SummerChallenge2021

When I entered college as a Freshman, I had never run more than ten consecutive feet.

But I was over 5’9.

So it only followed that I should try out for the University of Washington rowing team, a small, jolly group of folk without any sort of pressure as one of the premiere crew programs in the world.

Needless to say, I learned many things those first few months at the UW. Besides how to navigate the collegiate world of academics, the social dynamics of living one block off Frat Row, and the basics of Italian, I also learned just how far the human body can be pushed past the feeling of certain death. I completed a two-hour row followed by a two-mile run, followed the next day by a 6am weight-lifting session with the Football Team, crowned with the pressing and urgent need to navigate stairs with legs that no longer operated correctly.

The sad ending to this story is, I hated rowing. And I was not a collegiate athlete. And the terrifying soon-to-be-head coach Eleanor knew this instinctively, and cut me after two months of try-outs from the last Novice boat even though they needed me to fill it.

Fast-forward a few years, and we get to the point of the story. My challenge for this summer is mainly to the students, but perhaps it will encourage the parents, as well.

Do something this summer that you don’t want to do.

Don’t necessarily do hard things. Don’t conquer your fear of heights by sky-diving. Don’t move to the Congo. Don’t get on the Youth City Council of your city and change the world.

I mean, sure, if you want to, go right ahead. But it’s easy to go so big you don’t even try. Narrow in on your normal life. Squint. Go after something that you have avoided because it makes you uncomfortable or intimidates you or seems below you.

Having the twins last year, in combination with reading a book called How To Manage Your House Without Losing Your Mind, revealed to me that I allow my desires to control my actions far too often. Because with pregnancy, rarely do your desires dictate what your body does. You want this baby out NOW? Tough. You want to really savor and enjoy a burger? Suddenly, you can’t stomach the thought of fries. Or beef. You want to sleep…?

I am beginning to learn that pretty much all of self-discipline (or to sound fancy, mortification) is doing what I don’t want to do. Or not doing what I want to do. Not just epic level temptation-fleeing, but daily macro work; it’s putting to death my flesh in tiny decisions: No, I will not eat that cookie. Yes, I will get on that erg machine.

Did I mention that twist in the story? I need an efficient exercise that does not require impact on a variety of joints that have begun to fail in the wake of twin-incubating.

So a rowing machine now sits in our basement. And God chuckles at me.

I invite students and parents alike to join me on their own rowing machine, and I have a few suggestions:

  • Read your Bible. Every day. If there is a part you haven’t read, start there (even if there are eyeballs and churning wheels of fire). Or start at the beginning. Or I invite you to join myself and a number of others on the Same Page Summer Reading Plan.
  • Read a type of book you wouldn’t typically choose. We are creating a Reading Bingo for our children this summer which will require them to read something outside of each’s comfort zone. What about you? Do you love fiction but hate nonfiction? Do your children love epic adventure and dislike fables? I spend time trolling various reading blogs, and the following typically have great suggestions (but I always double-check Amazon reviews): Reshelving Alexandria, Redeemed Reader, and Read-Aloud-Revival. If I get my act together, I may just throw together an ECS Staff Summer Reading Standard.
  • Pick a chore. Any chore. The one you don’t like at all. Do it faithfully, every time it needs it, without being asked (student) or without avoiding it (parent). Student, I dare you to pick two or three or four and not tell your parents – just bless their socks off. Unload the dishwasher. Immediately sort the laundry from the dryer. Sweep the kitchen. Even…clean the drain in your shower.
  • Get physical. Again, pick something you don’t like. Become frenemies with a kettlebell. Do a Couch-to-5k (the summer is almost the perfect amount of time). Maybe you need to do more movement outside: weed, plant vegetables, tackle that corner of your yard that everyone has just stopped seeing.
  • Get creative. Is there something you have really wanted to try but it intimidates you? Feels like too much work? Get after it. Summer is an ideal time. Find tutorials and plop yourself in someone’s house (after kindly asking) who knows how to do this thing. Figure out artisanal sourdough bread: look that little starter square in its squishy face and tell it you aren’t scared. Attempt to crochet a washcloth. Build a trebuchet. Go snipe hunting. Parents, introduce one or two new recipes into your meal rotation.
  • Fail. You actually may need to rest joyfully when you don’t want to. You may need to pass-off things you love to others. You may need to do what is the hardest for me: planned failing. Perhaps there are so many spinning plates, you should joyfully, humbly, set some aside and pray that God will provide others to take them up.

