Christmastime comes with its own soundtrack. Take a song, give it some sleigh bells and you’ve got a Christmas tune. Add in a crackling yule log and some spiced cider and you have the right sort of sentiment.
But substance trumps sentiment, which is why the Incarnation is a big deal.
At Christmas we celebrate the actual, literal, substantive advent of Jesus. We are not aiming for a certain sentiment unless is accompanies that substance. The Christmas “spirit” is sentiment that is devoid of any substantive meaning if not for the actual, flesh-and-blood appearing of Jesus.
This is why secular Christmas celebrations don’t make sense. Who cares about presents and sleigh bells and Christmas lights and warm fuzzies as ends in themselves? Not me! Feelings deceive. But if those things accompany something of substance, that’s different.
Presents remind us of the gift that God gave at Christmas. We give in imitation of our giving God.
Sleigh bells alert us of good things coming our way. Actual good things, not empty sentiments.
Christmas lights are an echo the Light of the World coming at Christmas.
We could go on, but signs are great, so long as they point to something real. Signs that direct you to nowhere are unhelpful.
The world was turned on its head when God became man. Platonists were offended when the Logos took on corruptible flesh. No man would have come up with this idea. It was staggering, and it is glorious.
My encouragement to you this Christmastime is this: be amazed.
Be amazed by the mind-blowing reality that God would lower Himself to serve His creatures, enabling their eternal fellowship with Him.
Be amazed that Jesus held together His own physical substance…and still does.
Be amazed at the glories of the Incarnation, then sing about them:
God of God, Light of Light, Lo! he abhors not the Virgin’s womb; Very God, Begotten not created.
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
At Christmas, we reject materialism while embracing the real. The Incarnation is worth celebrating and singing about.
The last few years have blessed us with many reasons to sharpen our thinking. Not only have we learned more, we’ve clarified more of our convictions, and the following is just one example. The ECS Board has drafted this position on the theological basis for maskless education that we plan to adopt into our by-laws at our next meeting. As usual, your feedback is welcome.
Human beings—male and female—are made in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). Men/boys and women/girls are divine image-bearers. Adam was the first man to reflect his Creator, and every other generation after Adam and Eve have the same privilege, to live together and work together. Throughout church history Man has been celebrated as imago Dei, “the image of God.”
This recognition of human identity is fundamental to “Our Vision” for why our school exists:
“We aim to educate in the classical model and from the Christian worldview so that, by God’s grace, every student may mature as a faithful bearer of God’s image and a living sacrifice of worship”
“We believe that God purposed for men to bear His image in every relationship and in all their responsibilities….”
That “image of God” means more than having opposable thumbs. On a broad level it means having the capacity for relationships (hence why it was not good for Adam to be alone and why God made Eve as a helper-companion, Genesis 2:18, 20) as well as the capacity for responsibility (so the original mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, Genesis 1:28). One of the inherent implications of these capacities is the faculty of communication and language (which was demonstrated on Adam’s first day when he named all the animals and then gave a name to his wife, Genesis 2:19-20). It was the abuse of the gift of communication that resulted in God confusing mankind’s language when they sought to make a name for themselves rather than work as reflections of the Lord (Genesis 11:4, 7).
As we all know, communication comes not only from our mouths, but from the faces that our mouths are on, as well as from our bodily movements and postures. Facial expressions are crucial non-verbal means of conveying social information between people, including nose-twitches and dropped-jaws and raised-eyebrows. Masks inhibit these normal signals, and increase unnatural messages (see the following paragraph). Masks muffle the clarity of phonics coming from the hard work done by tongue and teeth and throat, and prohibit extra helps the listener gets from looking at the lips. This is the opposite of a positive/supportive learning environment for image-bearers.
