Tag: graduation

The following notes are from my commencement address at the Evangel Classical School 2020 graduation held on May 31st.

Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our candidates for graduation. All of you have worked a great work to get here tonight, and it is an honor to celebrate with you.

I suppose it is fitting that we are outside in a yard for this commencement ceremony, since the first convocation many of you attended, the first convocation ever at ECS, was also outside in a yard. How many things have changed in these last eight years, and how many things have become even more important.

You are under no obligation to remember the first quote I used that September Tuesday afternoon in 2012. I’ve given it voice numerous times, and each time I tend to think that I finally know what it means.

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

From holding classes in a basement (four of you were the “big table buddies”), to a drought on the property requiring a port-a-potty for multiple weeks, then a flood in the same basement, soccer in a gravel driveway, and backpacks too big for Odysseus’ shoulders, these were just some of the challenges in the first six months. Ha. We thought last spring was challenging, as the Headmaster in particular spent months searching for a space that could hold our growing student body, trying to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars for a fire alarm, only a year later to have a non-functioning fire alarm in a building we can’t meet in according to the governor. Who knew what sort of damage declarations of emergency could accomplish? Mr. Lewis said it, “Favourable conditions never come.”

Of course ECS doesn’t exist to reach scholastic utopia, even less are we attempting to bunker down and ride out storms. We exist to sharpen arrows for shooting (that is, shooting with arrows, not at them). We exist because there are problems, not to get away from, but to be equipped for. You have been doing cultural work, plowing the field, and it is time for you to expand the field and plow with the tassel on the other side of your cap.

We have given you not just our first years, but our best years. And now it is time for you to do it even better. From the beginning we have never desired that you would be able to solve our problems. From the beginning, we have wanted you to learn a much bigger lesson. We have wanted you to have an example of wanting something so badly that you would go through walls to get it.

To that end, let me pass along two lessons, two exhortations I believe will help you carry and advance Christ honoring culture.

Change your mind, a lot.

By this I do not mean that you can never know anything. I mean that you do not know everything. This is not a call for ignorance or feigned humility. It is a call to acknowledge that God loves growth, that God cares about a lot of things, and that He cares about You learning about and loving more of His things.

Your classwork at ECS has exposed you to the stream of Western Civilization and in particular to the radical changes brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The gospel is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” And in fact, the gospel requires a change of mind, it requires repentance. When men and women (two categories about which you should not change your mind) realize that they are sinful, when they turn from self-righteousness to the gift of salvation by grace, reformations explode.

If you do not learn to change your mind, you will have less opportunities to be right. If you do not change your mind, your pride will make you brittle and fragile. If you do not change your mind, you will be left behind, fighting old wars that only exist in your head.

The Bible describes the character who won’t admit when he’s in a mess as one who is “wise in his own eyes.” Solomon wrote, “Be not wise in your own eyes / fear the LORD, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). The opposite of being wise in one’s own eyes is fearing the LORD. The wise-in-his-own-eyes-guy, or “wise guy” for short (note that we do not use this as compliment) thinks his mind is hot snot.

As just one example, I spent most of my life being wrong about the usefulness of fiction. I thought all fiction was bad or, at best, a distraction for younger or weaker minds. Now I think that bad fiction is bad and that good fiction is marrow for the bones. A man who isn’t reading good stories will have brittle bones.

In his essay titled, “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” In other words, sticking to your guns no matter what is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot.

To the degree that we have succeeded at ECS, you realize that there is more to learn than ever. More than a head start, we hope you have a taste for what is good and want more of it. It isn’t just that we wanted you to learn Latin and Logic and literature, we want you to have a life. A well educated person knows how to spend her leisure time, not filling up on the vanity of life under the sun, but resting or sharpening their tools for advancing the work.

My wife has illustrated it as standing on the shoulders of parents, or teachers, and being able to see that if everyone moved down the wall 15 steps, it would would be more strategic. If the person on the ground complains that the one looking over the wall isn’t being thankful, “Don’t you know how hard this is?” it’s the person on the bottom who can’t see what they’re supposed to be doing. They demonstrate that what they wanted is credit, not climbing. You are the ones climbing, but it won’t be long before kids (or students) will be climbing on you.

