Categories
Bring Them Up

Get Rich

The following are the notes from my talk at our school’s 11th Fundraising Feast last Friday.


There’s a story about my relationship to the school that I’ve never told in public before. It took place within a month or two of starting ECS.

Another family invited our family over for dinner, I think it was a Sunday evening, and it seemed like it would be a relaxing time of food and fellowship. Mo and I loaded up all four kids, at the time Maggie was in 5th grade, Calvin was in 1st grade, and while Hallie and Keelah weren’t old enough for school just yet they tagged along with Mo every day for the few classes she had to teach.

We arrived at the host’s home, shared some greeting pleasantries, and began eating after a short while. Not too far into the meal we found out the real agenda for the night. For the next couple hours Mo and I learned a variety of things that we were doing wrong, previously unknown to us. The criticisms were unpleasant enough, and showing no signs of slowing down, that Mo texted her mom to come and pick up our kids, which the hosts didn’t even realize until Mo and I were leaving.

The chief accusation, which also functioned as main heading that included a full magazine of bullets under it, was when they said, ”You just started a school to get rich.”

It wasn’t just the Higgins, but also the Sarrs. Both families were partners in greed. Since everyone knows if you want to get rich just start a private Christian school, how could we justify following the well-worn, almost-certain path to financial success?

I am here tonight to tell you, that after almost a dozen full years of ECS, I have never been more rich in my life.

If I had known heading into dinner that night what I know now at this dinner tonight, I would have tried a completely different defense. I would still start with laughter, of the head-thrown-back guffawing kind, and not just because risus est bellum. But I don’t think I’d try to make any arguments from the tiring histories of private school budget strains, let alone the many painful, even brutal experiences of school closures due to budget collapses. I wouldn’t try to draw any capital from my character account as a leader, asking what about my person made it seem like I was money hungry. If I could go back to that table again, instead of saying “Get real,” I’d say, “You’re absolutely right.”

Now in Logic terms I’d be playing with verbal equivocation, a possible informal fallacy, but I’d play it hard. I’d be using the key word in their premise in a different way in my conclusion. But part of my argument would be that my definition is not just another option, not just a better option, but the right definition. Did we start a school to get rich? Not in any way to increase our personal collection of dollars. But starting a school has absolutely increased our wealth.

What does it mean to be rich? What does it mean to be wealthy? What does it mean to you?

I am not trying to spiritualize the discussion in a way that sneers at money. We call this event our Fundraising Feast. We are trying to raise funds. We have bills, we write paychecks, we want to provide financial scholarships for families that need aid, and we’d love to improve the only non-asphalt play-place on our campus with turf, especially for the 13 months a year that it rains.

But we are laboring to build and to enjoy that which doesn’t rust. Our treasure is not just in what we can see, where thieves break in and steal. And that does not mean that God only makes His people rich in heaven. I said, I have never been more rich in my life. That’s right here, right now.

Stuff as riches is a simple metric, but it’s a superficial one, and not a certain source of joy. For those whose life is lived only under the sun, they are busy wearing themselves out to gather and collect; cash comes and cash goes, but the monthly subscriptions remain forever. If that’s all there is, it’s a burden, it’s striving after wind, it’s vanity. How many “rich” people have accounts full of emptiness?

When God makes wealthy He adds no guilt. “The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22). Again, this includes what we eat and what we wear and the shelter our Heavenly Father provides. But He gives so much more.

Maybe you’ve read (or wanted to say you’ve read) the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. Taleb makes his money as a financial investor, but he also plays the part of a know-it-all-philosopher. The principle of anti-fragility is being in a position to benefit when things get shaken. He is certainly aiming his advice toward making money, but even he knows that wealth is more. His list of “true wealth” include:

  • worry-less sleeping
  • a clear conscience
  • a good appetite
  • no meals alone
  • good bowel movements
  • absence of envy
  • reciprocal gratitude
  • frequent laughs
  • periodic surprises

Being “rich” is having an abundance, but it’s abundance of more than just possessions (or power).

I’m rich with an expanding while tightening network of likeminded Christian families; we love being with our kids and homeschooling is mostly awesome and yet for us it does not compare to the riches of this community. I’m rich with seeing the joy of teachers who call ECS their “dream job” not because of how the economics work out but because of the environment they work in, and then being in the educational trenches with them. I’m more rich because of personal learning and need-to-grow accountability as a parent, a teacher, and as a divine-image bearer in the great stream of Western Civilization. I’m rich with kids who aren’t just suffering through assignments, but who have their dumb ideas laughed at and their great ideas sharpened; they want IN and want MORE. I’m rich not just with kids who know the standard, but with kids who love the standard and the vision of helping others love and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

I’m rich with a clear conscience and with consciousness of God’s abundant blessings on this big project.

A few months ago, the day that re-enrollment paperwork was due, I was out of town, and Mo started working through some of the online questions to apply for financial aid. One of them was, “What would you be willing to give up for sake of a private education?” Mo has trouble with these sorts of questions, because she’s curious and can get lost in the clouds at the 50-thousand foot level pretty fast. But this one was easy. What would we give up? Everything. And that’s because of what have we gained: Everything.

What’s amazing about this kind of wealth is that it’s not zero-sum. It’s not like a bigger piece of pie for me means burnt crust crumbs for you. We are creating new value, win-win wealth, generational wealth, non-linear wealth. Through cooperation and mutual exchanges and sweat equity, multiple families get multiple blessings. You do have to invest, but it’s hard to calculate the compounding interest. You do have to get skin in the game, but you get back more than you could give away.

“One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing” (Proverbs 13:7). But we are not LARPers: Live Action Rich Pretenders. We have the world and life and death and the present and the future. All are ours because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

Friends, may you eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God is blessing us. And, may you aim for so much more than cash and comfort. Get rich, really.


Categories
Bring Them Up

Plotting Imaginative Coordinates

On the Making of a Fully Ready Non-Fiction Rumpus

Here are the notes from my talk at the 2024 Raggant Fiction Festival. If you’d prefer to watch, here’s a link to the video.


Magic Words

There is a two-word combo that I have not been able to spin out of my mental orbit for at least nine years, a verbal pairing that has affected my reading, my teaching, my recommendations, and my vision. They’ve almost been magic words, making something that didn’t exist before.

I value those who demonstrate that good reading, including good fiction, shapes our loves and loyalties. We learn to react the right way, who to root for and who to run away from. Yes(!) to stories that deepen and direct our affections. And, also, stories expand our imaginative coordinates. They push our mental boundaries of what was possible, and in so doing expand our world-building ideas.

Coordinates are a way to find where you’re at, or locate a place you plan to travel to, or even describe the length and breadth of the area considered. Coordinates belong on maps, X and Y, and sometimes a Z. The word “ordinate” comes from the idea of arranging or setting in order, and the “co” means that it involves at least two components working together. To plot coordinates is to set a course, which works not only when navigating a trip but also when writing a story.

Plotting imaginative coordinates in this respect isn’t figuring out how Mr. Rogers’ trolly gets to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but imagining that there could be different, even better, places that would be good to go than we previously thought.

I first read the phrase “imaginative coordinates” in Michael Ward’s book, Planet Narnia. He also partners “imaginative” with:

  • imaginative vision
  • imaginative palate
  • imaginative outlook
  • imaginative pleasure
  • imaginative access
  • imaginative difficulties
  • imaginative resting-place
  • imaginative point-of-view
  • imaginative engagement
  • and imaginative form

Imaginative here doesn’t mean imaginary, as if fake, but rather using one’s creative efforts to see an image not seen before.

