It’s hard to believe that we’re only a month away from our annual Fundraising Feast. But here we are! There remain but a few short weeks until one of the best nights of the year.
Purposeful feasting is wonderfully orienting. When we gather consciously to celebrate the goodness of God over a bountiful meal, replete with laughter, singing, entertainment, coffee, dessert and friends, gratitude flows like the wine…especially at our feast.
The Fundraising Feast is always particularly special for me as I wonder at the goodness of God. I know it sounds corny, but I mean it: every year at the feast I am amazed that God would show such favor to the school as to bring into our circle amazing people like yourselves.
I admit, however, that more than planning logistically for the Feast, I have spent recent days wondering what needs I’ll have to share with our people. Sharing the needs is not hard, because our people are so wonderfully supportive. What’s hard is not having more answers about the logistical future of the school. We are trusting God to take care of our needs – all of them – while trying to be faithful to be used by Him along the way.
So with confidence that God will provide for us and with gratefulness for His innumerable blessings, we will gather to feast on May 10th.
Now, I’m not much of an alarmist nor a manipulator, but we barely fit in the barn last year, and we’re going back this year, so I would encourage you strongly to RSVP for this spectacular evening very soon. At this point, seating is limited to the first 150 guests (adults only please) who RSVP. (Admittedly, we may choose to have the feast on the patio, which can seat more guests, but that’s a major gamble in Arlington in May. Ha.) The tentative plan is to have it inside the beautiful barn.
The dinner is for adults; sadly, childcare is unavailable for younger siblings, though your Raggants will be supervised before and after they perform. I guarantee they’ll have a good time.
The dinner is free, but we do ask that you RSVP, and that if you do RSVP and then your plans change, please let us know so we can give your seat to someone else.
One more word on feasting. In the book Prince Caspian, when Aslan shows up in a Calormene-controlled Narnia, C.S. Lewis writes into the story a redeemed version of Bacchus, because the Roman god of wine and fertility is the only partier in all of antiquity who knew how to party hard enough for the occasion. Remarkably, the revelry was devoid of drunkenness or debauchery (the behavior or Selenus notwithstanding), but was full of breathless merrymaking in the presence of the True King. Let’s party like that, because God has been very good to ECS and very lavish with His gifts, and we have great reason to celebrate. I can barely wait.
This promises to be a fantastic evening with dear friends of the school, so don’t miss out: join us on May 10th.
You may RSVP by email or in person to Mrs. Bowers (email@example.com) or to myself (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Stories have worn many adjectives over the years: escapist, imaginative, devilish, deceptive, sub-creative. They have worn many outfits: epic poem, history, speech, play, novel, short story, film. They have changed civilizations and civilians; they have brought down walls and plastered them together; they have unchained the slave and bound the free in post-modernism’s free-love. With this kind of power, it is easy to eschew fiction of any kind out of fear. Oddly, we can also minimize it, treating it as mere entertainment and popping a Twinkie here and there from the Bestseller list.
In this smorgasbord of story around us, from the screen to the page, Christians lack discernment. If stories be a kind of formative food for the soul – certainly lower on the food pyramid than the perfect Word of God, but still with nutrient value – we are far too apt to roam the entertainment aisles dumping everything into our cart from chintzy picture books to sentimental teenage drama novellas to the latest blockbuster. Or we run from the supermarket entirely, holed-up on a hilltop somewhere and missing out entirely on the formative value of incarnational art.
There are a host of reasons for this failure of discernment – lack of sound, biblical teaching and anemic fellowship within thriving Churches being two of the most prominent. These and more have smudged the glasses of our vision – we simply do not see the world correctly through our crinkled contacts and stifled imaginations. We also haven’t been taught well by our schools to understand things like worldview, literary analysis, and more. We do not grasp and love reality as God has made and revealed it to us, and do we not see what those created in His image are creating around us. We need to embrace that fiction “is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system” (Flannery O’Connor). The best fiction is anything but escapist; it takes ideas and enfleshes them, which makes it very powerful. And very dangerous.
As Christians, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and a renewed heart to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). We have every blessing and ability to see the lies the world is packaging in moving images on a screen, through lyrics synthesized with vocal pitch machines, and in paperbacks with gold-leafed covers. We of all people should know when to pick up the book and read, and when to put it down…when to walk into a movie theatre, and when to walk out.
