What Are They Going to Remember?

To nobody’s surprise, the Sarr household is far from perfect.  A few nights ago, I lost my cool with one of my kids.  I didn’t appreciate her line of questions, and I blew up.  The moment was precipitated (and followed) by some laughter and fun moments, but – strangely enough – nobody remembers them.  What do they remember? What did everyone want to talk about the next morning?  Dad getting mad.  Though I apologized within minutes and fellowship was restored, the teachable moment was immortalized, and with it, a memory…and not a good one.

The next morning, I took the opportunity to debrief about it with one of the witnesses to the situation to this effect: Nobody cares about what happened to provoke me.  They care a lot about how I responded in the moment.  The same will be true of you. If you want to have influence, you cannot lose your temper, and you cannot lose control…whether it’s in your living room…or your classroom.  This principle applies across a host of contexts.  

As for us parents, a fair question to ask of ourselves is this: What will our children remember from their time with us?

The regular is important and formational; the irregular is memorable. When I ask my kids about highlights from the last year, they never say “meals around the table,” or “car rides home from church.” Instead, they say, “the time we went hiking with the _______ family,” or “the time when we went to the zoo and had a picnic in the back of the van,” or “when we went to ______.” 

Of course this does not mean that the meals together or the routine of corporate worship are unimportant; of course they are! It’s just to say that they’re going to remember the out-of-the-ordinary events just as much as they will the mundane…for good or for ill.

Perform a test.  Ask your children what stands out from the last year for them, and the odds are high that it will not be the mundane, but rather the uncommon moments that they mention.

This is perhaps an unfair standard, and perhaps even unrealistic.  Nobody can be perfect all the time, and as soon as we blow it, we can be sure that the kids will remember it (unless, of course, your blowing it is regular, which is a different problem, and a big one).  But as regards the irregular and memorable loss of patience or control, I would say three things:

  1. Repent quickly. Blowing it affords the opportunity to build trust and credibility by quick repentance.  Pretending you didn’t blow it only confuses and insults the intelligence of everyone who saw you do it.  Owning it with humility and without excuse and seeking forgiveness will restore fellowship and build trust and credibility.  A man who repents before he’s caught or confronted is a man who can be trusted.  
  2. Receive grace.  Blowing it introduces the opportunity for grace to cover your parenting (or teaching, or working, or neighboring…). Of course we don’t fail on purpose so as to bring about an opportunity for grace (Paul anticipated this notion.)  Where grace exists, grace is abused.  But in order for grace to be abused, it has to be present in the first place. Ideally, your home will be filled with grace, and you will have opportunity to give it and receive it. But when you receive it, give thanks in return while extending grace to others.  This is a fragrant aroma that draws others in. 
  3. Repeat.  Move on and do better next time, leaning on the Spirit to direct your work.  Strive to ensure that even the standout moments are good ones.  Work to grow and eliminate those standout bad moments.  While we may not realize it in this life, if there are no lapses to stand out, the pleasant memories will crowd out the bad ones!

In the end, we want for our young people to want to be around our homes and classrooms.  We cannot expect these places to be devoid of sin, but we can expect them to be devoid of hypocrisy and full of grace.  

What will they remember from their time with you?

—The U.H.

A First-rate Feast for Scholarships and Playground

We bring you the first Raggant Standard of the spring.  Wild as it seems, we are on the homestretch of the school year.  Once spring break is behind us, the school year is over in a blink.  

At present, we are in the throes of enrollment, budget planning, staffing, and summer planning ahead of next year.  Spring sports are in full swing, the spring concert will be here before we know it, and the seniors are looking to finish well their time with us.

One highlight of the spring is our annual Fundraising Feast.  If you’ve ever been before, you’re aware that we are more concerned with feasting than we are with fundraising.  Although there is an obvious and important business side to running a school (making the dollars rather important), making our needs known in the context of a feast is fitting.  I’ve written about this before, and – even if only to remind myself – I do so again now.

