The Road Called Aestas

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It would probably be helpful to read The U.H.’s Hot Tips for Completely Wasting Your Summer first, and it may also be helpful for me to say that what stuck out to me from the U.H.’s article were things such as bed, T.V., and being lazy. : )


There is a road that is only visible for about three months of the year, or twelve weeks if you count more precisely like a pregnant woman. The road is free to all, but not all find it. If they do find it, though, they can see things that other roads don’t pass. Pages could be filled with stories told on this road. Many who have made this journey have been inspired to make things, whether helpful things or beautiful things, and sometimes both. Others have found sweet fruits to carry and taste and share. It is the road called Aestas. As I said, not many find it, and those who do find the entrance, are often blocked by the three-headed dog who guards the gate named Dweebus. 

Dweebus as drawn by Bonnie Bour

You perhaps have heard of Dweebus’ cousin, Cerberus. Cerberus is nicknamed “the hound of Hades,” the three-headed dog who prevents the dead from leaving hell. A man named Dante once toured hell and wrote about seeing Cerberus in the Third Circle watching over the gluttons. Well, Dweebus never could get into eating mud, and he actually didn’t do that well in the heat. He applied instead for a position to guard some thinker’s stone, but he lost that job to a second-cousin named Fluffy, which isn’t really much of a threatening name, but Fluffy got the job anyway. So Dweebus eventually took the position at the Aestus Via. Besides, it gave him nine months a year to chase his tail. 

What many people don’t know is that three-headed dogs have three heads for a reason. Have you ever wondered why people say, “Three heads are better than one”? Well, three-headers can be better at being scary, of course. But each head has its own personality, and often each personality has its own name. The more mellow of these creatures talk among themselves, and talking heads are better at making the days go by faster. 

Dweebus, as I said, was much less mean than other tri-headers in his family, but he still had ways to keep people from entering the Aestas. In fact, each of his three heads had their own tricks for messing with would-be travelers. His names were, I’m told, Ted, Stevie, and Maizie. 

Ted was the head on the right side (looking out from his eyes), and Ted was especially effective during the morning hours. He could almost lay his head flat on the right shoulder, making himself appear to be quite cute, cuddly even. Through his somnolent skills unsuspecting travelers would be covered with a blanket of drowsyness, until they just wanted to lay down. Once they were sufficiently snoozy, he would swing his head as if on a hinge and bite the now torpid traveler. It is never good to get on the wrong side of Ted.

Stevie was the head on the left side (the right side if you were looking at him, but directions get tricky without illustrations). Stevie was a master of evenings and on into the night. There were times when both Ted and Maizie watched Stevie work his spell during the day, but Stevie especially loved when the sun went down. He himself could channel a variety of bemusing and befogging techniques, from the comedic to the dramatic. At times his antics were even cartoonish, while at other times he could talk your head off. When a traveler came to the Aestas gate when Stevie was on, Stevie would hardly take a break. He earned the nickname among his friends as the Drooler of Distraction. Too much time with Stevie and most travelers forgot they even wanted to go anywhere. 

The third head’s name was Mazie. If you were thinking that Mazie sounds like a girl’s name, you’re right. If now you are thinking that I’ve been referring to Dweebus as “him,” you are also correct. But that means you haven’t met very many three-headed dogs in your life; they are weird animals, and now you’ll be less surprised if you do ever meet one. 

As I was saying, the third head was Mazie and she was in the middle between Ted and Stevie. Only on occasions were Ted and Stevie tempted to snap at each other. But Maizie always reminded them about how much they had in common, and mostly what they had in common was her

Ted had his dazing ways, but he worked to please Maizie. It was the same with Stevie’s powers. Though the three of them agreed to go by the collective name Dweebus, everyone knew that the whole attitude of this three-headed being centered on being Maizie. 

She could convince any would be traveler to turn around from the glories of the Aestus and make it seem like it was their own idea. Maizie was a master at argument, wiser than seven sensible men (or one man with seven heads, though I’m not sure any of those exist). I heard that one time her conversation spun a man around so much that he threw up, and then she convinced the poor man to lie down in his own vomit, which is usually something only dogs do. No matter what interests travelers had, or things they wanted to do, after talking with her for a while, everyone just wanted to be Maizie. 

But there is a legend of a lad, I don’t know if he was six or sixteen or somewhere in between, it doesn’t actually matter, who soundly defeated every trick Dweebus tried. His name was Zeke. Zeke didn’t dare do it all on his own. He knew that the three-headed monster had ruined many who sought the glories of the Aestas, so he did the most unimaginable thing in the history of stories: he asked his parents for help. 

It turns out, both his mom and his dad had made it past Dweebus, and had done so many times. In the process of getting tips and tools from his parents, they also encouraged him to seek the counsel of his teachers, and many of them also knew about confronting the dogheads and getting down the road. 

To get past Ted, Zeke’s mom gave him a small bell. It didn’t make a lot of noise, but it was impossible to ignore and just loud enough to interrupt Ted’s hypnotic hold. Ted became so alarmed by the bell that he lost control and Zeke was able to get out of Ted’s pull.

Zeke’s dad offered a couple old school suggestions for outwitting Stevie. One option was simply to keep moving. Stevie, who preferred to stay in one place, wouldn’t be able to keep up. Zeke could run, but Zeke asked his dad if a bike would work, and his dad said a bike was perfect for speeding around Stevie. A bike would also move a traveler down the Via Aestas to meet up with other travelers and explore more sites. If he didn’t want to use a bike, Zeke’s dad had no doubt that he could turn off Stevie’s powers with a ball. The size of the ball didn’t matter, and throwing the ball directly at Stevie was not a good move. But Stevie’s distraction abilities were dwarfed by his distractibility when others seemed to be having more fun. Zeke selected carefully and when Stevie tried to drool on him, Zeke bounced a ball in Stevie’s face and Stevie’s mesmerizing power was turned off. 

Maizie, you might suppose, would be the hardest to get by. Yet she does have a nemesis. The mere mention, let alone sight of this enemy, causes her to foam at the mouth and dart around like a three-headed dog with the center head missing. 

Though Zeke had bested Ted and Stevie, Maizie was sure that he was too immature to get by her. But Zeke pulled out of his pocket the one thing she hadn’t considered: an ant. Ants are very small, but they are quite fearsome, at least by way of analogy. Just the sight of one ant caused Maizie to enter a state of shock. Zeke scratched her behind her ears for a moment and walked through the gate into Aestas.

Down the road called Aestas are great stories to read and songs to listen to. There are lakes for swimming and splashing. There are games to play. There are projects to start, and some to finish. It is a place to find fun and fruit, but you have to get by Dweebus. All you need is just a bell, a ball, and an ant. 

All Are Yours

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Swiss-born philosopher Alain de Botton wrote,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future in a Snap

ECS is a classical Christian school which means, among other things, that we are concerned about the classics. In our curriculum we read and reference some of the all-time greatest works as not just relevant for today’s snobs, but as part of how we got to where we are today as a society.

I’m trying to build up my knowledge and appreciation of these rich resources, and also pass that culture onto my kids. One of the iconic pieces in the canon of Western Civilization that I recently shared with my kids is Back to the Future, the 80’s movie starring Michael J. Fox. Since I am speaking to adults here tonight, I’d like to think that many of you are familiar with this pop-culture staple from 1985 (even those few of you here who are parents but who weren’t born then). We’ve since passed the date that Doc Brown set the DeLorean to reach, October 21, 2015, and, disappointingly, we still don’t have the hoverboards teased in Back to the Future II (when Doc and Marty actually got to 2015).

I’m not going to exegete the movie, but there is a clear image that I’d like to borrow, though I’m going to spin it in the reverse direction. (Also, for those who might be wondering, I don’t actually think that Back to the Future is one of the classics of Western Civilization on par with stories such as The Illiad and Beowulf. Those are in a different category of great, and they are in our curriculum, while the McFly family saga is not.)

