The Summer of Raggants

The following are the notes for Mr. Higgins final assembly talk.

On the first day of school I declared this The Year of the Raggant. We’ve made it to the last day, and here is the other bookend. I don’t have a short story, but more of a pep talk as you enter the short summer. Let this be The Summer of Raggants.

We want you to be awesome Christians. We want you to be the kind of Christians that people who aren’t Christians look at and think, ‘Those people have something different than me.’ We don’t want all of you to be the same, not just because boys aren’t girls but because God made all His people to do different things. And yet, there are some characteristics that every Christian student should have. That’s why we refer to them as the “other graduation requirements,” or, what it means to act like a raggant.

Do they apply only to school at school days or also to summer days? Duh, they apply to all time, including after you graduate. But while we work on helping each raggant develop these six muscle groups while they are here, what can/should you do over summer to keep getting more ragganty?

I’ve got some feet on-the-ground suggestions (which is good, since raggants don’t like to let others see them fly). Mr. Sarr and Mrs. Pakinas also helped with some of the particular ideas, which include things that a new first grader could do and the new seniors, too. Mrs. Herr made the colorful raggant, and Mrs. Higgins cut out these reminders that you can put on the fridge or use as a book mark.

Stout image-bearers. Human beings are not meant to “do our own thing” or “decide who we are.” We are meant to reflect the likeness of God who made us. When we “behold” Him we know more what we’re to be. We become like who or what we worship. This is one reason why our worship on the Lord’s Day not only is for the glory of God but for God to give us our shape and strength.

Of course we see more about God in His Word. What a privilege to have our own copies. Every one of you can read now, so you could read a verse a day, or some of you ought to read more. If your parents let you, listen to Scripture; it’s free, and it’s forming. God’s Word is spiritual food. If you don’t eat, you will get weak.

Go to church and worship God every week, read your Bible every day.

Be patient, gracious, forgiving. These are godly, and ragganty. And for a test of your stoutness and braveness, tell all gossips to STOP IT.

This is first, starting with the first day of the week, so first in priority, and first in the list of raggant virtues. This is the most obvious way of honoring Christ: worship Him.

Copious producers. A producer is someone who makes things, you take some raw materials and create something else. You cause something that didn’t exist to become a thing!

I’m not saying that there’s no place to wind down and enjoy watching some TV/movies/YouTube or play video games as your parents allow, but don’t let that suck all your minutes away.

The blessed man is like a tree planted by streams of water, and as you reflect God more and more you will bear more and more fruit.

Make: dinner, cookies, paintings, Lego castles, blanket forts, science experiments, your bed (every day!)

Generous disciples of Christ. To be generous is to show a readiness to give more of something than is necessary or expected. It’s a way to show kindness to others.

Generous might make you think of money, but most of you as students probably don’t have a lot of that. Christ didn’t give away money. He gave Himself.

We are Christ’s disciples, we are His students, His followers. So we follow the example that He left for us, and walk in His steps. We obviously can’t do all the same things Jesus did, but share the loaves and fishes you have. One thing we all have the same amount of is time. How will you be generous with yours?

Do the dishes (not just on your assigned night). Play with your siblings when they ask. Do something good for a neighbor.

Prodigious learners. Part of what we’re aiming to do is give you the skills and the exposures for sake of increasing interests to keep learning for the rest of your life. To be prodigious means to let it be BIG; Christ made a big cosmos, and He loves all that He made for us.

Reading is a way to do it, and it doesn’t have to be non-fiction. A good story can teach you lessons, even if it’s just some new vocabulary.

Read 3 (hard for you) books before September 4 (the first day of school, not that you want to think about that today). Learn a skill: guitar, drawing, volleyball, wood burning. Sometimes people say, Go big or go home. I say, learn big at home!

Thankful stewards. Thankfulness is appropriate, required, and good for you. There is nothing you have that you did not receive, from God directly or from God through another person.