I don’t know what it will be for you, but I sense in my bones that as a Christian community we are being called to increasing discomfort. Our actions, words, and affections are going to grow from awkward to anachronistic to abominable to the society around us. May this challenge be part of the warm-up for the stretch of rocky race ahead.

—Mrs. Bowers

Letter from The Professor

At the austere age of twenty, I had determined I would never do certain things in my life: date a cute guy named Andy Bowers who had just started working with me at Home Depot, major in English, go to the University of Virginia, drive a minivan, teach at a private school, and work in any capacity with junior high students.

Armed with such fierce convictions and ample goal-accomplishing horsepower, I set out to accomplish my dreams.

And though the Lord granted many of my desires, He also proceeded to dismantle every single one of my declarations over the next five years of my life. That cute guy in Home Depot? I dated and was engaged to him before I was twenty-one. My hatred for literary theory and the twisting of Story I had experienced throughout high school and community college rerouted into a burning desire to see C.S. Lewis taught in the most secular college I could find. (I figured this would be Oxford. God, of course, plopped me into Everett Community College). I had a BA and MA in English by twenty-two. Oh, and that Master’s Degree? It came from the University of Virginia. And by twenty-three, I was teaching at a small private college and working with junior high students in our Church’s Youth Ministry.

And I now own two minivans.

Just to prove that God was not done showing His mighty sovereignty, goodness – and sense of humor – He blessed us with a surprise pregnancy last September. And in January, we discovered it was twins. Boys. We laughed through the entire ultrasound.

All SEVEN!

My life has been rerouted by God many times. In my twenties, such detours were usually accompanied by much wailing of voice and wringing of hands. But every time, mostly in spite of myself, I arrived at the next exit with new spiritual muscles and a heart strengthened in faith and joy-capacity. It didn’t mean I didn’t hit potholes, get distracted from the road, or callus my hands with my death-grip on the disconnected steering wheel, but I have always ended somewhere good.

Twin boys is a pit-stop I never expected. I didn’t even see the sign five miles before the turn-off. Covid-19 was a strange hand-painted sign we ignored a few miles back – yet here most of us stand, a bit bewildered at this point of the journey, never expecting God would land us at this point in history.

This brief autobiographical interlude hopefully serves to illustrate that we serve a God who upends our petty plot-lines and reroutes our best-laid plans. In the midst of such redirecting, we do not want to be the flopping ninnies, the proud people of the concrete-necks, or the hand-fluttering fools of Folly. It’s one of the reasons I love literature so much – it teaches us to remember we are characters in a very large story, and we would be wise to consider just which character we are being.

I love ECS and I have loved teaching here, but this year will find me not teaching in any official capacity as I care for two little boys. (But I will still be doing administrative work, so I will haunt the halls.) How will I respond to this unforeseen change? We may come back to a new schedule, split days, and mask-wearing. Or complete normalcy. What kind of characters will we be in this next stage of the story? We haven’t traversed this part of the road-way yet; we aren’t sure what sort of amenities exist (or don’t) off this exit. We may not be able to find the proverbial bathroom, and in that moment, we all want to be the hero: resilient, strong, humble, courageous, and selfless. But more often than not, if we are really honest with ourselves, when God throws a trial, change, disappointment, or wardrobe in our way, we act far more like Edmund than we do Peter. I long to be valiant Eowyn, but in the moments of honest self-assessment, I am far more like Gollum, hunched over in a corner, fussing and fearing and obsessively loving my Facebook feed.

My prayer for the next year of ECS is that we will laugh as the right kinds of characters and rejoice in the journey. There are some twists and turns ahead on a narrow road – elections, mandates, diseases, blessings – but there is a guardrail the entire way. Christ is driving, and He has established every turn of the wheel and every wayward opossum. He has promised He will not leave us alone, but has given us the divine Helper who will constantly help us and point us forward, to the end of the road, where Christ reigns victorious, and our laborious road will transform into streets of gold.

