Bring Them Up

Brave New Unhappiness

It is hard to believe that this is our tenth Information Night for ECS. I’ve been to all of them, I’ve said some words at all of them, and I can say with certainty that the tenth looks nothing like the first. That night we didn’t have any students, no cute Kindergarteners in sweater-vests, no fun fish sound-offs from Second Graders. We had some ideas, but they were as concrete as a Plato’s view on the afterlife, which is to say, not very substantial.

A lot has happened in a decade, and I have a better idea of what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to do. I also have a better idea of the limits of a “talk” about classical Christian education and what we want that to look like at ECS. But all that leads me to the point I want to share tonight: I am more unhappy than ever. And what’s more, if you choose to send your students to ECS, we will do everything we can so that they, and you, experience the same thing.

This kind of unhappy begs for a bit of context, some explanation, and I’ve got two sources in my mind for what I mean.

The first source is Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World. Have you read it? Orwell took a different route with his 1984 (published 1949), let alone Lewis’ That Hideous Strength (1945) (and Lewis is the best of the three). Huxley imagines the World State where science and data and reproductive technology and entertainment have enabled the government to eliminate all the inconveniences and pains of life. Big Brother isn’t so much a threat to make you disappear as in 1894, but rather to medicate you so that your worries disappear. It’s like a Johnson & Johnson baby-shampoo regime: no more tears tyranny.

Near the end of the book there are two chapters (chapters 16 and 17) of 151-proof ideology presented in a Socratic-ish dialogue in the office of the head of the World State, known as the “Controller,” a man named Mustapha Mond, and another man named John, simply called the “Savage,” who is one of the few natural-born men in the story. The Controller calmly reasons that the Old and New Testaments are unnecessary, as is Shakespeare, that salvation comes in a pill called soma, that the government can provide every comfort necessary. Then the Savage replies:

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”
“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

The more you know, the more you’ve tasted, less you can be manipulated or conditioned, and the more unhappy you set yourself up to be.

My second source is from the Old Testament, by a man who called himself a Preacher, or perhaps he could be better called a pundit, or a sage.

“In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

The sage was Solomon, gifted by God with great human wisdom, wisdom which he applied to learn even more. His proverbial conclusion is that wisdom is a grief-giver, wisdom harasses the mind with a clearer picture of what’s wrong. The second line is about sorrow; it is a coordinate action, the more gold you put in the bag the heavier it is to carry.

So I am unhappy like the savage, and I get the lesson of the sage. In our day it is harder to tell them apart.

ECS is a project that claims the right, even more, we claim the responsibility, to be unhappy.

Some of us are unhappy that we didn’t get an education like this. How much different or better might we have done?

We are unhappy with how our government sees us as so easily pacified, satisfied with stimulus checks and streaming video. Perhaps you remember the scene in “The Matrix” when the traitor, Cypher, says he’d rather enjoy the imaginary steak his mind convinces him is real than to be real, and be unhappy: “Ignorance is bliss.” God says, though, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,” (Proverbs 3:13), and He knows best.

Dorothy Sayers warned in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” that we would need better education to ward off all the propaganda. She could not have imagined the success of “15 days to flatten the curve.” The Ministry of Truth has been working double-plus shifts.

We are unhappy that the State celebrates their legislative attempts to turn 220lb boys with pony tails into star women’s soccer players. We are unhappy that we can’t have civil debates about anything, that we can’t ask and expect answers about mandates that violate our constitution. We are unhappy that no one seems to remember the past, let alone learn from it. We could have learned about religious liberty, we could have learned about how fear often spoils freedom. We could have learned that communism has been tried, and found everyone wanting.

Our mission at ECS is as follows:

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 and advance Christ-honoring culture.

Because we take that seriously, we are unhappy that we have so much ground that needs to be recovered, and now defended, with still so much more ground that needs to be covered.

We use the tools of classical education to help us. Though “classical” can have a number of forms, it certainly includes recognizing that we are not the first humans on the planet to know anything. We receive (and rejoice in) the truths about subjects and verbs, about sorts of fish, about suffrage and Jesus’ suffering for our salvation. In the Trivium, the “three ways,” these truths are part of the grammar, and there is grammar for every subject. Things happened leading up to and in 1776 that have objective reality, and we’re not trying to rewrite it. 2 + 2 = the same thing, every time, and that’s not because of systemic racism; God said, and it was four.

In the Trivium there is also an emphasis on logic or dialectic, where ideas are debated, rules of argumentation are learned, and fallacies exposed. It’s more than just heat, more than just feeling, and more than just throwing bricks through storefront windows in the name of justice. Dialectic is a method for teaching subjects, and is itself a subject especially suited for those junior-high students who are probably already contrarian; why not make it constructive, or at least less annoying?

The Trivium is capped with rhetoric, where the truths have been gathered and sorted and then adorned. Whether in writing or in speeches or in some other form of expression, truth is shown with great allure. Grammar is like learning the names of notes on the staff, logic is like discerning the difference when it’s sharp or flat, and rhetoric is like making it sing.

At ECS, we’re happily addressing our unhappiness. We have teachers who love the Lord, who love their students, who love the Word and all the things that God has made.