As Mr. Sarr likes to remind us, thankful people are more fun to give things to anyway.

Handwrite a thank you note for every gift you get. Write a card for a gift you did NOT get. And you all are working on your penmanship anyway, right? This will give you a chance to show off your skills. Say “thank you” after every meal anyone makes for you. See if you can do it!

Jovial warriors. Jovial is a word that refers to being cheerful, like a king in his court, taking care of things without any worry on his face and gifting his people from his resources. He is glad and giving, even though all his projects aren’t finished. This is the kind of attitude to start the day with, not just to end when things went like we wanted.

Whether or not you are naturally so, call a T.O.: Try Optimism. When you’re assigned a chore you don’t like, when your plans didn’t work out, if you can do it without being snarky, throw your head back and say HA!

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Refuse to complain, about the weather, the boredom, getting sick, the Mariners losing again. Practice LOL!

Raggants are high discipline, low drama summer rockstars. Summer break starts today, so start your summer stage of carrying and advancing Christ-honoring culture. May the Lord bless the next few months as The Summer of Raggants.

Tip More, Boldly

The following is the charge to the class of 2024 at ECS given by Mr. Higgins.

Good evening to our graduate candidates, their parents and families, Headmaster and school board and faculty, and guests.

ECS is less than a week from finishing our 12th year. Two of you have been here all twelve years (you are the majority of Muckle Eejits); only a few of the current juniors will be able to say by the time they’re done that they were here longer. It certainly seems like all four of you belong here, and it seems hard to imagine what it will be like next week without you all.

We are all here tonight because you have completed the work we asked you to do. You have read the pages, written the papers, sang your parts. And all of that is just a small portion of what you’ve accomplished.

As we celebrate what you’ve finished, my final charge to you before you move your tassels is to tip more, boldly.

Tip is the key word. I don’t mean tip as in give an extra 20% or 30% on top of the bill, though I do believe in generous gratuities. I definitely don’t mean tip in terms of giving little simplistic life-hacks; we could all use less of those tips. When I say — tip more, boldly — I mean, don’t leave whatever room you enter the way it was. Think of a Saint Bernard running into a tiny kitchen and stepping on the water bowl; you can’t ignore that.

Make a dent. Leave a mark. Tip the status quo over, and over.

This is not the same thing as destroying the good, but don’t hold back when you see how to make something better. Go ahead, poke holes in superficial stuff.

Here’s an example from your senior year. Together you all turned the school’s annual Reformation Day into Reformation week. Not only that, you added the school at home day and called the raggants to regroup for most of a Friday at a property 45 minutes away. You saw what had been done in previous years and thought that you could try something different, something bigger.

While a lot of that project was enjoyable, edible, and edifying, it was exhausting. Come to think of it, it probably was too much. Your ideas helped to clarify ideas from staff and teachers that, as it turns out, one day is actually enough, and keeping the costumes and competitions, the booths and bonfires on campus is a reasonable restraint. I don’t know how many more opportunities you’ll have like that. It gets harder to risk things as you get older. But, go ahead, and make people dial you back. Do things that make others write policies after you. Make them realize that they could do more, more is possible.

Tip more, boldly.

We could use some more people with ideas. An idea in this sense is different than opinions about how other people should do something, or stop doing something, or do what they’re doing differently. Ideas are thoughts about a course of action, an aim to make something, to do some good for others.

In the movie “The Darkest Hour” there’s a scene that tickles me where two old men are walking through government halls fretting about Winston Churchill as the newly appointed Prime Minister.

First man: “He’s an actor, in love with the sound of his own voice.”
Second man: “I love to listen to him. But we must never take his advice. He has a hundred ideas a day, four of them are good, the other ninety-six downright dangerous.”

But without endorsing everything he did, Churchill had conviction, which was crucial 80 years ago during WWII. All of you stood at Point Du Hoc together; you walked on the beaches in France. We remember the men. And we remember D-Day as one of the tipping points in world history and certainly for western civilization. Graduates, go ahead and have some more ideas with conviction.