—Mrs. Bowers

Why Kindergarten?

As young people, most of us competed in some sport or hobby. We dreamt of being the next NBA All Star, but on the way to our illustrious and humble ambitions, we found ourselves sweating through hours of drills; shooting three-pointers for over an hour and running lines certainly didn’t feel necessary nor worthwhile, and had little flash for all its substance. This principle carries into all areas of life – practicing scales doesn’t feel like headlining Carnegie Hall, studying color wheels doesn’t clearly transfer to one’s acclaimed exhibit in the National Art Gallery, and learning to chop an onion never made anyone a Julia Child.

During Mrs. Hevia’s first grade class last week, she brought a young man to the front and asked him, “What has prepared you to do your work so excellently? What pointers can you give to the class?” His answer was: Kindergarten. It wasn’t getting more sleep, taking summer classes, or getting glasses – though, depending on the child, those things certainly can’t hurt.

He was, in a word, answering a question we often get: “Why should I send my child to Kindergarten at ECS?” At its core, Kindergarten scratches the same preparatory itch as linebackers doing ballet, but even better. It combines fundamental aspects like scales and drills with a thriving community to help our youngest students excel in both character and ability.

First, Kindergarten bestows a rather practical and pedestrian skill-set within a setting of order and clear expectations. It helps students truly learn their phonograms and practice reading drills, and most Kindergarteners are reading by the time they proceed to first grade. They begin learning their math-facts, they gain experience singing in a choir, learn chords, and even study art and appreciate the beautiful through cursive writing and Penmanship Awards. They don’t excel in these things because we only accept geniuses. These are entirely normal children who cover a radical spectrum of giftedness, talents, abilities, and aptitudes. They learn them because they are taught by teachers who love them and their subjects, and who expect complete obedience within the learning environment. Surely you can teach all these skills at home, just like you can learn basic athletic skills from your father or mother – or perhaps at another Kindergarten (though it’s harder, honestly, with alternate programs and learning objectives) – but I can attest to the fact there is something different about learning at ECS, which primarily has to do (and must be fused) with, our second major advantage.

In a mysterious way, reading drills directly transfer to future success in Omnibus, as three-point drills help you nail the game-clincher, but the second major advantage of Kindergarten at ECS is the culture, and I would address two major elements of this. First, the Kindergarteners are surrounded on all sides by living goal-markers: first grade, sixth grade, twelfth grade, teachers. They see the goal, and they observe the steps along the way…and these “steps” bandage their knees when they fall, call-out their shenanigans on the playground, and sing and speak and work in ways that can’t help but inspire and shape a little soul. I often rode horses in front of my parents or friends at lessons or while practicing at home – and it was wonderful. But it was an entirely different ball-game to find myself in an arena surrounded by the best in the nation, practicing and honing my skill-set and my vision amongst them – amongst what I wanted to be some day. At a very young age, Kindergarten allows your son or daughter to play and train with a flawed but awesome set of students, and the only way you get that kind of influence and molding is to actually be here in the middle of the training camp.

The other way our culture seeps into these young sponges is through the absorbent flavor of the school – garlic lodges in your pores no matter how you get it, and it stays with you a long time. The same is true of gnomes, laughter, interclass fellowship, work-ethic, and so much more. Your student can certainly acquire excellent Kindergarten skills any number of places (though I would argue ECS is still the best place because, Mrs. Hall), but will they smell good in the process? Will they learn how their twitching affects the person sitting right next to them? Will they begin to see the larger picture of how to answer in a group, how to open doors for ladies, and how to speak both in unison and stand alone when needed? Will they, at an early age, begin to understand the fundamentals of fellowship and teamwork and community? I can testify that my daughters began to learn all these things in the home – it is the core bedrock of their obedience and learning – but they have been cemented in Kindergarten and continually molded through subsequent years at ECS.

We certainly care about the individual and the home – and no matter your background, or whether or not you attend Kindergarten at ECS, if you’re the right fit for the school, we will delight to have you. But it’s harder without the foundation – walk-ons can thrive in a college environment, but it can be challenging to adjust to the team when you’ve just been playing pick-up games. And if you can get the skills and the culture of an excellent team, wouldn’t you take it? If you could merge humility and homonyms, subtraction and strength, responsibility and reading, why would you ever not?