So in this respect our school is not a “safe” space, it’s not trouble-free. We have God, and poetry, and inconvenience, and tears, and good, and sin. And the evangel. This is a project for brave new unhappiness, or from the other side of the coin, a brave new happiness, as we remember that laughter is war, and Jesus is Lord of it all.

The above is roughly what I said at our school’s annual Information Night last evening.

Lord's Day Liturgy

If an Idiot Falls in a Forest

Word studies are often bad. Or done badly. Or a bad idea to begin with.

I am fond of words. The world is upheld by the word of Christ’s power (Hebrews 1:3). God created by speaking into existence (Hebrews 11:3). Jesus Himself is the Logos, the Word (John 1:1). God gave us His Word, and He gave us words, with form and function and meaning and history.

It’s easy enough to hear surface connections between words, or see simple derivatives, and make conclusions that are wrong. For example, dynamite comes from the Greek word dunamis, but when Paul said that the gospel is the “power (dunamis) of God to salvation” in Romans 1:16, the apostle did not mean that the gospel will explode and blow up our sin. Or, another example, for as much as we can appreciate compound words, the English word “butterfly” is neither a fly made out of butter or butter with wings.

That said, I recently came across the root of the word idiot. I have a pretty good idea of what idiot means; I have been called one, I have met more than one. It usually works fine as a synonym with fool, as one who makes it known that he is not in the know.

What I came to know is that it grew from the Greek word idios which means “ones own,” or “private.” It developed over time as a reference to one who couldn’t be bothered by what other people had to say, and described someone who was unskilled or inexperienced because of not being able, or willing, to learn from others.

That may seem like a lot to pin on just a word. Fine. So consider the corroboration from these inspired sentences.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)

And that really stands out after reading the previous verse.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)

Or as the NKJV translates, “he rages against all wise judgment.”

One could be an idiot like this geographically, or argumentatively, or even silently, smugly judging how stupid everyone else is, just in your own head. Oh how wise it is to not be alone, and to listen to those who offer life-giving reproof (see Proverbs 6:23).

The End of Many Books

Irreversible Damage

by Abigail Shrier

This was one of the least enjoyable, least hopeful, more quotidian nightmarish books I’ve read (listed to) in a while. I learned some things about the transgender contagion/cult that I wish I wouldn’t need to know.

It also increased my commitment to encouraging image-bearers of God in the glory of being either male and female (Genesis 1:27), including my own son and daughters, as well as the young people in our church and school. Though the author is only conservative in comparison with the gender activist ideologues, and though she’s primarily just asking for people to slow down and ask some questions, even she has been tagged as a hater by some. There is little left to imagine how much contempt there is/will be for consistent Christians.

I do not recommend listening to this book with your young kids around. I do recommend that dads and moms do better than simply affirming every doubt and dysphoria their kids bring up, and perhaps hearing Shrier’s collected stories of loss and angst and dereliction by parents and “professionals” would be a wake up call.

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Heart That Is True

Psalm 119:2 states, “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart.” The Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), it is His work to give new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26), and He causes His love to be poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).

A great danger to a people who know that they must worship is to substitute, whether by apathy or by calculation, the motions for the motivation. The Lord warned His people over and over that heartless worship was an abomination to Him.

> And the Lord said: 
“Because this people draw near with their mouth
 and honor me with their lips,
 while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
therefore, behold, I will again
 do wonderful things with this people,
 with wonder upon wonder;
and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
 and the discernment of their discerning men 
shall be hidden.” 
(Isaiah 29:13–14)

Instead, we ought to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). We who were once slaves of sin “have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which [we] were committed” (Romans 6:17). We worship and we do our work “not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6).

So how is your heart? Let us make sure that we draw near to God in worship with a hear that is true (see Hebrews 10:22).

The End of Many Books

That Hideous Strength

I give this book 10 out of 5 stars. It is my favorite fiction book of all that I’ve read. It is prescient, auspicious, faith-building, and fun. I had wanted to reread it when the pandemic lockdowns began last March (2020), and didn’t get around to start listening until December, but, wow, it’s still double-plus-extra good.

What’s not good are the covers. I selected a decent one to go with this post, but here is the Audible cover:

And then take a look at some of the craziness.

We seem to be living in a bitter mix of 1984/Brave New World, but the world is much more like Lewis’ vision, even though Orwell hated it and wrote his dystopian nostrum against it. Read THS. Listen to it. Again and again. Get yourself to St. Anne’s.

10 of 5 stars

The End of Many Books

Pro Rege

Pro Rege means “for the king.” This is volume 1 of 3 by that title, and it includes various articles by Abraham Kuyper on the subject of “The Exalted Nature of Christ’s Kingship.” These books are part of the larger series called his “Collected Works in Public Theology,” and though I should have read the Common Grace volumes first, I was no less edified skipping ahead to Pro Rege. Here’s just one quote out of the 576 pages, but a relevant reminder:

“Only when the anti-Christian power has exerted its greatest force and unfolded all of its unholy potential will the final battle be worthy of Christ; then He will celebrate a suitable victory after destroying that power in its full deployment.” (421)

4 of 5 stars

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Boast of a Fool

We are fools. If we do it right, being fools is more than fine. It’s something to embrace, even something to boast about.