In the first movie Marty inadvertently escaped from the Libyan terrorists back to 1955 when he met all the key characters, but when those characters were their thirty-years-younger versions. In particular, he met his dad and mom, and he met the family nemesis, Biff. Doc Brown was also there, and that’s good because Doc understood the momentous responsibility of not changing anything in the past in order to avoid disastrous consequences in the future.

It turns out, messing with the past is the big plot problem that Marty has to overcome, and he has a sort of measuring stick to help him, and us as viewers, know how he’s doing. Marty had a picture of himself with his older brother and sister from 1985. As the sequence of original 1955 events get knocked out of order, the siblings start to fade out of the 1985 picture, and even Marty himself comes close to evaporating out of existence. He finally gets his mom and dad to fall in love and the family is back on track to become a family. When George and Lorraine kiss, just a kiss, at their high school dance, then Marty secures his own future for when he gets back to it.

Time travel is fun to think about, and reading good classics lets us travel back, and forward (think 1984 and Brave New World) in our imaginations. If God really wanted us to, I’m sure there would be a way to do it that wouldn’t be sinful. But my point isn’t to get us to invest in making a machine.

My point, though, is very much about where to invest, and when. What if we discovered a picture from 2050 (thirty years in the future, rounding up), a picture in which we could see our kids, our grandkids, our great-grandkids, or actually, let’s modernize it and say we found a Snapchat Snap/message or an Instagram story (or maybe a FuTube—FutureTube—video?) about our future people, about Evangel Classical School, about the great city of Marysville and the Marysvillian suburbs, what would you hope to see in the picture?

I am going to be 76 in 2050, so there’s some possibility I’ll even be around. In 1985 I was eleven, and from that perspective, 2015 seemed as far away in time as the moon seemed from the earth in distance. But we made it (even with watching Back to the Future II and III). And if Jesus doesn’t return, many of us here tonight will make it to 2050. I don’t know everything I’d like to see, because I’d like to think that our kids are going to carry and advance Christ-honoring culture; so hopefully they will make it better in ways that my imagination is too weak for.

Yet I can name some of my hopes, hopes that I want to share with you, not as in I just want to inform you, but to get us to hold them together.

I don’t really care if I could see where we’ll be having classes in 2050. That vision would be nicer for later this year (ha!), but in 30 years who knows what the new facility needs and opportunities will be. Having an education outpost, on property strategically located for community influence and that includes structures well-equipped for training our students, is and will be a real, material, and constant need. I just don’t feel the need to see what it looks like right now. And I don’t really care what sort of fancy playground we have, or if after three more decades every one can finally remember the difference between dress uniform and event uniform.

What I would love to see/hear/watch in that snippet from 2050 are current students (our kids) who have their own students (our grandkids/great-grandkids) about to graduate and who are wearing these sorts of characteristics:

  • They will be unyielding in their stand for God because they know that they God’s image-bearers. They will know that their lives have meaning and purpose, and that they are not “cosmic chattel” (Ben Shapiro, The Right Side of History).
  • They will spend their lives as weapons, obeying their Master, Jesus Christ, and they will give themselves like a farmer gives seed to the ground, eagerly and faithfully and trusting God to grow great fruit from their sacrifices.
  • They will be the kind of generation who love making things, with their hands and with their words.
  • They will be young men and women who haven’t stopped learning. Their interests will continue to expand according to all the things Christ is interested in, and they will be wiser than any AI algorithm and see the world more clearly than any AR filter.
  • They will hardly be able to speak without expressing thanks, partly because their lives will be overflowing with God’s blessings, and partly because they will default to seeing good rather than grumbling.
  • And they will be laughing long and loud. It won’t be a laughing from too much leisure and silliness, but from so many stories of last minute deliverances and battle scars, along with good wine and good friends and their great Lord.

If that’s the sort of future we hope to see, if that is the kind of people we desire to see in that picture, then those are the kind of people we who are here tonight need to seek to be, or repent from not being. For a blessed future, what can you do?

The French author André Gide wrote,

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

Maybe tonight requires a key kiss—I’m talking to you younger married folks now—that brings a new class of 2038 raggants into the world. (This could be a new school motto: We get more students the old fashioned way, we breed them. Ask the Headmaster with further questions here.) Maybe it is a kiss that doesn’t lead to a new soul but that shows your current raggant(s) that you love your wife and that you love your life with her and them altogether. Maybe you need to lighten up from all the fake news foofaraw, and laugh a little, like the Lord in Psalm 2 when He sees His enemies making plans to revolt. Yes, it’s bad out there, but it’s not actually as bad as Back to the Future II showed 2015 to be, or as Orwell predicted 1984 would be. And more importantly, fight with laughter. Laughter is war! Hahaha!

The woman in Proverbs 31 “laughs at the time to come” (verse 25). Why? Because she fears the LORD and works her butt off in the present for her people so that when they get to the future they will have seen what it’s like to laugh.

In a fiction book I was reading recently, a character named Grandpa Podo, when caught by the Stranders, gave encouragement to Janner not by an exhortation but by his laugh:

“His laugh was like the sound of trees bending in the wind, the bubbling of a river where the mill wheel spins.” (North! or Be Eaten, Location: 1,951)

Others maybe need to drink a glass of wine as from the Lord to gladden their heart, or maybe need to say no to wine if it’s only a mask for lack of gladness. Eat some sugar, have another piece of bread and butter both sides. God is good! Others need to give money, because dollars are also given by God to be used for building.

Because you are here you are one of the persons being used by God in some way to bring Him glory 30 years from now, possibly 130 years from now. The investment is not linear; it’s not simple addition. Tonight is more than the number of seats filled or donations collected. 30 years from now will be a mash-up, a remix, not just of our actions, but our interactions, as image-bearers, as families, as churches, and connected to ECS.

As usual, it’s not a whether or not you will shape the future, but what shape you’re giving to it. You are always doing something to the picture; there is no opt-out, you can’t delete your account, you can’t really even slow it down.

We don’t have a Marty—like-measurement, but we have something more sure: God’s promise that when we abound in laughing for, and abound in giving to, and abound in the work of the Lord, He says it is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

“A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” (D. Elton Trueblood, The Life We Prize, p 58)

Let’s sow not just for future shade, but for future fruit.


The notes above were from our school’s recent Fundraising Feast.

Not Another Humanistic Empathy Theater

I sent an email yesterday that represented a lot of thoughts and prayers. I actually began the email on that note, while clarifying that the prayers have been made in the name of the LORD who made heaven and earth, not in the name of humanistic empathy theater.

Anyway, the email was an invite for sake of forming a committee to consider starting a Christian liberal arts college in Marysville in the fall of 2020.

It’s exciting. And exhausting. And even more exciting than I said just a moment ago.

The first order of business for said committee is to decide if we have enough good reasons to even try to do this. Of course, if I didn’t already have some reasons of some sort then nobody needs another meeting. If we agree that such an institution of higher ed is called for, and I think we will, and if we agree that the call includes an opening day somewhere around fifteen months from now, then we have even more thoughts and prayers to go.

There aren’t as many written records from those who first came to America because they were busy accomplishing the things that needed to be done. Yet sometimes the writing about things is part of what needs to be done, and hopefully there will be progress to share along the way. Also, we’re not trying to form a(nother) more perfect union, but we are thinking about an alternative to those humanistic empathy theaters called college campuses.

In the meantime, there are a number of articles that lament the current state of college/university education, especially in the government schools, such as this one about poo emoji, I mean, educational BS. The pony in the poop, as my father-in-law might frame it, is that the time is ripe for some “visionary traditionalism and organizational radicalism,” you know, like a new college.

