Better Than Unbreakable

I recently read a brilliant illustration. Imagine you wanted to send a priceless wine glass to a friend through the mail. You would find a reinforced box and wrap the glass with thick layers of soft padding. You would double-tape the box and, before sending it, you’d write in all-caps with a fat red Sharpie on multiple sides, “FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE.” The glass is valuable but easily breakable.

What is the opposite of that? As the author of the book observes, and I admit that it was what first came into my mind, most people think the opposite of the wine glass is something such as a hard cover book. Wrap it in a tough box or wrap it with tissue paper, it probably won’t matter. Will the post office be careful with the package? Also, it doesn’t matter. A book can survive a lot and isn’t likely to be busted.

Between the two, which type of student would we want most? Our sixth year Omnibus (a History/Lit/Theology combo) class finished Moby Dick a few weeks ago. I audit the class but am behind in my reading, so I more recently came across this exhortation from Ishmael about halfway through the story; it’s about the benefits of being like a whale.

It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own. (Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick: or, The Whale (pp. 334-335). Penguin Publishing Group)

I like that: an internal temperature of one’s own no matter the season. But, this is not actually the opposite of the wine glass. The book is sturdy, (and, as Melville argues, a whale is self-controlled), and that is good, but sturdy is not the opposite of fragile. The opposite of easily breakable would be some substance or some product that not only survives, it gets better being knocked around. Imagine writing on the outside of the box: “MISHANDLE LIKE NOBODY’S BUSINESS!” By the time the package arrived, having been thrown against walls and dropped on the floor and kicked out of the truck, the contents have gained value, not lost it. This is more than robust, this is antifragile (which is the name of the book I’m reading).

The principle applies to many domains: economies, governments, science, health, as well as education and individual persons/students. A number of things benefit from some stress, from some tension, from some difficulty. This affects what kind of persons we want to be. It affects what kind of persons we want our students to become.

Our society is doing a great job at making fragile persons, including Generation Snowflake that needs puppy petting therapy rooms in order to recover from hearing a new idea, especially one that challenges long-held but shallow-rooted assumptions. Written on the side of our schools: “Fragile: Don’t touch.”

It doesn’t need to be that way.

My wife regularly says, though she doesn’t claim to have come up with it, that we ought to be preparing our kids for the road and not preparing the road for our kids. Parents want their kids to do well, to succeed, to pass them. But this doesn’t happen by making everything smooth and easy. Our kids will succeed not when we’ve put enough padding around them that they “survive.” Besides, we can actually do better than making them sturdy. What if we trained them in such a way that when the world throws crazy things at them they thrive?

This is our mission at ECS. The school board finalized our mission statement last summer.

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

This is a battle. It requires wisdom to really see a culture, it requires strength to carry a culture, it requires wisdom and strength and courage and hope to advance a culture.

The world is certainly offering her alternative to a Christ-honoring culture. The chaos and the volatility that come with denying the Lordship of Christ is bad, but, for the right kind of person, such chaos is the perfect opportunity. The culture of unbelief is hostile, but it is also self-defeating. It can’t stand on its own; it has to borrow any truth it depends on. Our students are being equipped not merely to withstand the attack, but to take advantage of every weakness in the system and tip it over.

Such training requires a variety of things, including the “tools of classical education.” This is an old pedagogy, with a Dorothy Sayers twist that emphasizes certain parts of training with certain ages of development. There are three categories of these tools considered under the heading of the Trivium (one of the things that goes into the Classical school difference): Grammar, Dialectic/Logic, and Rhetoric.

Antifragile students know their facts. They know that there are only three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. They live in a world of “he”s and “she”s and “it”s. What an advantage to distinguish male and female and not only when choosing a restroom or hooking up a sound system. They know that two plus two equals four, all the time, because God made it that way. Our youngest students sing about the Bible and about the catechism and about the parts of speech because they love to sing and because they don’t have any doubt about God’s good gifts in creation. This is the Grammar stage.