We ask a lot of the Lord, and it’s fitting for us to pause and give Him thanks and praise for His grace.  The Feast affords us such an opportunity. The Feast orients us, reminding us that our blessings are from Him. 

How we feast says a lot about us.  The world apes our festal celebrations with vapid determinations to be happy.  Examples abound from secular “Thanksgivings” to pride celebrations where the celebrants glory in folly.  Our Fundraising Feast is not like that.  It’s a substantive and Christ-centered party that features good food, good music, good conversation, and merry people.  We work hard to put on a first-rate party, then show up, ready to receive.  

And receive we do!  Every year I am blessed by the concentration of God’s blessing in one place for three hours.  When I see the sorts of people God continues to bring to our circle, when I am blessed by the students (many of whom number the Feast among their favorite nights of the year), I am reminded that God is at work at Evangel Classical School.  At that time we invite people to help us keep it going, even if the most important element is glorifying God in our feasting whether or not we give a penny to the cause of ECS.  

This year, our first $100,000 will go to our Scholarship Fund.  We have so far awarded just over $70,000 in financial aid ahead of next year with a host of pending requests, and we wish to continue assisting families who cannot afford the full tuition.  These dollars enable us to do so.  

The next $40,000 will be matched dollar-for-dollar by some generous friends of the school (for a possible total of $80,00) to go toward our playground project!  $80,000 can go a long way toward finishing the turf and installing some equipment for the students. This campaign will continue for the rest of 2024.  This sort of a gift is unfamiliar to us, so it will be fun to see how God multiples and stretches these dollars.

I put this out for your prayerful consideration and anticipation ahead of our Feast.  Here are some details:

When: Friday, May 10, 2024, 5:30pm.

WhereSwans Trail Farms

Cost: Free!

RSVP: Aisha Bone (abone@evangelcs.org) or 360-502-6950 by Friday, May 3. 

Seating is limited, so securing your seat early is recommended…and then be sure to come!

I hope to see you there!

Risus est bellum!
Jonathan

Fellowship is Freshly-Baked Cookies

(and) Grumbling is Sewage

The ECS grapevine is small and thriving. I hear things that “people” say, whether I want to or not. Likewise, other people hear reports of stuff that I’ve said. Some of it is even stuff I actually have said. Ha. And I hear that not everyone is happy about everything that’s happening at the school. Shocker, I know.

That they would be displeased with some things is unsurprising. So am I! That they would find a degree of enjoyment or catharsis in commiserating with others who cannot be a part of the solution is variously sad and frustrating and also unsurprising.

On one hand the abuse of grace presupposes its existence! Like all people, Christians who become accustomed to a gracious culture tend to take it for granted. They forget that the blessings surrounding them are gifts. This forgetting is very easy to do, and it usually gives way to some sort of grumbling.

Grumbling is immature. It comes from a disregard for what we deserve. It not only presumes that we deserve good things, but it also presumes that we should get to decide what those good things are. We think we should get to determine how others are going to bless us. This is a wrongheaded, and not a characteristic of a mature person.

Grumbling is also unproductive. When a discontented John Doe tells me that “lots of people agree with me” or “I’m not the only one who feels this way,” my options are limited. The other people typically remain nameless, so I can’t follow up with them…if they actually exist. I can choose to listen to Mr. Doe, and A) I’ve rewarded him, and B) I may have rewarded only him. Alternatively, I could do nothing, and further alienate Mr. Doe, giving fuel to the rumor that I don’t listen to people. That leaves me with a third option that I’d prefer every time: Listen to the feedback, and move forward on principle whether John Doe likes it or not. (And I really hope he likes it!)

Grumbling is also toxic. Toxic things are poisonous, and they infect organisms from the inside or the outside. They spread and they do their nasty business with inexorable effect unless they’re arrested. In the Christian life, confession and repentance are the antidote to the toxicity of grumbling. Reaching that point on your own is a lot more fun than being escorted there by someone else. But as we’ve seen, grumblers are immature, and they often need that escort.

