A Cultural Cathedral

The following are notes from Mr. Higgins’ 2022-23 Convocation message.

I read three books this summer. Hopefully you read even more. These are three that I won’t easily forget and that I think, perhaps strangely enough, easily relate to each other.

The first I’ll mention is a book that has been on my to-read list for many years. It’s not a long book, but it is a book about projects that take a long time. It’s written for 10-11 year-olds, and we have a copy in our 4th grade library. Here is my book report and rally to begin another year.

The book is called Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It was published the year before I was born (1973), but it’s a story about the citizens of a small town in France who decided to build the biggest and most beautiful cathedral in their country in the year 1252. It’s actually a fictional story about the people of Chutreaux; there is no city with that name, so there are no remains of this particular project. But the imaginary cathedral takes details from in-real-life construction of Gothic cathedrals built in the 12-14th centuries.

The bishop of the city when they started died before they finished. The master builder of the cathedral himself died more than halfway through and had to be replaced. In the non-fiction preface, the author only gives one qualification about what makes his story less real: the workers didn’t take any long breaks in construction. And still, it took 86 years from the first decision to the final detail.

To build something so grand took a lot of money, obviously a lot of time, and it also took a lot of different people doing their work expertly. There were teams of people, those who cut down trees in a nearby forrest and prepared the wood, those who cut out stones from a quarry and moved them to the site, those who dug deep footers and blacksmiths who made nails and hooks and hinges. There were master craftsmen and apprentices and assistants, masons and mortar makers, carpenters and climbers and cooks. No one person could have done it.

In one way your life as a student is like this. Even though your years in school are a jumpstart, your education is a lifetime project. It will take much time, much care, much effort, and a multitude of people. As the Lord adds to your knowledge and understanding and wisdom, as He knits you together with love for truth and goodness and beauty, your life is a cathedral.

In another way, ECS is a great project. For the first time, after ten years of school, now we even have our own building! Thanks be to the Lord. The classrooms are our classrooms, they have our desks and our chairs. Many of the rooms have been painted, they’ve gotten new lights, the things on the walls are decorative and educational and ours. Though they wouldn’t identify as Michelangelos, the teachers, many of the students, and some friends of the school have painted and furnished and adorned and loved this place into a more lovely place.

This facility is probably not ever going to be cathedral-level beautiful, and that’s fine. We’re actually trying to build something much more difficult than walls, something that will outlast us. We are like so many medieval stonemasons, adding a few more bricks to this generational project. Lord willing, the best years of ECS may be seen our grandchildren.

Another book I read this summer is Battle for the American Mind. It was published just this year. It’s about schools and education, about the trajectory of troubles for many government schools over the last century. The problems that are all around us are worse than new math and unscientific science and willful ignorance of history. The root problem is that people don’t have any real vision of the “good life.” They wouldn’t know beauty if it poked them in the eye-balls. They think the state has more power to make things better than the power of self-control. They have no center, no real reference point other than their feelings. They’re not practicing or pursuing virtues.

What we’re building here at ECS is more than just students who get high scores on tests. We’re not just trying to get you to graduate early so that you can get through college quicker so that you can get a high paying job. Those things are fine, but they are like a cathedral constructed of Popsicle sticks.

We want you to be great-souled. The word magnanimous is just that: manga = great and animus = mind or heart or soul. It’s related to those who are animated, full of life. We want a culture of families, students, and teachers who know and love, who know what is lovely and why they should love the lovely and be abounding in love. Previous generations referred to it as ordo amoris, ordered loves. This is where intellectual and moral virtue comes from. We want you to learn the stock responses of God-fearers, to be unimpressed by what the world says is cool, which never lasts long anyway.

This includes the alphabet and phonograms, this includes reading your assignments, but it also means paying more attention to what’s in your heart than how long a classmate has been talking. It means committing to work hard, and then actually working when it is hard. It means listening to those who know better, it means looking to take responsibilities that make the whole thing better.

We are in a battle for minds and our minds are necessary for the battle. We are trying to battle by building a culture, a paideia, that forms what you like and that you’re like and what you pursue as good.

Which leads me to the third book I read, Good to Great (a book published in between the first two, 2001). The definition of good is a little different; good in this case is about commercial success rather than cultural blessings. It’s a business book, but there’s some valuable overlap.

Want to be great? Be fanatically consistent in the right things. Those things aren’t always big things. One of the greatest dangers is thinking that the right things are other things rather than the ones right in front of you. Do what must be done; do it faithfully. That makes great people, and a bunch of people working together makes a great culture.

We care about raggant virtues. Be generous, be a producer, be a learner, be thankful, be joyful. As we work toward being great, let us be staff and students known for: High discipline, low drama.

I read something else good just yesterday, and I’m thinking maybe I should tape it to mirrors around me. It said: stop whining. An alternative, since we’re on the first day of school: don’t start whining.

Your education is like a cathedral, ECS itself is a different sort of generational project, an educational cathedral, and may the Lord bless this next year of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that we will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

Too Blessed to Be Stupid

The following are notes from Mr. Higgins’ graduation address last Sunday evening.