Antifragile students test their arguments as well as the advertising propaganda shot at them. They know that syllogisms can be valid, but not sound, yet we’re looking for both. They live in a world of good, better, and best, and are learning to distinguish which is which according to created categories and according to the standard of God’s Word. This is the Logic stage.

Antifragile students express their ideas. They’ve assembled truth and assessed what is good and they prepare to adorn their persuasions. They are polishing their prose, poetry, and presentations. “Rhetoric is the class that’s trying to turn [a student] into a leader” (Rebekah Merkle, Classical Me, Classical Thee). This is the Rhetoric stage.

We train students in the grammar stage to be curious, to love to collect and chant (HIC HAEC HOC!). We train students in the logic stage to be (a good sort of) contrarian, to love to correct and question. And we train students in the rhetoric stage to be creative, to love producing and shaping not just consuming and being shaped.

All of these things together work toward making courageous, Christ-loving, Christ-honoring students. We need young men and women who can choose well and advance at crosswords we as parents and teachers can’t currently see. We’re working to equip students who get stronger by figuring things out, with a deadline, with others depending on them.

I love C.S. Lewis’ quote about how favorable conditions never come. “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.” We want students who want unfavorable conditions anyway. It’s not inconsequential that it was Bard (a synonym for poet) the Bowman who shot down the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, and it’s not just coincidence that the only time Smaug’s weak spot showed is when he was flying and attacking.

At ECS we are laboring, with laughter, to produce a certain kind of antifragile person who is “impossible to sneak up on” (Merkle), who is part of a community of those who not only are not easily broken, but who relish the opportunities to build in a broken world.


These notes are from my talk at the 2018 Information Night.

In the Middle of It

Showing up at Disneyland on a whim is good. But maximizing your Disneyland experience involves a bit of planning and prioritizing. Intentionality, even. Your school experience is the same.

First, a disclaimer. By the remarks that follow, I do not mean to suggest that we have arrived at our philosophical or cultural destination. Neither do I wish to suggest that we’re awesome in and of ourselves. It is unmistakable, however, that God has blessed ECS beyond our most presumptuous requests, and He’s done so using lots of crazy means, like people, curriculum and the gospel. We cannot take credit for any of this, even though we’ve been in the middle of it.

Rather, I say this as one who has been shaped and grown in staggering and unexpected ways the last six years, as both a teacher and as a parent who is trying to navigate some unfamiliar waters…and I’m very glad to be joined by some pretty good swimmers.

Parents, I believe that your intentional investment in our school’s culture is good for you and your children. You get to know the people who are pouring into your children and you get to be a part of making the culture better. That said, I would like to suggest (in no particular order) some ways that you can maximize your family’s experience with Evangel Classical School.

Stay for Matins.

Matins sets the tone for the day at ECS. I love seeing all the Raggants in one place, excited to start the day. More than once their enthusiasm has swept me up and my hurried heart has been warmed and filled. When you come to drop off your student, consider sticking around until about 9:07 to see the school come together, to get to join some happy treble voices in a hymn or psalm, to be reminded of our Creed, and to pray. You can even give one more hug before sending them off to first period.

Get out of your car after school.

I love Matins, but the 3:00 hour is my favorite part of the school day, and not just because the lessons are over. I enjoy our people rubbing off on one another, sharing thoughts, victories, struggles and stories while the Raggants scamper about filling the air with giggles and footballs.

Some administrators get nervous when they see a knot of moms yammering in the parking lot. I love it.

Take some time to talk and visit and brainstorm and just enjoy the other school families. Odds are you’ll leave encouraged.

Have your child’s teacher over for dinner.

Relationships are important, and spending time cultivating a relationship with the person who is investing in your child is well spent. What’s more, when we are engaged in the sort of heart-work demanded of education, there are bound to be opportunities to practice forgiveness, and that’s easier when the relationships have been strengthened.

I would rather have the ECS teachers than any teaching staff on the planet, and it’s not just for sentimental reasons. They are a gift to our school and our families, and getting to know them (and their spouses) is wise. You’ll get to show your appreciation for them, and they’ll get to know you and your students better, better enabling them to serve you.