We all have responsibility in this. In your travels, if you hear grumbling on the part of administrators, teachers, students, parents, one another, or out of your own mouth, your marching orders are clear: in Christian love, kill it! Ha ha ha!

We needn’t pretend that we have everything sorted out. Quite the contrary! But for sake of the collective joy and blessing of our community, as well as for any real hope of actually getting better, be a drama stopper. And there’s no quicker way to kill drama than to adhere to Matthew 18 in conflict resolution while encouraging others to do the same.

We learn rather quickly how rare a “big deal” is when we are faced with the hard work of loving confrontation. It’s easier to grumble than it is to go to your brother when he has sinned against you. But don’t grumble. If you can, let love cover the sin. If you can’t, have the conversation with the offending party. Don’t let yourself give way (or audience!) to toxic grumbling.

We want for Matthew 18 to be a warm blanket smothering the flames of discontent and warming chilled relationships.

We want for Matthew 18 to be our ninja skill when it comes to maintaining fellowship. After all, fellowship is what we are made for.

In fact, when it comes to spiritual aromas, fellowship is like freshly-baked cookies and grumbling is like sewage. What sort of fragrant gravity could a community of Matthew 18 practitioners produce? Let’s find out!

Risus est bellum.
Jonathan

Do So More and More

Francis Bacon once quipped that “Religion brought forth riches, and the daughter devoured the mother.” Cotton Mather said something similar: “Religion brought forth Prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.”

Long before these men articulated the notion, it was pictured in antiquity. Among countless examples, God delivered the Hebrews from slavery, and soon they were grumbling at not having enough meat to accompany their freedom.  

To be sure, it’s as old as humanity, and there are plenty of humans at ECS exemplifying the notion.

Do we have to choose between…

  • a robust culture and rigorous academics?
  • academic rigor and joy?
  • accessibility to the right families and economic solvency?
  • safety and comfort?
  • law and gospel?

It sure feels like it. It’s not easy to have an offering that features both ends of these spectrums. Yet that’s what we must do if we would advance our mission.

Giving students the right worldview but no tools to advance it is akin to quitting at the marathon’s thirteenth mile marker.

Asking our teachers to subsidize the education of their students (in the form of lower wages) and expecting them to remain with us is at best a gamble.

Aiming chiefly for students’ comfort will thwart their growth.  

Giving students as much grace as God gives us guarantees they’ll abuse it just like we do.  

Having eyes in our heads and having those heads out of the sand means we’re likely to see things we wish were not there.  But it also enables us to see geysers of blessings bursting all around.

God is blessing ECS in all sorts of intangible, supernatural, and otherwise-inexplicable ways. I don’t have space here to enumerate them all, but the list is long. It’s disturbing in only good ways. And yet, we still have a ton of work to do!

  • Our culture needs godly, wise, principled citizens, and since we cannot depend on our expensive and monolithic educational machine to produce them, we’re trying to do it here.  
  • Our students need rough handling from the hands of those who love them so they will be able to withstand the treatment of their enemies. So we explore the pitfalls of wicked ideologies versus the life-giving gospel.  
  • If our aim is generational, we must take measures now to ensure we’ll actually be around in five years (let alone a generation from now), so we make hard economic choices and invite the scrutiny of a team of other school administrators in the context of accreditation.
  • If we want our students to be lifelong learners, we work on cultivating the right loves, which is far easier said than done.  

We are not satisfied with how well we are doing in any of these areas, so we ask God for wisdom and act in faith.  

As ECS works to identify the chinks in our armor and sharpen our various cultural weapons, we thank God for your part, thank you for your patience, and request that you pray for us.  

Risus est bellum!

U.H.