Hailey and Autumn, euge, bravo and well done! We praise the Lord for you, and we praise the Lord with you that He has blessed you with strength and endurance to finish this phase of your education. My graduation message to you tonight is simple. I believe it will be helpful and hopefully memorable. The message is this: you are too blessed to be stupid.

There is a categorical cornucopia of those who are dumb, fat, and happy, but I want to argue that your blessedness, your beatus, your happiness, won’t allow you to be stupid.

Stupid is a word your mom probably doesn’t want you to use. Stupid isn’t usually polite, and it’s regularly used to describe someone else’s actions/decisions that we just don’t like. But I have something more specific in mind.

I recently read a 46 year-old book titled, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity by an Italian economist named Carlo Cipolla. It’s short, a little over 80 printed pages, and ought to be on everyone’s summer reading list, including those who have just finished high school. I am going to share the best of the book, but I knew the gist before I read it and lost none of the value.

Cipolla points out that humans are relational creatures. To my knowledge he didn’t claim to be a Christian, but as Christians we know that we are made in the image of one God who has revealed Himself in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This means that we were created with the capacity for work and connection, even for cooperation. For some this interaction is a painful necessity, other individuals will put up with other persons they don’t really like so they don’t have to be alone.

Think in economic terms what each person brings, what each person aims for. “From each action or inaction we derive a gain or a loss and at the same time we cause a gain or a loss to someone else.” (Cipolla, Location 202) Those benefits and losses can be plotted on a matrix.

He observes that there are always four types of persons in their interactions: 1) the Helpless, 2) Bandits, 3) the Intelligent, and 4) the Stupid.

The helpless person may contribute a minimal amount to society but is often taken advantage of. It’s not that the helpless person is ignorant per se, it’s that in his interactions he is more impoverished than enriched. The helpless are drained even when they aren’t the worst drain on others.

The bandit likewise is not a dunce, but exerts more energy in causing another’s loss in order to gain for himself. Thieves can be quite creative but they concentrate on what they can get. It’s a win-lose relationship, a bigger piece of the pie for bandit means he’s taking it from someone else’s piece.

The intelligent uses his brains for win-win. He benefits, not just parallel to, but together with, the benefit of others. The pie gets bigger for everyone. Intelligence in Cipolla’s definition is not just mental horsepower or IQ, not just quantitative reasoning on the CLT. It’s applied logic in love, a relational intelligence. Having read Proverbs we’d label it wisdom.

The fourth character in the last quadrant is the stupid, and he is the worst. Cipolla defines it in the third and “golden” basic law of stupidity: “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” (Location 245)

“Our daily life is mostly made up of cases in which we lose money and/or time and/or energy and/or appetite, cheerfulness, and good health because of the improbable action of some preposterous creature who has nothing to gain and indeed gains nothing from causing us embarrassment, difficulties or harm.” (Location 255)

And it’s not just an individual concern.

“This [stupid] group is much more powerful than the Mafia, or the military industrial complex, or international communism—it is an unorganized, unchartered group which has no chief, no president, no by-laws and yet manages to operate in perfect unison, as if guided by an invisible hand, in such a way that the activity of each member powerfully contributes to strengthen and amplify the effectiveness of the activity of all other members.” (Location 101)

It might seem that bandits would be worse: purposefully benefitting themselves at the losses of others. But bandit types can be reasoned with to some degree, or at least we can use reason to understand their decisions. The helpless are also not helpful for a community, but their biggest problem is that they can’t stand up against the stupid.

The stupid person is committed to doing things that benefit no one. They take the perfectly good pie and throw the whole thing in the trash, probably while congratulating themselves since sugar is a drug that causes diabetes. No one wins, and there’s no logic that can move them. They will work hard to make it so that they don’t have to work hard, and that hinders others from working hard. The stupid are “the most powerful dark forces that hinder the growth of human welfare and happiness.” (Location 107)

Cipolla’s categories get close to Solomon’s characters. The helpless is as the naive or the simple. The bandits compare to the scoffers, the sinners whose feet run to evil (Proverbs 1:16). The intelligent are the wise. And the stupid is the fool. It’s more than failing grades and a low Lexile reading level, it’s resistance to knowledge that does good.

  • “a fool flaunts his folly” (Proverbs 13:16)
  • “a babbling fool will come to ruin” (Proverbs 10:8)
  • “the mouth of a fool brings ruin near” (Proverbs 10:14)
  • “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool” (Proverbs 10:23)

“Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly” (Proverbs 17:12).

Bertrand Russell once said (ironically): “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Solomon said it a long time ago.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.
(Proverbs 12:15, ESV)

Cipolla asserts that the percentage of stupid = σ is a constant, and “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.” (Location 121). No matter what group or demographic, there are always those who make decisions detrimental to themselves and others. If Cipolla is right, you can see that now, not just when you “go out into the world.”

Examples in a school context: Students who defend not doing their work and make it hard for others to do theirs, whether mouthing off with each other or blowing off their assignments. Teachers who habitually over-assign work that then we also have to grade. Or broadening the view: Politicians who mandate untested or unnecessary restrictions to the harm of everyone.

