Huxley portrays how brutishly selfish mankind is, and it is shameful. As Lewis would later say, we are far too easily pleased. While Orwell shows in 1984 how capably the State can control it’s subjects through power, punishment, and fear, Huxley demonstrates how the State can enslave us by our own passions.
I love our school board. While so many books and articles about productivity lament the bane of meetings, I always look forward to our time together. (I have the same attitude about our church’s elder board meetings). We do have enough minutia to discuss, but since we’re still in the early institution stage we’re always happy to connect the details back to big ideas.
We also are always reading and discussing something together. Last night we finished The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse. It is almost perfect reading for those connected to classical Christian education, and Mr. Sasse quotes Dorothy Sayers in his chapter on education. Really good stuff.
Then we talked through our options for a next book. There were a number of options, and all of them had appeal. But it was suggested that maybe we try another novel, having read That Hideous Strength previously, the only fiction book in a overall diet of non-fiction. We’ve decided; motioned, seconded, and approved (or something less formal than that).
We are going to read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series together. We’ll tackle one book per monthly meeting, so we should finish seven months from now (unless we need to table our book discussion due to a high amount of other business any given night).
This is fabulous. Some of the guys have read all of the series, but a while ago, and others have read only a little bit or none at all. But this is not a waste of precious admin, decision-making time, this is exactly the sort of thing we want for our students to practice. I thank God for more opportunities to grow, and to do it on behalf of the next generation.
It was late one Wednesday morning, and boy, was I bored.
Summer break had started out fun. I would sleep in, have a bowl of Captain Crunch when I finally woke up, then go with my mom on a bunch of errands that she’d been holding off doing till school was out. When I got home I’d play in the sprinkler, or shoot the basketball, ride my bike around the neighborhood, or put together some Legos.
All of that entertained me for the first two days, but then, boy, was I bored. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to take off. I made myself a PB&J, grabbed a pocketful of pretzels, and walked out the front door in search of something to fix my boredom.
About a mile from home I was passing by the house of my good friend Pete. We go to school together. He was in his front yard throwing the baseball with his younger brother and asked me what I was doing. I told him: I was bored. There was nothing any good to do, nothing any good to see, so I was on the look out for something impressive, something exciting. He said he didn’t know of anything like that, but tossed me a mitt and said I could play catch with them if I wanted.
It’s sort of cool to think about how a little applied force causes a ball to fight gravity for a while. And if you flick the ball just right you can get the seams to catch the air and make the ball start out right and end up three feet to the left. Pete’s dad had recently taught him how to throw a knuckleball, and told him that “lateral deviations and the wavelengths affect the the unsteadiness of lift forces that can produce a change in lateral directions. The obtention of a large knuckle effect requires the ball to be launched in a particular range of initial velocities corresponding to the drag crisis of the ball.“1 I don’t know what any of that means, but it sure is crazy to watch the ball dance and zigzag. We were having a lot of fun until my arm started to get sore, and then I remembered how bored I was, so I said goodbye.
Not too far from Pete’s they’re building a brand new five-story hotel. We’ve driven by that place a bunch of times when it was just trees and signs, but today they were leveling the dirt with some of the biggest machines I’d ever seen. I stopped and watched through the fence for a while when one of the workers came over and asked if I wanted a closer look. He opened the gate and let me in and yelled up to one of the driver’s. “Hey, give this kid a ride.” He gave me a hard hat and told me to climb up.
It was pretty great riding on that bulldozer. We were pushing tons of dirt, making high piles disappear into low spots. I could see front loaders scooping up big rocks, and a special truck was pouring concrete in the shape of a curb as it was coming out the chute. The curb started to form a driveway as it connected to the main road and it seemed like it was done in no time. I thought it would be great to make stuff like that someday, until I remembered how bored I was, and I took off.
I headed down toward the city park where I hoped something good might be happening. It was getting hot so I sat down in the shade of a big tree to cool off for a few minutes. While I was staring up at the sky, feeling down because of how bored I was, I noticed that there were a bunch of different clouds. There were some stratus clouds that seemed close to me, stretched out like a thin cotton blanket. To the east some wispy clouds even higher in the sky looked like the tail of a horse, I think they’re called cirrus clouds. To the west there was a tall, dark, and pudgy cloud made up of some fancy Latin words I’ve heard my older sister say. They looked like they might rain later. But I was bored, so I left.