Substance Worth Singing About

Christmastime comes with its own soundtrack.  Take a song, give it some sleigh bells and you’ve got a Christmas tune.  Add in a crackling yule log and some spiced cider and you have the right sort of sentiment.  

But substance trumps sentiment, which is why the Incarnation is a big deal.  

At Christmas we celebrate the actual, literal, substantive advent of Jesus.  We are not aiming for a certain sentiment unless is accompanies that substance.  The Christmas “spirit” is sentiment that is devoid of any substantive meaning if not for the actual, flesh-and-blood appearing of Jesus.

This is why secular Christmas celebrations don’t make sense.  Who cares about presents and sleigh bells and Christmas lights and warm fuzzies as ends in themselves? Not me! Feelings deceive.  But if those things accompany something of substance, that’s different. 

Presents remind us of the gift that God gave at Christmas.  We give in imitation of our giving God.

Sleigh bells alert us of good things coming our way.  Actual good things, not empty sentiments.  

Christmas lights are an echo the Light of the World coming at Christmas.  

We could go on, but signs are great, so long as they point to something real.  Signs that direct you to nowhere are unhelpful.  

The world was turned on its head when God became man.  Platonists were offended when the Logos took on corruptible flesh.  No man would have come up with this idea.  It was staggering, and it is glorious.  

My encouragement to you this Christmastime is this: be amazed.  

Be amazed by the mind-blowing reality that God would lower Himself to serve His creatures, enabling their eternal fellowship with Him.  

Be amazed that Jesus held together His own physical substance…and still does.  

Be amazed at the glories of the Incarnation, then sing about them: 

God of God, Light of Light,
Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, Begotten not created.

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

At Christmas, we reject materialism while embracing the real.  The Incarnation is worth celebrating and singing about.  

Merry Christmas!

U.H.

Thanksgiving As A Defense Weapon

Surprising as it may seem, it’s November, and soon Thanksgiving will be upon us. For many of us, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday.  When I was growing up (and considerably less thankful than I am now), I thought it was fine.  I liked food and football, I tolerated my family, and I liked that once Thanksgiving was out of the way we could move on to the real fun: Christmas.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked to cultivate a mindset of thankfulness, and one method I’ve employed is the routine consideration of the blessings I enjoy (i.e., lots of them) and the blessings I deserve (i.e., none of them). 

Strictly speaking, can there be a thankless Christian?  I suppose it’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine.  How can a person be mindful of his sinfulness, the holiness of God, and the atoning work of Jesus and be glib or act entitled?  I don’t think he can.  

Further, thankfulness is a potent weapon because the grateful man cannot be shaken.  He may be battered and physically beaten, he may even be discouraged, but again, he will be mindful of what he deserves as contrasted with what he has been given.  When he receives something close to what he deserves (e.g., adversity, affliction, chastisement), he cannot cry “foul!” He responds with (you guessed it!) thankfulness.  The enemy has no counter-weapon for thankfulness; the best he can do is work to take it away. From accusation to affliction, Satan can be rather creative in his efforts, but he really wants us to be thankless.

Thankless people are defeated already.  They’re entitled, they grumble, and they infect a culture like a juicy bit of gossip.  Thanklessness deserves no place in Christian community.  

This Thanksgiving season, rehearse your blessings often.  Combat affliction and accusations with thankfulness. 

—The U.H. (Mr. Sarr)

Another U.H. – Unreasonable Hospitality

This summer, the teachers read a book entitled Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More than They Expect.  We discussed it during inservice at our retreat, and it led to some fruitful conversation.

Hospitality affords us the opportunity to honor the image of God in other people.  For instance, God expects for church leaders to be hospitable because people are important…inherently.  Author Will Guidara argues that gift givers act out of a sort of selfishness, as it’s actually really fun to bless (my word, not his) others.  As Christians, we recognize that this is owning to the inherent value that humans possess, as well as the way that God has wired the universe.