The reason for changing your mind is because you submit to the unchanging Word of the unchanging God. Evolution is a illusive progress to who knows where. Repentance is growth toward eternal glory.

Count your blessings, a lot.

You are #blessed. That is an assumption that has warrant. There are things that are “your blessings,” and counting them is not futile. Our God blesses those who fear Him, and the blessings are like streams of water.

To always be counting your blessings is to live a life with the perfume, or cologne, of thankfulness. How fragrant are the grateful. How like a light in this perverse, dark, and grabby-souled world you will be. Any fathead-airhead-knucklehead-bonehead-blockhead-pudding-head can (be governor, I mean) grumble. Complaints are running over the gutters of our social sewage system.

If there is any difficulty in counting one’s blessings, it is that it’s exhausting. Who could keep up with every given heartbeat, let alone name all of the visible and invisible care and kindnesses you receive from the Lord.

But let me add that counting your blessings may, it will, require you to change your mind about what counts as a blessing. Your expectations should not only be higher, your expectations should be wiser. Very rarely will your blessings look, let alone feel, glamorous.

We know the resurrection of Jesus is a blessing, but do we also call His death, death which atoned for all our sins, blessing? And though we do not seek the pain, He sends it to us. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:28). It is granted, it is chosen and appointed. Don’t flinch in the dark.

Learn the shape of your blessings, work your way out from the cross. On one hand, it is disappointing, and unfavourable, to finish your final year in quarantine and to graduate like this. On the other hand, no graduating class from ECS will have this story. No other class has been blessed to embody risus est bellum like you. No other rumpus of raggant alumni has had to practice civil disobedience just to get their diploma. This ceremony itself is a lesson, it is a blessing, and there will be more where this came from.

The cheeky motto of the class of COVID-19 is Omnino cancellatum est, “everything is canceled.” But, because of the education you’ve received, a better motto might be: omne mirile est, “everything is awesome.” It’s true even when conditions are not favorable. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.

In many ways you are responsible for the depth of friendships between your parents, for the increase in breadth of vision and love for Marysville, for revealing our shortcomings, our need for grace, and how sweet that grace tastes. You are much to blame for my interest in Narnia, Middle Earth, coloring pages and more. I am tired, but I am changed, and thankful.

We don’t want you to want someone else to do it. We don’t want you to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We want you to be starters and singers. We want you to be just like us, only with merry impudence. Geronimo, yes, and also, Fix bayonets.

“What is vital and healthy does not necessarily survive. … We ask too often why cultures perish and too seldom why they survive; as though their conservation were the normal and obvious fact and their death the abnormality for which special causes must be found. It is not so. An art, a whole civilization, may at any time slip through men’s fingers in a very few years and be gone beyond recover.” (Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, 113)

“No art lives by nature only by acts of voluntary attention on the part of human individuals.” (124)

You are going to have harder days potentially than we have imagined. And if the Lord does not return, future students will study about your work. You are changing the world from a backyard, in Jesus’ name.

enculturation

I gave the following remarks at our school’s graduation ceremony on June 2, 2019.


Good evening to our school board, faculty, families, friends, raggants young and old, and especially to our seniors. All of you have worked a great work to get here tonight, and it is an honor to celebrate with you, as well as to address our two candidates for graduation.

It is often a dangerous thing to speak about dichotomies, to divide things into only two. Our world dislikes generalizations—which, of course, is itself a generalization—because we want to be seen as special shades on the paint palette. But I don’t mind slathering paint on the wall with 48″ rollers, and there’s not enough time to get out drop-cloths. Before us tonight are two very different colors. We have two graduates ready to commence, and though they are not quite black and white, they are yellow and violet.

If Mrs. Bowers had assigned her Omnibus class to list all of the differences between Gideon and Kelly, the length of such a list might endanger the edges of an infinite canvas. If Mr. Sarr had assigned his Capstone class to write a paper on each senior’s favorite five world-and-life-view spheres, I am not sure there would have been any overlap. It is not just that Gideon and Kelly come from separate families, Gideon and Kelly live in two distinguishable cultures.