I have been referring to this year at ECS as the Year of the Raggant. It didn’t take off in all the ways I hoped it would, but, one of the things that did not disappoint was how all of you acted like raggants. As seniors, you were an elite rumpus within the rumpus, making noise and causing commotion for the benefit of us all.

We talk about six characteristics of a raggant. We didn’t write them with you in mind, but top to bottom as a class you have modeled them the best so far.

Stout image-bearers, not stepping lightly like kittens, but with meaty paws like lions. Seniors, you have refined your rhetoric of roar and reflected a God who cares as you have cared.

Generous disciples of Christ, and here where it would be fine for you to leave big tips, as well as to cause big tips. But you have been generous with your time to hang out with underclassmen, to decorate for events, to give yourselves to others in Jesus’ name.

Copious producers, which you have done, not just in writing parodies about copious production. Go ahead, keep making baskets heavy, and write big books, annoy others that you know so much that it took so many pages and they just couldn’t put it down.

Prodigious learners, because we don’t always know what the next thing to tip is going to be, or even where the pressure point is. I want to come back to this in a moment.

Thankful stewards, and this has been a big part of why you’ve made such an impact, as Mr. Sarr noted in his comments. You’ve done your work with gratefulness, not grumbling. You’ve probably been given more things because it was more fun to do so.

And jovial warriors, laughing so that the other tables get mad, they’re bored and they’re made uncomfortable because you’re having such a great time. This isn’t being cheerful as a way to ignore problems, it’s being cheerful as you address them.

As I’ve considered your quad-rumpus, for all your ideas and big plans and finished projects, what really stands out, looking back, is that while you are not easily tip-able, all of you have been teachable. Mr. Sarr pointed out that your thankfulness has been evident, and teachability is like open hands to thankful’s overflowing heart.

You have been teachable, and so you are teaching others. You have received, and so you have things to give. You have listened, and so you have things to think about and more substance to your own thoughts. Even up to yesterday, you were seeking wisdom and willing to update your ideas.

Those who would be great leaders must know how to be ready listeners, eager learners, prompt followers. Those who would advance Christ-honoring culture must not only not reject it, but take the handoff. Your class has killed it in terms of impact on younger students and even on the faculty, because you never acted like you were being held back.

God has blessed you because of that, blessed you with hard-earned unity as a class as well as with deep influence on the school.

Go into every room, not like you own the place, but like you know the Lord who does. You are raggants. You are part of the rumpus. Be teachaBOLD. Tip more, boldly.

“Lives and generations and history are there for the tipping. You have hands. You have words. You have something. Touch the scales. Touch the least of these.” (N.D. Wilson, Death by Living, 145)

Turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Don’t leave it the same, you have not left ECS the same.

Receiving the Givens

The year that the US celebrated 200 years of independence from Britain, educational pundit Howard Kirschenbaum offered a working definition of the popular educational theory dubbed “Values Clarification.” He offered this definition:

“An approach that utilizes questions and activities designed to teach the valuing process and to help people skillfully apply the valuing processes to value-rich areas in their lives” (Kirschenbaum, 1976, p. 103-4).

The Journal of Education Leadership offers this additional commentary on Kirschenbaum:

“Kirschenbaum did not assert that values clarification will be the one true answer for humankind, as it does not provide all of the answers. Yet, Kirschenbaum’s work does explain a process for valuing. The author posited if people engage in this process, their lives will have more positive value and they will become constructive global citizens” (Kirschenbaum, 1976).

“Does not provide all the answers?” Gee, ya think?

This is wrongheaded, and quite different from what we are trying to do at Evangel Classical School.

Values Clarification’s baseline assumption is that values are things to be discovered. At ECS, we believe that values are things to be given.