The book resonated with our teaching team because we already believed that people were important, and Guidara’s articulation of the notion as well as the success that he and his team enjoyed at Eleven Madison Park were a testament to how God blesses those who behave consistently with biblical principles.

While not everything transfers from the restaurant industry to our context of classical and Christian education, a lot of the principles do transfer. These were some takeaways for me.

  • Hospitality is about connecting with people, and people are valuable inherently as bearers of God’s image.
  • Hospitality does not need to be expensive, but it does require attention.  The most impactful gestures are bespoke.
  • When you’re at the point that others can count on your hospitality so much that they may either take it for granted, or even take advantage of it, then you’re getting closer to the sort of hospitality that God expects.
  • As a school, a spirit of hospitality should touch everything, from receiving guests to parent communication, to the appropriate honor we show to each student.

This all means that while we have a lot to be encouraged about, we still have a lot of work to do.

This is not about marketing the school; it’s about honoring our people. That is both obedient and fun.  And where you have suggestions as to how we can exercise greater hospitality, please don’t hesitate to let us know. And maybe check out the book, too.

The U.H.
Jonathan Sarr

Faith and Patience

Recently two significant events have deepened my appreciation for acts of faith done with patience.

First, we bought a small farm.  In April, my family moved to East Marysville, which happens to have a Granite Falls address. (You can’t see my face, but I typed that with a smirk.)  It used to be a part of a bigger farm that previous owners parceled off to fund their children’s education.  While it’s only three and a half acres, it’s a lot of work just to keep up, let alone to make forward progress on our ambitious visions for the house and land.  We have ten chickens, some young fruit trees, a pathetic vegetable garden, and all the weeds a farmer could want.  We also have some fields that I’d like to convert to more space for my kids (and their kids) to be able to run around and kick a ball.  It’s a great start, and we are very excited.  We love it, but it will be years before we are making good use of the space.

Second, I went to Europe.  Two months after moving, I was able to join the Raggants on the trip to the U.K. and Normandy.  A number of things impressed me there, which gave me encouragement to stay the course with my little farm.  I was impressed that our going to look at really old things presupposed that those things were, in fact, built to last.  The first site we really enjoyed was St. Paul’s Cathedral, which took a scant 35 years to build.  We walked along Hadrian’s Wall, which is still standing after nearly 2000 years.  We saw thousands of acres of farmland that took generations of cultivation to be free from stumps and rocks.  We may be trapped in the current moment when looking at them, but they didn’t become presentable overnight.

Back to the farm, and particularly to those fields I need to clear.  They are full of rocks.  Thousands and thousands of rocks the size of golf balls that won’t grow grass, won’t feel nice underfoot, and will destroy a lawnmower.  We are raking them up and shoveling them away.  As I write this, we are about ten percent finished with the job.  It’s going much slower than I thought it would, and one of my kids has referred to it as the toughest task she’s ever faced.

In a fast-paced society and a culture rife with immediate gratification, clearing a field of rocks by hand is good work.  Part of me wants to rent a rock picker or to haul in 600 yards of topsoil to bury those rocks.  But ten years from now, will I regret having cleared that field by hand?  Probably not.  Will my grandkids probably be glad I did?  I think so.

Looking ahead to the school year before us, it’s helpful to be reminded that while children do grow up quickly, the work we are doing is not just for them.  It’s for the current generation of Raggants and their kids….and their kids…and the communities in which they live.  There is no quick fix, no power equipment that can do it for us. But if we do it well, maybe future generations will be able to look on our work – done in faith and with patience – and praise God for His grace to them.

– The U.H.

A Ministry of Delegation

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul delivers a Tweetable one-liner: “[Y]ou are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We belong to another. But man, do we ever love autonomy. Freedom-loving Americans cherish hotdogs and fireworks and baseball and not having to do anything we’re told.

The inescapable reality, however, is that we are all delegates. Call it stewardship, or faithfulness, or something else, but no matter what, we are all representatives of someone else in our various charges.