Beyond the Page

This is lifeblood for world-building. The Festival’s title/focus this year includes: “reading and writing as world-builders.” Reading requires imagination to picture the world the writer describes. This is one point for books over movies, as movies leave little to your imagination. You’re still dependent on someone else’s imaginative effort since they’ve built the world so you don’t have to. And writing obviously requires imagination to see a story to tell.

But imaginative sub-creating as God’s image-bearers — as Tolkien called it — is not only good for fiction. These imaginative capacities are crucial for non-fiction world-building.

If you need someone to give you a list of everything you need to do, fine, but you won’t be better than a robot. Robots can follow instructions, and with less pouting. As I’m talking about imagination, I’m talking about going from good stories to better cities, from plot twists to new products and better businesses. My talk is sort of a thank-you letter to fiction for helping me go from good fiction to better non-fiction.

Ready Raggants

I’ve affectionately called this year at ECS “The Year of the Raggant.” This event, after all, is the “Raggant Fiction Festival.” The biggest problem is that there is no such thing as a raggant. Or is there? Well, turns out, raggants not only exist in the fictional stories of the 100 Cupboards series, the raggants have become a select group of flesh-and-blood students (who pay non-fiction tuition dollars). That is so real that the author added a plural noun for a group of raggants: many raggants are a rumpus.

This year I’ve also been thinking about a word at the beginning of James 1, the Scripture about trials going to work on us, making us something. They test our faith toward our character arc of becoming “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Perfect is related to telos, meaning the end it was made for, and complete is holokleros, sometimes translated as sound or whole. But one dictionary defined it as: “ready to meet all expectations.”

Trials push us beyond what we thought our faith could survive, they expand our imaginative coordinates of perfection and joy.

So how can we make a fully ready, non-fiction rumpus? That’s a twist on our school’s mission, that the next generation carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. How do we prepare the rumpus when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, what exact challenges are coming in the next chapter, for when there is no exact script to follow?

Off the Edge

Before I give some actual points, I saw an interaction on my Twitter timeline a couple weeks ago that resonates with me. One guy asked: “What work of fiction changed your worldview the most?” Another guy, a guy who loves the Lord and loves the truth, said: “None. No work of fiction should ever change our worldview. As a Christian, my worldview is shaped by Scripture alone.” And, you know, here’s two thoughts about that.

First, okay, yeah, if you had to choose, the Bible OR Narnia, you know what to do. But remember how Nathan told David a made-up story to show David his own sin? Remember the made-up story about the prodigal son that Jesus told to show the Jews their rebellion? Each of those is a “work of fiction” that God inspired for sake of producing In-Real-Life change.

Second, maybe we could get hung up on the word “changed.” Okay, yeah, but there are ways that non-fiction explanations change the facts to distort, shape to cover, shape to deceive, and ways that fiction reveals higher or deeper or broader truths.

And again, fiction plots our imaginative coordinates further out on the page, maybe even off the edge of the map. We don’t advance without imagination, and so till we have fiction we won’t complete the mission.

A Trifecta of Stuck

Three characters won’t advance, at least not well. This is not to say that only perfect characters make progress. I really enjoyed following both Cora (in The Winter King) and Lio (in The Sinking City), and Cora in particular who kept choosing wrong things, not by accident, not due to naivety. They both had flaws, and yet they both went forward. But there are three traits that cannot see beyond their plight (not plot), and all three traits are temptations for all of us.

Victims Aren’t Ready to Advance

By victim I don’t mean someone who has something bad happen to him. Why would you read something where nothing bad happens; no conflict equals no concern. By victim I mean the slave to how the other people, and the circumstances, keep him from happiness, success, glory. If it is always someone else’s fault, if you can’t imagine that there’s something you can do to make things better, you will not advance.

Frodo was not just short, he was weak, and he was greatly tempted and greatly tired and greatly whining about it. And yet, for as much Elijah Wood’s sulky face is sadly burned into my mind, Frodo was not stuck because he believed enough in his calling/responsibility to leave the Shire.

I would summarize Till We Have Faces as Orual’s turn from victimhood. She did quite a lot for much of the story while convinced that she was the victim. But this is Lewis’ imaginative power providing a fictional mirror for us, and we are the ugly ones. Telling us the story through Orual’s perspective shows us that victims often claim their virtue, but victims are not more happy but angry as they claim their virtue.

Again, bad things happen, brutal things happen, unfair things happen, and all of that happens to characters completely out of their control. But is that all they can see?

“the thinking processes that lead one to assume that one’s life situation is in extremis are partially determined by the breadth of one’s horizons at the time—which, of course, correlates with one’s imaginative capacity and sense of adventure.” (A Failure of Nerve, Location 2952)

Victims are stuck without their imaginative coordinates expanding past blaming everyone else.

Faint-Hearts Aren’t Ready to Advance

Faint-heart is an actual fictional character in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Faint-heart joined the progress/advance with Christian and Faithful for a while, but abandoned the path and went back to the City of Destruction.

Cowards hide from conflict, and lose passively. Little-faiths lay down to get out of the wind and are, of course, caught in the wind longer. Lose-hearts lose heart, they give up.

Two things. One, again, the world is full of scary things as well as bad things, and even if you could avoid the scary and bad, there’s still gravity. Things are heavy, hard. Plus, the more imaginative you are, the more you may be able to imagine how painful something will be, the losses you could experience. Staying the course is more like crossing the English Channel with a kick-board; it’s within reach but it’ll be rough.

Two, being afraid is not just possible, some of it is quite reasonable. When O’Brien threatens to strap the cage of rats to Winston’s face in 1984, that’s only a visceral fear, when in fact, all of 1984 is a red-pill of dystopian anxiety that was bad when it was fiction, let alone when it turned 2020. It makes sense that the hobbits wanted nothing to do with the Nazgul, the Balrog, or with Shelob; watch out for Tolkien monsters with six letter names. The point is not that the next page is sure to have cuddly puppies, or a pot of gold, but that we’re willing to advance.

It’s not fiction, but Paul does plot some imaginative coordinates in 2 Corinthians 4.

“So we do not lose heart… For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16a, 17–18 ESV)

It takes faith, and isn’t one part of faith being stronger is faith seeing further? Your picture of glory is probably too small. In order to not lose heart you need your imaginative coordinates enlarged.

Faint-hearts are stuck without their imaginative coordinates expanding past the immediate difficulties and inevitable discouragements.

Cynics Aren’t Ready to Advance

A pessimist is just a baby cynic, someone who can’t see anything good. A full-grown cynic is more like a nihilist, who thinks there is no point. This is why there are less Crazy-villains and more Cynic-villains. When you’re reading, and then when you’re thinking about your own responses to things, complaints unchecked lead to souls undone, and that leads to destruction. Cynicism is a self-fulfilling chaos-maker.

The disillusioned have imagination that is twisted toward their own self-interest. In their mind there’s no reason to be honorable, in fact, the honorable should be exposed and brought down.

Scrooge was a cynic, the Grinch was a cynic. They not only had bad attitudes in private, their suspicious and scoffing attitudes wanted others to pay. It was the same with Denethor and Saruman, whose cynicism led to lust for power to cause pain. They couldn’t leave well-enough alone. Shift’s cynicism opened up Narnia to slavery, murder, and eventually to being devoured by the real Tash.