The Adventure Aslan Sends

Or, The Last Lesson to Fortify Children with Chests


Here are my notes for the talk I gave at the recent Raggant Fiction Festival. The video of my talk is here, and the audio will be available soon.


Channeling Screwtape

My dear Wormwood,

Many demons have done well, nephew, but you excel them all. It has been quite some time since I’ve written to you and, as you yourself know, I do not usually give such high and blameworthy compliments. But progress for our Father Below has been delightfully dark and your patient is helping us more than he could imagine in our deceptive work.

We cannot entirely stop the Enemy from giving His so-called blessings. He comforts and helps His creatures because it is His despicable nature. The parties thrown in His name are gross, and I would spit in all their wine glasses if alcohol didn’t also turn some humans to our brand of misery. But even as your patient enjoys some of these blessings he is restricting other blessings to his students, and doing so in the Enemy’s name. What I mean is that he is keeping his Fifth Grade Class from dealing with anything that smells grave. He looks for books with sunny stories about safe things. He’s committed himself, as far as he’s able as a teacher, not to let the kids think about DEATH.

Of course you have encouraged this censorship, and gotten your patient to call it righteous. As you know, DEATH is actually the Enemy’s tool, not our idea; He uses it for punishment and for warning (and in one awful case, atonement). It is our specialty to distract from DEATH. We don’t want humans to deal with it. That will only make them consider what comes after, about what it would be like to see the Enemy’s Son face to face, and perhaps about how to please the Enemy now. Entertainment is your offering and the screen your altar. These numb their fears and sooth any sick feelings that might get them searching, let alone fighting, for what human poets foolishly call noble.

Your efforts to provide a virtually endless stream of vapid comics and cartoons, along with your program to keep the adults too tired to push the off button, will earn you a glorious cup of lukewarm coffee with your praise in gates of hell. I am so impressed with your use of technology that I may write you again via email (another tool, I’m told, which our side has almost entirely claimed for its own).

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape

The Burdens of the Battle

For the first three fiction festivals I was the first speaker of the day. In my leadoff position I just needed to get a walk and then depend on the other speakers to do the heavy hitting, not stranding me (and my thoughts about fiction) on base. I am in the fourth spot today not because I’ve become a heavy hitter but because my topic is more heavy. I’m going to talk about The Last Battle, the seventh of the seven Chronicles. Some people find this book harder to digest than a talk immediately following lunch.

How many of you have read The Last Battle? As a kid under 10? As an adult? How many of you love it? How many of you hate it? How many of you tolerate it?

I aim to convince you that, at the least, the series would not be complete without it, and not merely because “Last” is in the title. But I also aim to persuade you that it is the most needed of the seven books for our day. While not sufficient all by itself, it is the crucial consummation of the series.

A number of people don’t like this book at all and they have their reasons. I’ve talked to some of them, I’ve read some of their reviews. They don’t think that TLB is consistent with the previous books, either in its tone or its message of salvation or even how it is that a talking animal in Narnia has become so bad so quickly. They don’t think it is enjoyable to read even if they end up liking Lewis’ picture of heaven. A few readers name it as their favorite, but those people are usually weird, and they’re usually adults.

Admittedly I often prefer things that aren’t as popular. When I told Mo a couple months ago that I was considering talking about why this is the best Chronicle, I unexpectedly launched us into a multi-hour back and forth. I had only read it once before that conversation, but since then I’ve read it a couple more times and I am even more excited to consider it’s weaknesses and it’s strategy with you.

What I am most burdened to answer about The Last Battle are these two questions: 1) Why did Lewis write this book? In other words, what agenda did he have? 2) Is this book really a children’s book? Should we accept it in the series, but only give it to our kids when they are older?

Who in Heaven’s Name?

Before answering those, let’s admit that there are a few bona fide problems in the book. Two of them relate to presence and absence in the afterlife, and one is about whether the afterlife should be part of the plot at all.

Emeth, the Calormene, is in heaven. Susan, one of the two Queens of Narnia, is not.

I hope to post something more detailed in the future about Emeth in particular. Emeth believed in Tash, not Aslan. He knew of Aslan, and hated him. He worshiped Tash, served Tash faithfully, and was willing to die in order to see Tash. But at the end Emeth is in heaven, and Aslan explains that Emeth’s faithful service was really for Aslan because Tash doesn’t do faithfulness. I recently read a lengthy argument that this corresponds to a biblical truth, that there could be true believers in God who are ignorant about God’s name. That is bologna. Lewis confirmed in this-world letters that he personally believed in the category of “ignorant Christian,” those who were ignorant that what they believed made them Christians. Lewis had been giving an otherwise orthodox view of salvation through atonement by grace in the previous six Chronicles. Emeth’s salvation is wrong, not only soteriologically but also in terms of the plot, as I’ll mention below. The sympathy the royal Narnians feel for Emeth is part of Lewis’ own sentimental leftovers, something he usually destroys.

Missing from heaven is Susan Pevensie. In this case I think that there is no need throw the lamppost. TLB ends when Susan is not yet dead. Peter, Edmund, and Lucy are dead, and Peter does say that Susan is “no longer a friend of Narnia,” and Jill says that Susan is distracted with the things of this world. If we take Peter’s words finally, it’s not good. If we liken Susan’s concerns to the cares of this world choking out the growth of the gospel seed (Matthew 13:22), it’s also not good. But Aslan himself crowned Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy and said, “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen,” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 167) and so I’m satisfied leaving time for Susan to repent.

But isn’t this really quite something, to be talking about so much death? In his book Planet Narnia Michael Ward observes that this is a bold move on Lewis’ part for a “children’s book” because [SPOILER!:] every character who starts the story in The Last Battle Lewis kills (Planet Narnia, 198). The verbs “to die, to kill, and to murder (and cognate nouns and adjectives)” appear once every 2.67 pages (ibid., 202). This is a story about the last battle, and for every key person (except Susan) it concerns their last breath, whether in England or Narnia.

Realized Cosmology

How does all this fit Lewis’ agenda? There are three ways it fits his agenda.

First, and this is my opinion based on considering Lewis as a character, I think Lewis liked to mess with the church ladies. I can picture him in the back room of The Bird and Baby talking to Tolkien and responding to a hysterical woman: “Oh, you like to have your neat Bible categories? You’d like for your kids to never say the word ‘ass’? You don’t want your kids to have think about what it would be like if terrible things happened to them? Hold my beer.” Lewis is an old-school contrarian, and I at least wonder if he wasn’t going out of his way to make some of it scary for those who like their theological underpants too tidy and boring white (e.g. including Bacchus). The Chronicles are good, not tame.

Second, I buy Michael Ward’s thesis that Lewis wrote seven books in the series around the seven planets known in medieval cosmology. I went to a Wordsmithy conference a few summers ago and Ward was the guest speaker. I wasn’t going because of him, but I figured I’d read his book beforehand. I read it, and then heard him speak about it, and then made Maggie read it, and bought a copy for Jonathan, and still take opportunity to poke at Leila about it as much as possible. Friends of Narnia, get and read Planet Narnia. Analyze Ward’s case, and note how the “feel” of the seventh Chronicle fits the “feel” of the seventh planet.

Saturn is not only the seventh planet, it is the furthest from earth and the final threshold into heaven. Saturn is death. Saturn is cold and bitter and dark like December. Saturn was known to bring about disastrous events, even fatal events. How many times does Tirian’s band make a plan only to have it ruined at the last minute? Dis-aster (aster is the Greek word for star), de-staring, is exactly what happens in the sky, and before that, one bad thing after another happens to our crew of heroes. Saturn is usually associated with Father Time, the great giant who awakens to end the Narnian world (TLB, 83).