When I got to the park there were a lot of kids running around. I recognized my friend Jill and said, “Hey,” as she walked by. She was headed over to the ice cream truck and asked if I wanted some too. I don’t usually like to tag along with girls, but I do like ice cream, so I said, “Sure.”
When we got to the truck the guy had about 80 different treats to choose from. It’s kind of hard to believe. Who even invented all those flavors and combinations? And who figured out how to put a freezer on wheels and keep everything so cold?
I guess I must have said my questions out loud because Jill asked some questions back. But then she answered herself. “Have you ever wondered how they get the milk ready for us to drink? My teacher told our class all about pasteurization. Since it usually takes a few days or weeks from when they milk a cow to when we drink it, they run the milk through hot pipes or between metal plates heated to more than 160 Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. It kills all the disease causing microbes without removing all the micro organisms. Isn’t it amazing that we can do that?”
I remembered hearing once about Louis Pasteur, and I’ll admit that it is actually sort of impressive to drink milk or eat cheese or ice cream from a cow on some farm in Nebraska. More than that, it’s just tasty what comes from cows. I think I’ll have a cow someday when I grow up. But then I remembered how bored I was.
I was almost out of the park when I saw my school principal walking around staring closely at the ground. He looked up and saw me and said, “Hi, Robby.” I said, “Hi.” Then he said, “How’s your summer break been so far?” And I said, “Boring.” He replied, “Well, that’s too bad,” and went back to looking at the ground.
It surprised me a little that he didn’t give me a speech about being bored, but it was even more surprising that he kept pacing and staring at the ground. So I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “Looking for sticks.” That sounded even more boring than my day had been, but he just kept on looking. After another minute or I asked, “Why are you looking for sticks? To make a fire?” He said, “No, to make arrows. Come over and help me look.”
He told me that certain sticks can become great arrows that fly far and straight, then he showed me what to look for: not too thick or narrow, not too crooked but they don’t have to be perfect either. After we found a few more good ones we went over to a table where he had some tools. He let me borrow his knife to whittle off the bark, then he showed me a pile he had already prepared. I’ve never looked so closely at sticks before. He explained how to bundle and dry and straighten sticks, how to attach feathers to the end, and he even let me shoot at a milk jug with a bow he’d made himself. I thought, I think I’ll make my own bow and arrows when I grow up, too.
My principal said he had to go home and said goodbye. I said “Thanks” and “Bye” and started walking home. I was wondering if there were any good sticks in our yard when I walked into the house and remembered, “What am I doing? I forgot how bored I was!”
But something smelled good. It was homemade pizza night, and I could see that dinner was already on the table and the food was still steaming. My dad prayed for the meal and gave thanks for all God had given like he usually does, but I was thinking back about how many things I’d seen that day to be thankful for. While we were eating I told my dad and mom about my day and how stupid I felt for being so bored. My mom said something about how boredom keeps us from seeing beauty, and how opening our eyes just a little makes it almost impossible to be bored.
After dinner I took a hot bath then got in bed. I was really tired. It was a good day, that day when I was bored.
Here’s a short story I told the students for the ECS year-end assembly.
On the day before the very first summer break, the planets talked about their plans for the next three months. There were eight planets in the class, and their names were: Sol, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Luna, Mercury, and Venus. (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto weren’t old enough for school yet, though they had finished Kinder Prep and were enrolled for the Fall.) If you were counting, you may be wondering about the one planet still unnamed. Her name was Amy, and this is the sad story about why no one knows about Amy anymore.
In another classroom down the hall, some of the stars were taking about getting away from the city and out into the woods where there was a lot more space. Next to them, many of the moons moaned about being assigned a planet to follow around and longed to be off on their own. Most of them were still too young to understand the gravity of the situation. A few meteors hoped to form a rock band.
Back in room 1543 almost all of the planets were excited to take their turn telling about their future intentions. All of them, that is, except Amy.