Cynics are stuck without their imaginative coordinates expanding past the vices and vanities surrounding them.

On We Go

Why be so negative if the emphasis should be on advancing by the expanse of imaginative coordinates? First, because these are challenges that I’ve run into while trying advance. Second, because there are prerequisites to advancing, like not tying your shoelaces to a table leg. Third, because maybe you are one of the stuck, and you can’t imagine not being stuck, but actually fiction shows characters like you can get unstuck! It might require repentance, it might require a change in mental diet, but it is possible.

Fiction is fun, it’s entertaining, sure. But it can change your mind, and that can change/build your world. Good stories are imaginative mirrors to appall the ugly out of you, imaginative protein for world-building muscle, and imaginative coordinates to explore beyond the visible map.

Good fiction helps you be ready to meet all expectations, plotting imaginative coordinates IS part of making a fully ready non-fiction rumpus.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated,

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

Till you have fiction, you may be stuck on your rump.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Disturbing the Lives of Others

The following are notes from my talk at the 2024 Information Night for Evangel Classical School.


As we’ve been preparing for this evening, our thirteenth Information Night, Mr. Sarr has tongue-in-cheek penciled me in to speak something “mind-blowing.” I’m not prepared to deliver that, but I am prepared to tell you something disturbing. In fact have no reluctance in trying to disturb you.

ECS has been disturbing my life since before the school even had a name. My schedule, my wife’s schedule, my kids’ schedules, my reading plans, my comfort zone, my understanding of what matters, my vision for the next twenty years, my bank account, my summer breaks, my sleeping, my coffee consumption, my level of laughter have all been disturbed. ECS has been, and keeps on, messing with how I previously had arranged all my stuff. And I love it.

Not only that, I keep trying to disturb the lives of people I care about. Some of the people I love the most are more tired than they’ve ever been, feel more overwhelmed now than before, have had a bunch of their stuff interrupted or interfered with, and I think they would say that they absolutely wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I say disturbing, I mean disturbing like we are living in a barn with a metal roof and the BLESSINGS keep falling like jumbo, Honeycrisp apples; bang, bang, bang! Imagine blessings falling not like our typical lazy Western Washington sprinkles, but a Midwest sky-dump. We can’t walk outside comfortably in all the raining blessings; we need kevlar umbrellas.

Blessings are good, but often disrupting. If you got an unanticipated ten-million dollar inheritance (after taxes), it would disturb your week. God gives first time parents nine-months of low-level disruption before the major blessing of the kid’s birth, and BANG. Then we eventually get to the point where we realize we’ve got to educate this little blessing. That’s going to require rearranging whatever you had on the calendar.

And without trying to be dramatic, a good education will barge in on anyone trying to make sure their blessings never spill over their easy-to-carry mini-basket. There are a LOT of things to learn. If Jesus cares about it, we can care about it.

  • If He created it, He cares. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV).
  • If He controls it, He cares. “[H]e upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV).
  • If He commands it, duh. Among the commands, we can go all the way back to the mandate for divine image-bearers: with His blessing, men are to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion on it (Genesis 1:28).

Christ’s interests are comprehensive, which more than permits our increase of interests, it ought to provoke our increase (incrementally even though finitely) as we pursue Christlikeness. Our mission as a school is to commend all the works of the Lord to the next generation, educating them and laughing and laboring in order to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

And we are most certainly not living in broader culture that has any interest in honoring Christ. At best they are willfully negligent about honoring Jesus as Lord, and more so these days they express open rebellion against His exclusive preeminence and righteous standards. The nations rage and rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His anointed. As much as it’s ever been in our lifetimes, the division between two ways of life glares at us. It’s not a Red and Blue thing, but a God is God or men are wannabe-God thing.

Humanism has gotten us to the point where we think being a human being is a harmful-privilege that requires self-condemnation for how all us people are The Problem™️ on the planet. Humanism has gotten us to the point where we sacrifice the most vulnerable, unborn humans by redefining what it means to be a human; “Sorry, you must be on a different side of that muscle wall.” Humanism has gotten us to the point where our doctors won’t dare to identify male or female, our politicians create days and fly flags to celebrate perversity, and our government school (so-called) “teachers” teach students fictions as feasible (changing genders would just be one example).

Friends, that’s not only crazy, it’s disturbing. And that really points out that we’re in a battle for disturbing. Either Jesus is Lord and living for Him is worth having our lives disrupted by His blessings, or Jesus is not Lord and we can go about fiddling with distractions and trying to survive the insanity.

One of my favorite talks of all time was given by Abraham Kuyper in 1880 at the inauguration of the Free University in Amsterdam, “Sphere Sovereignty.” There will be Sovereignty, either of God or of man. If we recognize that God is sovereign, then our life is built on truth, our convictions resonate with truth. If we act like men are sovereign, whether represented by intellectuals or bureaucrats, then our lives are built on a “denial of the facts of life.”

“[T]he only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root [are God’s sovereignty or man’s sovereignty]. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

This is it. Our faith is in the living God or in fake news. And note that those living in their fantasy will risk their lives and make no apologies for disturbing the lives of others. What energy and endurance and dollars they devote to their cause! But those who live by faith in the Messiah, who are surrendered to Christ the King, will most certainly risk their own lives and make no apologies for disturbing the lives of others. Only one can be, only one is, the place of disruptive blessings.

Blessings are in the basics — phonograms and reading drills and math facts and Bible history — emphasized in the GRAMMAR stage. Blessings are in categories and distinguishing — practiced in the LOGIC stage. Blessings are in adornment — speeches and singing — embodied in the RHETORIC stage. The Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) are some of the tools of classical education. Blessings at ECS also come in laughter, especially when we laugh while trying to fix things rather than only laugh when the project/challenge is finished. Blessings most certainly come in sacrifices, offered out of love, for the life of others.

With Kuyper we say:

“To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” (“Sphere Sovereignty”, 463)

The blessings are better at ECS, and they are too big for a reluctant person to pick up. The blessings here are disturbing like walking over a dune in the desert to find an orchard of fruit trees, planted by a stream of water, where leaves don’t wither, and blessings prosper. These blessings are worth your life, and lives of those you love, being disturbed.

Categories
Bring Them Up

The Year of the Raggant

The following are my notes from the ECS Convocation for the 2023-24 school year.


Welcome back to another school year, Raggants.

We think it is an extraordinary thing to be a raggant; we are the only school in the world with the raggant as mascot. The raggant is more than uniform embroidery, acting like a raggant is part of our vocabulary. I want to remind you of what it means. We include the characteristics on our grade cards, they are part of our other graduation requirements (and there are a few other uses). At least some have wondered why we make such a big deal about it; aren’t we supposed to be Christians? And of course following Christ what we’re about, but I hope to show that being a raggant is a particular and playful way to pursue being a Christian. I’m ready to say that this should be The Year of the Raggant.

Mr. Sarr is the one who first noted how the raggant perfectly embodies the center of classical and Christian education. Before ECS started we were reading The Case for Classical Christian Education in which Doug Wilson wrote:

Classical Christian academies teach all subjects as an integrated whole with the Scriptures at the center.