Worse than the practical problem is the relational problem of suspicion toward, and fear of, one’s fellow image-bearer. Masks increase anxiety in the group, not acceptance among the group. When the wearer thinks about herself, she thinks of herself as a threat to others, as if her latent germs can’t help but harm another. And if she does feel better about herself for covering up, it’s a false virtue, and false virtues have destroyed more societies than respiratory viruses. Then when we look at our neighbors (or classmates), masking practices teach us to think of our neighbor as a problem. If he’s not wearing a mask: problem. If he is wearing a mask: well at least he knows he’s a problem. Masks teach a false and damaging lesson (as do face shields and social distancing).
Our school’s internal governance requires obedience to God’s Word, especially in the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). But isn’t it unloving to start with assumptions about my neighbor that are so hesitant, if not resentful and scared?
God gave us faces. Face to face communication is a gift. Facetime is a more advanced technology than voice transmission by itself. Our faces are part of our identity, they reflect our hearts (Proverbs 14:13), as God intended it to be.
Of course, soldiers facing chemical warfare should wear gas masks, and masks worn by surgeons in the operating room are appropriately on purpose. So masks may serve a role in specific and limited situations. But we are against the wearing of masks in normal, day to day school settings. This position is strengthened by the scientific studies on the uselessness of masks to stop coronaviruses. But our position is based on the central vision of our school to educate image-bearers, and that requires conduct and communication that is maskless.
Surprising as it may seem, it’s November, and soon Thanksgiving will be upon us. For many of us, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. When I was growing up (and considerably less thankful than I am now), I thought it was fine. I liked food and football, I tolerated my family, and I liked that once Thanksgiving was out of the way we could move on to the real fun: Christmas.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked to cultivate a mindset of thankfulness, and one method I’ve employed is the routine consideration of the blessings I enjoy (i.e., lots of them) and the blessings I deserve (i.e., none of them).
Strictly speaking, can there be a thankless Christian? I suppose it’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine. How can a person be mindful of his sinfulness, the holiness of God, and the atoning work of Jesus and be glib or act entitled? I don’t think he can.
Further, thankfulness is a potent weapon because the grateful man cannot be shaken. He may be battered and physically beaten, he may even be discouraged, but again, he will be mindful of what he deserves as contrasted with what he has been given. When he receives something close to what he deserves (e.g., adversity, affliction, chastisement), he cannot cry “foul!” He responds with (you guessed it!) thankfulness. The enemy has no counter-weapon for thankfulness; the best he can do is work to take it away. From accusation to affliction, Satan can be rather creative in his efforts, but he really wants us to be thankless.
Thankless people are defeated already. They’re entitled, they grumble, and they infect a culture like a juicy bit of gossip. Thanklessness deserves no place in Christian community.
This Thanksgiving season, rehearse your blessings often. Combat affliction and accusations with thankfulness.
The following are notes from Mr. Jim Martin’s assembly address.
I recently read a book titled The Great Dechurching. In the book, the authors look at who is leaving the local church and ask why and what it will take to bring them back.
I don’t have time this afternoon to dive into all the reasons they point out but suffice it to say that the number of those who once attended church but no longer do is rising faster than any other time in our nation’s history.
This trend is supported by a recent study done by The Pew Research Center. This is an organization that describes themselves as “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world…”
One of the things they look at is religious trends in America. According to their research 75% of Americans polled ten years ago identified as Christian. Two years ago, that number was down to 63% and is even lower today. Meanwhile, those who say they don’t identify with any religion has gone from about 18% to 29% in the same period.
I recognize there are things to quibble about with these kinds of studies. Just because someone identifies as Christian doesn’t mean they truly are. It’s hard to determine from these studies if the number of true believers is increasing or decreasing in America.
What isn’t too hard to prove is that there aren’t very many Christian households today that can point to more than one generation or two, perhaps three, where all those generations were solid believers.
I qualified my statement with “solid believers.” Some of us have immediate ancestors who were Christian but only nominally so. There wasn’t much about their life one would want to emulate.
I’m interested in those households where numerous generations lived, or are living, a life that earns a “well done thou good and faithful servant” from our Lord.
If my premise is true that there aren’t many family lines like I’m describing, that is very sad indeed. Why do we see one generation walking with the Lord only to find the next one barely following suit, if at all? Why is it so common that the baton of faith is dropped between one generation and the next?