Raggant-about-to-be-alumni, you are too blessed to be stupid. The blessings God has given you are abundant and extraordinary. Your parents have blessed you, your teachers have sacrificed to do the same. You’ve read books and had conversations about things that maybe most students, most human beings, never will. These are not blessings that just happen anywhere.

Blessings include but are not limited to: learning how to partner for projects (with others who don’t care as much as you), learning how to keep reading good things when your eyes hurt, learning how to learn when the subject is difficult, learning how to sing in harmony, learning how to laugh when it’s hard, learning how to make and defend your case, learning how to change your mind.

You both have finished this part of your course and are more equipped than the majority of your peers who are hurting themselves and others by not taking advantage of the assignments in front of them. You have been blessed, and I charge you to bring blessings to others, for their joy and your own.

Hailey and Autumn, we are glad to celebrate with you as you cross the ECS finish line. Fear the Lord, be wise, get wisdom, remember that you are too blessed to be stupid.

Keep Founding

The following notes were from Mr. Higgins’ talk at last Friday’s Fundraising Feast.


I am one of the founders of ECS. Being a founder is interesting, because founders aren’t the past tense of finders. A founder doesn’t find something that was there, a founder lays down a foundation for something that could become. The only thing that existed about ECS eleven years ago was an idea. But look around. The wine and steak and laughter and songs and relationships are real.

Photo by Mrs. Bowers

This is our ninth fundraising feast, and this is the ninth time that I’ve spoken. Someday there will be another speaker (and the people rejoiced). Debatable statistics say that most people would rather drown than speak in public, but even if the task doesn’t seem fun to you, you can certainly imagine that it is a privilege. Year by year I ask Jonathan if he would like me to speak, and he keeps including me because I’m connected as a founder, a board member, a parent of raggants, a teacher, and now a grandpa to a future raggant!

But as I said, it won’t be me up here forever, and not just when I’m dead. If we fulfill our mission, it definitely won’t be. My comments so far are a personal angle on our institutional vision. I have the perspective of a founder with a purpose to make more of them, and from my perspective it’s working.

Consider how different things are than two years ago, when we didn’t even host a fundraising feast because we were all ordered to stay home. But more than that, think about how different your life, your family, your weekly schedule, your budget, your relationships, your expectations, are now compared to before you got connected to ECS. The influence isn’t only one way, and it’s not always immediately positive I suppose. But all of us are changed (and/or challenged) by one another. Every new teacher and student and family adds to the foundation.

I am one of the first founders, but we are all ongoing founders. This is our school’s mission. We aren’t interested in making graduates as much as we are interested in graduating founders. By that I don’t mean that every young man or woman has to start a brand new school or business, though some will. I mean that every young man or woman will carry and advance the foundation.

That foundation is our confession that Jesus is Lord. He cares about everything He created, and if we are to please Him and grow in likeness to Him, we must grow in our care for everything He created. The works of the Lord are the foundation, and we commend them to another generation (Psalm 145:4). So we are always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58), reading books and translating Latin and laughing at tyrants and stacking chairs again in and for Jesus’ name.

We are doing this so that we’ll be more than a “read-only” culture. If the government keeps down its current path, we’re going to see the increase of a “can’t-read” generation, which I suppose will at least keep them from being as irritated someday when they have to buy gas. Read-only is better than unread-only. But we’re aiming for more than literacy. We’re aiming higher than knowing history. Let’s make history.

A “read-only” people have “the ability to repeat what an ancestor has handed down – but not recreate it from first principles” (Balaji). In the model of classical education that we follow at ECS, the first stage is the Grammar stage, and it necessarily includes learning about and learning to appreciate all that we’ve been given. We repeat vocabulary words and multiplication tables and parts in songs because repetition is a tool in education. But it’s not the telos of education.

Repeating isn’t enough, and neither is knowing more so that we can have more informed complaints. We live in a day, or at least in a streaming news-cycle, where resentment is triumphing over vision. Algorithms are written to engage our attention with anger. We don’t know for sure what’s happening, but we know for sure someone needs to be damned. The cultural foundations around us aren’t just deteriorating on their own, they are being actively destroyed. Did we expect anything different from a system starting with deconstruction?

We have to learn what is better, and then commit to trying to build something better. That is the part we put on repeat, not just parroting what a founder said, but what a founder did. Keep founding.

Tonight will end, but it is not the end, right? When the dishes are done and the donations counted, we have a lot more to do. We will have school on Monday, four more weeks of this school year, graduation for our seniors, and a final assembly, then we start again in the fall. It’s just a little over 16 weeks away from the first day of school. Ha!

You also have only so many weeks have left. I read a book titled Four Thousand Weeks, which is rounded for how many weeks there are in 77 years of life. What are you doing with those? What foundation are you building up (or tearing down) for your family? For your city?

“The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.” (—Oliver Burkeman, Loc. 55)

The point of tonight is not to raise the most money we’ve ever raised. That’s not the end of the game. The point is to give thanks and raise money for the purpose of continuing the wonder, and the work of helping others see the wonder.