Christ is Lord of all He made (and “by Him all things were created” Colossians 1:16), and Christ’s Word is the special revelation for our worship and our worldview. We are to “let the word of Christ dwell in (us) richly” (Colossians 3:16). There is no other book like the Bible; the Bible gives us the standard by which we evaluate every other book, subject, class, conversation, and claim. The Bible teaches us about Christ and what it means to follow Christ.

Mr. Sarr was also reading through the 100 Cupboards trilogy by Doug’s son, Nate Wilson. And in the second book, Dandelion Fire, Nate describes the raggant:

The raggant didn’t have any extra senses. He only had one, and it interfaced everything into an amazingly complicated but entirely accurate caricature of whatever worlds were within his range.

What a great parallel: Classical Christian schools where everything is integrated by Scripture and the raggant interfacing with all the world by one sense. So Mr. Sarr proposed the raggant as our mascot. On our school webpage he wrote:

That is a picture of how we want for our students to perceive Christ’s domain academically. We want their perceptions of the world to be less compartmentalized (like human senses) and more academically integrated like the blended, combined senses of the mighty raggant.

A few years later, in the spring of 2016, I needed something to talk about for an assembly. I came up with a list of characteristics for our students, showed it to my wife, and she wondered if I was okay. Ha. My first draft wasn’t impressive. I went back to the brainstorming, and ended up with six things. That talk got a good response, and later that summer the school board approved these characteristics as things to for ECS to emphasize.

At the time I didn’t use a lot of Scripture proof-texts. But all these virtues are driven by the Bible. When we talk about being raggants, it’s not really about taking on the shape of a small rhino with wings, we’re talking about integrated learning and living according to Scripture.

Stout Image Bearers

God made man in His image, blessed him, and told him to be fruitful and take dominion (Genesis 1:26, 28). In order to know who we are as human beings, we have to know in whose likeness we were created, and that comes from God’s Word.

As reflections of God we’re responsible to fulfill God’s mandate. Taking dominion is not for wimps, it requires stout/sturdy/strong image-bearers. So we take heart in what the Lord told Joshua at the edge of the promised land,

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7–9 ESV)

So “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Generous Disciples of Christ

Every Christian is a disciple, a word we got from the Latin word discipulus meaning “student/learner/follower.” Making disciples is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). That requires learning and observing all that Jesus commanded, which we get from Scripture.

And disciples give, first of themselves following the pattern of Christ, then of their resources. They die to bring life (2 Corinthians 4:7-12), they contribute to those who need it and show hospitality (Romans 12:13). Liberal education, education that makes free-men, includes giving freely as we’ve received (Matthew 10:8 KJV). Wisdom teaches that “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer” (Proverbs 11:24).

Copious Producers

Copious means plentiful, overflowing. Raggants/Christians aren’t just consumers, they are big-time producers.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
(Psalm 1:1–4 ESV)

Fruitfulness is not like that of a machine, but of a living tree. This fruitfulness, like courage, comes through God’s Word.

Remember the sower and the seed (an illustration of the gospel Word), that which fell on good soil “produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8, 20). When the soil is right the Word grows into a field full of good works.

Prodigious Learners

As copious means abundance, prodigious means enormous, vast. Christ is interested in a lot, so to be like Him we have a lot we can learn.

That includes about Christ Himself: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That’s a command, and we start with Scripture. So also, when we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, we are “bearing fruit in every good work (copious) and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthen with all power (stout)” (Colossians 1:10).

Thankful Stewards

Thankfulness is how we learn, not just the end of our learning. We give thanks before and during our work, not only after it. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16–17 ESV, see also Ephesians 5:20)

If Scripture integrates all our learning, then thankfulness is like glue that holds together our attitude about it all. To whom much is given, much (gratitude) is required (see Luke 12:48).

Jovial Warriors

Since Genesis 3:15 humanity as been in a battle; there is enmity between two seeds, that of the serpent and that of the woman. That promised seed we now know is Christ Himself. Christians are enlisted as soldiers in a spiritual war (2 Corinthians 10:4) along with Him.

The good fight should be fought in a good way, so our motto is: laughter is war. It comes from Psalm 52.

The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
“See the man who would not make
God his refuge, (Psalm 52:6–7 ESV)

See, fear, laugh, all of which come from faith in what God’s Word says. The Word is our sword (Ephesians 6:17), and we wield it with joy.

Of course there are other great characteristics in Scripture. The Greatest Commandment is to love God, then we’re to love our neighbors. The Great Commission is, again, to make disciples not to make raggants. We’re not saying that these six qualities are an alt-fruit of the Spirit, another six onto the inspired seven. But in a school context, with the Bible at the center, with the goal of Christ-honoring education culture, these characteristics seemed playful and potent.

So put it all together. Raggants are high discipline, low drama students who see all the world Scripture. May the Lord bless this 2023-24 school year at ECS as The Year of the Raggant.

Categories
Bring Them Up

What the Music Says

I wrote and read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It was inspired by one buttock playing.


Once upon a time—well, it was actually a week ago Wednesday—I was walking past the piano in our living room. In all her life this instrumental furniture has not once attempted to put the piano in pianissimo; she always sits upright and takes delight in high decibel play.

That afternoon no girls sat at her keys, but still, when I walked by, I heard noises. It sounded sort of like talking. From where I stood it sounded like secrets sound.

This was not the first time I’ve heard conversations in odd places around my house. Years ago I heard pinto beans in a bucket in our pantry, but if there are any other such little kingdoms, they have been living below my notice. Until that one Wednesday.

The words were coming out of the piano bench. I slowly bent down and took a knee beside the bench so that my left ear was at the level of the crack where the lid sat over the walls of the storage compartment. I’ve looked in that space a hundred times, usually when we were expecting visitors and I was putting away pages with titles like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Skidamarink” and “Let It Go.” But I’d never heard any talking.

I cautiously lifted the lid just enough to peek inside. On top, one of the books was open, and every good treble clef note was not fine. The notes were flustered! In my piano bench!

The notes had more than tone, they had voices. Each note had a life, an incomplete todo list, its own mission.

The note in the middle of it all was B. His full name, I regret to tell you, was Bruno. In this story, we do talk about Bruno, we can’t not talk about Bruno, and in this story Bruno was talking. Bruno had apparently gone out shoppin’ and gotten separated from his brother, Eric. The song they were in required Bruno and Eric to be together with their friend Gus, and though the chord they made was minor, their parting was no minor problem.

Imagine the scene: London, foggy and dim, drops of rain water falling off canopies in a haunting rhythm, so somber that even Mary Poppins would be sad. That’s exactly what it was like, except it was happening on a sheet of music in my piano bench.

Bruno called out. He looked down where he expected to see Eric, but Eric was gone, and Bruno’s heart started to beat so fast it would make a metronome sweat.

Then it got bad. The trouble alternated with a gang known as the 4/4 Cs: Carlos, Colton, Cody, and Cade. Bruno knew them well. At school they surrounded him in every class since the notes sat in alphabetical order and they only had first names because, after all, they were just musical notes.

Playing by themselves the Four Cs were harmless, but when they were around other notes they tried to discourage them, especially Bs like Bruno. They noticed that Bruno and Eric weren’t together and decided that they would have a little fun by making it no fun for Bruno, and try to knock him flat.

Carlos came up to him first. “Hey, Bruno, what are you doing?”

“I’m looking for my brother. Have you seen him?”