For those who don’t know what I mean by “baton of faith,” the baton is the short stick that is passed from one runner to the next in a four-person relay race.
In order for a team to win, each runner has to not only run fast but they have to do so while passing the baton from one runner to the next. A lot of races are won or lost on how well they pass the baton. If the baton is dropped, a lot of time is lost picking it back up.
When I think about passing the baton of faith I am always amazed when I read in the Bible about when Joshua, who followed Moses, gave his famous “choose who you will serve” sermon and all the people said, “we will serve the Lord”, to where we read after his death, “all that generation (who knew Joshua) also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel.”
A few verses later in Judges 2:11 we read, “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.”
That is just 120 years from when everyone declared they will serve the Lord to when everyone was serving the Baals!
Sadly, that is the pattern we see over and over in Scripture, and too often the pattern we see today.
As for myself, I am the first generation of born-again believers I can find going back two generations. There may be some further back, but I don’t know of any.
So far, all four of my adult children and their spouses are walking with the Lord and some of my young 13 grandchildren have made professions of faith. I’m praying that all of them will eventually do.
So, what does this have to do with you students? You aren’t parents yet and you certainly aren’t grandparents. How does what I’m talking about relate to you?
In the few minutes I have left I want to challenge you to consider your responsibility to take the baton of faith being passed to you and to run with it.
As young people living under your parent’s authority you don’t get to decide for yourself many things. You don’t decide where you go to school or church. You pretty much do what you are told.
So, if you aren’t free to make your own choices, then how are you responsible for the successful passing of the faith…and you are responsible?
The answer is located in ECS’s mission statement which says, “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 an advance Christ-honoring culture.
Notice in that statement there is a “we” and a “they”. The “we” is all the teachers and, by extension, your parents. Your parents have sent you to ECS because they believe in its mission statement, and they want ECS’s help in equipping you for life.
What is the job of the “we”? The “we” commend the works of the Lord. This comes directly from Psalm 145:4 which says, “One generation shall commend <the Lord’s> works to another, and shall declare <his> mighty acts.” The “we” is passing the faith to you that was entrusted to them.
Above anything and everything else you will learn at ECS, we want you to learn that Jesus is Lord. We want you to learn what that means and how it affects everything you will do for the rest of your life. You can love or hate that Jesus is Lord, but you can’t escape it. That truth will rule over all of your life.
So then, the “we” in our mission statement is teaching you that Jesus is Lord and what that means. So, what about the “they”? That’s you. The mission statement says, “…so that they will carry and advance Christ honoring culture…”
The ”we” are responsible to teach and the “they” are responsible to receive it and live it out. The reason I’m focusing on the student’s responsibility is because many of you are fast approaching the age where most people in the research I mentioned earlier dechurch or stop living out their faith.
It is usually between the ages of 18 and 29 where people who were raised in the church give it up. Right now, most of you, I hope, would tell me there is no way you’ll stop loving Jesus or being a part of his church body, but sadly that is often the case.
Many of you come from homes where Jesus is truly Lord and faith is very real. Some of you come from homes where perhaps you don’t see the Christian faith lived out very well. Regardless, all of you are being handed the baton of faith.
There is going to come a time when the hand-off is complete. The teacher or parent is going to let go and that baton is either going to be in your hand as you continue to run, or its going to be dropped.
In a group of students this large there is invariably those of you who resent being in this faith race. You are smart enough to hold your piece and not make waves knowing that someday you’ll be able to do whatever you want without parental or teacher interference. That is true to an extent.
What you can’t escape as I said before is that Jesus is Lord. My hope is that you’ll come to accept that reality and embrace it so that it might go well with you. I desire for you to avoid the heartbreak that is surely to come if you don’t take the baton and run with it. I know of no case where a person refused to take the baton I’m talking about, and their life ended happily.
I have worked with Christian schools for 39 years. That means I have been a part of 39 graduations. I have seen hundreds of students walk the aisle and receive their diplomas.