But we need to be trained, and I heartily believe that the Fiction Festival is an invaluable tool to train you and those in your community to see clearly and engage the battle about us with wit and vigor and fervor. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “but solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is some fantastic literary food out there, and The Chronicles of Narnia offer some of the best meat-and-potatoes you can find. There are a few mushy peas here and there, but they are easily picked out, unlike arsenic-laced Marvel fare. Because make no mistake, there is devilish food available on every corner, and they are choice morsels that sink down into the heart.
At the Festival we will dive into some big questions: How do stories operate? How do they glorify values that you find detestable, possibly without you realizing it? How, as a parent or grandparent, can you grow your children with Nebraskan steak instead of JELLO? How can you grow by identifying with characters, seeing how a certain sin or virtue works itself out to the end point of a plot? How can your worship and feasting and glorifying be better because of some make-believe story about something that never even happened?
All of Lewis’ novels have been some of my greatest teachers. I have seen myself in the mirrors of Jane and Orual, reading my own thoughts back on the page…and it has terrified me. I have seen the virtuous faith of Lucy or the pessimistic realism of Susan amplified within a world not my own, so that I could own some of my failings and fan some of my baby virtue. I have read biblical truth, and then seen it incarnated in a story – of looking to Christ’s standard instead of my own, of walking out in obedience as my faith caught up, and of knowing that ultimately, the battle is won, and all the trials and tribulations of this life are the worst it will ever be for those with whom He is well pleased; that pleasures here are but the beginning of the most wonderful story that has ever been written, world without end.
So we hope you will join us for this year’s Fiction Festival, perhaps to strum a few pages for the first time, or to wipe your glasses with the dish-towel of discernment, or go romping in a thunderstorm. We can’t promise you much, but we can promise you one thing: it won’t be entirely safe, but it will be good.
In a sense, education is easy. Buy a box of books and have your kids go through them. Train them the recipes of math and they’ll get the same outcome every time, as with a calculator. Give them a list of dates and templates for five-paragraph essays. We could call that education, in a sense. But by that measure, education is not our aim. Enculturation is our aim, and while education is easy, enculturation is hard.
Our mission statement speaks to this, and it’s printed at the top of your programs for this evening. It invokes Psalm 154:4, and reads as follows:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation, with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
We are trying to equip the next generation of culture carriers. And we employ a host of tools in order to make that happen. With the next few minutes I wanted to speak a bit about each of these tools.
Our version of classical education utilizes the curriculum of the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetoric), teaching all of the subjects as an integrated whole with the Scriptures at the center.
Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric don’t just represent increasing levels of familiarity with a subject like Math or History; Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric are subjects by themselves. Most of our formal grammar relates to the basic building blocks of languages. We teach our middle school students Logic, and – then building on the Grammar and the Logic – we teach our high schoolers to express themselves winsomely and persuasively in Rhetoric.
Additionally, classical education involves classical language study. Some classical schools offer Greek, but we offer Latin two days per week in grades 3-10. Latin grammar requires precision of thought and it provides a fantastic foundation for English mastery, given how much of English is derived from Latin.
Last, for now, classical education involves the study of classical literature. In order to understand how we got where we are religiously, ideologically, politically, socially, and more, we study many of the books that have been the vehicles of important ideas for the course of the last 4,000 years of our history.
This also offers us opportunities to wrestle with hard concepts and puts oil in the students’ apologetic engines. We read the Bible, we read Augustine, Calvin, Aquinas, Luther, Lewis, Piper, Packer and Sproul. But we also read Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Nietzsche, Camus, Hemingway, Orwell and Hitler. We have entire units on the Constitution, the Hippocratic Oath, the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds.
So in this business of commending the works of the Lord to another generation, we employ classical education because we believe it best equips students practically to be culture carriers.
Our school’s motto is “Laughter is War.” We try to wield the weapon of laughter for a number of reasons. I’ll suggest a few.
We laugh because it keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. When you’re reading Cicero and studying Latin, there’s a temptation to become a snob. When you’re aware of your privileged position as a 21st century Christian, there’s a temptation to be judgmental in your study of prior generations. Laughing with gratitude helps to orient us.
We laugh because our God has given us wild blessings and riches in Christ, and we are happy in Him.