I’m not so starry-eyed as to think everyone gets the wonder in the works of the Lord at the same level. Not all of our current students see what they’re being given. Do any of us? But, wow, how kind the Lord has been to us these last ten years. What fruit has come from so many late nights and caffeinated mornings. It’s totally costly, and yet what a foundation of laughter and feasting do we dance on. Even when God has said “No” to particular prayers, He has worked in ways we can easily commend to one another.

No person has worked harder than our Headmaster to find us a place to root our work. At the direction of the Board he asked a local church if we could rent their space, and we sent him back at least two more times after they said no. As it turns out, had that church, or the other alternatives we pursued said yes, we probably would not have been able to open our doors in the fall of 2020. Not only that, we wouldn’t be in the position that we are now to pursue purchasing the Reclamation Church campus.

For the first time in our history we are about to have our own property on which to build more foundation. We also have the opportunity to honor our city and protect our investment from burning down by installing a sprinkler system. This is not a distraction, this is the spoils of founding something that God has made so fruitful. A number of people have observed that the building isn’t as bright as they’d like. That’s okay, neither are we, and fixing the former is easier than the latter. The same is true for Marysville. Paint is cheap compared to the cost of bringing light to the darkness, and yet it’s exactly the foundation we’ve been working on.

We have joy in a work that we are only starting. We laugh because we can’t finish it. The work is that big, that glorious. We are doing this because an idea turned into 370 people having a feast. Imagine what it could be just ten more years from now?

Keep rejoicing in the works of the Lord and keep founding.

Letter From the CheerMan

As we round the corner on the second half of ECS’ tenth year, this section of the Standard will be devoted to sharing reflections from some of those who have been here since the beginning: teachers, spouses, board members, and students – many of whom have filled a variety of these roles over the years!

We begin with Chuck Weinberg, the ‘older’ Charles Weinberg and father to the teacher Mr. Weinberg. He has been the ECS Board’s Chairman (fondly called the “CheerMan”) from before we opened that basement door in September of 2012.


10 years – Crazy how quickly time has gone. 

When we decided to start the school the common model was to start in Kindergarten and add a new grade each year as that class went up in age. We had students in grades spreading from K-10, so we decided that we would ignore all the experts and accommodate all the ages. It was risky, it was hard, and it could have failed AND it didn’t fail. God blessed our small beginning and we are starting to feel the blessing more as we continue to bust out of our space. 

I also remember talking through the budget during planning sessions and the UH was/is always thrifty and trying to get his numbers exactly correct. Have fun trying to do that when you have no really solid idea of how many students you will have. It was somewhat laughable since each of the first few years we were increasing the size of the school by so many students that it was ‘musical-chairs’ with new families coming in, how many grades were together in one classroom and such, all while trying to be fiscally responsible. And just like “it didn’t fail” God also took care of those small beginnings and blessed the financial piece as well. 

One of the things I really enjoy is stopping by the school, on the way home, and seeing my four Raggant grandkids as well as the “other Mr. Weinberg.” Never did I imagine that Grant would be a teacher at the school and LOVING it. When our kids are young we try to imagine what they will be when they grow up; I’m still working on that myself, and being a Math and Science teacher wasn’t anywhere on the radar for Grant in my head. Next year, Lord willing, I will have five Raggant grandkids. Small beginnings and who’s to say that some of those Raggants won’t also be doing something on staff or teaching at the school some day? 

– Mr. Chuck Weinberg
ECS Board CheerMan

Laughing in Wartime

The following are notes from the Convocation address by Mr. Higgins


The word perspective derives from two Latin words, the preposition per meaning “through” and the verb speciō meaning “I look.” We might think of a person with perspective like a bird, high enough to see a broader landscape, or as one using a telescope, far enough away to see how things relate. But at its root, someone with perspective is someone who is able to look through. Someone who can look through is someone who can see clearly as if having found a window in the wall.

From a calendar perspective, we are only on the first day of an entire school year, and so we have a long way to go. From an institutional perspective, we are on the first day of year ten, and so we have come a long way. From even another perspective, not just looking at time, we can see through the fog and know that what we have here is something special.

Follow me here. Perspective enables us to see that what we have is special, and I’d say that what’s really special is that we have perspective. My evidence for that is all the laughter. Bona fide laughter requires perspective.

The painting ‘De Lachende Rembrandt’ (‘The Laughing Rembrandt’) is displayed in the Rembrandt House museum in Amsterdam, on June 6 2008. It is a self portrait by the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, presumably from 1628. (Photo credit OLAF KRAAK/AFP/Getty Images)

Both our mission statement and our motto talk about laughter. Here’s our mission:

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.

Our motto is: Risus est bellum, or Laughter is war.

We talk about laughter, and in the nine finished years of ECS, there has been nothing more difficult, and nothing more important, than laughter. This kind of laughing is not mostly due to a specific personality type, though it’s certainly true that laughing comes easier to some than the melancholy. I feel as if I have a good view of what this laughter looks like, like a drowning man looks up at the water’s surface with desperate attention and desire to reach it. Laughter is that important.

Of course not all laughter is the same. Solomon had some unflattering things to say about chuckling fatheads.

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fools;
(Ecclesiastes 7:6)

Thorns in fire heat up fast, but don’t last. They burn out before providing any real benefit. The laughter of fools is as useless as it is noisy.