Carlos replied, “No, and you’re dumb to think you’re going to find him now that it’s so dark.”

“Well,” Bruno said, “Eric is a note, so I don’t necessarily need more light to see him, as long as I can hear him.”

“You know you stink at playing by ear,” Carlos said, “you should just quit.”

About that time Colton approached and asked if there was a problem. Carlos said, “Bruno here says the dark is making him sad.”

“It’s not the dark,” Bruno blurted, “it’s that I’m trying to get to Eric, and we got separated a few measures back.”

Colton mocked, “You’re always so pitchy and blue. Besides, it’s been too long, Eric has to be on a completely different line by now. Don’t worry about it. No one wants to be in a chord with you anyway.”

Carlos and Colton laughed like Dodos, but Bruno shook his head and took off running. The other two Cs, Cody and Cade, were waiting for him on the corner Picardy and 3rd. Bruno thought he could relax, but it was just for a moment, as Cody grabbed Bruno and Cade started striking at Bruno with staccato punches. Bruno tried to break free but Cody was too strong.

Then Bruno saw his friend from the A family, Augmon, in the distance. He cried out, “Augmon, help me! Get me away from the Cs!” Augmon rushed over and got between Bruno and Cody and Cade, providing at least a brief rest from the depressing Cs. But the second verse was about to begin, worse than the first.

Bruno and Augmon moved forward a couple bars. They hoped to find their friend Gus. “Do you think Gus will know where Eric is?” Bruno asked.

Augmon replied, “I don’t know, but he’s a key note that we need to find anyway.”

Then the sound exploded, escalated, increased, crescendoed. Note after note was running up and down, halves and eighth and sixteenths, no time for whole notes at this point. As they went faster the volume kept getting louder, and Bruno in particular felt not just that he was getting further and further away from Eric, he thought for a second that he was going to get pushed off the page and out of the song altogether.

It’s not that Bruno needed to be in every song. He had been written into many melodies. His cousin Bs up and down the octaves sounded different but familial, and he was always happy when they got to play. But this particular prelude was his story. His tone began to be worn out.

Bruno held on as best as he could to his line, trying to avoid being shaken off the sheet altogether.

Augmon led Bruno down a step as they turned off Picardy to and they found Gus just in time.

Augmon handed Bruno off to Gus, and they sustained their energy for one final stretch toward the end where they all hoped Bruno would be united with Eric. “Reach out!” cried Gus, “If you don’t do it now we’ll never finish.”

Bruno saw his moment. All along Gus had been working his signature move and had been tilting the whole sheet of music to bring Eric within sight. Everyone could feel that the end was near. Bruno and Gus stretched, but they didn’t quite make it. They stretched again, and though they were very close, something was still off. So they extended one more time and landed right where they belonged, right at home on the bottom line, B-G-E together at last. The song was resolved.

I carefully closed the lid to the piano bench, feeling glad for Bruno, and thinking about how much better it is when notes play their part, especially when they do it in harmony with one another. It also made me think, maybe we should listen better to what the music is saying, even from piano benches.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Too Loved to Be Bored

These are the notes for my charge to the 2023 ECS graduates.


Good evening, graduates, their parents and families, school board and faculty, and guests. It is actually a blessing to me to have both the opportunity and the delight to speak to you tonight. There is no place I would rather be than right here, right now, with you.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t great places to go, other great places we could be. The post graduation get-togethers will be fun and your summers full and your falls and farther futures will take you to various and valuable fields for good work. But it’s not only appropriate to look back and thank God for what He has done, it is appropriate to look around and enjoy where God has you even in this moment.

It would be very easy to ruin our time by looking at the time, by counting down the minutes on the clock until we can get out. The minutes will pass, but we are filling the minutes with meaning on their way by.

Take a moment and mediate with me on the Aristotelian (probably) truism that you always are where you are, or more often phrased: wherever you go there you are. This is not sophomore dialectic, it is senior rhetoric. It’s life rhetoric. While it’s obviously true when the FBI is tracking the location services signal on your phone (unless your phone isn’t on you), the cliche is more about your character than your address. The cliche is so obvious that it’s a temptation to forget its force.

I asked ChatGPT to tell me about the phrase, “wherever you go there you are,” and the artificial intelligence explained it as being about “inner self awareness.” Really? Is that it?

Among the first few books I read about classical education is The Seven Laws of Teaching. I’ve read it a few times over the years, and it’s John Milton Gregory’s first rule that has left a deep groove in my mind. Gregory says,

“A highly effective teacher will love God, love life, love the students, and love the subject he teaches.”

A teacher thinking about what he teaches must start by thinking about loves. As C.S. Lewis put it, * docere et delectare, docere delectando*: “to teach and to delight, to teach by delighting.”

The great commandment is about love: love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, then love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said these two commandments summarize all the law. Our character is seen in our loves.

These are not about internal awareness but about affections expressed. These are not loves of self-reflection or self-fulfillment. They are loves that light up our current location, our present situation.

Our loves are to be present tense, we are loving, not future (we will love) or subjunctive (we might love). We love now, we love this neighbor/classmate/customer, and extended, we love them in this minute and in this place. We are not always grasping for the intangible “later” or “elsewhere.” If a teacher can’t bring his loves into his work and into the room, it creates boredom, if not abhorrence in the students.

“The teacher, feeling no fresh interest in his work, seeks to compel the attention he is unable to attract, and awakens disgust by his dullness and dryness where he ought to inspire delight by his intelligence and active sympathy.”

Because we can disobey, we can actually get around the cliche. It is possible to not be where you are, to go through the motions with little or no heart in them. It’s possible for a teacher, it’s possible for a student. It is possible to put one’s attention on a future time or a different place; “Senioritis” is a diagnosis of division: the parts aren’t all together.

This doesn’t mean you can’t pursue goals; goals are great. This doesn’t mean everything must stay the same forever; it won’t and it can’t. But it does mean that the impact you make as you walk toward your future and your goals will be different.

One of my top-five favorite books, all time and any genre, is The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon. There is no other book I’ve highlighted more than this so-called “cookbook.” You all read it just a couple months ago in your Capstone class. Though I haven’t talked to any of you seniors about it directly, I have been directly impacted by your reading of it, and not only in the presentation feast you all hosted last night. The whole school has smelled different.

Capon is the kind of cook (and author) who makes you wish you could sit down at his table because he loves what he sets on it for the sake of those sitting around it. We can’t fellowship over bread and cheese and puff pastries and lamb, but we do imagine ourselves settled in his kitchen and seeing his wry smile and asking for another glass of whatever he’s pouring. We want to be there because he wants to be there. He has loved the food so that we want to love it.

Whatever the ingredients were, something started simmering among you seniors in a way that lifted the aroma of the whole school campus. You were like butter and cream that thickened the laughter. You were like a splash of wine that made Matins more bright. You were like onions, not making others cry, but revealing more layers of what raggants can do.

In some ways you’ve saved the best for last. You are leaving ECS better, not because you’re leaving, but because you spent your last days not trying to be somewhere else.

Allow me to commend this mindset, this way of loving where you are, and recommend it to you as a strategic and potent lesson as you go on to other “Wheres.”

Young people are tempted to think they are wasting their lives if they aren’t where they think they could be. But it is more likely to waste your life that way, consumed with constantly thinking about where you’re not. Young people are tempted to think that their parents, and sometimes their teachers/school, are holding them back from something better. It is more likely that they are trying to give you beloved resources so that you can have something better. Those days of preparation aren’t wasted any more than the third inning of a nine-inning game, no more keeping you back from the “important” than dinner ruins dessert.

