, many of those listed were guilty of grievous sins in their times, just like you and me. But God would still have us to learn from them, and they’re cheering us on as we now run the race of the faith. They’ve passed the baton to us, and we must run and finish our race well. And we may not be the ones to actually cross the finish line, but we must run our leg well and then hand the baton to the next generation of Christians who will come after us, and then they can work to transform our culture just like we are. That’s all very exciting, but it means that right now, we keep running.

Here at Evangel Classical School, we are not ashamed to tell you that you have a heritage (i.e., your history, your background, your culture and all of the different things the have influenced it). And it’s a great heritage! And we want you to love it! And that doesn’t mean that you have to hate everyone else’s heritage. Our world doesn’t seem to understand this. The world – and many false teachers today – are telling you that we’re basically all the same, that the brotherhood of man is universal, our forefathers were dangerous and narrow-minded bigots, and we’d do well to not be stuck in the past, to grow beyond their teachings and into this new and inclusive world. And, they say, if you don’t agree with this, then you’re just one of them – narrow-minded, dangerous and hateful bigots.

I would say that there are two big things that have contributed to this situation:

  • Our culture’s acceptance of other sources of authority besides God’s Word.
  • Our culture’s failure to learn from history.

And in this sense, and many others, we wish to be counter-cultural.

We Love Scripture

And we know it is God’s objective, clear, unchanging and universally-applicable word. And what’s more…

We Love to Study and Learn from History

God is always at work, and history shows us how He has been at work in the world since it began. And although there is a lot of sin and hurt and suffering throughout history, we also cannot mistake God’s evident work in the details of every single event and life in human history. It’s so painfully clear! And it’s beautiful. And we know this, because we study Scripture!

We’re not the only ones who have faced these sorts of cultural and religious challenges. And we can learn from others who have done it well.

In this spirit, we’ve decided to name our secondary houses after four Protestant Reformers from four different European nations.

These Reformers all had hard lives.

Every one of them can teach us great lessons about changing culture. They lived and gave themselves to transform cultures with the gospel. Reforming the monolithic Church of the Middle Ages was a great undertaking, and these men did their part in that, and we stand on their shoulders.

They can teach us about faithfulness while facing adversity. They were all met with stiff resistance along the way, and they were loved by some, and hated by far more. They all four had political influence because of their faithfulness, and they can teach us lesson about what hills to die on. I would have loved to witness John Knox’s several conversations with Mary Queen of Scots, as these conversations usually involved her crying angry tears.

They can teach us what hills are worth dying on. Many in our culture today think big deal issues involve nail polish colors and which of the Jonas brothers is the cutest. These men were putting their very lives on the line for matters like justification by faith alone, and the translation the Bible into a language for common men.

Make no mistake: one major reason that we have the freedom today to fuss over nail polish and the Jonas brothers is because these men took a faithful stand on important matters.

Western Culture as we know it was profoundly impacted and changed by the work of these men, and as those who stand on their shoulders and who wish to transform culture ourselves, we must learn from them.

John Calvin

(1509-1564, died age 55)

What did he do?

French Reformer John Calvin was a pastor and a theologian in Geneva, Switzerland for about a decade, and he ministered in Strasburg with fellow Reformer Martin Bucer.

He first published Institutes of the Christian Religion when he was in his late twenties and many other works over the course of his life. He preached the Bible faithfully in Geneva and used his influence and the influence of the church to help shape the culture of Geneva, making it a destination and refuge for Protestants who were hungry for God’s Word.

Calvin is still regarded by many as the greatest mind of the Reformation, and he played an instrumental role in the English and Scottish Reformations as well, because it was not uncommon for Reformers to write to Calvin to get his council on difficult Reformation matters, theologically, politically and otherwise.

Why was it hard?