Sol went first. He was always trying to outshine the others. He said, “Every morning I’m planning to get up and run. I mapped a course that only the strongest can enjoy. Once I finish my run, I’ve got my eye on some little seeds that need a tutor. They need to be knee-high by the 4th of July, and I can help them as long as the clouds don’t get in my way. I’ve also been invited to a bunch of pool parties, family reunions, and camping trips. It’s going to be busy. I just hope I don’t burn out.”
Amy could not have been less impressed. She never appreciated that Sol acted like the universe revolved around him.
Mars raised his hand next. “I’m planning to play a lot of golf. I just got a new set of woods and irons, and I’m dying to try them out. My teammates and I, Phobos and Deimos, have been having some astronomical battles, so it should be fun.”
Amy thought to herself, “What a waste! Playing games all day? He might as well sit around and eat candy bars, too.”
Big Jupiter laughed like friendly thunder. “This summer is shaping up like a prince for me. I’m going to organize a canned food drive, and every Thursday we’re going to make a huge dinner for the homeless. Not everyone has great fortune like we do, so it’s good for us to give something back, you know?”
“Why would you give your stuff or your time to others?” Amy asked. Jupiter laughed again and said, “At least I won’t be too celestial minded to be any earthly good.”
Saturn said sadly, “There is never enough time. By the time I’ve penciled out my to-do list, summer break will be done. The whole thing is going to be a disaster. All you other planets will run rings around me. I really need to give some thought to this before it makes me sick.”
“What an Eeyore,” thought Amy.
Luna had been reflecting on all the previous plans, especially from Sol. She new she’d go mad if she didn’t work and make some money, and was looking forward to her graveyard shift job at the lake. She did wonder if it would mess up her cycle, but the silver lining was that she’d have plenty of time to hang with her friends at high tide.
Mercury said that he had a lot of people he wanted to write to, and might even start his own novel. He also hoped to study at least one new language. “And don’t forget about reading bingo; keeping track of all the books will be fun.”
Venus, who was one of the older planets in the class, said she was planning to surf a couple online dating sites. Some of the other planets laughed. Of course Jupiter did, and his face turned a little red.
There was only one more to go, and all the planets spun to look at Amy. She was thinking that she thought every other planet was stupid. She was thinking that she just wanted class to be over. She was thinking that thinking was hard. She was thinking…meh.
The teacher asked the question again in case Amy had forgot. “What are your plans for the summer? Are you going anywhere special? Doing anything in particular?”
And Amy said, “No.” (She would have said, “Huh?” if she had been a junior high planet, but she wasn’t.)
The teacher asked again. “There’s really nothing that you want to do?”
Amy said, “Why would I? This is supposed to be summer break, not summer “bust-my-behind.” This is time for vacation, not vocation. I have the rest of my life to work. My only aim is to do as little as possible.”
And this is why you’ve never heard of Amy. She lost her way that first summer break and never made it back to school. Every planet doesn’t need to follow the same course, but an aimless summer is out of place on our planet. Consider how to expand your sphere of influence, and model your plans around those who are determined to do great things. Don’t be like Amy.
My mom really wanted me to read when I was a kid. She taught English before I was born, then she stayed home to care for me (and my sister who joined us two years later). Summers included weekly trips to the public library where, as I remember, my sister would return her borrowed stack and collect a new tower for the following week while I thought about whether or not I really wanted to read the next McGurk mystery.
Maybe it wasn’t quite that pitiful, but after Encyclopedia Brown and McGurk and The Mad Scientist’s Club I spent my time reading things such as road signs. I don’t remember any book from my elementary school classes. I do remember much better the books I was assigned in Junior High and High School that I didn’t read. Somehow I graduated, and Lord of the Flies left the greatest impression. That’s what happens when you only read one.
Between my freshman and sophomore years of college I became a Calvinist. That got me excited about studying and reading but only so far as it concerned “the Truth.” The novels assigned in my Humanities class were for the “less spiritual” in my book. Through college and seminary I devoured works full of propositions and despised those filled with plots and characters. When I met Mo, she told me it was wrong that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I read it, earned the respect points, and then quit somewhere in the first chapter of Prince Caspian.
More than a decade later, not only did I realize I was missing out, I realized I needed to repent. My disdain for fiction was dumb. Willful neglect truncated my imagination, my worldview, and my relationships. It also pruned my theology and worship. There is more to say about all this, and I’m excited to say it at the Raggant Fiction Festival.