We laugh in order to make the world jealous. We’re working to promote in them the right kind of jealousy; we want for them to want what we have, because God would lavish His grace on those who trust in Him. And our happy laughter ought to be enticing to the world. This is contrasted with stuffy, dour, serious Christianity. We are serious as a heart attack when we laugh with confidence.
We laugh in victory to taunt an already-vanquished enemy. And this sort of laughter actually produces a grateful humility rather than pride.
We laugh because God is sovereign, He is good, and He is for us. The outcome of the story is written, and we are on the winning side.
We laugh not because our heads are buried in the sand, but because our heads are up, our eyes are open, and we are able to look about us and see evidences of God’s grace and control everywhere.
We laugh because we can be confident that in this world of raging unbelief, cancer, abortions, murders, suicide, wars and lies, God has a good plan for all the evils of the world, and He will bring about good in the end.
So we want to wield our laughter for the weapon it is. We employ weaponized laughter because we believe it best equips the students to be faithful in their cultural advancement.
Last, we employ the tool of sacrificial labors. The gospel is counterintuitive. For as long as men have been around, they’ve been trying to figure out a way to appease the spiritual forces, and all their most valiant efforts fail.
But the just God became the justifier of men, took on flesh to make payment to Himself. The Son offered His Son in love for us. That’s not something we would expect from Zeus. And this is the gospel.
The gospel teaches us that sacrificial love is effectual. It will have its effect in God’s perfect timing. The more I love my wife sacrificially, the lovelier she becomes.
And as a school, the more sacrificial deaths we die for our families, the more life we should expect to come of it. Death brings life, in churches, in homes, in schools and everywhere else.
We talk about this as a staff, but as we die to our own conveniences and schedules for sake of the families we serve, God blesses and brings forth fruit. It doesn’t have to make human sense to be true, but we do want for our students to leave these walls believing this principle to the marrow of their bones.
Their love for their families and their neighbors can (and we expect will) be transformational.
So we employ the tool of sacrificial labors to best equip our students to stay the course, to be faithful even when it violates our natural reason to do so.
Along the way, in all of this, students learn how to write in cursive, multiply by fives, rattle off an Encomium and ask for forgiveness. All good things, and all necessary things if we would transform this community that we love.
Indulge me while I return once more to that mission statement:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation, with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
I don’t know about you, but growing up, the “cool” kids in my school were the ones whom everyone wanted to be. They were the best-dressed, the richest, the best at sports, or the most self-assured.
Years later, with the relentless assistance of Facebook, we see that – in many cases – the life that looked so great in junior high became a sad existence later on. There’s no guarantee that the person with the most alluring life in the eyes of the world is the person who is happiest.
The same holds true when we get older. Everyone wants to be a rock star, but there’s a disproportionately high suicide rate among rock stars, too, and we don’t hear people clamoring for that.
In reality, striving for celebrity status provokes the wrong kind of jealousy. Striving for a blessed status provokes the right sort of jealousy.
Paul was unapologetic when he said the following:
“Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:13-15).
All of Paul’s ministry had a telos of jealousy. He was working hard (as a Jew!) to make Jews jealous of the glorious blessings the Gentiles were enjoying….and there were plenty of blessings to go around! All the Jews needed to do was repent and embrace their Savior, and they would share those glorious riches with their Gentile brothers. It would then complete the salvation of the full number of the elect, and usher in the end of the age.
Likewise, I make no apologies when I say that we wish to provoke the world around us to jealousy. We want them to want what we have, because what we have been given in Christ is absolutely glorious. We didn’t manufacture it, and we don’t deserve it.
It takes deep humility to boast in the cross. Those who do so proclaim that they have been bought by Christ’s blood and adopted as sons though we were spiritually dead and haters of God. And so when we are happy about our identity in Jesus, we are the cool kids.
As we shepherd young hearts, we see this in a microcosm. The cool kids on the playground are the ones whose happiness is not dependent on anyone else. This is an interesting phenomenon. The kids that are the most fun to hang out with don’t need you to hang out with them to be happy. They’re happy playing by themselves or happy playing with others. The celebrity is rarely content to be left alone; he’s beefing up his Instagram following and “Likes” count. The cool kid can jump rope by herself or play tag with the others with equal contentedness.
If we have been bought by Christ, we don’t need the approval of anyone else. At the same time, we should be conscious of showing off the gracious goodness of God in how we live blessed and happy lives. The sad and relationally-malnourished world around us is watching with curiosity. And by God’s grace our blessed living will make them jealous in all the right ways…and it’ll make our enemy pretty cranky. Laughter is war.