Calvin was met with stiff opposition his whole life. He had a few years of reprieve in Strasburg, but for the most part, he was hated by the community of Geneva although his influence was strong, and his intentions were good. People named their dogs after him, and he was never a voting citizen of Geneva, so his opportunities were somewhat curbed.

Beyond this, Calvin had a hard life. He dealt with the death of children (none survived infancy), and various health issues over the course of his life and ministry.

He died at the age of 55.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Members of Calvin House will be identified with the greatest mind of the Reformation, and one under whose leadership helped shape Geneva. Although Geneva is largely godless today, there are still profound echoes of his influence in the city, and his name still makes unbelievers grumpy. Laughter is war.

What is the Calvin House color? RED
Who will be the Calvin House advisor? MR. BOWERS

John Knox

(1513-1572, died age 59)

What did he do?

Scottish Reformer John Knox is regarded as the most influential leader in the Scottish Reformation. He was a fiery and passionate preacher, and a mobilizer of men. Knox was – perhaps even more than these other Reformers – a great leader. He was willing to lead others even at a very high cost.

Why was it hard?

In Knox’s lifetime, the autonomy of Scotland and its political leadership changed quite a bit. He met with great political opposition in his efforts to change Scotland. I’m not a Presbyterian, but under his leadership Scottish Presbyterianism was better established, and some of the work of Knox and other Scottish Reformers had a profound influence on the founding fathers of the United States. The documents they wrote, the way that they appealed to political leaders, and even their understanding of the relationship between the political and religious spheres all have echoes among us as Americans today.

Knox can teach us that there is a time for speaking up, even if it’s costly. He spent a lot of his life in exile on the mainland, even hanging out with his buddy John Calvin. He wrote an important and famous document which sounds even worse today than it did then: “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.”

One of the things I love most about Knox was that he was not afraid to speak the truth, even when it was hard and could cost him his life.

Why should you want to be in this House?

You should want to be in Knox House because of Knox’s courage and boldness, and because he was an excellent leader.

What is the Knox House color? YELLOW (From the traditional Scottish flag, not the color of cowardice).
Who will be the Knox House advisor? MR. SARR

Martin Luther

(1483-1546, died age 63)

What did he do?

German Reformer Martin Luther is credited with unofficially starting the Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther recognized that what the Catholic church was doing was wrong, and he posted 95 statements against this particular practice in a spot where everyone could see it. This was dangerous, and it didn’t sit well with the Catholic leaders.

Luther went on to write and speak publicly against the abuses in the Catholic church, calling for reform of the Church. And when he wrote, he wrote in German so everyone could understand it!

He also translated the New Testament into German, which was a capital offense; previously in Germany it was only available for students of Latin to read when they could get their hands on it.

He also married an ex-nun (sticking it to the church), had a bunch of kids, brewed beer, and wrote great hymns, including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

His was the battle cry of the Reformation: Sola Fide! Faith Alone!

Why was it hard?

Just about everything Luther did was illegal or at least ill-advised. His speaking out about the abuses in the Catholic church could have cost him his job or even his life.

But behind Luther’s leadership, the princes and other political leaders in Germany took a stand against the forced worship in the Roman tradition. They respectfully faced political leaders and readied themselves for execution. Instead, they were allowed to read the Augsburg confession and Germany was never the same.

What can he teach us?

Martin Luther can teach us that some things are more important than life, including the truth of God’s Word, and the completed, satisfying work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Luther helped remind the Church of what it had officially forgotten centuries before: Christians stand justified before God by our faith in the accomplished work of Jesus Christ; we are not justified by works that we can do to impress God.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Those in Luther’s house will be identified with the Reformer who knew how to defy authorities who needed to be defied. Also took a famous and courageous stand at the Diet of Worms, which is a great story for another day.

We want Luther’s enjoyment of life, readiness to laugh, and those in Luther House will have good reason for doing so.

What is the Luther House color? BLACK
Who will be the Luther House advisor? MRS. HALL

William Tyndale

(1494-1536, died age 42)

What did he do?