Read your Raggant’s literature books.

I love talking with my children about the books they’re reading, and even more so when I’m familiar with the books. I’m able to help them make sense of what they’re reading and discuss themes, issues and characters.

If your child is in Omnibus and you cannot keep up with that reading load, consider at least reading the introductions to the text in the Omnibus textbook. (Ask your students what I mean; they can tell you). You’ll be better equipped to help and support your student while also getting some great worldview training yourself.

Besides, many of us are (righteously, of course) jealous of what our children are getting; this is one small way to make up for lost time and opportunities.

Tell a friend about the school.

When you tell others about ECS, you may find yourself forced to articulate the school’s vision and mission. This is always a good exercise.

It’s a normal Christian practice to gush to others about the stuff we love. Hopefully you feel this way about the school.

Pray for the teachers and other families.

Praying for people impacts my attitude toward them. It grows my compassion and helps to align my own attitudes as I go to God on their behalf. What’s more, it’s loving and obedient…two things we’d like to see in our children.

Visit a class unannounced.

This may be hard to believe, but I mean it. When I drop in on classes, I always leave encouraged, and I trust you would, too. Perhaps you’d like to hear Mr. Higgins’ Nacho Libre impersonations or how Mr. Bowers makes Prince Henry the Navigator a fascinating character. Perhaps you want to learn how Miss Bour puts awesome dance moves to the Bible songs or eavesdrop while Omnibus students discuss Just War Theory.

We love having parents around the school, so you’re most welcome to drop in.

And there’re likely more ideas, and I’d be glad to hear them all. The more we’re investing in our school community, the better it will be, and the more we’ll get out of it.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

The ECS Mission Statement

In the fall of 2017, the ECS Board released our freshly-crafted Mission Statement.  In October I talked through the Statement at an assembly.  Below are the notes from that talk.  Enjoy.


Evangel Classical School 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. 

Many organizations are crystal-clear on their mission before they ever begin.  We had a rough idea, and it’s getting clearer.  While we’ve had a vision of what we were aiming for from the start of ECS, we haven’t had an actual mission statement until last week.

We commend the works of the Lord to another generation 

Psalm 145:4 reads, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

To “commend” is to praise.  At ECS, we intentionally praise the works of God first to you all, with the hope that you will do the same thing, in time, and in turn.

with the tools of classical education, 

We don’t just commend the works of the Lord to another generation with our words, but with “the tools of classical education.”  Now this is a big point, saying a lot because classically, education was used to help prepare students to advance culture, equipping them well to do so.  As students learned how to work hard, how to reason, how to organize thought, how the world works and how to present ideas, they were learning how to advance their culture.

So in order for us to do this, we take a long, hard look at history and great books.  We want for you students to know how we got to this point in our culture’s history.  Where did our ideas come from?  What assumptions are behind our laws and customs?  Why do we hold the door open for ladies, and why do we love stories where the hero dies for the ones he cares about?  What does it look like when men try to save themselves?  What’s it look like when men try to make sense of the world we live in without looking first to the Bible?  What happens when people abandon sound reason or call evil things “good?”

An education aimed at advancing culture must include these sorts of discussions.

Sadly, but much of modern education is aimed at separating students from their culture.  Our culture tries to educate young people without examining the Bible that has influenced so much of our fathers’ decisions.  Many multiculturalists (maybe you’ve heard that word) want you to feel badly for the blessings you enjoy, and they won’t be happy until you’re willing to say that every other culture in the world is as great as yours.

We want you to love your culture so that you’ll be grateful for how God has worked to bring you where you are, and so you’ll be excited to actually make your culture better!  And we believe that this is the key to properly loving other cultures!  Just because you love yours doesn’t mean you have to hate others; may it never be!  Loving your culture is an important part of appreciating others’ cultures.

So when we talk about classical education, we’re talking about cultural advancement, which we’ll come to again later in the Statement.

weaponized laughter, 

RISUS EST BELLUM!