Our aim is not to help students discover what is true or false, good or bad, beautiful or ugly. We don’t need to discover what God has given any more than a car needs to discover gasoline. It needs to receive, and then operate accordingly. Rather we want for them to know and love what is true, good, and beautiful.

Education is fundamentally moral, and to try to educate without a defined sense or morality is like trying to sail without a boat. Further, without a fixed standard, we are the determiners of what constitutes the moral or the valuable.

This is silly! There is a fixed order to the universe, physically, morally, and otherwise. If it were not so, the laws of physics would be the suggestions of physics, and we’d have no bridges with structure under tension, nor would we have internal combustion engines, utilizing a series of controlled explosions to get you from Arlington to Marysville. We’d have reckless robbery and murder in the streets and chaos would reign. A man today is considered courageous when he says he’s a woman, but a man who is five feet tall is thought to be a bit imbalanced when he identifies as a seven-footer.

Every math teacher ever has realized that 2 + 2 = 4, yet few can (or will?) say why that is the case. I have no interest in helping grammar students discover the sum of 2 and 2, but I want them to know it as a fact; I do want to train them to figure out more of what God has ordered.

With a fixed starting point, we can sing Happy Birthday harmoniously and beautifully; without a fixed starting point, it sounds like the cacophony of a hundred voices singing in 103 different keys.

We believe that culture is a baton to be passed on to the next generation. Values are inside that baton of culture, and our values must be based on the revealed word of God, not the fluid and real-time discoveries of fallen men.

Yet it’s been said that the best of men are men, at best. Our notions of what God has said may be wrong. But here we have the grace of God’s Word to which we can appeal to retreat. And this is where the academic part of education comes into play. With our educational model, we are working to train students to better understand the world that God has created and ordered, with little interest in moral self-discovery. And when their training is complete, they will have not only something to say, but the ability to say it, with the authority of men under authority.

Let us abandon any efforts to help our children discover their values and instead help them to love what God values. Doing so will prove infinitely better than letting them determine their own morality.

  • —The U.H.

Get Rich

The following are Mr. Higgins’ notes from the Fundraising Feast.

There’s a story about my relationship to the school that I’ve never told in public before. It took place within a month or two of starting ECS.

Another family invited our family over for dinner, I think it was a Sunday evening, and it seemed like it would be a relaxing time of food and fellowship. Mo and I loaded up all four kids, at the time Maggie was in 5th grade, Calvin was in 1st grade, and while Hallie and Keelah weren’t old enough for school just yet they tagged along with Mo every day for the few classes she had to teach.

We arrived at the host’s home, shared some greeting pleasantries, and began eating after a short while. Not too far into the meal we found out the real agenda for the night. For the next couple hours Mo and I learned a variety of things that we were doing wrong, previously unknown to us. The criticisms were unpleasant enough, and showing no signs of slowing down, that Mo texted her mom to come and pick up our kids, which the hosts didn’t even realize until Mo and I were leaving.

The chief accusation, which also functioned as main heading that included a full magazine of bullets under it, was when they said, ”You just started a school to get rich.”

It wasn’t just the Higgins, but also the Sarrs. Both families were partners in greed. Since everyone knows if you want to get rich just start a private Christian school, how could we justify following the well-worn, almost-certain path to financial success?

I am here tonight to tell you, that after almost a dozen full years of ECS, I have never been more rich in my life.

If I had known heading into dinner that night what I know now at this dinner tonight, I would have tried a completely different defense. I would still start with laughter, of the head-thrown-back guffawing kind, and not just because risus est bellum. But I don’t think I’d try to make any arguments from the tiring histories of private school budget strains, let alone the many painful, even brutal experiences of school closures due to budget collapses. I wouldn’t try to draw any capital from my character account as a leader, asking what about my person made it seem like I was money hungry. If I could go back to that table again, instead of saying “Get real,” I’d say, “You’re absolutely right.”