English Reformer William Tyndale was the first to translate (much of) the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek languages. He did all the New Testament and a lot of the Old Testament. Like John Wycliffe before him, Tyndale believed firmly that if the Bible is the Word of God, then people need to be able to read it for themselves. And Tyndale himself did a lot to make this happen, and it was a very good translation. Tyndale’s own words comprise 84% of the King James Version of the New Testament, 75 years after Tyndale’s death.

Why was it hard?

Have you ever tried translating anything at all? Maybe you’ve done a Latin caput. You might be able to get the words down, but then giving an English rendering that makes sense or is good to read is a real challenge.

But for Tyndale, who was a scholar of the ancient languages, this was probably the easy part! What he was doing was illegal, and it was a capital offense (meaning it could earn you the death penalty) if you were caught with any of Tyndale’s English Scripture.

So the Catholic church firmly resisted Tyndale, because they believed that there would be a social backlash if the people were able to read the Bible for themselves.

What Tyndale and Luther believed was, in fact, correct. When people were able to read the word of God for themselves, quite simply, the Protestant Reformation was the outcome.

William Tyndale was the only one of our four house fathers who was finally betrayed and then strangled and burned at the stake by order of King Henry VIII. His last cry while tied to the stake was “Open the King of England’s eyes!” He was not only willing to die for the sake of Christ, he actually did.

Why should you want to be in this House?

Members of Tyndale House will bear the name of a man who faithfully labored to bring God’s word to English speakers in a translation as true to the original languages as possible. He faced a ton of adversity, even once losing much of his work in a shipwreck, but he kept going, believing his call to be from God. You Raggants need to be faithful to your task, too.

What is the Tyndale House color? NAVY BLUE
Who will be the Tyndale House advisor? MRS. BOWERS

A Final Word:

Heroes are still humans. As others have said, “The best of men are but men at best.” Just because we think these guys are awesome does not mean we think they were perfect. They all had plenty of errors, and so do we all. Wisdom requires that we learn from and follow their example, and they would hope that we would learn too from their errors and not make the same ones. They’re not perfect, but they are commendable, and may we enjoy a rich legacy as we work to reform our culture.

Raising Arrows

Principles are universal, and we can apply them in a host of circumstances, variables notwithstanding.  I’m constantly (no exaggeration) thinking about maintaining the long view and helping others to do the same.  An excellent academic education is not our chief aim. (GASP!) Frankly, that’s too small.  That excellent academic training is a part of the package as we are intentional about the enculturation of our Raggants.  Our chief aim is to assist parents in turning cute little kids into weapons, mighty warriors for Christ who will be very well-equipped to stand shoulder to shoulder with their parents, addressing real adversaries.  And we use laughter and worship and rigorous academic training as tools in this process.

In a recent service at Trinity Evangel Church, I addressed these matters from Psalm 127, and we wanted to make that available to you all.

HERE is a link to the audio, and I’ve pasted the text of the message below.  I hope you find it helpful.

Tonight I get to speak on one of my favorite passages in Scripture, and it’s Psalm 127. I’ve selected this passage for a few reasons. For one, I’m a father who wants for my children to be full-blown weapons of spiritual warfare when they’re trained. As an elder, I want that for all of our people. As a school administrator, I want that for all of our school families. And if we can keep the long view in mind – to remember our long-term goals – it helps to provide a healthy and helpful perspective when things are hard now. “Where are we going and why?”

Another reason this Psalm fires me up is because of Solomon’s presupposition that dads are warriors with enemies and that their children are weapons to be wielded in a war of cultures. The Seed of the Serpent is at work, and so is the Seed of the Woman, and we’re on the winning side as the outcome is being played out. I never get tired of talking about spiritual warfare and how our worship is our most potent weapon in that warfare, as there’s no shield that can deflect the arrow of worship. Our enemy will try to get us to stop it, or to get us to offer it poorly, but he can’t stop it or answer it in kind himself.