We’ve talked about this a lot before, but this is not just silly happy laughter, this is a laughter that comes from our souls.  It’s a laughter of confidence and gratefulness, and it cannot be squelched by cruddy circumstances or the devil.

Raggants, whether we realize it or not, we are in a cultural war.  It may not involve a bunch of bullets and grenades, but all around us there wages a war of ideas, religious agendas, and moral redefinitions.  And the leaders of the earth try to promote themselves and make a name for themselves…and Jesus laughs at them in derision.

We want to love our enemies, and laugh in the face of adversity.  And that is sometimes really hard.  But laughter is a lot easier when we remember that God is sovereign, He is good, and we’re on the winning side of a war where the outcome has already been determined.

Imagine you were in a war and you happened to stumble into the war room of your enemies.  You saw them gathered around a table looking over your battle plans…and they were confidently laughing.  Wouldn’t you be bothered, at least a little bit?  What if they were watching video footage of battles that hadn’t happened yet, battles where they were victorious and you were crushed.  And they were cheering and laughing with merry fists in the air.

This is not a frivolous, silly, amused laughter, but rather the confident and cheering laughter of the winning side…but before the battles are over.

and sacrificial labors 

One of the many evidences that the gospel is not from the mind of man is that our labors are effectual.  What that means is that we can know with absolute certainty that – even though we don’t see the results right away – God will use the sacrificial labors of His people to bring about His will.  He does this all the time.

This is encouraging, because we want immediate and visible results, but discipleship is a long road.  It’s taken you years to get where you are now, and it’s going to take a lot more years for you to get where  you’re going.

God sees our labors even when others do not, but the sacrifices your parents are making and the sacrifices we’re making as a school are actually tools that we are using to commend the Lord’s works to you all.  And our desire is for you to do the same thing for the generation after you.

so that 

There is a point to this all, and here we get to it.

they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. 

And this is it.  We want for you all to be equipped and eager to advance Christ-honoring culture when you leave ECS.  We want desperately for you all to take the baton of culture and run with it!  Run fast and far and laugh heartily along the way!

If you take full advantage of your time here, we’re confident that you’ll have the tools and the ability and the breadth of interest to advance this culture as “far as the curse is found.”

So once more…

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. 

Why Fiction?

Students at ECS read. A lot. They memorize phonograms, diagram sentences, and parse verbs–in English and Latin. They begin frolicking with Biscuit and homesteading with the Wilder family before they graduate to plodding with Plato, adventuring with Thucydides, and finally wrestling with a Leviathan.

In light of this reading load–and as a shameless plug for our upcoming Fiction Festival in March–I wanted to tackle (or at least arm-wrestle with) the question: “Why Fiction?”

There are clinical answers: it will help you communicate clearly, construct a work email, or write IKEA instruction manuals so people can actually assemble something resembling a desk instead of a piece of modern art.

Trust me, I am not disparaging clear communication or the use of possessive apostrophes. I would die upon the hills of subject-verb agreement, correct hyphenation, and the Oxford comma–to name but a few.

But may I offer that one of the most influential components of reading is the construction of people? Words mold, alter, edge-chip, buff, and refine. As Christians, this should be no surprise. The Word creates, divides, illuminates, enlivens, sustains, breathes, and communicates. God spoke and the Word created all that we see, and then the Word entered his own dimensioned and constricting materials to quite literally die for walking pillars of dust.

Story has a unique ability to shape our loves in ways few others things do, because it reflects the way the ultimate Author pre-eminently shapes. No child I have met wants to grow up to be pre-Dragon Eustace, Uriah Heep, or Javert. Give them Aragorn, Lucy, or Curdie.

Especially as young children, stories train our virtuous taste buds – they create flavor palates we love or spit out. As children we don’t necessarily know why we hate the White Witch, but we know that anyone who keeps Christmas away must be evil…because deep down we understand that things like life, color, messiness, parties, and even a redeemed Bacchus wandering through the forests of Narnia, are good things. Evil directly opposes those things–stories teach us that those who whitewash the world and create graveyards do it for power and for pride, and we shake our heads and back away, joining with the nymphs instead.