When I say “living in a culture” I mean how one reacts without needing to think about it. We do not walk into any Starbucks in Snohomish and think about what language to order in, we naturally start speaking in English. But there are smaller cultures, not just between schools but also in schools of thought. There are shared assumptions, shared values, shared priorities in a culture that may sometimes be talked about, but are usually obvious to anyone watching from the outside. Gideon and Kelly look at many of the same things, but they do not look at the same things and have the same response.

Both of our seniors have taken mostly the same classes for the last few years, but that didn’t stop one from talking more about Math and the other from talking more about Music (or, more usually, pounding on the public piano before school). One leans toward the Aristotelian world of fact and the other toward the Platonic world of ideas and ideals. One is drawn to the mechanical, one is drawn more toward the magical. One prefers science, the other prefers stories.

These two seniors embody an academic division that has really only been around for a century and a half, but in our society the split spreads wider every year. There are the STEM people: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and there are the Humanities people: Language, Philosophy, Literature, Art. There are the natural sciences and what used to be called the moral sciences.

In May 1959, a British scientist-turned-novelist named Charles Percy Snow gave an address called The Two Cultures in the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge. This was only 12 years after Dorothy Sayers gave her address, “The Lost Tools of Learning” at Oxford, which became a catalyst for the classical education movement of which we are a part. Snow expressed his concern over the hostility, the dislike, and most of all the lack of understanding between the literary intellectuals and the physical scientists. He lamented that the two cultures had “long since ceased to speak to each other; but at least they managed a kind of frozen smile across the gulf. Now the politeness has gone, and they just make faces.” The debate continues 60 years later, and faces are still being made, including mean emoji on social media.

Snow gave a simple test for recognizing the groups. “Without thinking about it, they respond alike. That is what a culture means.” For example, the children of Karl Marx don’t think about the nuts and bolts; nuts and bolts are just used to oppress the poor. On the other hand, the children of Adam Smith think a lot about nuts and bolts, and how many people it takes to make a nail, and how making nails frees the poor and fastens our economy together.

There are rationalists and romantics, there are accountants and accompanists, there are left brain and right brain people, but which is true? That is a complex question, a logical fallacy, which suggests that only one could be true. Let’s try this, which is better? That is perhaps a tougher question, but still one that requires more context.

At ECS we do emphasize the liberal arts and great books and robust singing, but we enjoy those studies having arrived in motor vehicles driven from drilled and processed fossil-fuels, meeting in climate controlled rooms, reading by artificial light from an electrical grid that spans the Pacific Northwest. We order these books using the digital fiber-optic system that connects us to the rest of the world wide web, to the world of living men as well as the vestiges of the generations before us in Western Civilization. Plus, Algebra, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus classes figure into our curriculum as well.

We can sit back and read the classics because science and technology have made it so that we’re not fighting for our existence. Of course, electric light and heat, and microwaves for fish sticks, don’t tell us why we exist.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Gideon is a fish out of water when it comes to The Faerie Queene, but he would rather swim closer to prose than poetry. It also wouldn’t be right to say that Kelly falls flat in the so-called practical subjects, but he is more attuned to the melodies and harmonies of imagination.

They graduate in the same class on the same day and they live in two different cultures. There is the athlete and the musician. There is the social flag pole and the social floor-looker. Which culture, the Sciences or the Humanities, will be better suited to succeed? Which culture will bring more blessing to others?

Of course, for those of us who believe the evangel, the answer to this dichotomy is to recognize that both cultures fall under the Christ-honoring culture. Neither math nor music is ultimate (not to mention that music requires math and math accordingly demonstrates great harmony). Neither Aristotle or Plato hold the answer because the ultimate answer is only in Christ.

In his book Wisdon and Wonder, Abraham Kuyper wrote that only those who understand the Bible by the work of the Spirit can learn about “the origin, the coherence, and the destiny of things.” Life’s three big questions are: “From where? How? And to what end?” Graduates, you know the answer to all of three questions.