And it’s a beautiful thing now, to imagine whole families speaking with these enemies together, armed with worship and a grin. Keeping this long view in mind will lend calming clarity when life is hard now. Thinking about my daughter as a young wife and mom with three kids helps me both to not freak out when she gets a 10% on a Latin quiz, knowing that she’s going to take a lot of Latin quizzes before she’s fully-trained. But it also motivates my helping her study well and wisely so she gets a 100% on the next one. It is a matter of stewardship and training more than academics. I need to be concerned with whom she is becoming more than her getting impressive test scores right now. And doing all of this with a smile helps communicate that my delight in her is not tied to her test performance, but rather who she is as my daughter. Sometimes I do this well; oftentimes I don’t. But it’s critical to have principles that drive my thoughts and behavior when the circumstances constantly change.

To be sure, parenting is hard. Raising children who are well-equipped to be used by Christ involves a lot of training, but that training must be saturated with love lest we exasperate our children. That’s hard.

As with my example with my daughter above, as a parent, I want all sorts of impossibilities for my children.

  • I want for my kids to be stretched and grown…and I want them to love it.
  • I want for them to learn to work hard, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from getting all of you homework done beautifully and excellently…and I want them to have a vibrant, active life outside of school.
  • I want for their education to help shape their worldview…and I want them to have time to put that worldview into practice.
  • I want them to be aware of the dangers and evils of this world…and I want them to laugh at the days to come.
  • I want them to work like all the outcomes and success depend on them…and I want them to rest confidently in the sovereignty of God.
  • I want them to love the Church…and I want them to lovingly engage the culture.

Some of this will bear fruit (either ripe or rotten) right now, some of the fruit won’t bud for twenty years. But why do I call those things “impossibilities?” Because I can’t do it. No human actually can. Left to ourselves we would ruin our children.

My own upbringing is a testament to this truth, and it’s bearing out in the lives of my children as well. I’m quite happy with my childhood and my upbringing, and there are things I learned from my parents that I want to characterize my life, and other things that I don’t want to emulate. I trust the same will be true when my children are grown and gone. But when children turn out well, it is quite often in spite of us parents rather than because of us. Rather, they turn out well because the Lord is building the house.

How many times have you messed up with your children? How many times have you spanked in anger, or drawn too hard a line on chores, or been too soft on chores? How many times has your example communicated to your children the the way to handle life’s challenges is with anger, anxiety, or despair?

Did it ruin them? Probably not. Why is this? Is it because of you? No, it’s because parenting is dripping with grace.

Now along with Paul, I might ask the question, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may increase?” Shall we go right on being oafs as parents so God gets greater glory in overcoming our parenting weaknesses? God forbid! Only do that if you really do want to ruin your children.

Now King Solomon was a guy who was aware of his inadequacies. When he could have asked the Lord for wealth or fame, he asked for wisdom instead. God was so pleased with this that He granted Solomon not only the wisdom he requested, but wealth fame and peace as well. And Solomon’s legacy includes Proverbs and Psalms that include help for parents who would rightly understand God’s view of parenting.

Solomon seemed to understand this well…as did most of the ancients. Regardless of what men would like, we are at the Lord’s mercy…constantly. And the enculturation of our children is a clear example. Solomon, who lived in the 10th century before Christ, recorded for us a brief and helpful meditation in Psalm 127.

Now, while speaking with enemies in Solomon’s day looked different from how it does now, it is no less certain. His language was figurative then (i.e., children aren’t literally arrows) and it is now. But the principles he brings up are timeless. I’d like to spend a bit of time discussing this psalm this evening.

Psalm 127 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. 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[a] 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.

We’re going to just plod through the psalm one verse at a time. Look with me at verse 1.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (v. 1).

As I mentioned before, Solomon penned this psalm, and some people think that the inspiration for it might have been the Temple in Jerusalem…the Lord’s house. Can you imagine that task? Building a house for God? I can see how it’d be potentially overwhelming.