Not only do stories train our taste buds, they expand our palates. Stories pry us out of our own brain-boxes. As Franz Kalfka asserted in a letter to his childhood friend, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” The tragedy of humanity’s inherent narcissistic prison is that most don’t feel the chains – we are all in desperate need of a light to shine on the bars and an axe to break us out. We want students at ECS to die to themselves while knowing and loving and caring for those around them; literature is a unique tool in this process.

Obviously, the Gospel is the only thing that can truly set a soul free from this dungeon, but literature can act as the match to light the lamp, and for Christians, it can certainly be a guide out of the maze of tunnels and into the fresh air of fellowship and selflessness and freedom.

Jumping into the great texts of Western Literature (and other cultures and times) is one of the only, and primary means, of dislodging our superiority. It fosters true critical thinking. It can humble us and teach us wisdom. Most people can cite the dates for World War II, the main players, and some concepts like Imperialism. Very few know what Hitler read, or what worldview led to the rise of Eugenics. Drill down a bit farther and actually crawl up into someone else’s soul for a moment: what makes a person turn Monster? Spy a golden ring with Gollum and feel the jolt of experimentation with Frankenstein. How does one justify horrendous crimes? Engage with the self-victimhood of Mein Kampf. Who would ever die for a sniveling weasel-child? Romp with Aslan.

This is where the role of literature takes a central role in the life of the reader. In fact, literature may be the primary – and potentially only means in this world–of entering into another person’s mind, albeit fictitious. Where else can you feel the desire of another, or understand his or her motivations, like in a novel? As Scientific American noted in an article in October 2013, a study from the New School for Social Research in New York showed that “literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking.” Interestingly, popular fiction didn’t affect young readers in the same way–it simply took them on an oft frequented emotional ride with familiar-looking people in what the researchers called ‘readerly’ reading–you are simply entertained. Literary Fiction that is ‘writerly’ makes you fill in the gaps and participate–it forces you into different shoes–it enlarges your soul just a bit. This is why we teach some of the those hard, old, boring books at ECS–to foster humility, empathy, and action.

The Holy Spirit, prayer, meditation, and the Word can and must all resuscitate and foster our delight in God, His creation, and His people. They are the source and the bedrock. Yet Literature can aid in the recovery effort, and we must read with wisdom–rejecting that which would mold us grotesquely away from the good while fostering a voracity for vomit. True, ECS does sample some deceptively delicious looking appetizers in the hope that the students around our table learn some dishes are best fed to the dogs.

Ultimately, may ECS teach–and we all read–books that mould sturdy characters while whittling away our own weaknesses, stories that chip away at blinders to move our gaze further up and our steps further in. In this endeavor, please consider joining us for ECS’ third-annual Raggant Fiction Festival Saturday, March 24th. The theme this year will be “Character Development and the Development of Character.”

Mrs. Bowers

Liberty of Conscience

The following is a guest post by ECS senior Kara Rothenberger.


Since its founding, America has been recognized and shaped by its freedom, and its continual increase of liberty in all areas of life, whether for good or ill. However, many Americans fail to recognize how much they owe to the gospel, and specifically to Calvinistic thinking, for the freedoms they enjoy today. Hundreds of years ago (and in some parts of the world today) men were killed for holding differing beliefs, entire countries were split because of opposing practices, and religious freedom was simply unheard of. Then, after the Reformation, Calvin’s teachings brought about a strange development in many countries. Religions of all sorts were flourishing, and this flourishing directly points back to Calvin’s teaching of the liberty of conscience and Christ’s Lordship.