Lewis loved pre-Copernican cosmology and lamented the loss of its worldview so much so that he wrote a scholarly treatment of it in his book The Discarded Image. Each of the previous six Chronicles fits with the characteristics of a planet, not to mention how the planets fill the Space Trilogy and much of Lewis’ poetry. It’s not even well hidden that Roonwit says “The stars never lie,” and “I know there are liars on earth; there are none among the stars” (TLB, 8). If you wonder why this book feels different, it’s because Saturn is called Infortuna Major – the greatest unfortunate-maker. The influence of Saturn gives TLB the bad feels.

The Last Lesson for Fortifying Chests

But I’m convinced there is still another reason beyond messin’ with the church ladies and rounding off his cosmology. This is what the cosmology was good for, not just a convenient orbit for the plot.

What was Lewis trying to do in this book? All of the previous books have a central lesson:

  1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: atonement
  2. Prince Caspian: authority
  3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: repentance and redemption
  4. The Silver Chair: Aslan’s word, spiritual disciplines
  5. The Horse and His Boy: providence
  6. The Magician’s Nephew: creation and fall

The last lesson is given in order to finish fortifying children with chests. The well-known ”men without chests” line comes from Lewis’ strain in The Abolition of Man. In that book Lewis attacks modern education that makes men who have no loves, no affections, no will to fight. They have no chests.

He specifically attributes the problem to a children’s book (with his own made-up title): “The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests” (Abolition, 26). A few paragraphs later he says,

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (ibid., 27)

In The Last Battle Shift, the ape, admits that he has a “weak chest.” Shift is the not-quite-evolved-man who acts like the boss by manipulating others until someone stronger than him comes along. Shift has no backbone, no virtue, no manliness.

We don’t like Shift and that’s an important dislike. Instead, our heroes are those who live for someone other than and bigger than themselves. You don’t have to be an adult to figure this out; the kids know it.

As Scrubb and Pole (which incidentally would be a great name for a detective show) learn about Shift and the Calormenes they want to fight.

In the end Eustace and Jill begged so hard that Tirian said they could come with him and take their chance—or, as he much more sensibly called it, “the adventure that Aslan would send them.” (TLB, 52)

The word adventure 11 occurs times in the story. “Adventure” is what adults call it to kids to make it seem less scary. Perhaps adults should think about it as adventure, too.

Their adventure—Tirian and Jewel, Poggin and Puzzle, Eustace and Jill—is fighting to Make Narnia Great Again (#MNGA). And it is through that battle that they reach their greatest joy. Their fight is not to get to heaven, not initially. They get to heaven through fighting, and in this story, by losing the right fight. They lose everything they were fighting for and gain more than they were fighting for.

The last lesson that fortifies children with chests teaches loyalty to Aslan and longing for Aslan’s ways that is so deep they are willing to die for it. And of course, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

This is the report Farsight the Eagle gave Tirian about Roonwit:

I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” (TLB, 50)

Later when Tirian realized they probably could not win, “his only thought now was to sell his life as dearly as he could” (TLB, 72).

Food is good and to be enjoyed, especially in Aslan’s name, but it is not worth stealing from or manipulating other people for it (as Shift did to Puzzle and the squirrels). Castles and commerce are good, but not at the expense of other’s dignity (as the Calormene’s to the Narnians and Talking Horses). And while death is not good in itself, and there are ways to die that are fearful and then damnable, it is possible to fight to the death in a way that Aslan says, “Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour” (TLB, 81)

Lewis makes us sick of selfish economics (Shift’s socialism), sick of selfish religion (the Tarkaan’s “Islam”), and sick of selfish cynicism (the dwarves’ selfishness). He also makes us long for something more desirable than we have ever had satisfying us here in this world, a longing to be really home where we belong. When we are freed from belonging here in a final way we are ready to fight for good for here whether we win it now, or not like we thought.

We don’t know if we will make it better. Maybe our fight will be an example for future fighters. Maybe we are the last generation of fighters. Either way, we fight to win. The battle is not all rousing speeches and shining steel, but also includes gathering wood for a fire, cleaning the blood off swords, stacking chairs, and making another pot of coffee. And when things keep going wrong we can imagine asking, “Aslan, how many more times shall we regroup? Child, regroup until there is no more group.”

Fiction Up and Fiction In

Most people appreciate the last quarter of TLB with its imaginative (and Platonic) view of heaven. Whatever heaven is like, we will love it.

But the main agenda Lewis had for us is to love Aslan and whatever adventure Aslan sends enough to be willing to pay the ultimate cost. We try to protect kids from death, when we should promote love for Aslan and prepare them to fight on his behalf.

This sort of love can’t be stuck on like an “I voted” sticker. This sort of love longs for peace and feasts and work and a kingdom under a good king. This sort of love has hates, recognizes enemies, and is vigilant and bold to defend and fight against those enemies. Emeth was an enemy who would have killed the Pevensies and Eustace and Jill and Tirian in Tash’s name; the children would have fought him, not expected him to be in Aslan’s Country. This sort of love cries at loss, but doesn’t let the tears fall on the bowstrings.

Near his death Lewis wrote a letter to a group of 5th graders: “The only way for us to get to Aslan’s country is through death, as far as I know.” (Omnibus intro essay to The Magician’s Nephew). Lewis lost his mom when he was eight years-old. He wrote to the generation after WWII, those who undoubtedly wondered about battle, about loss and death.

Some adults panic about or pooh-pooh the book and yet modern kids (and adults) need the book. The United States is not Narnia any more than England is, but the lessons of Narnia are for us. Socialism, Islamism, cynicism, abound around us. They are not ways of Christ’s blessing. They bring no peace, no redeemed bacchanalian joy. Regardless of one’s eschatology and millennialistic expectation of the end, it will be better in heaven to the degree we love our place here and now.

We want our kids standing with us in the gates for the last battle. Parents, don’t expect TLB to do your work, but put it to work for you. Like the Narnia air, good fiction such as the Chronicles makes kids stronger, even if they can’t explain it. That’s why we need to get fiction up and fiction in.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (TLB, 101)

Why I Hate Fiction

Or, Why I’ve Repented from Hating Fiction


What follows are never before published notes from my talk at the very first Raggant Fiction Festival in 2015. If you’re interested in more, not only can you check out three years’ worth of talks at the above link, you could register for this year’s festival that’s happening on March 23!


It’s Not Business, It’s Personal

Mine will be a personal talk and there are a few reasons for it. It will be personal because I am a fiction amateur. I read fiction now because I love it, which is what being an amateur used to mean (from Latin amator meaning "lover"). I do not get, nor have I ever been, paid to read or write or teach about fiction. I don’t have a degree in literature or intentions to pursue one. I read to my kids, I read as an auditor in our school’s Omnibus class, and I read on my treadmill for fun. I read fiction out of enthusiasm not due to employment.

This also will be a personal talk because I am a fiction noob, an inexperienced and possibly incompetent student of fiction. I have only been a lover of fiction for at most three years, and considered over my lifetime reading fiction has only played a meaningful part during the last five years. A Vegas bookie would offer a generous over-under to say that I’ve read 50 fiction books more than 50 pages long. Teachers assigned me more than that, and I suppose there is irony in my ability to write fictional answers to all the non-fiction comprehension questions those teachers posed.

So I love it but I am new to it. And the last reason I’ll give for why this is a personal talk is that I am a recovering fiction hater. I despised it like a mime despises small talk. I am an unlikely covert because I didn’t merely believe that all fiction was worthless, I believed that all fiction dishonored God. It was a waste of time and resources best spent on reading the Bible and making disciples of the nations. Even more than that, it was a distraction from truth, from worship, from God Himself.

But I was wrong. I was the one dishonoring God. I will go so far as to say that my hatred of fiction, and the convictions that I used to justify it, were sinful. Mine is a personal testimony of a fiction hater who repented.

I could wear this quote from C.S. Lewis like a man of letters jacket.

The key to my books is Donne’s maxim, “The heresies that men leave are hated most.” The things I assert most vigorously are those that I resisted long and accepted late.