I have seen among those graduates both the wise and the fool. The wise learned to appreciate what they were being given, did the work, adjusted their attitudes, and went on to happy successful lives beyond school.
The fools dug into their rebellion, refused to take correction, thought they were the smart ones, shirked the hard work, and then were left wondering why their life was a mess.
Students of ECS, you are being given an amazing opportunity. Sure, it’s not all perfect. Teachers and parents are human and their handing the baton to you won’t be flawless. Nevertheless, you have a fantastic opportunity to prepare for the time when you’ll be the one carrying the baton and handing it to the next generation.
Jesus is Lord. The baton is being handed to you. Will you run the race that is set before you?
Will you be able to say along with the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”?
October has arrived, and with it Reformation Day planning! The seniors are hard at work, planning for a Reformation Day celebration during the week of October 30 to November 3. Secondary students are abuzz with food booth and costume ideas. Parents are wondering how to avoid last minute crises as their teenagers take on responsibilities and projects. Some of you may be wondering what Reformation Day is, and why we put so much energy into celebrating it. All this seems like a good time for a quick primer on Reformation Day and Student-Led Activities.
Reformation Day is the day the Protestant Church recognizes and celebrates Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. This event was like the spark that lit a gas-filled room on fire, igniting the Protestant Reformation, a time when God refined the Church and shaped history through fiery trials. The Reformers fought (and many died) to root the worship of God’s people in the Scriptures, translating them into the languages of the common man. They fought for the truth of salvation being in faith alone, not by works of the law. We stand on the shoulders of these Reformers and owe much to their faithfulness! (Here is a great article if you are interested in a bit more.)
At ECS, we celebrate Reformation Day because we are grateful. Grateful for God, whose hand has written and is writing a glorious and hard history that keeps working toward the end when all things will be made new. Grateful for the holy catholic (i.e., universal) Church, who is still being sanctified by our Savior. Grateful for the good and glorious work that God has right in front of us! And so we celebrate the Reformation at the end of October, with festivities of all kinds, planned and executed by our seniors.
The mission of ECS aims for students who “carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.” We think letting them plan Reformation Day is a great way to get that work on the ground. They are commending the works of the Lord as they learn about His work in the Reformation, sacrificing their time and efforts as they plan and execute the celebration, and having lots of opportunity to weaponize their laughter as it all plays out! And we walk in faith, as they do this, asking the Lord to keep building their love of Him and capacity to carry a Christ-honoring culture.
Letting our students lead large events is not an accident. It is not because the staff is trying to get out of the work, and it is not because eighteen-year-olds are naturally great at it. This is an intentional investment in our future. Like all investments, it comes at a cost. It is a little messy. It isn’t always comfortable. But this is the same tension as teaching your kids how to cook…you want enough supervision they don’t burn the house down, but they are going to need some room to make mistakes. Yet these are the investments that, by God’s grace, will pay off in the future, when your table will be full of glory at the hands of these same people.
The details of our Reformation Day festivities have changed over the years, as students have continued to improve upon the efforts of those that have gone before and filtered ideas through family and school staff. This year is no different. May we all be full of grace, patience, and hope as we invite our students to join us in the work of carrying and advancing Christ-honoring culture!
We think it is an extraordinary thing to be a raggant; we are the only school in the world with the raggant as mascot. The raggant is more than uniform embroidery, acting like a raggant is part of our vocabulary. I want to remind you of what it means. We include the characteristics on our grade cards, they are part of our other graduation requirements (and there are a few other uses). At least some have wondered why we make such a big deal about it; aren’t we supposed to be Christians? And of course following Christ what we’re about, but I hope to show that being a raggant is a particular and playful way to pursue being a Christian. I’m ready to say that this should be The Year of the Raggant.
Mr. Sarr is the one who first noted how the raggant perfectly embodies the center of classical and Christian education. Before ECS started we were reading The Case for Classical Christian Education in which Doug Wilson wrote:
Classical Christian academies teach all subjects as an integrated whole with the Scriptures at the center.