Science that treats everything as nothing more than material and mechanical processes sucks the God-breathed soul out of creation. Stories that have no plot or purpose, no redemption or character development deaden the souls of reading creatures. We don’t exalt Science, we value Science studied in submission to the Lord of creation. We can’t be satisfied with Stories, we need Stories written in submission to the Lord of words.

So neither culture is ultimate or sufficient, but both are untied and both serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is what you share in common, Gideon and Kelly. You also share in common the inability to remember and recite together the Apostle’s Creed, but the Jesus in the Creed is yours. You share in worship, you share in the cultus, from which the meta-culture comes. You have been marinating in this Christ-honoring culture, and it is now your responsibility to advance it.

Take your gifts and your interests and your energies and take them further up and further in. Whether you write formulas to build bridges or write fiction, whether you swim laps or compose lyrics, do it all in the name of the Lord. Also, ten years from now, it will not be surprising if you change lanes, if your advance of Christ-honoring culture has moved you to put together a different part of the puzzle. You have been equipped, but in some ways graduation is just the kinder-prep for a life and family and vocation of serving Christ.

The Swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton wrote,

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

Next June, if you attend the graduation of the current class of Juniors, you should look back and wonder what you were doing, not because what you were doing was wrong, but because you’ve continued to learn and grow. Even asking that question of yourselves will show that you have not squandered your education, but that you are advancing with it.

The Corinthians had at least four sub-cultures in their church, aligning themselves in four different directions. The apostle Paul didn’t tell them to lower their appreciation for any one leader, but that they were limiting themselves unnecessarily. It is the way of the world to identify with just one (and get snobby about it), while the Lord knows that such self-imposed limitation from all that He’s given is futile.

For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

In Latin Omnibus means “all things,” but Omnibus also means that all those pages you’ve read are just some of the things of the all of the things that are yours.

Psalm 77:12, “meditabor in omnibus operibus tuis,” “I will mediate on all Your work” (NAS). Gideon and Kelly, you both are God’s work, and He has work for each of you to do to advance a Christ-honoring culture. All are yours.

enculturation

On June 5th last year our school had its first graduation. It’s taken me until now to post my notes. Hahaha!


Good evening to our (almost) graduates, their parents and families and friends, and to all of our guests. Good evening to our teachers, along with the younger Raggants here to see what this graduation thing might look like for them in two (to twelve) years. Thank You to the Board for allowing me the privilege of giving this first commencement address.

Many schools have started for many reasons. Whether parents school their children at home or find a trustworthy school nearby or pool their resources to begin a cooperative work, children have been being taught for a long time in many places. It’s a present perfect progressive sort of thing.

In this place, a small group of parents with a growing conviction about one principle decided that we could not sit still. This principle is as simple as an ocean wave. The principle is as small as a mustard seed. The principle is like oxygen, always present, not always appreciated, and flammable under certain conditions. The principle is: Jesus is Lord.

According to God’s Word through the apostle Paul, to be a Christian requires one to make this confession. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be” schooled. Ah, it seems I’ve misquoted the epistle to the Romans. Mea culpa. But I wonder if the change in verb might help us meditate on the work leading to (ad), and leading away from (ab), the commencement tonight.

Paul actually wrote in chapter 10 that all those confessing Jesus as Lord will be saved. The Greek word is a form of sozo, and the Latin translation is a future linking verb with the predicate adjective salvus from which our English word “salvation” derives. Confess and believe and be saved.

But saved from what? Saved for what? This is what the E in ECS is good for. This is the Big E. The evangel is the good news that every bitter and blinding separation caused by sin is overcome in Jesus. You are saved from separation from God, reconciled to the Father by the Son. This reconciliation is supernatural, eternal, and effective now. You belonged to the domain of darkness, you were outside the kingdom of the Son of God’s love, now you have been brought in. “Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

For what? You are redeemed for life. Life is when separated things are united. This includes your soul being united to God along with your mind and your body. In Romans 12 the apostle urges the Christians to present their bodies as living sacrifices for the Lord and to be renewed in their minds for discerning what is good and acceptable and perfect to the Lord.