Now in Logic terms I’d be playing with verbal equivocation, a possible informal fallacy, but I’d play it hard. I’d be using the key word in their premise in a different way in my conclusion. But part of my argument would be that my definition is not just another option, not just a better option, but the right definition. Did we start a school to get rich? Not in any way to increase our personal collection of dollars. But starting a school has absolutely increased our wealth.

What does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be wealthy? What does it mean to you?

I am not trying to spiritualize the discussion in a way that sneers at money. We call this event our Fundraising Feast. We are trying to raise funds. We have bills, we write paychecks, we want to provide financial scholarships for families that need aid, and we’d love to improve the only non-asphalt play-place on our campus with turf, especially for the 13 months a year that it rains.

But we are laboring to build and to enjoy that which doesn’t rust. Our treasure is not just in what we can see, where thieves break in and steal. And that does not mean that God only makes His people rich in heaven. I said, I have never been more rich in my life. That’s right here, right now.

Stuff as riches is a simple metric, but it’s a superficial one, and not a certain source of joy. For those whose life is lived only under the sun, they are busy wearing themselves out to gather and collect; cash comes and cash goes, but the monthly subscriptions remain forever. If that’s all there is, it’s a burden, it’s striving after wind, it’s vanity. How many “rich” people have accounts full of emptiness?

When God makes wealthy He adds no guilt. “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Again, this includes what we eat and what we wear and the shelter our Heavenly Father provides. But He gives so much more.

Maybe you’ve read (or wanted to say you’ve read) the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. Taleb makes his money as a financial investor, but he also plays the part of a know-it-all-philosopher. The principle of anti-fragility is being in a position to benefit when things get shaken. He is certainly aiming his advice toward making money, but even he knows that wealth is more. His list of “true wealth” include:

  • worry-less sleeping
  • a clear conscience
  • a good appetite
  • no meals alone
  • good bowel movements
  • absence of envy
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • frequent laughs
  • periodic surprises

Being “rich” is having an abundance, but it’s abundance of more than just possessions (or power).

I’m rich with an expanding while tightening network of likeminded Christian families; we love being with our kids and homeschooling is mostly awesome and yet for us it does not compare to the riches of this community. I’m rich with seeing the joy of teachers who call ECS their “dream job” not because of how the economics work out but because of the environment they work in, and then being in the educational trenches with them. I’m more rich because of personal learning and need-to-grow accountability as a parent, a teacher, and as a divine-image bearer in the great stream of Western Civilization. I’m rich with kids who aren’t just suffering through assignments, but who have their dumb ideas laughed at and their great ideas sharpened; they want IN and want MORE. I’m rich not just with kids who know the standard, but with kids who love the standard and the vision of helping others love and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

I’m rich with a clear conscience and with consciousness of God’s abundant blessings on this big project.

A few months ago, the day that re-enrollment paperwork was due, I was out of town, and Mo started working through some of the online questions to apply for financial aid. One of them was, “What would you be willing to give up for sake of a private education?” Mo has trouble with these sorts of questions, because she’s curious and can get lost in the clouds at the 50-thousand foot level pretty fast. But this one was easy. What would we give up? Everything. And that’s because of what have we gained: Everything.

What’s amazing about this kind of wealth is that it’s not zero-sum. It’s not like a bigger piece of pie for me means burnt crust crumbs for you. We are creating new value, win-win wealth, generational wealth, non-linear wealth. Through cooperation and mutual exchanges and sweat equity, multiple families get multiple blessings. You do have to invest, but it’s hard to calculate the compounding interest. You do have to get skin in the game, but you get back more than you could give away.

“One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing” (Proverbs 13:7). But we are not LARPers: Live Action Rich Pretenders. We have the world and life and death and the present and the future. All are ours because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

Friends, may you eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God is blessing us. And, may you aim for so much more than cash and comfort. Get rich, really.

What Are They Going to Remember?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will they remember from their time with you?

—The U.H.