If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
the fool only rages and laughs,
and there is no quiet.
(Proverbs 29:9)

Fools laugh because they can’t see the bigger picture and because they don’t want to look at the immediate problems. A fool’s cackle is mere defense mechanism, making a racket against the reasonable.

Weaponized laughter, the kind we’re after at ECS, is laughter from faith for faith. It is able to see through the current troubles to what God is accomplishing in them. We have some historical examples surrounding us in a great cloud of witnesses.

“When sometimes I sit alone, and have a settled assurance of the state of my soul, and know that God is my God, I can laugh at all troubles, and nothing can daunt me.”

—Hugh Latimer

Latimer was the same English Reformer burned at the stake in 1555 with Nicholas Ridley, when Latimer is reported to have said:

“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

That is the kind of thing you can only say with perspective. A man with the perspective of faith in God can “laugh at all troubles” even to the point of greatest sacrifice.

John Bunyan, who lived less than a hundred years after Latimer, also in England, was the sort of man who had perspective enough to laugh, and his counsel for those being persecuted:

“Has thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God’s hands.”

Godly laughter is God-trusting laughter.

It’s why David wrote, “The righteous shall see and fear, and laugh” (Psalm 52:5). Not only did David have perspective, while on the run from King Saul and from Doeg the Edomite, he was laughing at the man who didn’t have perspective. Doeg seemed to have the upper hand, and he had the King favor, but he wouldn’t make God his refuge. The righteous see right through that.

We will be tempted not to laugh for a number of reasons, especially because of our work. This is true of students, new and old, true of parents, and true for teachers, a thing I know by personal testimony. Temptations come because:

  • The work is unknown, and we don’t know what we’re doing. There’s a certain level of discomfort, and fearfulness is an easier default than trying while laughing.
  • The work is unenjoyable, and we don’t like what we’ve been assigned. It’s easier to do the job with more whining than laughing.
  • The work doesn’t have enough time (from our perspective) to get finished. It’s easier to be flustered than to be laughing.
  • The work (we got finished) isn’t perfect. It’s easier to to be proudly irritated than to humbly laugh.
  • The work is tiring. It’s easier to belly ache rather than belly laugh.
  • The work is unappreciated, at least not praised as immediately as we’d like. It’s easier to fuss than to laugh.

Are you doing your work from faith and for faith? Are you doing your work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)? Then trust the Creator of time with the use and fruit of the time He gives you. The woman who fears the Lord has such an approach.

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
(Proverbs 31:25)

There is a potent sort of laughing, and it’s the sign of a virtuous man.

You’ve got to be able to not get sucked in by the complainers, to keep your cool when everyone is freaking out about the assignment, to be patient even when the deadline is looming. Laugh in faith because your life is bigger than your grade, and then laugh in thanks when you got a better grade than you probably deserved.

Little did I know how much I would come to appreciate an address given by C. S. Lewis (just a couple months in to WWII in 1939) which is called, “Learning in Wartime.” (Listen to the whole thing here.) I don’t know how many times I’ve shared this quote, though I know I quoted it the first day of ECS.

“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. 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.”

Choose this day which character you will be, Distracted, Fearful, Grumpy, or Dopey. How about instead we aim to be those who are laughing in wartime?

I also said the following on the first day of ECS, 3290 days ago:

“We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.”

As we present ourselves as living sacrifices to Him, and as He blesses the fruit of our hands and homework, we will sing with the psalmist:

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
(Psalm 126:2-3)

May the Lord give us His perspective on 2021-22 and fill our mouths with laughter.

Summer Break for Seeds

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. Good stories are supposed to stand on their own, but it might be helpful to read this 2021 Summer Challenge from Mrs. Bowers first.


The seeds walked out of the co-op after their last day of class. It had been a good school year, unprecedented even. But as good as school can be, the arrival of summer break, even for seeds, is always worth celebrating.

Oakly, Elmer, Bruce, Lerry, Tom, Iris, Rosie, Lily, Heather, and Willow were standing around in the parking lot after the barbecue and got to talking about a comment that their teacher had made in their final Almanac Class. He said that whoever wanted to have a fruitful summer should try to get buried as soon as possible.

Mr. Croft had said it matter of factly, like it was obvious, like it was what they were made to do. It’s not that they hadn’t ever heard a message like this before, but for whatever reason, hearing it this time caused more curiosity, and concern.

Most of the friends weren’t interested in getting so down to earth, nor did they believe that they were being told the truth. Milling around on the surface is way less scary than the dark and soggy soil. School was the time for work and summer was the season for play.

Oakly was the only seed with the faith to see that being buried might produce better things. So while everyone else made plans to binge on sun-fun, he committed to some things he didn’t really want to do.

Oakly woke up a little early every morning and did some seed yoga. You may be wondering what “seed yoga” is, and I understand. Probably the most frequent and foundational movement for seeds is called the downward-facing-dolphin. Like a dolphin flaps her flippers to push water backward, a seed must learn to angle his nose down and push the dirt upward.