It turns out that everyone is a fool; it’s not whether but which. It does matter significantly which sort of fool a man is. But don’t think that you can avoid being seen as a fool. That is a sign of the wrong kind of foolishness.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that the word of the cross is folly (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is folly to preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:21). All the things of the Spirit of God are folly; they are impossible to understand (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Believers are saved by that word (1 Corinthians 1:18). That crucified Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God to the called (1 Corinthians 1:24). The spiritual person, the one who has received the Spirit who is from God, understands the things freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12).

And that makes the natural man the eternal fool. That demonstrates how the wisdom of the world is made foolish by God (1 Corinthians 1:20). The “rulers of this age,” by which I think Paul means more than just the philosophers and priests and governors of the first century, crucified the Lord of glory because they did not understand and it was their own undoing (1 Corinthians 2:8). Those who can’t understand are “doomed to pass away” (1 Corinthians 2:6).

Your faith does not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5). God chose us as fools, as the low and despised, to have life in Christ Jesus whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and our sanctification and redemption. “Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Lord's Day Liturgy

Individualism Groups

Americans have been known for their fierce individualism. This -ism isn’t exclusive to our nation, but we do tend to be louder about it. We are, ironically, lumped together for our individuality.

I don’t remember who it was that made the following observation, but it has stuck with me for almost twenty years. The Islamic terrorists who hijacked the planes over U.S. soil on September 11 did not concern themselves with the question of whether everyone on each plane was the embodiment of what they hated. The Koran teaches that heathens deserve death, those in the United States are heathens, therefore those in the United States deserve death. We are connected together enough; our individuality was corporately judged no matter how much any individual would object.

I bring this up as an illustration for those of us in the church. What we do as individuals cannot be separated from the groups we are joined with (family, nation, church) no matter how private, or personal, we think we have the right to be.

You are part of the body. Your sin is your own in that the body cannot repent of your sin instead of you, but your sin is not only your own in that it won’t affect the body. If the foot is broken then putting a cast on the hand isn’t sufficient, and also, if the foot is broken, the hand can’t get over as easily to what it wanted to pick up.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). If one member sins, the testimony of the assembly suffers. God has arranged the members in the body as He chose, and so my sin takes up your time and visa versa. It’s one of the reasons why our weekly confession of sin is corporate, even as we are many.

Lord's Day Liturgy

More Than Pejoratives

One of the most consequential new-normals of liturgy for us is the weekly celebration of communion. Sharing the Lord’s Supper together every Lord’s Day has done more to wreck our identity as truth-tubes than any verbal pejoratives I can use, including the moniker “truth-tubes” itself. Coming to the Lord’s Table with thanksgiving has developed feasting muscles we didn’t know Christians were supposed to have.

It wasn’t about the ordinance of communion, but here’s what Jesus said about the organic nature of communion.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he is is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5).

Abiding is trusting, abiding is relying, abiding is being connected. There is no such thing as too much abiding. There is no such thing as taking abiding for granted; that is not abiding.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine as an assembly is more than another learning opportunity, it is more than obedience to the Lord’s command, it is our spiritual union with Him and with each other.

Still an organic image, but switching from branches to flowers, here is John Bunyan.

Christians are like the several flowers in a garden, that have upon each of them the dew of heaven, which, being shaken with the wind, they let fall their dew at each other’s roots, whereby they are jointly nourished, and become nourishers of each other. (John Bunyan, Christian Behavior, quoted in Brown, 173)

We are alive in Christ; His life flows through us. We are not isolated from Him, and that means we are more than individuals. We are His tree, His garden, His body. Communion is not a reminder of our communion; the ordinance is not merely a time for truth-telling about communion. It is a reminder of Christ’s death which enables us to have communion, that His joy may be in us and that we may love one another.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Mere Accuracy

The thing that causes Christians to stand out from the world is not merely our accuracy. Believers are right about God’s existence and about salvation in God’s Son alone, but there is more to our identity than identifying (and departing from) error. Unbelievers are in a state of spiritual blindness, their minds are darkened, but the primary dividing line between us is not merely true and false.

The primary difference is that we are with God. We know the truth, but that is not an abstraction; Jesus said He is the truth (John 14:6). God is light (1 John 1:5), there is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:7), and when we walk in the light we have fellowship with Him. When God saves us, He does more than enable us to answer more theology questions correctly.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does know know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

In these few verses we understand why we are out of step with the world, we understand the importance of worship, and we understand the goal of our confession.

We become like who (or what) we behold, and as we behold God, we take on His shape. As children we see our Father and we grow up to be like Him. At the appointed time, our godliness will be glorified, and that is more than fastidious factuality.

Even now we grow in the process. We hunger and thirst for righteousness because that is what our Father is like. He is pure, holy. When He calls us to confess our sins it is not primarily to enforce His power of us, it is not ultimately to get us to agree with Him what we are wrong, it is so that He might share His own likeness with us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).