A First-rate Feast for Scholarships and Playground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WhereSwans Trail Farms

Cost: Free!

RSVP: Aisha Bone ( or 360-502-6950 by Friday, May 3. 

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

I hope to see you there!

Risus est bellum!

Fellowship is Freshly-Baked Cookies

(and) Grumbling is Sewage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risus est bellum.

Do So More and More

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

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

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

Do we have to choose between…

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

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

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

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

Aiming chiefly for students’ comfort will thwart their growth.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

Risus est bellum!


Disturbing the Lives of Others

The following are the notes from Mr. Higgins’ talk at the 2024 Information Night.

As we’ve been preparing for this evening, our thirteenth Information Night, Mr. Sarr has tongue-in-cheek penciled me in to speak something “mind-blowing.” I’m not prepared to deliver that, but I am prepared to tell you something disturbing. In fact have no reluctance in trying to disturb you.

ECS has been disturbing my life since before the school even had a name. My schedule, my wife’s schedule, my kids’ schedules, my reading plans, my comfort zone, my understanding of what matters, my vision for the next twenty years, my bank account, my summer breaks, my sleeping, my coffee consumption, my level of laughter have all been disturbed. ECS has been, and keeps on, messing with how I previously had arranged all my stuff. And I love it.

Not only that, I keep trying to disturb the lives of people I care about. Some of the people I love the most are more tired than they’ve ever been, feel more overwhelmed now than before, have had a bunch of their stuff interrupted or interfered with, and I think they would say that they absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I say disturbing, I mean disturbing like we are living in a barn with a metal roof and the BLESSINGS keep falling like jumbo, Honeycrisp apples; bang, bang, bang! Imagine blessings falling not like our typical lazy Western Washington sprinkles, but a Midwest sky-dump. We can’t walk outside comfortably in all the raining blessings; we need kevlar umbrellas.

Blessings are good, but often disrupting. If you got an unanticipated ten-million dollar inheritance (after taxes), it would disturb your week. God gives first time parents nine-months of low-level disruption before the major blessing of the kid’s birth, and BANG. Then we eventually get to the point where we realize we’ve got to educate this little blessing. That’s going to require rearranging whatever you had on the calendar.

And without trying to be dramatic, a good education will barge in on anyone trying to make sure their blessings never spill over their easy-to-carry mini-basket. There are a LOT of things to learn. If Jesus cares about it, we can care about it.

  • If He created it, He cares. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV).
  • If He controls it, He cares. “[H]e upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).
  • If He commands it, duh. Among the commands, we can go all the way back to the mandate for divine image-bearers: with His blessing, men are to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion on it (Genesis 1:28).

Christ’s interests are comprehensive, which more than permits our increase of interests, it ought to provoke our increase (incrementally even though finitely) as we pursue Christlikeness. Our mission as a school is to commend all the works of the Lord to the next generation, educating them and laughing and laboring in order to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

And we are most certainly not living in broader culture that has any interest in honoring Christ. At best they are willfully negligent about honoring Jesus as Lord, and more so these days they express open rebellion against His exclusive preeminence and righteous standards. The nations rage and rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His anointed. As much as it’s ever been in our lifetimes, the division between two ways of life glares at us. It’s not a Red and Blue thing, but a God is God or men are wannabe-God thing.

Humanism has gotten us to the point where we think being a human being is a harmful-privilege that requires self-condemnation for how all us people are The Problem™️ on the planet. Humanism has gotten us to the point where we sacrifice the most vulnerable, unborn humans by redefining what it means to be a human; “Sorry, you must be on a different side of that muscle wall.” Humanism has gotten us to the point where our doctors won’t dare to identify male or female, our politicians create days and fly flags to celebrate perversity, and our government school (so-called) “teachers” teach students fictions as feasible (changing genders would just be one example).