When I think about what I want for our students to become like, I want them all to be the cool kids whose life is actually worth wanting because it’s a life of blessing that they didn’t earn and that any can have who will live in happy submission to Christ and in fellowship with others.
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
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.
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…
Stout Image Bearers
Generous Disciples of Christ
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.
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.
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.
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.
My Uncle passed away two years ago in November, and we buried him at the Veterans’ Cemetery in Kent. It was an overcast day, and we were running a little late. We pulled our minivan into the caravan and the long car-line began its snaking progress with military promptness. We used the slow procession to catch our breath, but as we gazed out the window, our breath caught.
Row after row, cross after cross marched into the tree-line, inscribed with name after name, branded with war after war. It was but one cemetery in one city, but the weight of the cost of freedom hit us hard and fast. We were all silent as we gazed at generational faithfulness and sacrifice – lives laid down to secure the laughter and the roads that had brought us to this place.
Those crosses and the ring of Taps and the casket that sat before my girls that cold afternoon were inescapably physical. We learn about sacrifice from textbooks, but its heavy actuality settled into the young creases of my girls’ souls as their wide eyes gazed at the markers of duty that surrounded them.
This is one of the main reasons we are traveling to the United Kingdom and Normandy this August, and hopefully again in the future. We desire for ECS students to encounter the reality of what they have only experienced imaginatively; to actually walk the walls laid by the 9th Legion in York, to stand in a shell hole from D-Day, to gaze from the walls of Mont St. Michel where Arthur vanquished the giant. On a purely practical level, the UK and Normandy offered us the most Omnibus bang for our buck; when we highlighted all the texts in the Omnibus corpus, most of them intersected in some way with England and Normandy, from the Parthenon’s Elgin Marbles in the British Museum to Tolkien and Lewis’s pint-nook in the Bird and the Baby in Oxford, to the citizen soldiers crossing the English Channel towards the Normandy beaches.
Moreover, such a trip helps grant perspective on history and your position in the river of God’s story. When you look down between two skyscrapers in the middle of London onto a remnant of the Roman wall, your whole horizon realigns along a different angle. Certainly, all travels have their benefits. When you go hiking around Washington, you are like a dragonfly gazing at the beauty of a creek cascading through your backyard; if you travel to Washington D.C. or Boston, you have become a bird soaring above the the county which contains the creek; but if you can travel to Europe, you board a jet, traveling to the stratosphere where you can begin to gain a bigger view of the catastrophic, natural, and man-made forces that have shaped the banks, trees, boulders, and cascades of a vast terrain.
However, all is not sun and puffy clouds in this aerial view. Traveling to the UK and Europe also serves as a warning. Much like reading a Science-Fiction or dystopian novel straps you into a futuristic ride of the here-and-now to whirl you through a hyperbolic vision of where your politics, worldview, media, education, and entertainment may take you, so too does Europe act as a 15-year-fast-forwarded version of America’s worldview trajectory. The bright blinking lights of policies and philosophies are messy and ugly and good to see so we can unbuckle now and stand our ground.
Also to be clear, this isn’t to mimic the Grand Tour as some 19th century flouncy Victorians. It also isn’t to create a sense of longing for a place other than home, but a true appreciation for home. Just as walking a cemetery should cement a love and appreciation for your own life, and a thankfulness for the generations before you, so too does walking the ancestral boneyards of America during a sunrise hike along Hadrian’s Wall.
Unrelated to the UK in particular, traveling abroad has some unique benefits. It unseats potential cultural snobbery and unsettles presumptions. It is good for our students to understand there are other accents, foods, means of caffeination, sides of the road to drive on, languages, and means of mixing flour and water and yeast to make glorious and glutinous gastronomies. On one hand, it is good to feel uncomfortably out of place – like sojourners – to be where we are not understood, where we don’t recognize the landmarks. We need that feeling more: traveling abroad provides insta-stranger. We are too often comfortable, and it is profitable to find situations where we are sustainably uncomfortable.
Furthermore, if Omnibus unsettles chronological snobbery, then traveling abroad unsettles cultural provincialism – something is not automatically best because it is American, and it is not obviously right because it is the way we do it. Strangely, God has unique ways of doing things all over the planet, and we are blessed with the resources to see how He is doing that. How can it be that a particular cow, who eats a certain kind of grass that only grows in the soil and conditions of a particular county in the middle of the Cotswolds, can produce the most stupendous cheese and butter you have ever eaten?