Our keynote speaker for the festival is Douglas Bond. He’s an actual author (!) and I’ve enjoyed The Betrayal and am almost finished reading the first of three in the Crown and Covenant series to our kids. His talks will make the day worth the cost. Also speaking will be our school’s headmaster, Jonathan Sarr. Among other things he teaches our Omnibus class which includes many of the shapers and staples of Western culture. Andy Bowers was our first full-time teacher and has covered all kinds of literature with our older grammar students. New to our faculty this fall is Leila Bowers who will teach another Omnibus class. She’s been teaching at a community college for several years and will bring more narrative mettle to the pot than most of us.
But I get to lead off. I am the least qualified to talk about the merits of all the fiction books that should go on one’s shelf, but I am definitely excited to talk about the need for fiction to be on the shelf. Good fiction is a lifeblood for Christian faith and faithfulness. It cannot replace the Bible nor does it intend to. It does help us think about how to live out the Bible and, done right, moves us to want to.
If you are a fiction hater, or ignore fiction, and especially if you hate or ignore with fussy theological reasons, then this Festival is aimed to bless you. If you already love fiction, then you will probably enjoy it as well. Check out the event page and consider hanging with us in Marysville on Saturday, September 26.
Here are lessons I’ve learned or reasons that I’ve got for giving thanks. Also, although I did recently turn 41, I don’t have a 41 point list. Instead, in the spirit of having recently read 1984 which was written in 1948, here are 14 things, numbered but not ordered by importance.
Learned: Line diagramming is great for meditating on God’s Word. It’s my favorite observation tool to beat the meaning out of a passage.
Learned: Christians need to read good fiction. “Good” is key. I’ve really profited from Peace Like a River, the 100 Cupboards series, and Lewis’ Space Trilogy.
Learned: Family is not an obstacle to what a man wants to accomplish, they are what a man is accomplishing. Maggie, Calvin, Hallie, and Keelah are how I’m changing the world. More importantly, they are God’s grace changing me.
Learned: Any doctor’s diagnosis that includes the word “cancer” will probably lead to a lot more conversations.
Thankful: Reading on the treadmill has saved my reading life.
Learned: You can read on the treadmill if you make the font big enough in the Kindle app on your iPad.
Learned: The fact that Christ created everything does more than reveal His wisdom and power, it also reveals His interests. So don’t be a dualist. Also, see anything written by Kuyper. The quote at the end of this post is from a fantastic book that syllogizes worship by way of the world.
Thankful: Dropbox. (As long as you don’t have to explain it to people older than you). You have hundreds of files, dozens of apps, and multiple devices. Have your stuff with you and backed up as an added benefit.
Learned: Scissor skills and penmanship are related. I don’t have either, but I do have hope for the next generation.
Thankful: Fountain pens. There’s one in particular that has written over 4000 pages for me, including the rough draft of this article. The scratch of the nib across the lines on a yellow pad makes me glad.
Thankful: IPAs. I like (intentionally) bitter beer. The New Belgium Ranger is my current favorite.
Thankful: Starbucks French Roast. I like my beer bitter and my coffee burnt. That’s what friends tell me, at least. I’m more than okay with it. There is hardly a more enjoyable aroma than opening a new bag of beans.
Learned: I have a wife who prefers beards. My dad had a beard the entire time I knew him. When I was a kid I never thought about growing-to-keep one for myself. After 15 years of marriage and a lazy week of not-shaving my cheeks, the beginnings of the bush-face became the beginning of being a beard guy.
Thankful: There is no human who I have sinned against more or who helps me so much as Mo. She is the crown I don’t deserve, the reason our kids are cute, and the one who makes me most want to live like the Trinity.
God’s love for God led him to create the world from nothing. Therefore, our love for God, if it is to be an accurate reflection of God’s love, must also lead us to a deep and profound and fitting love for creation. God’s love for God pushes him into creation. So should ours. (Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, 62)
I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.
This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.
Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.
The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.
Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?
I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.
I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?
“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.
The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.
G.K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)
This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.
In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,
A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)
The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.
When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)
He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that
says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)
The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.
We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)
God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.
You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?
May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.
Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit. ↩