Christ is Lord of all He made (and “by Him all things were created” Colossians 1:16), and Christ’s Word is the special revelation for our worship and our worldview. We are to “let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly” (Colossians 3:16). There is no other book like the Bible; the Bible gives us the standard by which we evaluate every other book, subject, class, conversation, and claim. The Bible teaches us about Christ and what it means to follow Christ.
Mr. Sarr was also reading through the 100 Cupboards trilogy by Doug’s son, Nate Wilson. And in the second book, Dandelion Fire, Nate describes the raggant:
The raggant didn’t have any extra senses. He only had one, and it interfaced everything into an amazingly complicated but entirely accurate caricature of whatever worlds were within his range.
What a great parallel: Classical Christian schools where everything is integrated by Scripture and the raggant interfacing with all the world by one sense. So Mr. Sarr proposed the raggant as our mascot. On our school webpage he wrote:
That is a picture of how we want for our students to perceive Christ’s domain academically. We want their perceptions of the world to be less compartmentalized (like human senses) and more academically integrated like the blended, combined senses of the mighty raggant.
A few years later, in the spring of 2016, I needed something to talk about for an assembly. I came up with a list of characteristics for our students, showed it to my wife, and she wondered if I was okay. Ha. My first draft wasn’t impressive. I went back to the brainstorming, and ended up with six things. That talk got a good response, and later that summer the school board approved these characteristics as things to for ECS to emphasize.
At the time I didn’t use a lot of Scripture proof-texts. But all these virtues are driven by the Bible. When we talk about being raggants, it’s not really about taking on the shape of a small rhino with wings, we’re talking about integrated learning and living according to Scripture.
Stout Image Bearers
God made man in His image, blessed him, and told him to be fruitful and take dominion (Genesis 1:26, 28). In order to know who we are as human beings, we have to know in whose likeness we were created, and that comes from God’s Word.
As reflections of God we’re responsible to fulfill God’s mandate. Taking dominion is not for wimps, it requires stout/sturdy/strong image-bearers. So we take heart in what the Lord told Joshua at the edge of the promised land,
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7–9 ESV)
So “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
Generous Disciples of Christ
Every Christian is a disciple, a word we got from the Latin word discipulus meaning “student/learner/follower.” Making disciples is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). That requires learning and observing all that Jesus commanded, which we get from Scripture.
And disciples give, first of themselves following the pattern of Christ, then of their resources. They die to bring life (2 Corinthians 4:7-12), they contribute to those who need it and show hospitality (Romans 12:13). Liberal education, education that makes free-men, includes giving freely as we’ve received (Matthew 10:8 KJV). Wisdom teaches that “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer” (Proverbs 11:24).
Copious means plentiful, overflowing. Raggants/Christians aren’t just consumers, they are big-time producers.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (Psalm 1:1–4 ESV)
Fruitfulness is not like that of a machine, but of a living tree. This fruitfulness, like courage, comes through God’s Word.
Remember the sower and the seed (an illustration of the gospel Word), that which fell on good soil “produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8, 20). When the soil is right the Word grows into a field full of good works.
As copious means abundance, prodigious means enormous, vast. Christ is interested in a lot, so to be like Him we have a lot we can learn.
That includes about Christ Himself: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That’s a command, and we start with Scripture. So also, when we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, we are “bearing fruit in every good work (copious) and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power (stout)” (Colossians 1:10).
Thankfulness is how we learn, not just the end of our learning. We give thanks before and during our work, not only after it. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16–17 ESV, see also Ephesians 5:20)
If Scripture integrates all our learning, then thankfulness is like glue that holds together our attitude about it all. To whom much is given, much (gratitude) is required (see Luke 12:48).
Since Genesis 3:15 humanity as been in a battle; there is enmity between two seeds, that of the serpent and that of the woman. That promised seed we now know is Christ Himself. Christians are enlisted as soldiers in a spiritual war (2 Corinthians 10:4) along with Him.