After seed yoga he did cardio workouts on a furrowing machine. Some seeds grow just fine scattered in no particular pattern, others do better entrenched together. The furrowing machine let seeds get stronger at getting their groove on.

Oakly also picked up some extra chores at a neighbor’s field. His first project was to push the pebbles from the main part of the field to the perimeter. It was hard work, because rocks are hard, and because some of the rocks were larger than him and all of them were heavier. When he was done clearing a section of all the small stones he could find, he would practice digging hole-slots. Some seeds just aren’t strong enough to drill down into the dirt on their own, so other seeds can scoop out a little cozy niche where weaker seeds can jump in and get their start.

All these workouts and work still didn’t take up all his time so he thought he’d try his hand at growing some fruit. He had heard about a mysterious fruit called a seedless watermelon. As you might imagine, this was a difficult challenge because it still takes a seed to grow a seedless watermelon, but you have to know somebody. Oakly didn’t, he was just a little seed himself.

Maybe the most surprising choice Oakly made was checking out a few books at the local Farmer’s Library. The first books that Oakly chose were not the kind he would usually read. One of the books was about GTP, Getting Things Planted. Another book was about how to find the right field, and had an appendix on whether more sunlight or more shade would give certain seeds a better ROB, Return on Burial.

Then he found some really novel tales. He initially thought that a book called The Lord of the Rings would be about tree-rings, and was a little disappointed until he met Treebeard and the Ents whom Oakly realized were the real heroes of the battle. And he found all sorts of stories about Dryads, stories as old as the Odyssey, as new as Percy Jackson, and cried little seed-tears when he read about what Tirian and Jewel found happening to these living trees in The Last Battle.

In a far corner of the library he found a book about a holiday entirely devoted to tree drip. Not drip like tree sap, but drip like tree swag. And also, the holiday isn’t really about trees, but it includes trees, and how every December pines get decorated with bling, wrapped with necklaces of lights and garland.

Most interesting to Oakly was an ancient book that included a large family tree. He learned that distant cousins many generations ago had provided wood for a family for a boat that spared them and animals of all kinds during a great flood. He read about other relatives who were chosen by the wisest of Eastern kings to become beams and planks in a great temple. And then he came to the chapter where his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather once became a crossbar that held the Master Gardener for a few hours one Friday.

This Master Gardener was also the Maker of seeds, and had once predicted not that He would climb a tree He had created, but that He would bear it and then be born by it. What was fascinating to Oakly is that this Gardener likened His work to that of a seed. He became like a seed, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

He said this would be His glory, and that just as a seed which is buried brings forth much fruit, so would His death bring much life.

Most seeds want to bear fruit but they don’t want to be buried first. Even for seeds, it takes a kind of faith to see what happens. But the first seed under the ground doesn’t get bloody, he gets blessing.

On a hot June afternoon, years and years later, some human students were eating their hot dogs sitting under Oakly’s branches, enjoying his shade, giving thanks for how Oakly spent himself many summers ago.

Mellifluous Minutes

Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our candidate for graduation. I know the work required to get to this point, and it is an honor to push this celebration toward its crescendo.

Our fifth graduating class turns out to be our smallest. There is a song that says one is the loneliest number, but one senior allows for a more singular charge, even as others listen along.

ECS is a not a music school, but music is certainly both an instrument and expression of our learning. Bonnie is a musical young lady. Music isn’t the only thing we teach, and music isn’t the only thing Bonnie makes, but there has been a harmonious relationship between she and the school.

It would be irresponsible to say that ECS caused Bonnie’s love of music, and certainly we didn’t create her appetite and aptitude for singing or her abilities with instruments. As she said during her capstone presentation, her family is a musical family, dad and mom and also older siblings. They have been taking songs and packing instruments with them all over the world, sort of the traveling Netherlander von Trapps. On our school’s trip to the UK in 2018, one of her sisters pulled out packets of worship song lyrics from previous youth retreats; apparently carrying such papers was an international priority. The Bour sisters’ mantra might be: “Let’s sing!” How many Raggants Got Talent entries has Bonnie been in singing or strumming (or sashaying)? It won’t shock you that she took quite seriously the job of ukulele arrangement for “Let It Go.” Musica eius erat, est, et erit (Her music was, is, and will be).

ECS also has a history with music, and Lord willing, we will repeat that chorus many times. One school story from before there was a school seems appropriate to remember tonight. On Friday evening, October 14th, 2011, we had our very first Committee meeting. A Committee was formed before a Board, because a Board decides what the school will do, a Committee decides if there should even be a school. Mr. Sarr, Mr. Weinberg, Mr. Martin, Mr. Light, Mr. Bowers, Mrs. Higgins and myself got together, and after we prayed, the first thing we did was watch a TED Talk on YouTube, just like they did at Plato’s Academy.

It was a talk about how everyone can, and should, come to enjoy classical music, given by the conductor/composer, Benjamin Zander. I rewatched those twenty minutes again a few days ago, and it resonated just as loudly. He played a few pieces on the piano, he pointed out some connections between notes (“the job of the C is to make B sad” and the B wants to “get home to E” in Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus Number 28: No. 4 in E Minor), and also commented on how leaders see great opportunities and do not doubt that they can encourage and empower others to get where they’re dreaming.