Because I resisted so intensely and accepted fiction into my heart so recently, I can’t wait to pay years’ worth of lost tribute in thanks to God for the gift of fiction.

What I have to offer is a sort of, I hope, "helpful unprofessionalism" on the subject. In fact, because I’m not an authority on fiction perhaps that means that I’m in a good spot to submit to it. I don’t have to say good things about fiction for my job. If anything, I risk alienation from my own pastoral guild by even caring about such a festival.

Why a Testimony?

Christians appreciate testimonies as fire appreciates oxygen; we feed on them. Each one of us can tell the story of how God saved us as we recount what our life was like before He caused us to be born again and how He’s grown us in Christlikeness since. God often uses a testimony to encourage His people and sometimes even to prod an unbeliever to see his own similar need.

I am not saying that fiction is a gospel or that I wasn’t saved until I started appreciating fiction. I’m noting God’s pleasure in using personal stories to raise the flag of His goodness.

I’d like to think that my testimony will, first, challenge fiction fussers to stop their fussing. I’m an argument from the greater to the lesser: if God can cause me to change my mind then it shouldn’t be harder for Him to nudge a doubter through the library door. If someone produces a show called "Behind the Bookshelf" someday, I would be a good candidate for the first fool-to-fiction episode. Besides, many Christians seem to think that more problems makes for a more dramatic narrative arc. Let me tell you, I’ve got problems.

Not everyone shares my issues, and aren’t you glad? So a second reason for a testimony like this is to encourage those who have friends that are fiction fussers that it is possible for the hate to stop. Is it one of your children? Do you have students who struggle to appreciate the gifts you’re trying to give them?

Repentance, or Why I Was Wrong to Hate

I don’t want to criticize bad fiction as much as I want to criticize those who won’t read fiction for fear that it all is bad. I want to criticize former me (and maybe present-day you).

Why did I hate fiction? How did I defend my hate? I can look back on two stages of my hatred, an immature stage of ignorance and then a better informed, more mature stage of ignorance. The defenses for both stages were different and both were problematic. An autopsy on the former fiction hater may help others to see and subdue their own excuses.

When I was a child, I read as a child, or at least I read like a boy who preferred to hold any type of ball over any type of book. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. We had books at home. My mom took my sister and I to the county library almost every week during summer breaks. My mom had been a high-school English literature and drama teacher before I came along, so one might think that I had narrative in my blood. But I resisted sitting still and I suppose my inner contrarian took pleasure in resisting whatever good things people put before me. While there is nothing wrong with shooting hoops and hitting wiffle balls–activities my nine year-old son also enjoys–I was lazy.

Only if it was raining and the car was in the garage and I couldn’t come up with any new ways to annoy my sister, would I read chapters of Encyclopedia Brown and The Mad Scientist’s Club, along with another detective series about a boy named McGurk. Otherwise I preferred that my entertainment take the least amount of mental effort. I defended myself by claiming that I was just a kid, I was a boy, I was an athlete. Really I was a sluggard. And I missed out.

I kept up this game through high school. The only assigned book I remember reading in its entirety was The Lord of the Flies. I must have read more because they did finally award me the highest order of hall pass: a diploma. During my freshman year of college I switched after one semester to Milligan College which required a 24 credit Humanities course, eight hours a semester for the first four semesters. Here was just one of the essay questions on the final exam.

Goethe, Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, and Melville are sitting at a round-table discussion. The three latter each offer their opinions of Goethe’s Promethean character, Faust, and recommend improvements in the character and/or story. Goethe responds to each in turn. Provide a transcript of the conversation.

I knew enough to know that I was going to need to transfer again to get out of taking this course.

Something positive was about to happen, though. That summer between my freshman and sophomore years I became a Calvinist. A new light shone on all my studies and, for the first time (in forever), now I wanted to read. Alas, I only wanted to read books about the Bible and theology. I wanted true books, the ones that would help me know God better. Because I was studying to be a pastor, stories were only as good as they were potential sermon illustrations and, in my circles, the shorter the illustration the better. After all, a preacher ought not draw attention away from the truth.

I believed that what mattered most, if not what mattered only, were spiritual things. Paul said not to set one’s mind on the things of earth but instead on the things of heaven (Colossians 3:1-2). He said don’t get entangled in the affairs of this life as a soldier of Christ (2 Timothy 2:4). He urged Timothy to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2), not novels, and told the Corinthians that the wisdom of the world was nothing compared to preaching the gospel. "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

At this point in my life I wasn’t being lazy. I wasn’t trying to avoid books or using my brain. But now I was a dualist. I believed that God cared about celestial things more than bodily, earthly ones. I railed from my heart through my mouth against immature believers who didn’t grasp the priority of truth and the urgency for us to know it and explain it to others. Truth comes in propositions, not epic Greek poems. Truth advances in formulas, not fables. Truth demands clarity, not creativity. Truth may by mysterious but it is not mythical. Truth is, above all, non-fiction.

But I was wrong. That’s not to say that truth is imaginary, but good fiction can and does carry truth. I made false divisions and, what’s worse, I asserted untrue propositions in doing so. I was lying about truth, cropping the truth to my preferred, more comfortable, and more personally benefitting forms, the ones that made me seem more spiritual.

Both my childish laziness and developed dualism were image-bearing problems. That’s why the target audience of this festival is anyone fussy enough to complain about reading fiction.

Stages of Restoration

Maybe you’ve been standing on the side of the pool and need someone to tell you that the water is warm. Jump in. What helped to show me the errors in my hatred of fiction? There are five ingredients that God used to bless me into good fiction as He restores His image in me. They are sort of in order with overlap on the timeline.

First, I got married and we had kids. When Mo and I met and got engaged she was appalled that I hadn’t read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She encouraged me to read it, which I did, but didn’t get past the first chapter in Price Caspian. A few years later God gave us Maggie and that raised questions about raising her, especially what sort of education we wanted to give her. Mo’s parents homeschooled her, Mo loved it, and at the time I was glad to delegate all of that to her. But the questions kept coming up though I hadn’t come to answers yet.

Second, I started to study and teach Genesis. I was a youth pastor at a church where the New Testament was 95% of the Sunday sermon diet as well as the staple for home Bible studies. I was more comfortable with epistles, but believed that some Old Testament study would benefit the youth and challenge me to expand my arsenal. I had no idea.

In the first chapter of Genesis the Bible confronted me with God’s gladness in stuff. "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24:1). The non-spiritual things are His idea. Out of all the ways that He could have communicated His glory and reveal what He liked, He chose dirt and then made man from it to work it.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

He created and then He created mini-creators, image-bearers. Men and women are made in His image to reflect His likeness which means among other things that we were made to make. Dorothy Sayers summarized it this way in her book, The Mind of the Maker:

[W]hen we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the "image" of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, "God created." The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

The cultural mandate, if you’re okay calling it that, included science and technology and art. By chapter four of Genesis we see music and instruments and gangster rap poetry from Lamech. All of this started to step on the toes of my dualism, and it hurt in a good way. Then I came across Tolkien’s idea of sub-creators.

Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons- ’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
(Tolkien on Fairy-stories)

Not only are story-makers allowable, they are necessary. Writing, and by good and reasonable implication, reading, are ways that men truthfully emulate God. Characters, plot, battle, love, loss, battle, magic, return, these are all God’s narrative devices and good fiction imitates His patterns. The Bible says so.

Third, I drank the classical education Kool-aid. About this time our oldest daughter had started school at home and we were trying this thing called the "classical" model. Mo had given me a book or two to read about it. I read The Lost Tools of Learning and wrote some of the nastiest comments in the margins. Because I wanted to be an involved dad, I kept reading. After the first couple years the curriculum for all the classes got harder, and then both Mo and I realized that we needed a school to help us.