The good fight should be fought in a good way, so our motto is: laughter is war. It comes from Psalm 52.
The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, “See the man who would not make God his refuge, (Psalm 52:6–7 ESV)
See, fear, laugh, all of which come from faith in what God’s Word says. The Word is our sword (Ephesians 6:17), and we wield it with joy.
Of course there are other great characteristics in Scripture. The Greatest Commandment is to love God, then we’re to love our neighbors. The Great Commission is, again, to make disciples not to make raggants. We’re not saying that these six qualities are an alt-fruit of the Spirit, another six onto the inspired seven. But in a school context, with the Bible at the center, with the goal of Christ-honoring education culture, these characteristics seemed playful and potent.
So put it all together. Raggants are high discipline, low drama students who see all the world Scripture. May the Lord bless this 2023-24 school year at ECS as The Year of the Raggant.
Hospitality affords us the opportunity to honor the image of God in other people. For instance, God expects for church leaders to be hospitable because people are important…inherently. Author Will Guidara argues that gift givers act out of a sort of selfishness, as it’s actually really fun to bless (my word, not his) others. As Christians, we recognize that this is owning to the inherent value that humans possess, as well as the way that God has wired the universe.
The book resonated with our teaching team because we already believed that people were important, and Guidara’s articulation of the notion as well as the success that he and his team enjoyed at Eleven Madison Park were a testament to how God blesses those who behave consistently with biblical principles.
While not everything transfers from the restaurant industry to our context of classical and Christian education, a lot of the principles do transfer. These were some takeaways for me.
Hospitality is about connecting with people, and people are valuable inherently as bearers of God’s image.
Hospitality does not need to be expensive, but it does require attention. The most impactful gestures are bespoke.
When you’re at the point that others can count on your hospitality so much that they may either take it for granted, or even take advantage of it, then you’re getting closer to the sort of hospitality that God expects.
As a school, a spirit of hospitality should touch everything, from receiving guests to parent communication, to the appropriate honor we show to each student.
This all means that while we have a lot to be encouraged about, we still have a lot of work to do.
This is not about marketing the school; it’s about honoring our people. That is both obedient and fun. And where you have suggestions as to how we can exercise greater hospitality, please don’t hesitate to let us know. And maybe check out the book, too.
Recently two significant events have deepened my appreciation for acts of faith done with patience.
First, we bought a small farm. In April, my family moved to East Marysville, which happens to have a Granite Falls address. (You can’t see my face, but I typed that with a smirk.) It used to be a part of a bigger farm that previous owners parceled off to fund their children’s education. While it’s only three and a half acres, it’s a lot of work just to keep up, let alone to make forward progress on our ambitious visions for the house and land. We have ten chickens, some young fruit trees, a pathetic vegetable garden, and all the weeds a farmer could want. We also have some fields that I’d like to convert to more space for my kids (and their kids) to be able to run around and kick a ball. It’s a great start, and we are very excited. We love it, but it will be years before we are making good use of the space.
Second, I went to Europe. Two months after moving, I was able to join the Raggants on the trip to the U.K. and Normandy. A number of things impressed me there, which gave me encouragement to stay the course with my little farm. I was impressed that our going to look at really old things presupposed that those things were, in fact, built to last. The first site we really enjoyed was St. Paul’s Cathedral, which took a scant 35 years to build. We walked along Hadrian’s Wall, which is still standing after nearly 2000 years. We saw thousands of acres of farmland that took generations of cultivation to be free from stumps and rocks. We may be trapped in the current moment when looking at them, but they didn’t become presentable overnight.
Back to the farm, and particularly to those fields I need to clear. They are full of rocks. Thousands and thousands of rocks the size of golf balls that won’t grow grass, won’t feel nice underfoot, and will destroy a lawnmower. We are raking them up and shoveling them away. As I write this, we are about ten percent finished with the job. It’s going much slower than I thought it would, and one of my kids has referred to it as the toughest task she’s ever faced.