If I remember correctly, we hadn’t started singing any Psalms yet as a church. We certainly hadn’t had a Matins because we didn’t have any students, so no Cantus, no choir, no Bible songs, no school-endorsed egg shakers. What we did have that night was a drum beat of conviction that we could come to love a lot more things, that it would be good for us, that we could grow, and that a bunch of others would also get a taste and be drawn into the gravity of the project.

This is about music, sure, and music is a metaphor for a bunch of things that make up the tones and rhythms of our school culture. And this, as it turns out, shouldn’t be too surprising, because there is a sort of music that plays in the universe.

You may hear it referred to as the “music of the spheres,” or the “harmony of the spheres.” These spheres are not the various spheres of life, as Kuyperians regularly refer to them, but the heavenly, celestial orbits. Not only poets, but scientists watched and measured and calculated the movements of the planets, and they noticed and celebrated the ratios and harmonies.

Joahannes Kepler was a German mathematician and astronomer, born 25 years after Martin Luther died, who worked before the word gravity was applied to stellar phenomenon, who labored to describe the motions and laws of the planets, and he spoke about it as music. One of his books is called Harmonices Mundi, or Harmonies of the World, in which he presented his case that the speed of the planets at two various points in their ellipse around the sun have a proportion equal to a musical interval. This heavenly choir had a tenor (Mars), two bass (Saturn and Jupiter), a soprano (Mercury), and two altos (Venus and Earth). Though earlier philosophers like Pythagorus and astronomers such as Ptolemy considered songs of the cosmos, Kepler commended them as God’s works.

It is no mistake that Lewis has Aslan sing Narnia into creation in The Magician’s Nephew, or that Tolkien has Eru teach the Ainur to sing reality into existence in The Silmarillion. Whether or not Yahweh sang in Genesis 1, God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7). Certainly our future is one of singing, and we will join the angels singing the Lord’s praises for creation and redemption.

Music is not mere “filler,” not just background noise, though those are fine uses. There are many different lawful and beautiful types of music, occasions where certain styles are fitting and good. Music was not only one of the seven liberal arts, in many ways music is the rhetoric of math, perhaps even the crown of classical education. The Quadrivium are arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. If arithmetic is numbers, geometry is numbers in shape, astronomy is numbers in movement, and music is numbers in time. Music is the adorning of time.

One of your responsibilities, Bonnie, is to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture by beautifying time, and by blessing others as you help them develop and ears to hear. This includes all of your interests, not just your instruments.

You are well known for taking a long time to do your homework, breaking homework surveys in the process. You are also well known not just for taking a long time to eat your food, but for taking a long time to decide if you even like what you’re eating or not. It was a frequent conversation on the UK trip: Do you like it? Do you like it now? Do you think you’ll ever know if you liked it?

This is a funny quirk, and perhaps your non-committal relationship to food will go with you for a long time. But, I want to charge you not to settle for this with your calling to make mellifluous music.

You have a desire to please others, and this is generally a good desire. But you also need to learn what really pleases you, and in doing so, make it and play it and perform it and it will be a delight to others. Benjamin Zander called it “one-buttock playing,” where the music pushes you over. Keep learning, and then honor your teachers by multiplying their investment.

Mellifluous is an adjective that applies to a voice or words meaning sweet or musical; pleasant to hear (New Oxford American Dictionary). It comes from the Latin mellifluus a combination of mel ‘honey’ + fluere ‘to flow’. So, put some honey on a minute. Make mellifluous minutes.

Do this with every thumb’s-plunk on the piano, every thumb’s-pluck on the ukulele, every thumb’s-strum on the guitar, every thumb’s-swipe to the next sheet of a song you’ve written.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
(Psalm 92:1–4 ESV)

In submission to the Lord of math and ratios and decibels, with thanks for majors and minors, white keys and black keys, uks and kazoos and synthetic cat gut violin strings, with a Steinway and with a Stradivarius, honor Him as a steward who beautifies time. Let’s sing!

A Place for Our Shelter

I recently read the following assessment (made in the fall of 1970): “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mystifying as the obvious” (Irving Kristol). We are surrounded by those who not only lack the will to see reality, they willfully won’t, and so we are basically living in an Alfred Hitchcock mystery, and no one knows when this twilight zone will end. (And yes, I understand that Hitchcock did not write The Twilight Zone, but that’s how mixed up things are these days.)

What an island of normal ECS has been this past school year. What a refuge our campus has been for those with the will to see things as they really are, who are otherwise confronted at every doorway by masked faces and unmasked fearfulness and/or fatigue. King David taught Israel to sing, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit?” (Psalm 139:7), and we may be tempted to scream, Where shall I flee from Dr. Fauci’s press releases?

Where can you go to buy groceries without needing to mentally prep yourself for possible run-ins with door police and scolding from fellow shoppers? Perhaps some of you are still faced with distancing and masking requirements when you go to worship on the Lord’s Day. The panicked, angry, self-righteous virtue signaling on social media cycles virtually on repeat, and the only thing worse than scrolling through it on a screen is walking through it in person.