Now, if I’m building walls for a house, nailing boards together, who is actually swinging the hammer? Me, or the Lord? (Yes!)

Many times, we operate in the flesh, working hard to do what we do from our own strength, forgetting that we only have strength at all if God gives it. We must work hard to worship well; we must work hard to feast well; we must work hard to engage our culture winsomely and effectively. Yet we must be constantly mindful that we can’t do anything at all – let alone successfully – unless God is at work in and through us. The alternative is to find ourselves working against the Lord.

But here’s the thing: for whom is the Lord likely to build the house? For those who are faithful. It’s not as though parents, for instance, can throw their hands up, absolving ourselves of any responsibility, insisting that God is going to do it all. If that were so, then parents would not be accountable for their stewardship of their children.

And this ought to be a source of encouragement for you; you’re never alone! You don’t have to have the strength to succeed, so long as the Lord does.

Solomon rewords his point in verse two:

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (v. 2).

Working days are long. We work late and rise early, but doing so without the work of the Lord with us, on our behalf, we work in vain.

Even the bread we eat may be the product of our anxious, fretful work in the flesh. “He gives to his beloved sleep.” Let me ask you a question: when is your sleep sweeter? When you’re anxious or when you’re satisfied? And who is granted that blessed, satisfied sleep? Those who have been faithful and who have worked hard! But the sweet rest is not a product itself of our work, but rather it is a gift from the Lord. “He gives to his beloved sleep.”

If you want to rest well, then work hard, plead with God to work for you, and then rest in him. That rest will be sweet.

In verse three, then, Solomon switches gears. And while it might seem like an interesting decision, I think he’s offering an example. Could there possibly be a better example of how someone could be working as hard as possible, only to ultimately fail because the Lord is not at work?

Raising children is a perfect example of the sort of thing that parents can attempt to do in their own strength, and fail miserably. And when kids turn out well, it’s a testament to the Lord’s having built the house.

There is tremendous grace built into child-rearing, but that doesn’t mean that parents stop paying tuition or feeding their children, because, hey, it’s God’s job to build the house or not. Of course not! They’re trying to fashion weapons out of you!

This is how God works. He ordains means as well as ends. He ordains outcomes, and the ways that those outcomes come about.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening in this process.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3).

The Bible never speaks of children as a curse, or a problem to be fixed. They are a huge responsibility, but then so was building the Lord’s temple. It’s an overwhelming task, but a blessing!

While we may take this for granted, many in our culture have this backward. While lots of people really want children, lots of people in our nation kill their babies before they’re born. These are people who evidently do not want a heritage from the Lord. They’re not concerned about having kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, and they certainly don’t think of kids as a prize.

When we make sacrifices for our children, we regard them as a blessing. When we grumble at dirty diapers or are irritated by their childishness, we regard them improperly as but a problem.

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children[a] of one’s youth” (v. 4).

There’s no denying it: little kids are cute. They’re cute when they show up on Sunday mornings in their church clothes, or when they march off to school in their uniforms or school clothes. They’re cute when they own the end of the song “Children of God” with full-throated glory (We are the saints. We are the children….). And part of the reason they’re cute is because God wants parents to find delight in their children. So it’s right and good, and it’s not close to enough. Nobody thinks it’s cute when a 30-year-old living in his mom’s basement still requests that mom trim the crust from his PB&J sandwiches.

We want our children to progress from cute to beautiful, and I don’t mean flowing golden hair or a broad shoulders and a iron jawline. I’m talking about arrows that are straight and true; weapons that are fit for God’s use.

Back in Solomon’s day, they didn’t have guns, or else he probably would have called children “bullets.” Their weapons for fighting from any distance were the bow and the arrow. They didn’t use crossbows anywhere for at least 300 years after Solomon wrote this. They did use spears, but you needed to be within throwing distance to use them. So arrows were pretty important!