In a fast-paced society and a culture rife with immediate gratification, clearing a field of rocks by hand is good work. Part of me wants to rent a rock picker or to haul in 600 yards of topsoil to bury those rocks. But ten years from now, will I regret having cleared that field by hand? Probably not. Will my grandkids probably be glad I did? I think so.
Looking ahead to the school year before us, it’s helpful to be reminded that while children do grow up quickly, the work we are doing is not just for them. It’s for the current generation of Raggants and their kids….and their kids…and the communities in which they live. There is no quick fix, no power equipment that can do it for us. But if we do it well, maybe future generations will be able to look on our work – done in faith and with patience – and praise God for His grace to them.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul delivers a Tweetable one-liner: “[Y]ou are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We belong to another. But man, do we ever love autonomy. Freedom-loving Americans cherish hotdogs and fireworks and baseball and not having to do anything we’re told.
The inescapable reality, however, is that we are all delegates. Call it stewardship, or faithfulness, or something else, but no matter what, we are all representatives of someone else in our various charges.
Teachers operate with parentally-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to their students. They must bear this in mind when making pedagogical, disciplinary, and curricular decisions.
Parents operate with God-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to their children. We must bear this in mind when we are training our children and pursuing their hearts.
I operate with Board-delegated authority and responsibility when it comes to the support of the teachers. I must bear this in mind when I stand before a parent, a community member, or the teachers.
We all represent someone else when we act…and when we don’t.
This also means that we are not the principal characters when it comes to most of the stories around us. N.D. Wilson has helpfully suggested that parents should purpose to operate as awesome support characters in their kids’ stories. You may be the main character in your own story, but even then you’re not the point; you’re the object lesson for celestial readers.
This may come as a bit of a curious sort of send-off for the school year, but let me ask you a few questions:
How would your summer look if you planned to be an amazing support character in the story God is writing about your child?
How would you plan your vacations if you removed your own personal preferences from the equation?
What would your work, leisure, and sleep schedule look like if you were to present a timecard to the Lord on August 31?
If you were mindful of your delegation of authority and responsibility to your children, how would you help them structure their days?
Then, when your kids say how much they hate their new schedule, how would you respond to them as God’s representatives? As support characters in their stories?
I could go on, but my reminder to us all (i.e., to myself first and then to the rest of you) is this: We are not our own. Shepherd your kids, spend your money, steward your bodies, plan your days, love your spouses, consume God’s word, and do your work as good delegates, as though you represent someone else…because you do.
The following are notes from Mr. Higgins charge to the 2023 graduates.
Good evening, graduates, their parents and families, school board and faculty, and guests. It is actually a blessing to me to have both the opportunity and the delight to speak to you tonight. There is no place I would rather be than right here, right now, with you.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t great places to go, other great places we could be. The post graduation get-togethers will be fun and your summers full and your falls and farther futures will take you to various and valuable fields for good work. But it’s not only appropriate to look back and thank God for what He has done, it is appropriate to look around and enjoy where God has you even in this moment.
It would be very easy to ruin our time by looking at the time, by counting down the minutes on the clock until we can get out. The minutes will pass, but we are filling the minutes with meaning on their way by.
Take a moment and mediate with me on the Aristotelian (probably) truism that you always are where you are, or more often phrased: wherever you go there you are. This is not sophomore dialectic, it is senior rhetoric. It’s life rhetoric. While it’s obviously true when the FBI is tracking the location services signal on your phone (unless your phone isn’t on you), the cliche is more about your character than your address. The cliche is so obvious that it’s a temptation to forget its force.
I asked ChatGPT to tell me about the phrase, “wherever you go there you are,” and the artificial intelligence explained it as being about “inner self awareness.” Really? Is that it?
Among the first few books I read about classical education is The Seven Laws of Teaching. I’ve read it a few times over the years, and it’s John Milton Gregory’s first rule that has left a deep groove in my mind. Gregory says,
“A highly effective teacher will love God, love life, love the students, and love the subject he teaches.”