We found Providence Classical and Christian School in Lynnwood the same year that our son Calvin started Kindergarten. We loved Providence and I kept seeing the benefit of books, even fiction ones, for shaping thinking and worldview and loyalties. By this time we had started a church and wanted this sort of exposure and enculturation for more than just our family. So we started thinking about starting a school in Marysville. That meant even more reading, more thinking about why and what we wanted for students and their families. It meant most asking what we as parents wanted to get first for ourselves so that we could give it to our kids and the next generations.

Fourth, I was bit by the Abraham Kuyper bug. His oft-quoted comment about Christ’s lordship over every thumb’s-width in the universe fit with Genesis and confirmed that my dualism dishonored God’s Son. It also affirmed the classical and Christian model of education. Kuyper didn’t write fiction himself but his testimony of salvation credits a Victorian novel, The Heir of Redclyffe, as a key in his conversion. His eagerness for men and women and children to use all of the world as a way to honor Christ applies to good stories.

Fifth, I tasted the sweetness of fiction itself. I started to read it. I read the Narnia series to my kids and I liked it. I wanted to sail with Reepicheep to the end of the world on the Silver Sea into Aslan’s Country. I saw too much of myself in Eustace Scrub, fussy and unfamiliar with the right sort of books. I read The Pilgrim’s Progress. I read the 100 Cupboards series by Nate Wilson to the kids and loved it. Our school mascot is, after all, the raggant.

I read Omnibus books along with the first three secondary students like The Odyssey and now in year four The Iliad. We read how Virgil gave real meaning (through a mostly made-up story) to Rome in The Aeneid and how the right kind of laughter makes Grendel and his mother furious in Beowulf.

Nate Wilson encouraged me to read Lewis’ Space Trilogy. Specifically he said that That Hideous Strength was without question the greatest English novel. I couldn’t imagine stomaching science fiction but he said that skipping the first two books was for cheaters. Not only did I read them, not only do I agree with his assessment, but the power of the categories Lewis gives in THS have shaped my thoughts on peer pressure, dualism, the dangers of human "progress" without God, ironic acronyms, Aurthurian legend, and Merlin’s magic. It even made me want to drink tea.

A Luxury I Can’t Live Without

Not every fiction book that I’ve read has been so much fire in my belly. But I have tasted and seen that good fiction is good. I would even say that over the last few years during times in between fiction readings, I’ve felt malnourished. I would say that I need it like food.

Growth requires food. Multiple times every day, throughout my entire childhood, I was fed. How many specific meals do I remember? How many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches do I remember uniquely as distinct from all the others? I remember meals in the same way that I remember story times. The atmosphere and aura of feeding—-goblets and goblins, milk and villains, ice cream and orcs. I was fed. I grew. Inside and out. We are narrative creatures, and we need narrative nourishment—-narrative catechisms. (Death by Living, 11)

Why?

Good fiction puts flesh on the skeleton of the past. It makes names, dates, and places warm. This is a specialty of our keynote speaker. For example, I’ve appreciated John Calvin for more than twenty years. I’ve read books by him and biographies about him. Mo and I named our son after him. But this summer I read The Betrayal which colored a unique hue on Calvin’s life that made his life more vibrant.

The Illiad shows rather than defines a worldview where glory-seekers and shame-haters will kill. It also should make us glad that the true God doesn’t have a sulking daughter forever complaining and manipulating. A Tale of Two Cities and Macbeth exhibit the senseless self-destructive nature of revolution and revenge. Uncle Tom’s Cabin may play too much on the reader’s emotions, but how we deal with others must not be unemotional.

Good fiction also puts perspective on the present. It lets you look at yourself as from a telescope rather than a mirror on the cool side of the car sun visor. The Inferno may not paint even one accurate stroke about hell except that hell is just and it is bad. We do well to realize that we get what we deserve apart from God’s grace. Likewise, The Screwtape Letters may not even be close to the way principalities and powers and rulers and authorities communicate. Everyone knows they text message these days. But how it is not gives us insight into the temptations and battles we are in. And the general liturgical value of reading stories reminds us that we are all characters in a bigger story. We are being read. What do the critics think about us?

Finally, good fiction puts gas in the tank as we fight into the future. One of the best parts about a book is the final page. If we enjoyed the book we may not be glad that it’s over. But we often need the encouragement that the story will be over someday. Life is not a movie. The valley and the climax doesn’t resolve in two hours, or even in the 15-20 hours of reading a Russian novel. But the positive part reminds runners to run for the prize, kids to make and pursue goals, soldiers to fight for victory, disciples to be with Him where He is.

Fiction also expands our imaginations for sake of holiness. The Bible provides much clarity on do’s and don’ts. But sometimes we encounter new situations. Wisdom is more than being able to regurgitate facts on command. Wisdom is being able to anticipate and see what the proper response would be.

1984 (which, by the way, I’d love to contrast with That Hideous Strength if we do this festival again next year), written in the future to Orwell’s first readers, is still a scary prophecy of the kinds of tyranny we vote over ourselves. The Ashtown Burials series gives confidence that spending your life to death will bring life. I love watching characters battle the criticism and pain. There are true stories, biographies, that encourage us to be unbroken, but so do hobbits coming back to the Shire who won’t accept the new way.

As Sam Gamgee said, "No welcome, no beer, no smoke, and a lot of rules and orc-talk instead. I hoped to have a rest, but I can see there’s work and trouble ahead."

Bringing Good Things to Life

We have too many non-fiction problems not to read fiction.

What then is the good of—-what is even the defence for—-occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person?
The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself. And even when we build disinterested fantasies, they are saturated with, and limited by, our own psychology….We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own….We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is "I have got out". (Lewis, C. S., An Experiment in Criticism. Cambridge University Press, 1961, 137-138)

The name of this organized celebration is the Raggant Fiction Festival. The raggant is an animal that doesn’t exist and yet he does. We want to bring him to life, but differently than Pinocchio. We want more than a graduating class of raggants, we want generations of them. N.D. characterized the raggant as a creature with one sense who interprets everything in the world through that sense. It’s what fired up Jonathan to see the analogy with classical Christian education in which we equip students to interpret all of life through the grid of Jesus Christ as Lord. It is a make-believe creature that we believe is worth making.

Thanks for being here to celebrate, or at least to consider why Christians should be the least fussy people, about non-fiction and fiction. Maybe you’ve been given reason to repent, or hope, or to grow bigger than you were when the story started.

The Evolution Is Worse Than He Knows

Thank you to Mr. Powell for his recent article exposing the evolution of confusion about gender identity on Marysville School District campuses. I’m afraid the evolution is much worse than he knows.

Down the hall from the 6th Grade Health class the Shop teacher has been dealing with a similar but more serious confusion. It is a growing problem throughout the nation and parents have been grilling school boards because the nuts and bolts are going through an identification meltdown. 

In Marysville there has been little to no opposition to encouraging the nuts to bolt and the bolts to be nuts. School leaders say that the lack of opposition is primarily due to the fact that many of the parents who’ve been notified about the gender identity confusion have simply been too busy searching for the largest black permanent marker they can find with which to vote NO on the next Levy proposal leaving little time to worry about the nuts and bolts.

Flynn Miscall, director of putting things together, said that the district has adopted the free curriculum endorsed by the Official Office of Preposterous Superintendent Ideas (OOPSI) because, “I mean, it was free.” 

Miscall also said, “It’s confusing for nuts, and people referring to them as nuts, especially if they don’t feel nuts, even if they are actually nuts.”

Cindi Wileslip, vice principal of fasteners and building stuff, said, “Knowledge is a priority” for students and parents. “But we’re just teachers. Who are we to share knowledge about the identity of nuts and bolts?” She also added, “We’d like parents to take the lead in these conversations, except when they want to identify nuts as nuts. That is right out.”