During the Reformation, many Reformers questioned how much authority is actually given to the Church. Should there be a head of the earthly Church? Do Church leaders get to decide on and enforce specific practices and doctrines for all Christians? In his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper writes, “With Rome the system of persecution issued from the identification of the visible with the invisible Church, and from this dangerous line Calvin departed” (103). Catholicism enforced the idea that truth must be imposed by force onto those who are not wise enough to find it by themselves. Calvinism holds that other religions and practices can flourish because Christ has orchestrated the whole world to glorify Him through their own particular purposes, “which enables every man to serve God according to his own conviction and the dictates of his own heart” (109). This is not to say that all religions are correct in how they worship, but it does mean that religions can flourish because of this liberty of conscience, this freedom of religion, this presupposition that Christ’s perfect predestination fertilizes the free soil we stand on. America’s assumption that neither the government nor the Church has the authority to impose truth by force comes from Calvin’s teaching on Christ’s Lordship over all realms. If Christ is the sovereign Lord over all, not only is it wrong to impose truth by force, but all religions are fulfilling the purposes He designed for them.

This culture recoils at the idea of attributing their freedom to the gospel, claiming that freedom comes from taking down authorities and moral standards, not embracing them. The freedom of the French Revolution, for example, dethroned God and placed man’s autonomy above all else, but this freedom was really a removal of God-given rights, including the liberty of conscience. No man was free to speak his mind, unless he was ready to face execution. It is because of Christ’s sovereignty, because of His perfect institution of authorities in governments and the Church, that we can enjoy freedom of religion, and flourishing of religion. Catholicism took away Christ’s role as the enforcer of Truth, and autonomy took away man’s role as the worshipper. However, presupposing Christ’s sovereignty over all means that some are called to worship Him, and others are called to reject Him, that He can make “one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use” (Romans 9:21).

Living in light of Christ’s Lordship does not just affect religion, but it gives a foundation for all other areas of life. If Christ is Lord, all lawful occupations are good and noble, whether done by His people or not. How we fellowship with family and friends, what we do for pleasure, all of it matters, and all of it points directly to His control over all. Not only religion, but relationships, jobs, governments, and everything else can flourish because of this fertilizer that gives life and meaning to everything.

Sturdy Parents

I think it’s safe to say that all of the families of Evangel Classical School want to raise up sturdy children. A great evidence of this is that they’ve chosen a school that also is trying to raise up sturdy children. That’s much of what it means to be a Raggant.

But since review is always in order, I’ll try to explain what I mean. We’re trying to be used by God to help grow stout image bearers who will be like oak trees with deep roots. Not many oak trees tremble with fear when a rainstorm is brewing on the horizon. They may even welcome it with relish. We want for trials that actually beset our Raggants to be about as common as lighting bolts that reduce an oak to charcoal. (That is, rare.)

An oak can be rained on, have its branches bent or crusted with ice, its bark carved with initials inside of hearts, and its acorns harvested and it just laughs at the days ahead like the Proverbs 31 woman.

We want that for our kids, but those sorts of kids come from certain sorts of parents. Is it reasonable to expect for our kids to be sturdy if we aren’t? And what does this look like? I’ll offer a few thoughts.

Sturdy parents are intentional. They work hard to be the sorts of people that they want their children to become. They know that discipleship is God’s chosen method for bringing the full number of His sheep into the fold, and that their children will probably become like them, for good or ill.

Sturdy parents are patient. They know that oaks don’t mature overnight. Lasting change tends to take time, and oak trees are to be preferred over blades of grass, even if maturity takes a longer time. We also can go about our work with optimism and joy since we serve a sovereign and good God.

Sturdy parents have their eyes on the horizon. A tall oak with his eyes in the upper branches is not concerned about trifling skirmishes about his knees if he can see an approaching horde of lumberjacks. We know that there are great challenges that await our children in the years ahead; the Latin chants and a reading drills and Omnibus discussions are the sparring sessions that will build the muscles that will protect their joints and render them effective in battle. Their homework assignments now are not themselves the point.

I’m praying for the parents of ECS to comprise a small cadre of likeminded, affectionate, jolly, and sturdy farmers who will lock arms with the teachers to help turn their children from supple saplings into sturdy oaks. Who knows? Perhaps one of our sturdy oaks will meet his glorified end as the next battering ram against the gates of hell.