A teacher thinking about what he teaches must start by thinking about loves. As C.S. Lewis put it, * docere et delectare, docere delectando*: “to teach and to delight, to teach by delighting.”
The great commandment is about love: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, then love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said these two commandments summarize all the law. Our character is seen in our loves.
These are not about internal awareness but about affections expressed. These are not loves of self-reflection or self-fulfillment. They are loves that light up our current location, our present situation.
Our loves are to be present tense, we are loving, not future (we will love) or subjunctive (we might love). We love now, we love this neighbor/classmate/customer, and extended, we love them in this minute and in this place. We are not always grasping for the intangible “later” or “elsewhere.” If a teacher can’t bring his loves into his work and into the room, it creates boredom, if not abhorrence in the students.
“The teacher, feeling no fresh interest in his work, seeks to compel the attention he is unable to attract, and awakens disgust by his dullness and dryness where he ought to inspire delight by his intelligence and active sympathy.”
Because we can disobey, we can actually get around the cliche. It is possible to not be where you are, to go through the motions with little or no heart in them. It’s possible for a teacher, it’s possible for a student. It is possible to put one’s attention on a future time or a different place; “Senioritis” is a diagnosis of division: the parts aren’t all together.
This doesn’t mean you can’t pursue goals; goals are great. This doesn’t mean everything must stay the same forever; it won’t and it can’t. But it does mean that the impact you make as you walk toward your future and your goals will be different.
One of my top-five favorite books, all time and any genre, is The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon. There is no other book I’ve highlighted more than this so-called “cookbook.” You all read it just a couple months ago in your Capstone class. Though I haven’t talked to any of you seniors about it directly, I have been directly impacted by your reading of it, and not only in the presentation feast you all hosted last night. The whole school has smelled different.
Capon is the kind of cook (and author) who makes you wish you could sit down at his table because he loves what he sets on it for the sake of those sitting around it. We can’t fellowship over bread and cheese and puff pastries and lamb, but we do imagine ourselves settled in his kitchen and seeing his wry smile and asking for another glass of whatever he’s pouring. We want to be there because he wants to be there. He has loved the food so that we want to love it.
Whatever the ingredients were, something started simmering among you seniors in a way that lifted the aroma of the whole school campus. You were like butter and cream that thickened the laughter. You were like a splash of wine that made Matins more bright. You were like onions, not making others cry, but revealing more layers of what raggants can do.
In some ways you’ve saved the best for last. You are leaving ECS better, not because you’re leaving, but because you spent your last days not trying to be somewhere else.
Allow me to commend this mindset, this way of loving where you are, and recommend it to you as a strategic and potent lesson as you go on to other “Wheres.”
Young people are tempted to think they are wasting their lives if they aren’t where they think they could be. But it is more likely to waste your life that way, consumed with constantly thinking about where you’re not. Young people are tempted to think that their parents, and sometimes their teachers/school, are holding them back from something better. It is more likely that they are trying to give you beloved resources so that you can have something better. Those days of preparation aren’t wasted any more than the third inning of a nine-inning game, no more keeping you back from the “important” than dinner ruins dessert.
“There are more important things to do than hurry.” (Capon, Location 922)
It’s true with smoking meat and with some meals. You must not be chintzy with your proteins, or your presence. This is a kind of unreasonable hospitality, unreasonable because being a great host is about the heart, not the venue.
You are the class with the most years under their ECS belt, some of you for as long as ECS has existed, so 11 of your 13 years of school. Now you are done. You can get out and finally do what you want. And you will find that wherever you go, you will take some of here with you.
During your senior presentations one line was quoted from Capon more than any other. I love it as well.
“boredom is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.” (Capon, Location 83)
So with that in mind, here is my charge to you. Last year I urged the seniors that they were too blessed to be stupid. To you, class of 2023, you are too loved to be bored. And not being bored is the same as loving where you’re at, which is the same as being where you are. Wherever you go, you know the the fertilizing principle of not trying to be somewhere else before it’s time. You have made ECS more lovely, and yourselves as a class, by being here. That is a potent, and delightful, lesson to love.