Wileslip added that the Washington State Legislature is looking to amend their pioneering Tape-Everything Act of 2012. Lawmakers and education professionals have been requiring the use of washi tape, whether single colored or patterned, as a replacement for bolting things. None of the State’s policy makers were available for comment due to a recent Consistency Mandate which prohibits all employees from plugging in their cell phones to charge.

In an unanticipated twist, the problem of nut-bolt identity has spread to many of Marysville’s school parking lots where the wheels are actually falling off the educational system, as well as the cars. 

OOPSI Standards

  • Beginning in Kindergarten, students will be taught about the many ways to use glue. There are many. 
  • Third-graders will be introduced to nut-bolt identity. These children will be taught that they can choose whatever attachment system they prefer, as long as whatever they prefer is not using nuts and bolts. Don’t even try to confuse them with washers. 
  • Fourth-graders will be expected to “define threaded fasteners and external male threads.” They will be told that this is all very screwy.
  • High school students will critically “evaluate how culture, media, society, and other people such as hardware store employees have abandoned the harmful expectations of sense and logic.” 

In case the above seems alarmist, it’s okay, because all classes will be canceled going forward. No one can get into the classrooms because identity confusion has also developed among the door locks and keys.

“Bless Me, what do they teach them at these schools?”

Or, (Students + The Trivium) × Teachers

The following notes are for a talk I gave at our school’s Information Night.

Our school board recently finished reading through and discussing the Chronicles of Narnia together. I’m also part of another group of adults, many of whom are parents of current school students, working through the Chronicles as secondary reading for something we call Omnibus Tenebras. Then we have our annual Fiction Festival coming in March and the theme is going to be all things Narnian and Lewisian. So I reentered Aslan’s orbit seven months ago and have been spinning since.

Reading through the series again I noticed a question asked by Professor Kirke near the start of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which he asks in a similar form two more times in The Lion) and which he asks again near the end of The Last Battle. Sort of aloof, as he is, and exasperated, he wonders out loud, “Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” The first time he was lamenting Peter and Susan’s lack of logic. The last time, when his beard was golden, he was wondering why they hadn’t read Plato. Well, in our school, we teach Logic, and Plato. And we teach the Chronicles of Narnia!

One of Lewis’ literary contemporaries and friends was Dorothy Sayers. You may have heard her name before associated with classical education due to a paper she read at Oxford in 1947, that she then published as a journal article, titled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Along with Lewis, she was concerned about what was and what wasn’t being taught to students. If Sayers or Lewis or both of them could see what’s happening in our government education system some seventy years later, I can’t imagine what narrative tirade might have been unleashed (though That Hideous Strength would cover a lot). Although Edmond didn’t want to recognize that the White Witch was no good, at least he could recognize that the White Witch was a girl. The fight between good and evil didn’t get all the way down to gender pronouns. “Bless ze, what do they teach at these schools?”

Not ze best teacher

It was Sayers who reintroduced the Trivium, the three ways of education, which are 1) Grammar, 2) Logic (or Dialectic), and 3) Rhetoric. These are the first three of the seven liberal arts, liberal in reference to men who are free, and she in particular had the insight to connect each method of learning to each phase of a student’s development.

The youngest students are like parrots. Play them a catchy song and they will sing it until parents quickly pass from the stage of thinking it’s cute to the stage of being amazed at what their student is capable of memorizing and into the stage of being annoyed that their student doesn’t get tired of it. There is a grammar to every subject, facts that are ripe for harvest in very field of study. Nouns and verbs are language grammar, addition and subtraction are math grammar, colors are for art and notes are for music grammar, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 is history grammar.

As students mature toward junior high they hit a stage that is harder to call cute, and it’s also hard to call mature. They’re in the process of figuring out where all the things go. They are building mental shelves to sort and categorize all the grammar they’ve collected. They start start asking more questions and seeing more connections. They also start their arguing engines, and, as Sayers acknowledged their extremely high “nuisance value,” why not at least show them how to argue logically?

The third stage is not just gravy on the cake or icing on the meat. There is really cake and meat; icing on cotton balls offers no nutrition, and gravy on cardboard might trick you for a moment, but there’s no satisfaction. So truth cake and good meat are necessary underneath and then rhetoric tops them off. Rhetoric skills enable a young man or woman in mid to late high school to take substance and polish it. The polish might come via poem or prose, painting or presentation, but it’s taking what’s already valuable and making it shine.

ECS teaches all the subjects, be it Bible/theology, Music, Math, Science, English, Logic, Latin, Literature, Writing, Rhetoric, and History with the Trivium methods in mind, and we do it in Jesus’ name because He holds all the ends together.

I’ve been struck in recent months by what makes the Trivium so fruitful. I’ve been reading about and trying to share a vision of the Trivium since before we had a school, since my wife informed me that my participation in homeschooling our 2nd grader at the time was not optional. I’ve believed that students plus the Trivium adds up to great things for over a decade now. But it is multiplied by teachers.

If you want to know why you should register your kids for ECS before you leave the building tonight, what you really need to do is get to know the teachers. They are the multiplying function. We’re not making them present their resumes as part of the program, but that wouldn’t do any of them justice anyway.

Jesus said: every disciple, that is, every learner, every student, will be just like his teacher.

When my wife and I were trying to homeschool, we realized that we wanted our daughter and her younger siblings to be more than us. This wasn’t a cop out, as if we could merely sit back and trust our kids’ enculturation to others. It meant we had even more to do, which included trying to convince some other parents to join us in this crazy hard, crazy great, crazy blessed work.

The Trivium is not better than I thought; the Trivium is fantastic. But when the Trivium methods are practiced by those who care, the outcomes are way better than I thought. This is a mathematical operation, a factor function. Take a number, add another number, get a higher total. But take a number and put a multiplier between it and another number, and watch out.

ECS is more than the sum of its parts. I was reminded of it again while reading the following in a book titled, Anitfragile:

Collaboration has explosive upside, what is mathematically called a superadditive function, i.e., one plus one equals more than two, and one plus one plus one equals much, much more than three….since you cannot forecast collaborations and cannot direct them, you cannot see where the world is going. All you can do is create an environment that facilitates these collaborations, and lay the foundation for prosperity.

John Milton Gregory wrote in The Seven Laws of a Teacher that the ideal teacher is “an incarnate assemblage of impossible excellencies.” We have an excellent assemblage for collaboration.

We have teachers who have lived in tents while remodeling their houses, who muck horse stalls before sunrise, who knit hats and dolls and sew scaled down ECS uniforms for American Girl Dolls, who scrounge through the woods for sticks to make bows and read multi-volume bower bibles about how to do it. Our teachers exercise, slow cook and crock pot, read for pleasure, write for pleasure, and most importantly, they worship faithfully on the Lord’s Day. They invest in more than the students in their classes, and that’s why they have something for their students. They aren’t finished, but they are learning to learn, and that’s exactly what we want for our students.

Christian and classical education has some great ideas behind it and before it, but the ideas themselves could not make ECS great. The Trivium plus students multiple by teachers make it great in ways that couldn’t be scripted.

Our school mission starts by saying that “We commend the works of the Lord to another generation….” And I am commending the works of the Lord to you now. At ECS we are looking at and learning the grammar of His works, and the logic of how His works fit together, and how to adorn His works at image bearers through rhetoric. And I am also blessed to say, ECS is is itself a work of the Lord, and our teachers are a multiplying factor in making Marysville great again. #mmga

We want to bless you, both by what we teach at this school, and by those who teach at it.

He Is Neither Here Nor There

I’m late to linking but the point remains piquant: the principles underneath today’s public education are rotten and Christians need to get off the floor.