“There are more important things to do than hurry.” (Capon, Location 922)

It’s true with smoking meat and with some meals. You must not be chintzy with your proteins, or your presence. This is a kind of unreasonable hospitality, unreasonable because being a great host is about the heart, not the venue.

You are the class with the most years under their ECS belt, some of you for as long as ECS has existed, so 11 of your 13 years of school. Now you are done. You can get out and finally do what you want. And you will find that wherever you go, you will take some of here with you.

During your senior presentations one line was quoted from Capon more than any other. I love it as well.

“boredom is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.” (Capon, Location 83)

So with that in mind, here is my charge to you. Last year I urged the seniors that they were too blessed to be stupid. To you, class of 2023, you are too loved to be bored. And not being bored is the same as loving where you’re at, which is the same as being where you are. Wherever you go, you know the the fertilizing principle of not trying to be somewhere else before it’s time. You have made ECS more lovely, and yourselves as a class, by being here. That is a potent, and delightful, lesson to love.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Raggants Aren’t Normies

Here are my notes from our ECS Fundraising Fiesta last Friday.


A principle is a first thing (derived from the Latin word princips which means “first, chief”) that serves as a foundation; you build on a principle, a (good) chain of reasons starts with a (good) principle. I learned a principle that started snowballing for me around the time that ECS started: thanksgiving is not something we fight for, thanksgiving is something we fight with. Thanksgiving isn’t the win, thanksgiving is a weapon in the war. It’s true with feasting as an expression of joyful gratitude. We share bread and wine, or tacos and cerveza, not because we’re finished, but as part of the fight. Laughter is not for when the battle is over; it’s not risus post bellum but risus est bellum.

So here’s the principle that we should keep in mind tonight: ECS is not something we fight for as much as something we fight with. We’re not simply trying to preserve the institution, we’re trying to spend it.

Of course I don’t mean that we are trying to go bankrupt and get out of the education business. Our fiesta tonight is a party to increase our resources, more locked arms and a more stocked arsenal/bank account. But we do need to know what we’re doing enough so that we never forget what we’re doing: commending the works of the Lord to another generation so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

A couple significant things have happened in the life of our school since the last time we feasted in this room. The Lord has provided us with owned space, our own classrooms and a not-closet-office where the headmaster can sit down with interested families or double check-marked students without banging kneecaps. We also found out that sprinklers would be almost twice as much as the quote we raised money toward, but there are still holes in our ceilings that give evidence of progress.

The second thing is that we arrived on the State’s radar, provoked by a pressing plea to the city council to deny our facility use permit. As word got around, the State Board of Education was not impressed that we had not secured their approval. As our school board agreed to help purchase a place that needed loving into more loveliness, so we agreed to submit to a over-reaching and bureaucratic process for sake of playing a longer game.

We know where we’re going to have classes next year, we know what immunization records are required and where to keep chemicals in the closest, and these a helpful because we have a lot of fighting left to do.

There are afflictions at every turn, antagonists without and apathy within. We haven’t come this far to put our feet up on the desk, we’re putting them down on the gas pedal, both of them.

One of our temptations as an institution is to get complacent and comfy because little kids in their mostly put-together uniforms are so darned cute. They are cute. It’s a hoot to hear Kindergarten sound-offs (and almost as much of a hoot to watch the army of proud parents in the back with phones out taking video of said sound-offs), to watch penmanship improve, to see their red-faces near the end of the Liden Mile run during first recess. And when they earn their marble party pajama read-in day, we smile widely and say, Well done. But this doesn’t mean we’re done. The age-appropriate reading speed and comprehension skills equip them for reading new WA state legislation 35 years later. You remember how it goes: “See Jay run. See Jay ignore science and data.”

There’s a derogatory term I’ve seen thrown around, at least on my Twitter timeline, about the “normies.” Normies are those who want to go back to the how it used to be when (it seemed like) everyone got along, when “boys will be boys” meant that they got their pants dirty not that they were groomed into buying tampons. But what so many so-called “normies” don’t seem to see as clearly, which we need to fix for sake of the following generation, is that “normal” is a theological category. Normal and natural depend on God who created nature and defines what is normal; if we don’t give Him credit He will give us up to folly and dishonor.

I do believe in what’s called common grace; God sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Non-Christians can (and do) get married, have kids, go on vacation, play sports, build bridges because they know 2+2=4. But they can only have those things and enjoy them if God is kind to them, and they will be judged by the Lord if they don’t thank Him. They are accountable for every good thing He gives.

But it was Christians who got all kinds of good and squandered their blessings as Christians. Christians received good without acknowledging Christ’s kindnesses or kingship in public. Christians acted indifferent about education, whether or not Jesus—as the One who made and who sustains it all—was named. Christians got complacent, we got fat in our feasting rather than using our feasting as fighting. The crazy all around us is because we didn’t honor Christ.

So ECS continues to press forward to the glory of Christ. The young kids are cute, but we’re not teaching raggants to be normies. They are not NPCs (non playable characters in the game). Each raggant is being equipped for his or her vocation/calling. We educate them so that when they are grown they can stand with their fathers, shoulder to shoulder, against enemies in the city gates. It’s why we have arrows on the ECS seal, not just because the headmaster likes archery.

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!”
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
(Psalm 127:4-5).

Mrs. Hall’s husband, Ryan, recommended a book at the beginning of the year, a book that our board chairman, Chuck, then read multiple times, and then Jonathan and Jim read it. Providentially most of our upperclassmen visited Canlis, a fine dining restaurant in the Queen Anne neighborhood, run by brothers, one of whom is mentioned in the book, Ureasonable Hospitality. Anyway, among many, this line stood out to me as a conscious concentration of our mission:

”the legacy we had charged ourselves with defending and extending.” (Location 1676)

We’re trying to do something unreasonable, not as in irrational, but as in exorbitantly special, which does include enjoying normal things giving explicit thanks to the Lord. We are not trying to be Christian normies, if that means being satisfied with cozy and covert rather than carrying and advancing Christ’s name.

We need more funds to do it. Playground equipment is fun, as it is a reset for memorizing science facts. We don’t want any student to mix up XX and XY because they didn’t get their wiggles out. It’s not so we can have our own little isolated safe-space to play, but for play and laughter as war. We’re all paying our taxes and tuition to try to pay teachers better, among a multitude of other costs.

Invest with us in the culture that honors Christ, everything else is crazy. We cherish the blessings of God to ECS, and may God bless ECS even more, not just by preserving her (as we fight for), but by making her formidable and potent in the fight (as we fight with).

Categories
Bring Them Up

Mission Critical

These are my notes from a talk I gave at our school’s recent Information Night.

I’ve had a couple conversations recently, including one with my wife, about how close it came to ECS never existing. If there had been other resources available to us or even another classical school closer than 45 minutes away, and certainly if there hadn’t been anyone else interested in jumpin’ Geronimo, it’s hard to say whether ECS would have been born.

Which has also gotten me thinking, what about ECS is crucial? The question of what is mission critical came up during covid lockdowns and then again last summer as our school board considered how to navigate state requirements for private schools. What is not just preference, but nonnegotiable for sake of educating our kids, and even as we think about our children’s children? (I’m now closer to when my grandson will start Kindergarten than when my son started.) There are a lot of things that are important for life and for quality of life; bones and muscles, eyes and ears and fingertips and feet. But if there is no heartbeat, the body is dead.