The presenting of our bodies and renewal of our minds do not take place automatically. They require the Spirit and the Spirit grows us up into salvation. We who “were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which [we’ve] been committed” (Romans 6:17). Confessing Christ as Lord is the beginning and the ongoing motivation. Jesus is Lord is a first principle, not in isolation like a bookmark that keeps track of what page you’re on, but like the spine that holds all the pages together.

This principle motivated Abraham Kuyper to help open the Free University in Amsterdam in 1880. In his inaugural speech he said this:

No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically (airtight or insulated) sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”

As the graduates have heard, and hopefully will remember forever, the translation of “a square inch” is not the most powerful image, or even the most accurate. Kuyper said there is not an een duimbreed, better understood as “the width of a thumb.” You cannot frame or feel anything that falls outside of Christ’s sovereignty or His interests.

Every Caesar is dead. Just ask Plutarch, Livy, Suetonius, Tacitus, or even Shakespeare. But Jesus lives. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Dominum Jesum. Jesus reigns. He sits at God’s right hand and before He ascended He said that all authority in heaven and on earth were given to Him. In Him are all the treasures of wisdom. So we make students in His name.

Kuyper saw in his day that schools were not starting with Jesus as Lord. He said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Something better is possible. You’ve tasted it.

The world crisis involves not inequality, self-interest, or justice, but a living person—involves Him who once swore that he was a King and who for the sake of this royal claim gave up his life on the cross of Golgotha. (Kuyper)

Every person, every school, every graduate, every government, will either confess or contest that Jesus is Lord. That is either reality or delusion. You will believe it to be the key to the development of human life or to its destruction. Your schooling has pointed you like a arrow to be true.

You must do more than be able to agree about the sovereignty of God, you must acknowledge it in your moments. The lordship of Christ should be a point of humility, not of pride. The hostility between the seed of the woman and the seed of there serpent will either be a theory, a theology, or a conviction.

When presidents offer to be your savior, when money offers to be your security, when others offer to provide you will approval and acceptance, you will know that these are useless apart from the Lord.

Jesus is Lord of every public sphere: the scientific world, the business world, the world of art, the world of politics. But also over every sphere of your life: your conscience, your faith, your reason, your talents, your time, your will, your work, your words. All things, visible and invisible, are for Him.

You will miss the daily reminders of our responsibilities to love our neighbors by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. You will miss the Creed and the Cantus. You will hear about Mr. Bowers “accidentally” falling on a 2nd grader from Facebook rather than after recess. No one will read great books to you while you eat lunch. These are just some of the unique enculturation flavors you’ve tasted at ECS, and they are all for the Lord.

The principle that motivated the start of this school is the principle, the passion, we hope you’ll carry into any further schooling you pursue, any work you do, the families you begin.

The breath of Kuyper’s address applies tonight:

Only by ever focusing on our sacred principle each time the waves crashed over us did our weary head raise itself bravely from the water. If this cause be not of the Mighty One of Jacob, how could it stand.

The school has survived four years. You have survived your years here. But this work is “worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

We pray that our students:

won’t be embarrassed by old-fashioned virtues, like hard work and discipline. They will respect authority and defy the authorities. They won’t get fired from jobs because of laziness, and they will get fired from them because of something they said about homosexuality. They won’t resent money and success, and they won’t be dazzled by money and success. They will laugh at the hipsters, and they will laugh at themselves laughing at the hipsters. They will loathe the enticements of corrupt entertainment, and they will love a true story. They would rather die than become one of the cool kids. They will be cool. (Douglas Wilson Rules for Reformers)

You may be free from your responsibilities at ECS, but you are not free from responsibility for the gifts of enculturation that were given to you at ECS. You are free to serve the Lord. This is the starting principle of all you do, it is the goal of all you do. Jesus is the beginning and the end.

I can say on behalf of the school board and teachers, we love you—Dineke, Andrew, and John—we are thankful to God for you, and we pray that you—as the very first raggants trained and released into the world-wide wild—will risk your lives and disturb the lives of others in the name of the Lord.

enculturation