Teachers operate with parentally-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to their students. They must bear this in mind when making pedagogical, disciplinary, and curricular decisions.

Parents operate with God-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to their children. We must bear this in mind when we are training our children and pursuing their hearts.

I operate with Board-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to the support of the teachers. I must bear this in mind when I stand before a parent, a community member, or the teachers.

We all represent someone else when we act…and when we don’t.

This also means that we are not the principal characters when it comes to most of the stories around us. N.D. Wilson has helpfully suggested that parents should purpose to operate as awesome support characters in their kids’ stories. You may be the main character in your own story, but even then you’re not the point; you’re the object lesson for celestial readers.

This may come as a bit of a curious sort of send-off for the school year, but let me ask you a few questions:

  • How would your summer look if you planned to be an amazing support character in the story God is writing about your child?
  • How would you plan your vacations if you removed your own personal preferences from the equation?
  • What would your work, leisure, and sleep schedule look like if you were to present a timecard to the Lord on August 31?
  • If you were mindful of your delegation of authority and responsibility to your children, how would you help them structure their days?
  • Then, when your kids say how much they hate their new schedule, how would you respond to them as God’s representatives? As support characters in their stories?

I could go on, but my reminder to us all (i.e., to myself first and then to the rest of you) is this: We are not our own. Shepherd your kids, spend your money, steward your bodies, plan your days, love your spouses, consume God’s word, and do your work as good delegates, as though you represent someone else…because you do.

Risus est bellum!

U.H.

The Fundraising Feast Approaches!

The erratic weather and happy tulips agree with the calendar. It’s springtime.  And the Fundraising Feast is just around the corner.

At ECS we are particularly fond of feasting, and for reasons we’ve documented in a host of contexts.  But since it’s already teed up for me, I’ll take another swing. Feasting is an important cultural ingredient to what we are trying to build at ECS.

To be sure, feasting can be done badly.  If we eat or drink to excess, we’re gluttons and drunkards.  If we make the food the focus, we are focusing on the gifts, not the Giver.  If we eat without gratefulness, we may be ingesting calories, but we’re not feasting.

But let me take the philosophical hot-air ballon up another hundred feet or so. Feasting is grace-saturated and it is fun. It is alluring to onlookers.  It is a hallmark of a life worth wanting.

For our part, while we are (rather certainly and excitedly) a school, we are also more interested in being used by God to produce certain kinds of people than we are about producing intellectuals who may or may not love God.  The sorts of people we are trying to produce will be aware that they have nothing that they have not received. And for what they have received, they are grateful…and they act like it.

When we act grateful, we boast in the Giver of the good gifts we enjoy.  We tell any who are watching that God is gracious, and He is free with His grace. That means they can have it, too!

So our feasting is literally an evangelistic weapon.  We showcase the goodness of God when we feast.  We want for our fully-trained students to do this routinely…unto the salvation of their neighbors and the glory of God.

And in the end, it’s really fun.  I love this evening with our people.  The conversation, the music, the food, the sangria….  “SANGRIA?!” Oh! right. I haven’t mentioned what we’re doing this year.

This year, our Fundraising Feast may be better dubbed a “Fundraising Fiesta.”  We will have a “fiesta bar.”   And sangria.  And probably Coronas.  It’ll be delicious and, well, festive.  Ole.

Come dressed for a party, and that’s what we’ll enjoy.

So, the details!

  • What: ECS Fundraising Fiesta!
  • When: Friday, May 12, 2023 at 5:30pm.
  • Where: Swans Trails Farms, 7301 Rivershore Rd, Snohomish, WA 98290 (swanstrailfarms.com)
  • Who: Amigos of Evangel Classical School
  • Cost: Free!
  • RSVP: Aisha Bone: abone@evangelcs.org (360) 502-6950

Space at the Farm is limited, so if you want in, please let Aisha know by Monday, May 8.

See you there!

Risus est bellum.

U.H.