What do we know about arrows?

Arrows are the finished product, wood is the raw material. Children are the wood; a father’s job is to turn them into arrows. How does this happen? There are all sorts of steps. There are lots of different approaches, but here’s how I do it. Ideally, you go to a place where there’s high shade and hardwood undergrowth, where the shafts grow tall and straight, making a beeline for the sunlight above. Yes, the ideal arrow shoots start in a sheltered environment. So, a shaft is selected and cut about four inches longer than you need the finished arrow to be. The bark is then peeled. The shafts are dried slowly so they don’t crack. To do this, they’re bundled together so they dry straight. Once they’re dry, they’re straightened out, using tools (from stones to teeth) and heat. Next, they’re smoothed out and then trimmed to length. My favorite way to do this is by scraping the shaft with a piece of broken glass or volcanic rock. It removes teeny peels of wood at a time, and works at least as well as sandpaper, and it’s easier to come by out in the woods. You can also accomplish the smoothing out by taking a handful of sand or even gravel and running the shaft through your hand a bunch of times until it’s smooth. Finally, the bowyer (that’s a person who makes bows and arrows) may put an arrowhead and feathers (called fletching) to help the arrow to fly straight and to penetrate the target. And the arrowhead will differ based on the target.

I’ll draw some parallels later, but I must point out a few things before we move on to verse 5:

The process of refining is not comfortable for the arrows. From scraping, to trimming, to heating up to be bent and straightened, it’s not necessarily a fun process, but in the end, it’s worth it. While a green hardwood shoot may be cute at best, a well-crafted arrow is both beautiful and useful. This is a slow process. Arrows made too hastily are of poor quality and will not last. They may be fine for short-term use or for a survival situation, but not for long-term use.

So, Solomon wraps up the psalm with verse 5.

“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” (v. 5).

Based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s a lot to these arrows, and having a lot of them is handy for the warrior who is staring down his enemies. You can do damage with one arrow. But two is better. Twelve is better still…especially when speaking with many enemies in the city gates. And one dad’s quiver may hold more arrows than another man’s quiver.

A poorly-crafted arrow can result in the death of the warrior. And one made quickly, that is crooked, split and dull is not as dependable or as useful as one made carefully, that is straight, smooth and sharp?

As parents, there ought to be purpose and intention to all we do. And we wish to accomplish in our children a humanly-impossible task, like all of the things I mentioned at the start. But it’s absolutely possible if God is building the house (or “arrows”), and granting us the sweet rest of the faithful and beloved.

To accomplish this task, we must be faithful to do what we’re supposed to do as parents and as Christians. In the school contexts, we will never be satisfied by good test scores, even if it looks impressive for a moment. That’s like being satisfied with an arrow that’s slapped together in a few hours. No, our work is not complete until our children are complete in Christ.

So there is a very real sense in which for our children, making their bed is peeling the bark from the green shoots. Coming to church every Sunday is like the slow drying of the arrow shaft; the mind is slowly curing around these simple truths.

Older children are being heated and bent into straight shafts. The prepared but still raw material is being shaped and trimmed. Confession and communion and watching their little siblings…they’re being straightened and smoothed out.

Still older children, of young adult age, are being finished, replete with the barbed broad-heads of love that will pierce and fix into the liver of our enemies, fletched with the truth that will enable them to be straight and true.

So the next time you’re doing you’re having your children clear the dishes from the table, think about the sort of arrow that they’re becoming…a weapon in the quiver of their earthly father, but also a weapon to be wielded by Christ our Master.

And last, remember that attitude is everything! This is a really great thing that’s happening to you arrows-in-the-making! The process is hard, but the outcome is both determined already and really, really great. And God is in control, so let’s laugh with joy at the days to come.

When you look at your children, let me encourage you to envision them ten twenty years from now, standing with you, as you speak with your enemies.