And here our little school has been, by God’s grace, without a single a Zoom class this past year. We’re meeting, we’re singing, every day, multiple times throughout the day, inside, and not just in our hearts. We share the same basketballs playing bump at recess. We sit next to each other in class without plexiglass in between. Our problems are things such as getting homework finished and finding the playground equipment left out overnight. We’ve had some boy-girl drama, we’ve had water left running in some bathroom sinks. What we’ve had are problems that are normal.

Other problems are growing, such as having a hundred more students enrolled for next fall than we started with renting at Reclamation (around 60 students in 2015 and already over 170 for 2021). The other significant problem, one which is a blessing for a school like ours, is that it’s increasingly frustrating to enjoy a place where so so much is so great and then realizing you can’t stay at school 24 hours a day.

That said, calling ECS an “island” of normal isn’t really right; the metaphor isn’t sufficient. We’re not trying to get away or hide away.

I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about a Christian or conservative “bubble.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard “bubble” used in a positive sense, always as a pejorative. It suggests that people are afraid, and even more that they are trying to bunker down, to barricade themselves as an escape. It’s as if they can’t handle the heat, as if they don’t even want to deal with the fact that the outside exists.

We are not hiding in a bubble, but rather building a shelter. C.R. Wiley (our guest speaker at the recent Fiction Festival) wrote (before 2020) about living in a world that’s falling apart, that “people build institutions for shelter” (Man of the House, Loc. 1346). Building a shelter is different from being sheltered. A shelter is for sake of protection from the elements, being sheltered is to avoid any engagement at all.

It is almost laughably easy to find reasons to build a shelter reactively. We are a local school, and in our State, even though a couple hundred-thousand petitioners made it so that a mandatory sex-education bill our legislators invented made it onto the ballot, enough of our neighbors voted their approval anyway. Just last week our Governor signed a bill to make Critical Race Theory teaching mandatory in government schools ([source]), a set of ideas based on externals and sure to increase suspicion and discrimination.

I mean, there is not really a reason to be surprised at this because government schools gave up appeal to God and even to transcendence (and therefore dignity and morality) decades ago. The tale of evolution is being played out, even if scientists don’t argue for it any more. Men are, wait, I mean humans are, I mean, what are we allowed to call ourselves? Whatever. We are “progressing” and there is no objective standard that we are progressing to. It’s like if a jigsaw puzzle factory exploded, all the pieces were mixed up, and all the box covers destroyed. What are we even trying to make?

Some of you have heard of (or even reading) the book Live Not by Lies. The book recounts testimonies of many Russians who lived through the totalitarian rule of Communism. We are staring down the barrel of a soft totalitarianism, wherein we are not being beaten (yet) but we are being bought.

Tyranny is oppressive rule. Totalitarianism is worse. Totalitarianism pushes someone else’s ideas and priorities into our space to displace our loves and traditions and values and institutions. They want us to live as if their illusions are obvious. It is part of our job to know the truth and to oppose the falsehood and propaganda. This isn’t about turning everything into political debate, but we are acknowledging that every thumb’s-width is claimed by Jesus. What bonds us together is not that we are victims, it is not that our contempt is more virtuous, but that we love God and His world and our image-bearing responsibilities to commend His works to another generation.

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” —G.K. Chesterton

We need to preserve memory, including historical memory (unlike the Ministry of Truth and its “memory hole” in 1984) of what has actually happened. We preserve and pass on cultural memory, remembering all the good that God has given us through the stories of people who built what we’re standing on. We need to see the obvious, and we need the imaginative capacity to fight back. We need to know how to endure pain, and to know which pleasures are false. There is false comfort, false peace. There is also true feasting, in true shelter and with true thanks.

God doesn’t promise to build any school like He promises to build His church. God doesn’t give promises to schools like He gives to fathers and mothers raising their children in Christian homes. But as a school puts feet onto the mission of our churches to make disciples, and as a school multiplies the efforts of parents to raise their children in the ways of the Lord, it is an institution that protects and promotes and pushes forward.

If ECS has been a little island of normal, it’s like a war-island. So, teasing that out a bit, we are much more like an aircraft carrier (though we started out kayak size). We are like a little city of our own, a small community distinguished from others, living together and working together and fighting for the same things.

An aircraft carrier is a shelter and a refuge and a training ground and a carrier of weapons and a weapon itself. It makes a statement. It’s more than a monastery to preserve what is important and obvious. ECS is an advance of Christ-honoring culture.

And this is our ship. This is our shelter, for the education of our children and our great-grandchildren. This is our culture, for the part of your life in which learning about all the thumb’s-widths in the universe happens. This is our normal because Jesus is our Lord.

We are not trying to shelter-in-place, but we’d love to put our shelter in a place. We are looking for a metaphorical port for our metaphorical shelter-warship. We are creating valuable shelter where it didn’t previously exist, and now we need more space (and more workers). Our mission is not yet accomplished, so we will continue to commend the works of the Lord to another generation and trust Him for the next stage of our advance. As a modern day poet wrote, we are “Like a small boat, on the ocean, sending big waves into motion….”

—Mr. Higgins