Friends, that’s not only crazy, it’s disturbing. And that really points out that we’re in a battle for disturbing. Either Jesus is Lord and living for Him is worth having our lives disrupted by His blessings, or Jesus is not Lord and we can go about fiddling with distractions and trying to survive the insanity.

One of my favorite talks of all time was given by Abraham Kuyper in 1880 at the inauguration of the Free University in Amsterdam, “Sphere Sovereignty.” There will be Sovereignty, either of God or of man. If we recognize that God is sovereign, then our life is built on truth, our convictions resonate with truth. If we act like men are sovereign, whether represented by intellectuals or bureaucrats, then our lives are built on a “denial of the facts of life.”

“[T]he only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root [are God’s sovereignty or man’s sovereignty]. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

This is it. Our faith is in the living God or in fake news. And note that those living in their fantasy will risk their lives and make no apologies for disturbing the lives of others. What energy and endurance and dollars they devote to their cause! But those who live by faith in the Messiah, who are surrendered to Christ the King, will most certainly risk their own lives and make no apologies for disturbing the lives of others. Only one can be, only one is, the place of disruptive blessings.

Blessings are in the basics — phonograms and reading drills and math facts and Bible history — emphasized in the GRAMMAR stage. Blessings are in categories and distinguishing — practiced in the LOGIC stage. Blessings are in adornment — speeches and singing — embodied in the RHETORIC stage. The Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) are some of the tools of classical education. Blessings at ECS also come in laughter, especially when we laugh while trying to fix things rather than only laugh when the project/challenge is finished. Blessings most certainly come in sacrifices, offered out of love, for the life of others.

With Kuyper we say:

“To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” (“Sphere Sovereignty”, 463)

The blessings are better at ECS, and they are too big for a reluctant person to pick up. The blessings here are disturbing like walking over a dune in the desert to find an orchard of fruit trees, planted by a stream of water, where leaves don’t wither, and blessings prosper. These blessings are worth your life, and lives of those you love, being disturbed.

How Would Your Grandkids Vote?

“I’m not doing this for you; I’m doing this for your grandkids.”  

When he’s speaking with his school’s parents, this remark commonly issues from the mouth of Brent Harken, headmaster at Spokane Classical Christian School.  It is intended to offer more perspective than defense.

I appreciate this perspective.  As it turns out, doing our work for the benefit of our students’ children is very orienting.

It keeps us from compromise or the allure of temporary success.  In a school context, there are quick-fixes everywhere. Do you constantly repair a printer, or do you invest in a new one?  Do you make the splashy hire of the teacher with impressive credentials but the questionable testimony, or do you hire the sort of person you want your students to become?  Do you tweak the curriculum to pursue the impressive standardized test scores, or do you use the curriculum as a tool to shape souls, knowing that real education is more than (though not less than) academics?  Most of these questions answer themselves if we are thinking long-term.  

I coach the students to consider the input their grandkids would offer if they got to chime on on weighty decisions.  “What will your grandkids wish you would have done?”  The chances are high that they will wish you’d done the right/hard/obvious thing instead of taking the easy path. 

Further, working for the benefit of the next generation’s next generation requires us to pursue sustainability.  We want to make decisions that we can live with thirty years from now, whether fiscal, personnel, curricular, facilities, or something else.  Bandaids are fine, but sometimes a new diet or even surgery are in order.  Deciding what to do is made easier by considering our children’s children.

Evangel Classical School is working to shape a generation that will effect cultural change and the good of the world as it lives under the lordship of Christ.  The idea is this: Fully-trained Raggants will go into their spheres of responsibility and live out their worldview and utilize their education. It will be compelling to the world and bring them blessing (whether they finally trust Christ or not).  They may even ask us to explain our hope.  But that is not something that happens overnight. 

This long view keeps us going.  We know that God blesses acts of obedience carried out in faith by fallen people.   

Thinking generationally is really healthy, and working for the benefit of future generations is the best way to serve the current one. 

—The U.H.