—Mrs. Bowers

Why Houses?

This September, amidst cheers and hoots and hollers, ECS welcomed the largest entering Secondary class seen to date. As the dust settled from Field Day and the bright stage lights dimmed after the House assignments were decreed, it seemed an apt time to address why we even have Houses at ECS.

It’s not because we want to be like Harry Potter. Really. Not even a little bit. We do want to enhance the Secondary experience and are admittedly borrowing the concept from a system that originated in England’s public schools, particularly boarding schools, where students literally slept and ate in a particular house. Since then, Houses have developed into a grouping of students that provide a sense of smaller community within the broader context of larger and sometimes impersonal schools.

Now clearly, ECS is not a public boarding school, but we do hope our Houses operate as microcosms within the larger whole of the school – a way for students to get some on-the-ground, unique training for how their individual gifts, weaknesses, strengths, and actions affect the larger household of their families and their houses of worship.

On a practical level, Houses help to tear down the false boundaries built-up between middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, welcoming the incoming seventh graders with great excitement into an immediate, smaller community of Secondary students. It also practically allows for more fun throughout the year – who doesn’t like a good competition? Finally, it just makes organization easier when we can group the entire Secondary into four distinct units in twenty seconds flat.

On a deeper level, though ECS is concerned with students feeling both inclusion and enjoyment, the Houses are meant to mature students…and maturation is often not fun. Certainly our students know what it’s like to be a member of a family and a church body – but this is a new opportunity as they begin to unfurl their proverbial wings. It’s a chance to exercise leadership potential amongst peers, flap into new aeries of creative endeavour, and sharpen their talons in both easy and challenging relationships. The House system uniquely qualifies for this because it fosters individual growth and maturation within a context of close community, mirroring a core Christian truth that our individual actions must affect the greater whole. When one cries, we all weep; when the little toe runs itself against the bed-frame yet again, the teeth clench; when one member leaves trash strewn through the Sanctuary, the whole House takes a five-point hit.

The House system hopefully shows the students that their individual efforts, talents, and abilities are a gift from the Creator for the benefit of the whole. Likewise, their weaknesses, sin, and apathies have consequences. In a world that worships autonomy, the House system is a weapon in our arsenal to showcase the value of an individual and the supreme value of that individual dying to bring life to others. Certainly this can be seen in larger contexts – even the school as a whole – but the House system provides concrete, quick, quantifiable feedback.

Thus we hope the Houses are a special means to balance individual growth with sweet fellowship as students learn to love others as themselves. This is the primary reason we keep families together in Houses: because we are commanded to love, and we believe the Houses help us to love our neighbors…and the hardest neighbors to love are the ones we share four walls with. Also, for those without siblings (or as the eldest sibling), the FTT (Full-Time Team) takes many things prayerfully into consideration when choosing a House for a student, including others in the House, the House leader, and the strengths and weaknesses that come bundled in the student, all with the view to how that student’s placement will both strengthen the House and the individual.

There are also some things the Houses are not. They are not meant to be representative clubs or personalities or identity markers. When the Houses were first announced a little over three years ago, the Secondary was still quite small, and a few families comprised each House. By God’s sovereign decree (and I am sure to His amusement), those Houses developed distinct personalities overnight – but this was not by any design on our part. Since then, none of the House leaders have sought to encourage nor entrench such flavors. Instead, we desire for the Houses to reflect the triune God, who delights in both unity and diversity everywhere His thumb-print touches (See: animals of Madagascar). The Houses should be diverse – we want every House competition to truly be up for grabs, and we want very different members learning to work as joyful teams to His glory.

The Houses are also not a chance to avoid doing work or making certain people into leader-trophies – as though if a House wins, it doesn’t have to take a clean-up day in the lunchroom. We treat winning as a chance to lose – in this, we hope our Houses follow the model of their Savior, who was first in line unto dirty feet, lepers, and tortuous death. Our prayer is that the Houses will be a mechanism that brings abundant life to the school, not a vehicle for conflict, proud competition, or pug-nosed leadership.