The heartbeat of ECS is our belief that Jesus is Lord. The evangel in Evangel Classical School is the gospel, the good news, which is of “first importance,” “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And so “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 saved” (Romans 10:9).

Jesus is the Messiah, He is also the Maker. “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3; see also Colossians 1:16). He is the one in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), and “He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3).

And while this may be obvious, it is delightfully inescapable for us. ECS is from Him and through Him and to Him; we are built on the foundation of His existence and glory (He is and He is great!), we are energized by our faith and hope and love for Him, and we are resolved to carry and advance a culture that honors Christ. We want to be explicit and emphatic that Jesus is Lord.

That confession is mission critical to educating/discipling the next generation. There’s a timely book titled Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation that was just published in June of 2022. It’s easy to read, and everyone should read it, and track the cultural damage happening not just to, but through, our public schools. Our board chairman got on a kick last summer and was handing out copies by the box. One of the co-authors is the president of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (David Goodwin). The other is a current Fox News “Fox and Friends Weekend” host (Pete Hegseth).

The book is really good, but there is a kind of irony to some of the responses to the book. More than education, schooling is about enculturation. Pedagogy—one’s method and practice of teaching—is “the act of formulating a culture in children.” It’s about defining and triggering affections for the true, good, and beautiful. It’s identifying what is lovely and then learning to order our loves correctly (per Augustine, ordo amoris). It’s having, and then sharing, a common vision of the good life (per Aristotle).

In Western Civilization, wherever the gospel has taken root it has grown a distinct set of loves and understanding of that good life, a #blessed life, which only comes by fearing the Lord. But it’s also observable in many places that after a while, some tried to keep the good life without the good news. They held on to some traditions and cultural practices without having the transcendent Giver. And what’s happened in the U.S. in the last century, and certainly at broadband speed in the last decade since ECS started, is an attempt to attack objective reality, as if reality is what keeps us from the good (sound familiar? Genesis 3:1-5).

Hegseth and Goodwin argue for a return to a model of education that acknowledges up and down, right and wrong, male and female, black and white. They especially look to the model of classical education which isn’t embarrassed about facts (Grammar), uses reason (Logic), and promotes what is lovely and appealing (Rhetoric).

There is a kind of Fox News viewer, a kind of political conservative, who is fed up with 78 gender choices and 13 Pride Months a year and Critical Climate Race Change Theory curriculum and then gets excited when hearing about the classical model. But the “Western Christian Paideia” depends on the Christ. “Jesus Christ has to be at the center of all of it” (Hegseth and Goodin, Location 3344). Reviving the model without the Master is just rewinding the video, but we already know how it ends.

I went to public school. Last year was my 30th anniversary of graduating high school. My teachers weren’t public perverts and my classes were no worse than meh. I would have learned a lot more if I’d have done a bit more of my assigned reading. But the thing I really “learned” was that all the things we did for school didn’t matter to God. At least no one gave any credit to the Lord.

That said, there are other Christian schools, actual institutions in/around Marysville, that acknowledge the Master without taking advantage of the classical model and resources. Actually, they often use the same methods and books as the government schools, but add in a Bible class or a weekly chapel. This isn’t a criticism of those schools, but this is our information night, here’s what we’re trying to do.

We commend the works of the Lord so that the next generation would carry and advance Christ-honoring culture. We are not commending safety, as if all we needed was to escape. Sitting down to read without being surrounded by guns and drugs and guys in the girls’ bathroom is great, but that’s a sign of sanity, not great success. We are not commending smarts, as if there has never been a tyrant or villain with big brains. (Rebekah Merkle writes, “If you graduate [from a classical school] with all of the skills but none of the discernment, then you’re actually turning into a monster.” Classical Me, Classical Thee). We are not commending success, not as the world defines it, as if acceptance into the godless-college system or a higher-paid cog in the machine is winning.

We don’t use Jesus’ name as commas in our prayers, but we do pray our students will learn how to use commas because Jesus is the Word and the giver of language for which we are stewards. Jesus isn’t the answer to every question in science class, but that would be more true than the “Big Bang.” We don’t think the 11th commandment is “Thou shalt follow the Trivium,” but we do think that knowledge of details, understanding in order to distinguish, and wisdom that enables deft/skillful living come from the Lord.

So much so-called schooling is built on a foundation of oatmeal soaked in paint thinner. On its own the United States is not indivisible, without God the Blessings of Liberty promoted in our Constitution are not secure, and apart from grace our American way of life is as shatterproof as glass. The Lord is our only sure foundation (Isaiah 28:16, see also Matthew 7:24-27). When the rain falls and the floods come and the winds blow, It’s mission critical for us to equip the next generation to be like the wise man whose house didn’t fall because it had been founded on the rock, and the rock is Christ.

Categories
Bring Them Up

A Cultural Cathedral

The following are my notes from the 2022-23 ECS Convocation assembly.

I read three books this summer. Hopefully you read even more. These are three that I won’t easily forget and that I think, perhaps strangely enough, easily relate to each other.

The first I’ll mention is a book that has been on my to-read list for many years. It’s not a long book, but it is a book about projects that take a long time. It’s written for 10-11 year-olds, and we have a copy in our 4th grade library. Here is my book report and rally to begin another year.

The book is called Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It was published the year before I was born (1973), but it’s a story about the citizens of a small town in France who decided to build the biggest and most beautiful cathedral in their country in the year 1252. It’s actually a fictional story about the people of Chutreaux; there is no city with that name, so there are no remains of this particular project. But the imaginary cathedral takes details from in-real-life construction of Gothic cathedrals built in the 12-14th centuries.

The bishop of the city when they started died before they finished. The master builder of the cathedral himself died more than halfway through and had to be replaced. In the non-fiction preface, the author only gives one qualification about what makes his story less real: the workers didn’t take any long breaks in construction. And still, it took 86 years from the first decision to the final detail.

To build something so grand took a lot of money, obviously a lot of time, and it also took a lot of different people doing their work expertly. There were teams of people, those who cut down trees in a nearby forrest and prepared the wood, those who cut out stones from a quarry and moved them to the site, those who dug deep footers and blacksmiths who made nails and hooks and hinges. There were master craftsmen and apprentices and assistants, masons and mortar makers, carpenters and climbers and cooks. No one person could have done it.

In one way your life as a student is like this. Even though your years in school are a jumpstart, your education is a lifetime project. It will take much time, much care, much effort, and a multitude of people. As the Lord adds to your knowledge and understanding and wisdom, as He knits you together with love for truth and goodness and beauty, your life is a cathedral.

In another way, ECS is a great project. For the first time, after ten years of school, now we even have our own building! Thanks be to the Lord. The classrooms are our classrooms, they have our desks and our chairs. Many of the rooms have been painted, they’ve gotten new lights, the things on the walls are decorative and educational and ours. Though they wouldn’t identify as Michelangelos, the teachers, many of the students, and some friends of the school have painted and furnished and adorned and loved this place into a more lovely place.

This facility is probably not ever going to be cathedral-level beautiful, and that’s fine. We’re actually trying to build something much more difficult than walls, something that will outlast us. We are like so many medieval stonemasons, adding a few more bricks to this generational project. Lord willing, the best years of ECS may be seen our grandchildren.