Lord willing, our students will learn to appreciate more ways that more people are taking dominion of the millions of things God has given us. They have the opportunity to see an entirely different part of the body doing an entirely different thing in an entirely different part of the world: but it is still Imago Dei, and it is glorious, and it is a fierce fuel that, every time I have traveled, has revved my engine and focused my vision and added colors the palette of my own sub-creation and worship.
We recognize that not all students are able to go, nor desirous of travel, and that is glorious in its own way. God teaches and grows and expands us through many means, and the trip to the UK is but one potential tool. That said, we truly believe it is a unique tool; there are many screwdrivers, but we all know how it feels to try and use a flat-head when you just can’t find the Phillips. And, perhaps more than the cultural and intellectual interaction, there is sweet life-on-life that occurs during turbulent airplane rides and sleep-deprived missed Tube stops and cramped hostel quarters and deep philosophical ferry rides that you can’t get anywhere else. Sure, there are unknowns and travel advisories. Sure, traveling can create a disjointed wanderlust, but no matter how good the tea tastes or the clotted cream slides on the biscuits or the croissant smells in that pastry window, the gravitas and taste of our home is stronger still if we have prayed and labored for hands ready for the plow and muscles eager for the labor upon returning to our own field. This is merely adding a new layer and line of latitude to our Raggants’ plane of vision.
We ask you to pray for safety, enlarged capacities, faithful witness, and exuberant joy. May we look like joyful Christians who are ready to give a reason for the hope within us and be ready to laugh, no matter what comes.
Here is a story I wrote for the final assembly. It references a bunch of books our students read this year, so your appreciation may vary.
In the year of our Sayers 71, a small group of children and adults prepared to enter something they called Summer Break. To initiate this sense of freedom they performed a variety of very old rituals. They exchanged ashen colored vestments for royal colored ones, they sang and chanted verse, they ate meat grilled over fire, and many of them sought to hold back tears of exhausted gleefulness. The festivities lasted throughout the afternoon until all the students and teachers said goodbye to one another and loaded up their heavy bags one more time for home.
Only a handful of people returned over the next week to do different sorts of work. Many things were moved around, sorted, counted, and put away. Eventually even those activities came to an end, and the campus became uncommonly quiet.
But if anyone had walked through the now desolate building ten days later, and if they had ears tuned to hear, they would have heard murmurs of discontent, disappointment, and disturbance. The noises came from multiple rooms, usually smaller rooms called Closets in our world, or rooms the size of a closet. Sounds could be heard coming out of beige boxes, off of burdened shelves, and even from stacks that looked like tapered chimneys on the floor. If you had listened closely, you would have heard voices coming from books.
An ominous word had begun to spread among the characters in the books left behind: school was done for the year. Students, and therefore the Readers, were not expected back. This caused no little worry, not because the characters feared to be forgotten, but instead because they feared their stories would be unfinished.
Each assignment came directly from the Ministry of Fiction under the command of the Curriculum Controller for Division 17 in the SnoHoPaNoWe Region. These deployments were a crucial piece of the plan to equip a new army, though they called themselves Students rather than soldiers, which was part of the Ministries’ strategy of inconspicuous conquest. Each character had arrived from the Terra of Truth, the Ordnance Depot of CP, or even the Amazon Arsenal. Each had been recruited to do a specific job. But some of their jobs were only partially done.
Though in most situations it was not the fault of the character, too many of them were left only partway through the plot. The Reader had just left, left the book, and left the story hanging. If you have heard of the land of misfit toys, these were the characters of unfinished books.
A meeting was called of the Committee for the Finishing of Books for Character Squared, or “CFBC2” as the patches abbreviated. Characters were elected to represent the various grades, though not all could make the journey to the far corner of the Desk of the Unruly Headmaster. Some of the characters required extra travel time because when they asked for directions from the local gnomes, the gnomes were drunk on the joy of so much silence without so many laughing students around that good directions were hard to gather.
