An Eye for Learning
I gave the following talk at our ECS Convocation yesterday afternoon.
Or, Paying Attention to Curriculum and Character
There is an ancient Egyptian myth about Osiris, a god known for many things, including being the ruler of the dead. This is not a Bible story, but it is its own kind of mirror to problems that people have.
The head of Horus
Osiris represented tradition, and even more than tradition, he came to represent dangerous failure to change. Osiris had a scheming brother named Set who was eager to overthrow and destroy Osiris. It wasn’t that Osiris was dumb or even deceived by Set, but Osiris didn’t want to see his brother’s evil intentions. Osiris chose to be blind. Eventually Set took a chance and attacked his brother, hacked him into pieces and sent his parts throughout the kingdom and his spirit to the underworld. Humpty Dumpty would have had an easier time pulling himself back together.
Some time later Osiris’ son Horus came to fight Set. You may have seen the symbol of Horus as the single Egyptian eye. He was also represented as a falcon-headed man; falcons are known for incisive vision. One story teller put it like this: “Osiris is tradition, aged and willfully blind. Horus, his son, could and would, by contrast, see. Horus was the god of attention” (12 Rules for Life, 222).
Seeing is not less than, but it is more than, mere knowing. This seeing beyond what is already grasped. Because Horus could see, he could see the wickedness of his uncle and fought him. He defeated Set, but not before Set tore out one of Horus’ eyes. Later Horus took back his eye, and then in a surprising twist, Horus went to the underworld and gave the eye to his father so that Osiris could see.
There are a couple angles in this story. The first is that it may hurt to see; Horus saw his uncle’s evil and lost one of his own eyes fighting the evil. The second is that seeing is the necessary act to move forward. Seeing was necessary to defeat Set. Seeing was what Osiris needed. If we do not see, if we refuse to learn and mature, our knowledge will grow stale or corrupt.
“Every bit of learning is a little death” (ibid., 223). It is death to our pride to acknowledge that we didn’t know everything already. It is death to our reputation as our ignorance is exposed, or worse, our pet blind spots. But when we learn, when we pay attention, we are sacrificing what may feel secure for something that is better. To get perspective, it’s easier to stand on a dead long than climbing a growing tree, but the dead log will only let you see so far.
There are two general categories that I want to exhort you to open your eyes to see this school year. For simplicity sake, let’s refer to them as head and heart, or we could summarize them as curriculum and character.
Pay attention to the curriculum.
This may surprise you, but our school does not exist as a proving ground for experts. Our school is a provoking goad to learning. What I mean is that we don’t meet here in order for you to Show and Tell all that you know, let alone that you know it all. One thing we know is that you don’t actually know it all, and more importantly, what you know should become a foundation to see more, not a fence to keep you from going further. Knowledge should increase your attentiveness, not your apathy.
One of the most fundamental principles at ECS is that not only are we permitted to, but we are accountable to, grow in Christlikeness. But what does that mean? It does mean that we should obey the Father like Christ did. But it also means that we should observe what Christ has made. Being like Christ means being interested in the things that He is interested in, and He made the world. “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3).
Christ made the heavens and the earth, He made the visible and the invisible. He not only created but He continually sustains all things. “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t keep the stars in place, but we can at least pay attention to them. Science, subtraction, Logic, letters, poetry, and history are all His delight.
Your current knowledge is not absolute, as in, you do not know everything. There will be times when you wish you knew more than you do, but the solution to that frustration is not to complain about the work required to see more. Teachers must keep seeing, and so must parents, so that you can keep seeing. The mission of ECS is that you would carry and advance Christ honoring culture. If you don’t have anything more to learn, then here we are, and here we’ll stay.
I remember my first day of 7th grade, and in particular my literature teacher Mr. Brenner. He had a sign hanging on his podium that he made sure to emphasize: “Hire a teenager while they still know everything.”
Pay attention to your character.
It often hurts to look at our own hearts. We don’t like what we see, so we go out of our way not to see. I mean, who wants to see his own sinfulness, more deeply, more clearly? Considering how we’ve offended God is nerve-afflicting. Looking at ugly things is not a good time, especially if we are the ugly ones.
But this is where you make or break your joy. You cannot be one of God’s children and thrive with unacknowledged sin. Willful ignorance about your sin, or proactive defensiveness of your sin, will choke out your joy. What is true for each individual is also true for a culture made up by those individuals. One weed can get its root deep, but if there are a lot of weeds in the garden, things are going to be a snarled mess.
If you don’t watch your heart, the sin in your heart will cut up your gladness into little pieces and scatter your soul all over the place. It won’t feel good. Paul told Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself,” and that such attention had effect not just on himself but for those Timothy led (1 Timothy 4:16). It requires looking, and admitting, and sometimes even getting help to grow.
There will be all sorts of exposures of your heart this year. You will get to see how much patience you really have, how much diligence you really have, how much truthfulness you really have, how much skill you really have. Will you look for the opportunity to repent?
Don’t lie to yourself, or to others. You need to grow. We’re not going to freak out that you have immaturities, ignorances, and sins. Don’t you freak out either, and also don’t cover your eyes.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15)
Do you know what you don’t know? What do you want to learn more about this year? You don’t necessarily need to have a plan, but your teachers will help. They have books for you to read and homework to assign and tests to give. They have curriculum, they have maps to show you more places that Christ loves and wants you to love. Listen to them, follow the path of their dry erase marker. Knock on their doors until they open up library of their own looking.
And also, are you prepared to become more like Christ in head and heart? Do you have an eye for learning the right loves, for seeing more ways to obey, for attending to the parts of your heart that need to be wrapped into integrity?
Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, ESV)