Another book I read this summer is Battle for the American Mind. It was published just this year. It’s about schools and education, about the trajectory of troubles for many government schools over the last century. The problems that are all around us are worse than new math and unscientific science and willful ignorance of history. The root problem is that people don’t have any real vision of the “good life.” They wouldn’t know beauty if it poked them in the eye-balls. They think the state has more power to make things better than the power of self-control. They have no center, no real reference point other than their feelings. They’re not practicing or pursuing virtues.

What we’re building here at ECS is more than just students who get high scores on tests. We’re not just trying to get you to graduate early so that you can get through college quicker so that you can get a high paying job. Those things are fine, but they are like a cathedral constructed of Popsicle sticks.

We want you to be great-souled. The word magnanimous is just that: manga = great and animus = mind or heart or soul. It’s related to those who are animated, full of life. We want a culture of families, students, and teachers who know and love, who know what is lovely and why they should love the lovely and be abounding in love. Previous generations referred to it as ordo amoris, ordered loves. This is where intellectual and moral virtue comes from. We want you to learn the stock responses of God-fearers, to be unimpressed by what the world says is cool, which never lasts long anyway.

This includes the alphabet and phonograms, this includes reading your assignments, but it also means paying more attention to what’s in your heart than how long a classmate has been talking. It means committing to work hard, and then actually working when it is hard. It means listening to those who know better, it means looking to take responsibilities that make the whole thing better.

We are in a battle for minds and our minds are necessary for the battle. We are trying to battle by building a culture, a paideia, that forms what you like and that you’re like and what you pursue as good.

Which leads me to the third book I read, Good to Great (a book published in between the first two, 2001). The definition of good is a little different; good in this case is about commercial success rather than cultural blessings. It’s a business book, but there’s some valuable overlap.

Want to be great? Be fanatically consistent in the right things. Those things aren’t always big things. One of the greatest dangers is thinking that the right things are other things rather than the ones right in front of you. Do what must be done; do it faithfully. That makes great people, and a bunch of people working together makes a great culture.

We care about raggant virtues. Be generous, be a producer, be a learner, be thankful, be joyful. As we work toward being great, let us be staff and students known for: High discipline, low drama.

I read something else good just yesterday, and I’m thinking maybe I should tape it to mirrors around me. It said: stop whining. An alternative, since we’re on the first day of school: don’t start whining.

Your education is like a cathedral, ECS itself is a different sort of generational project, an educational cathedral, and may the Lord bless this next year of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that we will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Stupidity Down

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It is inspired both by fiction and non-fiction.


“Where am I even supposed to put this? I can’t hold onto it much longer!” Ivan turned around and said to Helen, “It’s okay. Just set it down right there and we’ll get someone else to take it the rest of the way.” Sophie yelled from across the room, “I don’t know why you all didn’t just listen to me in the first place.”

This was part of a conversation that took place between three rabbits who lived in a nearby hill with a large tree on the top. The name of their burrow was Stupidity Down.

Our story actually tracks four rabbits as they helped the burrow move to a new home. These rabbits were a good representation of their classmates, all with long ears and fluffy tails and a different perspective on how to get along. Their names were Helen, Robert, Ivan, and Sophie.

Helen was the most beautiful doe in all the colony, but she also wasn’t very bright. Sometimes the young bucks would fight for her attention, and one of them named Troy actually lost everything he was growing for her when he accidentally left the garden gate open and a horse trampled the lettuce. That is a whole other story.

Robert was the sneaky one of the bunch. He would ask the other rabbits what they liked, and then he would snatch away as much of it as he could and then act sad with his friends when they couldn’t find their favorite things. In class he would also copy others’ work and then take credit as if it were his own idea.

Ivan, as you can probably tell from his name, was a Russian rabbit. Ivan had a lot of ideas, and most of them weren’t actually that terrible. He was always trying to organize others to do things with him so that they could get more done more quickly, and then they would all get to have more fun. He wasn’t necessarily the smartest rabbit you’ve ever met, but all his friends knew that he cared about them.

Then there was Sophie. She never had an opinion she could keep behind her two front bunny teeth. Sophie’s older siblings had really multiplied, and she had so many nieces and nephews that she was better known in the colony as Aunti-Sophie. Sophie stuck her nose through the fence into everyone else’s business, and the only thing she was really good at was making more work for everyone, including herself.

The burrow had been getting cozier and cozier and some of the bunnies’ fur had been getting rubbed the wrong way. The Council had found a place for them to move but they only had a few months to do it. When the fall came it would be time for harvest and the days would get filled up with gathering food for the long winter months. So summer was it.

One evening the four rabbits met to talk about their plan. Ivan said, “What if we divide up the rooms and each of us can take responsibility for a part?”

Robert replied, “Sure! But could I borrow your iPad, Helen? I want to make a really good list and it would be easier to type it out.” (These were Gen Z rabbits, after all.)

Helen said, “That’s fine with me, but my parents only give me an hour a day for screen time, so I’ll have to ask, then you can use it.”

Helen got permission and handed her iPad to Robert. All four of them put their heads down and started to work on which items needed to be moved. But Robert only appeared to be working. He used Helen’s screen time to play games.

Sophie kept asking Ivan a lot of questions. “How do you decide what to bring and what to leave behind? Am I going to have to carry all of this? Why don’t we just hire moving rabbits?” No matter how Ivan answered, Sophie just argued. “Try to identify the things that you know you’ll need or that you know you really like.” But Sophie said, “If I knew that already why would I be asking you? Which, now that I think about, why am I asking you?” It turns out that there are such things as “Sophie questions,” and all the talking kept all of them from getting very much done.

Later that week it was finally moving day. Ivan had collected all their lists and, after completing Helen’s for her and fixing Sophie’s, he color coded the rooms and the boxes each rabbit was responsible for. He had also hopped through all the tunnels to find the shortest path for each of the others to follow. He clapped his paws and said, “This is going to be a great day! Just follow the signs I put up for you.”

Helen kept having a hard time. She could only carry boxes that were very light, and even then, you could tell where she’d been because of the trail of things that had fallen out. Sophie kept telling Helen what to do. “You’re doing it wrong. Put your paws underneath the edge like this.” Helen tried to think of something to say back to Sophie but just collapsed into a a sad little puddle of hare.

The only thing Sophie herself was better at than Helen was complaining. For all the instructions she gave to the other rabbits, Sophie dropped a box that broke a few bottles of her own perfume. She also put more than a few boxes in the wrong rooms, and complained later that she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

While Sophie was criticizing Helen and Ivan was trying to help, Robert was helping himself by taking things he liked from others’ rooms. He’d grab little toys, or snacks and sweets he saw, and take them to a little hole he’d made in the bank of a nearby stream.

None of the other rabbits saw him. He avoided getting run over by cars as he went back and forth across a small street, but he didn’t avoid being seen by a local farmer. The farmer laid out a trail of baby carrots and caught Robert in a net and locked him in a hutch. Be sure your sneak will find you out.

Ivan wondered where Robert had gone, but he was worn out and glad that the burrow got moved; after a good night of sleep he was ready for more work. Sophie sat alone, but she blamed it on everyone else.

You may not be a rabbit, but you do have a summer, and it will be more blessed and more of a blessing if you learn from what happened in Stupidity Down.