Presiding over the meeting was Henry York Maccabee. While not the oldest or most mature of Committee Members, it was he, as a seventh son, who was most fit for helping a school seeking to begin its seventh year. Mr. Maccabee had great personal interest in the proceedings because he himself was caught in a dark valley of the shadow of the unfinished, less than a third into the third book of his work. It was only the previous day that his father had left for Endor, his uncle had been taken captive, and his raggant locked in a closet. It was not a good time to stop reading his story. There were rumors that his book would be completed, and so his case was not quite as desperate as some others. Nevertheless his precocious cousin pestered him for a quicker resolution, and young Mr. Maccabee called the assembly to order.
The first to speak was Morris the Moose, who was very angry. Though some students at K-Level had finished the story, others had not, and so he was arguing with Cow again and hearing her complain that she was not in fact a moose even though she had four legs, a tail, and things on her head. Morris yelled above the crowd, since yelling was a thing he did, “It’s maddening to be stuck here. I’m tired of making moosetakes, and just want to see myself in the stream again. But what if the stream dries up in the summer sun before I can see my reflection?“
Representing Level Half (those under the “1/2” symbol) were Uncle Nick and Uncle Pete, along with Mr. Gump and his seven hump Wump. Granny and Grandpa Amos stayed in their walls to watch Baby Betsy, and the Red Fish and Blue Fish were trying to figure out along with One Fish and Two Fish if a Yink really does like to wink and drink ink that is pink. The Littles and the Seuss families were phonetically and poetically up in personified arms about not getting to their ends.
On behalf of TertiaQuarto, the brave squirrelmaiden Triss had traveled by herself. Though she had already tried many things, including a party with treats and costumes, she still could not get readers to send she and her friends to Riftgard to free the slaves of the ferret king, King Agarnu (who was a second cousin to Gary Gnu). Triss had not yet figured out the riddle and needed to find a good sword. “Why won’t they finish the story?” She cried. “We can defeat the Ratguards and the King if someone would just turn the pages!”
A guy named Guy spoke next. “We have traveled 451 miles, as the pages turn, to represent the High Grammerers of Eejitsland. They have been so busy that they have left a fire burning that must be put out or great libraries of the world will be destroyed.” His traveling companion, a Mr. Underhill, explained that some fires can be very beneficial, even necessary, but that humanity is doomed if they destroy the wrong items.
The next to present were those speaking on behalf of the Logicians and the Rhetoricians. More of these characters came to make a case for themselves because they knew how important their work was, and they even argued among themselves whose story was most important as they rode together on a six-story bus. One was named Pilgrim, and despite his name, he did not desire an endless journey but rather sought the end of his journey. There were two Toms, both headed south on rivers for different reasons and neither with all their plot lines tied to the shore. There was a Mr. Gatsby, who’s story was short, and meaningless, but regardless, he wanted to get to his party. There was also a Mr. Ahab and a Miss Emma, who hadn’t met each other prior to the trip but shared a fate of still not finding what they were looking for. “Perhaps that has happened to you, too,” they said.
With the cast assembled on the Headmaster’s desk Henry called for proposals on how to encourage the readers to finish more of these books. This was an urgent mission for two reasons. If the books remained unread, some characters would be in plot purgatory. Mr. Ahab would be getting more mad, but no nearer to his catch. Henry himself would never know how his family was or what witchery Nimiane would commit.
Mr. Underhill proposed the use of a very old game. He said, “My uncle had a saying. ‘I haven’t read half as many books as well as I should like; and I like less than half of the books as well as they deserve.’ In order to promote more page turning he developed a game named after himself called Bilbo. He later changed it to ‘Bingo’ because he liked the ring of it better. Let the readers cross out various symbols in rows and columns and earn prizes for completing books.”
Triss urged that a proclamation from the U.H. be sent directly to all the concerned parties over invisible wires buried under ground. Most of the characters were not familiar with such technology, but were happy to see an example program from the U.H. Pilgrim similarly advised that a sort of allegory be narrated about the dangers for all involved of not finishing stories as well as the rewards of reading to the ends.
Mr. Gatsby recommended that a spectacular car crash could take out an electrical transformer leaving entire neighborhoods without power for long stretches. Kids without access to telescreens and digital games might be desperate enough to read. A small Seuss said, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere. Send them to the lake, reading on the shore is great. Any sort of trip, packing a book will be hip.”
The characters were now refreshed with hope, both that their stories might be finished soon and that the stories of their readers’ lives would be back on track. As they said their farewells and headed back to their closet or cubby or classroom, they said to one another, “This may be the best summer of our Sayers yet.”