A Graduation Rumpus
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.