This perspective will inform how we respond when our students are not faithful in their homework assignments, when there’s relational drama on the playground, or when a teacher sins against us. It’ll also inform how we respond when our children repent on their own, when they look for ways to bless their siblings, and when they spur one another on to love and good deeds. There’s no doubt that a growing oak enjoys sun, snow, rain, wind, and climbing ruffians dangling from his creaking limbs. So too with this parenting business. This is a long road, and may God make us intention, patient, thankful, and sturdy along the way.

Risus est bellum.

Jonathan

An Essential Ingredient

Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for the Christian life.

We have written about this before, but we’ll probably continue to do so until we either (A) we get it right and no longer need to hear it ourselves, or (B) it becomes untrue. Since neither of those will probably ever happen, it bears repeating now.

Of all people Christians ought to be most thankful, as we have the most to be thankful for.

This is the substance of the opening of Peter’s first letter:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

We have been given an inheritance as sons of God, and the inheritance is beyond compare or explanation. We receive this inheritance not as begotten sons, but as those who have been adopted. Adopted children don’t earn their parents’ favor; it’s simply given. And ours has been given to us “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Wow. Let’s review:

  • Jesus has procured our salvation; we have not.
  • God has brought us (undeserving sinners) into His family; He has not begotten us.
  • We are now co-inheritors with Christ of the cosmos, recipients of an inheritance that is glorious and defies imagination.

Our inheritance is also guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), and our current status (right now!) is that of inheritors, although we cannot yet fathom what we’ve been given.

But what about now? I’ve got a messy house, coughing children, a stack of bills and late tuition for my kids’ school.

That may be true, but it’s also not hard to see profound and undeserved blessings in each of those complaints, if we would adopt an attitude of thankfulness. Houses, children, a school for them…they’re all gifts from God! And how dare we receive these things with a grumbling sense of entitlement? After all, we’re not even begotten children of our heavenly Father!

We must remember in this season of Thanksgiving that what sets us apart from the world is that we enjoy not only the gifts we have, but also the Giver of the gifts. Our thanksgiving can be full, where the thanksgiving of the natural man can only be partial. He may be thankful for the turkey, but he cannot know or love Who it ultimately came from unless that too is granted to Him from the Father.

I’ll finish by zooming in to thankfulness when it comes to our kids’ education. Thankfulness is a great weapon in the war on discouragement and despair. It aligns our perspective and keeps us from grumbling. It infuses grace into our own speech. Perhaps you’re frustrated because…

  • Your children have left their completed homework on the counter again, or…
  • That teacher doesn’t seem to understand how busy your ministry calendar is, or he obviously would lighten up on the reading load, or…
  • You just can’t seem to lead by example with joy in your home, since your kids have a better attitude about their work load than you do.
  • You just don’t understand why cursive and phonics and math facts are so vital for kindergarteners.

Well, if that’s you, you’re not alone. But remember too that…

  • All these things are being used by God to shape us and our kids into the fully-sanctified bride of Christ.
  • We have been given all of these things – from children to raise up and sonship by adoption – by grace.
  • Thankfulness kills pride. When we realize that God has given us all we enjoy, we also realize that we don’t deserve any of it. This will come out in our speech.
  • We are always teaching our children how to love God and how to handle life.

Just think of what sorts of mountains they’ll be able to topple if we can equip them, by God’s grace, to handle all of these challenges with deep belly laughter and an attitude of thankfulness.

May God bless your family richly this Thanksgiving, and drive thankfulness right down to the marrow of your bones.

Risus est bellum!

Jonathan

Letter from a Hopeful Dad

For a moment I’m going to remove my U.H. hat and replace it with a H.D. hat. Oh, and H.D. stands for “Hopeful Dad.”

As you’re probably aware, I’m the father of three Raggants. I have a vested interest in seeing our school thrive and our students’ success, and it goes beyond my role as headmaster. If your family is like ours, you have moments when schooling is especially hard. Some books are really hard to read. Some math concepts are really hard to grasp. From Logic to Latin to Literature, faithfulness in the trenches can be challenging. We’ve had plenty of 10:00pm Latin caputs and revisions of math problems after evening church functions. I get it. It’s hard.