And within all of this, the House system at ECS is still emerging from the toddler phase. We are adding new events and new leaders. We are graduating students out and adding them in. We are solidifying our own telos of the “whys” and clarifying our views. But our prayer all along has been that the Houses will provide a close ring of compatriots to laugh with and fight alongside – that it will enhance the Secondary experience in small, seen ways, and unseen marks that indelibly etch the soul with wisdom, grace, and joy.

—Mrs. Bowers (filling in for the UH)

The Smorgasbord of Story around Us

Stories have worn many adjectives over the years: escapist, imaginative, devilish, deceptive, sub-creative. They have worn many outfits: epic poem, history, speech, play, novel, short story, film. They have changed civilizations and civilians; they have brought down walls and plastered them together; they have unchained the slave and bound the free in post-modernism’s free-love. With this kind of power, it is easy to eschew fiction of any kind out of fear. Oddly, we can also minimize it, treating it as mere entertainment and popping a Twinkie here and there from the Bestseller list.

In this smorgasbord of story around us, from the screen to the page, Christians lack discernment. If stories be a kind of formative food for the soul – certainly lower on the food pyramid than the perfect Word of God, but still with nutrient value – we are far too apt to roam the entertainment aisles dumping everything into our cart from chintzy picture books to sentimental teenage drama novellas to the latest blockbuster. Or we run from the supermarket entirely, holed-up on a hilltop somewhere and missing out entirely on the formative value of incarnational art.

There are a host of reasons for this failure of discernment – lack of sound, biblical teaching and anemic fellowship within thriving Churches being two of the most prominent. These and more have smudged the glasses of our vision – we simply do not see the world correctly through our crinkled contacts and stifled imaginations. We also haven’t been taught well by our schools to understand things like worldview, literary analysis, and more. We do not grasp and love reality as God has made and revealed it to us, and do we not see what those created in His image are creating around us. We need to embrace that fiction “is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system” (Flannery O’Connor). The best fiction is anything but escapist; it takes ideas and enfleshes them, which makes it very powerful. And very dangerous.

As Christians, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and a renewed heart to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). We have every blessing and ability to see the lies the world is packaging in moving images on a screen, through lyrics synthesized with vocal pitch machines, and in paperbacks with gold-leafed covers. We of all people should know when to pick up the book and read, and when to put it down…when to walk into a movie theatre, and when to walk out.

But we need to be trained, and I heartily believe that the Fiction Festival is an invaluable tool to train you and those in your community to see clearly and engage the battle about us with wit and vigor and fervor. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “but solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” There is some fantastic literary food out there, and The Chronicles of Narnia offer some of the best meat-and-potatoes you can find. There are a few mushy peas here and there, but they are easily picked out, unlike arsenic-laced Marvel fare. Because make no mistake, there is devilish food available on every corner, and they are choice morsels that sink down into the heart.

At the Festival we will dive into some big questions: How do stories operate? How do they glorify values that you find detestable, possibly without you realizing it? How, as a parent or grandparent, can you grow your children with Nebraskan steak instead of JELLO? How can you grow by identifying with characters, seeing how a certain sin or virtue works itself out to the end point of a plot? How can your worship and feasting and glorifying be better because of some make-believe story about something that never even happened?

All of Lewis’ novels have been some of my greatest teachers. I have seen myself in the mirrors of Jane and Orual, reading my own thoughts back on the page…and it has terrified me. I have seen the virtuous faith of Lucy or the pessimistic realism of Susan amplified within a world not my own, so that I could own some of my failings and fan some of my baby virtue. I have read biblical truth, and then seen it incarnated in a story – of looking to Christ’s standard instead of my own, of walking out in obedience as my faith caught up, and of knowing that ultimately, the battle is won, and all the trials and tribulations of this life are the worst it will ever be for those with whom He is well pleased; that pleasures here are but the beginning of the most wonderful story that has ever been written, world without end.

So we hope you will join us for this year’s Fiction Festival, perhaps to strum a few pages for the first time, or to wipe your glasses with the dish-towel of discernment, or go romping in a thunderstorm. We can’t promise you much, but we can promise you one thing: it won’t be entirely safe, but it will be good.

—Mrs. Bowers

Stink, Stank, Stunk!

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

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

* Kitsch: /kiCH/noun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Mrs. Bowers

Why the UK Trip?

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.