But recent homework marathons (perhaps a bit of an overstatement, I grant) have reminded me of a few points that I preach to others in my more lucid moments. These are things that I know:

I know I don’t want preferential treatment for my kids. Though he’s getting better, my son has a tendency to be sloppy in his homework assignments, and I praise God that Miss Bour doesn’t give out neatness points cheaply. If he gets full neatness points for subpar work, he’ll learn that mediocrity is the standard, and putting forth 70% effort is good enough. It makes the points cheap. Someday soon he’ll get full neatness points and it’ll be a big deal when he does.

If Mr. Bowers makes exceptions for Abbie because she’s my daughter, he’s depriving her of a good education. So as a dad I want him to know that he has my full support and I value his faithfulness.

I know that my kids are being enculturated, and a report card can’t fully capture that. If Ellie is faithful and earns straight C’s, she’ll come away from ECS with an appetite for knowledge, broad interests, deep loves, vibrant relationships, and having beheld Christ for 11 years (she was in 2nd grade when the school opened). She’ll appreciate Latin and history, even if she’s mastered neither. And she’ll have the work capacity of a locomotive. This is because of the cultural water she’s swimming in. We (and her teachers) are using a bunch of tools like good books and math lessons to train her in character. And I want her to be faithful.

I know I’m always teaching. How I respond to adversity and frustrations and joys and opportunities are effective tools for training my kids about how to handle life. My (hopefully-humble) readiness to laugh as a taunt to our enemy while remembering God’s sovereign goodness is instructive for my kids. My eagerness (or hesitation) to seek forgiveness when I wrong my children is showing them how I expect them to treat each other.

All together, this motivates me to be intentional in my living and grateful for the education that my children are receiving. And by God’s grace I see plenty of reasons to remain one H.D.

Letter from the Headmaster (U.H.)

Some of you might want to know what a “U.H.” is. I’m here to help.

“U.H.” stands for “Unruly Headmaster.” That’s me. And the ones who have dubbed me the “U.H.” are the ECS gnomes. It’s true.

Though they wouldn’t fancy much being called the “ECS gnomes,” since they hold ECS in derision.

Now that I’ve introduced still more confusion, I’ll try to clarify.

Many of you know that our mascot is the Raggant, from ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series. In the series, the protagonist, Henry York, disturbs peace enjoyed by some grumpy gnomes who live on the other side of his bedroom wall, which is actually a collection of doors to other worlds.

Henry is surprised and confused when he receives some grumpy notes from the gnomes, in which they dub him “W.C” for “Whimpering Child.” He gains this title because of his routinely crying in his nightmares. So Henry is the W.C. But what about the U.H.?

Well, last school year we learned that there are gnomes somewhere in the vicinity of ECS when I began receiving notes similar to those the gnomes gave Henry York. Apparently there are portals someplace in the church building similar to those found in Henry’s bedroom, and the Gnomes of District 93 have little appreciation for the sorts of sounds coming from ECS and disturbing their otherwise peaceful (and quiet) existence.

I’m told (again, by letter) that this includes laughter, singing, and chanting…and that it must stop. I’ve even been accused of contributing to this disturbance, earning me the title “Unruly Headmaster.”

Along with the Raggants, I’m “unruly” according to of a bunch of stodgy gnomes, and that’s alright with me.

I imagine the gnomes would be happy hanging out in Grendel’s cave, where they’re insulated from merrymaking and songs about the Measurer of the world. But being in close proximity to our students must be especially troublesome…where Raggants sing for fun as well as for facts, where they recite the Apostle’s Creed with confidence, and where they engage in cheerful conversation on a daily basis.

It’ll be a sad day if the gnomes stop slipping grumpy notes under the door of the U.H. By God’s grace, may it never come!

Risus est bellum!

-U.H.

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