Whoever the audience is for this blog, I imagine that it’s mostly my friends. If you are one of my friends, I also figure you read Blog and Mablog, and you almost certainly enjoyed #NoQuarterNovember. Wilson’s first post was, Burn All the Schools, and I’m still crying (on the inside) with laughter over this analogy:

If there ever were to be a true reformation among us, Christians leaving the public school system would form a refugee column that would make the Mississippi River look like a solitary tear running down Horace Mann’s cheek.

As was the point with every #NoQuaterNovember post, he offered no qualifications. His post wasn’t about where Christians can or should teach. His post wasn’t about if Christians have survived or possibly could survive in the government education system. His post wasn’t that every private or Christian school is necessarily doing things right.

The point is that Christian parents are called to disciple their kids in the Christian way of life, and the “Christian way of life” does not include acting as if Christ is irrelevant to everything in life. It’s as if some education tsar took the anti-Shaffer-apologetic: “He Is Neither Here Nor There.” That’s the least bad problem with State schools, and that’s not good.

Me First: The Deaths We Should Die for Our Students

More than a month ago I got to address a group of teachers at the first ACCS Regional Schools Training Day held at Providence Classical Christian School. Here are the notes for my talk.


TL;DR or Abstract: The gospel is good news that Jesus died so that we might live. As Christians the gospel is not only something we must believe and proclaim, it is also something we must embody. Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, teachers have many and various opportunities to bring life to their students (and the students’ families) by dying. Such dying to bring life sets the course of the classroom and also shows the students how to live like Christ.

Introduction

Wow! What a privilege it is to be here, to be a part of this first evar ACCS Regional Teacher In-Service Day, to have the opportunity to address you all and hopefully to give you some gospel encouragement for your labor in the Lord this morning. I love classical and Christian education. I love the ACCS, I love PCCS (where our oldest two kids got to attend for a year), and I love our toddler school. I am thankful to God for all that He is obviously and abundantly doing among us.

As for why I get to talk, well, my headmaster volunteered me, and none of the other headmasters/principles knew better. I definitely have a curriculum vitae to talk to teachers about teachering, and that resume is full ofincompetencies rather than masteries. I suppose if all the books could be written of the ways I could be a better teacher, all the school libraries in the world could not contain them.

But I do care. I care as an image-bearer of the God who mandated that we take dominion of all this stuff He’s created for and given to us. I care as a Christian because Jesus is Lord over every thumb’s width in the world that man can grab. I care as a parent of four students, as a pastor of parents, as a board member at our school, and as a teacher. I do not think I’m particularly gifted for the classroom, yet in some ways maybe that makes me a great person to talk about it because I have to make premeditated decisions.

The first decision requires me to determine: what do I want to accomplish? There are a number of excellent ways to answer to that question, but I’ve been answering it the last few years in an outlandish way. I want to turn Marysville into a destination.1 Have you been to Marysville? I bet we have more auto parts stores than your city, at least per capita, and certainly more on the main drag. We do have a spectacular whale fountain in front of our casino and an outlet mall that draws international customers, though those are technically not Marysville, but they are at the Marysville exits. There are also three Walmarts we can count as ours, so it’s a start. But I would love to be a part of making our city a place that Christians love to live, work, and grow.

That starts with working to make my home a destination that my kids want to be in, and then by extension to make my classroom a destination that my students want to be in. I want them wanting to be there. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this, but rather than dimming the lights and unfolding blankets and burning some sweet smelling candles with plenty of therapy puppies to pet, I want my classroom to be filled with the aroma of my many deaths.

That might sound like an odd ambition, but it is a gospel objective, just applied in the context of a school.

Death Is at Work

You may or may not remember a pseudo-evangelical movement that was popularish a decade ago called the Emergent Church. It was easy to tell who was part of the movement because they hated being stereotyped. They also were really keen on relationships and life, so lots of the churches scrapped the name “church” (too constricting) for something like “community” (more authentic). Many threw out their pulpits and pews and sat in couches drinking coffee and had conversations. Okay. But one of their core propositions, ironic since they were suspicious of propositions, was that Christians needed to incarnate the gospel.

That way of talking made me nervous for a couple reasons. Jesus is the incarnate Word, God in flesh, yes. But God taking on flesh is not something for us to repeat. We are already fleshy/fleshly, and more critically, we’re not God. The incarnation of Jesus is totally other than our experience. Incarnating the gospel also seemed wrong because the gospel is a message for us to preach, not a model for us to practice. I argued emphatically, definitively, that we should not use this language.

And I was wrong, because this is how the apostle Paul spoke about his ministry in a couple places, including Colossians 1:24 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The “jars of clay” are “our bodies,” “our mortal flesh,” so the treasure of the gospel is contained not just in our brains or mouths. And what’s happening in the flesh? “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” can’t mean that we’re being martyred, like a sledgehammer to a ceramic pot, once and done. The ones who are “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake,” they are also the ”we who live,” and it’s happening “always.” You can’t do it “always” if the dying here is body-buried-death. Somehow “death is at work” and, based on the first part of the paragraph, dying is related to being brought to our breaking points in the four “but nots.”

And what is the result of the exercise of dying? Two related things: 1) The life of Jesus is manifested and 2) life works in those for whom we’re dying. This is the gospel: death brings life. We announce the gospel, for sure. We are Christian schools. We’ve got to, and we get to, point our students to Christ as the only name under heaven by which we can be saved. But those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 4:5) are also practicing servants of the Lord (same verse), and we show God’s surpassing power as we are “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.” This is incarnating the gospel, it is embodying the good news that death brings life.

This isn’t referring to a teacher taking a bullet for a student. That could be done as a final act of love, but it is a one-time death. The dying, the being given over to death, the always carrying the death of Jesus, refers, ironically, to a way of living that brings life to others. So here’s a stipulative definition of dying: giving up something considered vital, often causing pain, for the joy of another.

Death by a Thousand Papers to Grade

What does dying look like then? How does the abstract get concrete? This is the glory of it, I don’t even know all the ways. But here are some dying assumptions and some scenarios.

My Dying Teacher Assumptions

Three of these should be good enough to give you the idea.

First, I assume that students will not remember the homework assignment and that parents will not read the assignment either. Homework, assigning how much and the grading thereof, is its own thing, which I’ll bring up again under the scenarios. This also matters whether you have parrot, pert, or poetic students; the older they are, the more they should be responsible and the younger they are the more their parents will need to pay attention. But unless the assignment itself is to see if they can follow your Rube Goldberg assignment, then die to your expectation that all you need to do is say it once and you’re done. If you always respond to your headmaster’s first email requesting your response, then you can have a scratch-n-sniff sticker on your inbox in the teachers’ lounge, but you might be the only one.

Second, and related to the first, I assume that parents have other things to do than what I am now requiring of them, especially when it comes to grammar students. Some of your schools meet five days a week, some, like our school, have a day or more when teachers give work that should be done during “school at home.” But the assumption works for plain old “homework” too. We only get so many minutes a day in class, and there are a lot of Indispensable Lessons, but it’s not always apparent that teachers realize other things happen after school, or that parents are not sitting at home clicking the refresh button in their browser to check for new homework.

Yes, we are serving parents, and parents should know what is happening with their students. Yes, parents are ultimately responsible to God for their student’s education. Yes, sometimes you need for the student to do some extra work outside of class. But how many classes do they have, and how many teachers had extra work for outside of class that same day, and how much help is that student going to need for that assignment?

Third, I assume that, even if parents read the assignment, and even if parents sacrifice their other work for sake of helping their student, they still probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Ha! So I use complete sentences, albeit as short as possible. I also RTUA = refuse to use abbreviations. It could be the third quarter, and you’re using the same abbreviation you’ve used for the Saxon Time Fact Sheets all year long without a problem, but for some reason mom is out of town and dad needs to help and the fourth grader doesn’t know what “TFS” means. If you’re using an online homework application, put your Keystroke Saving Program to death. Maybe you’ll get RSI (repetitive stress injury), but it will be life to your people. If you’re a printer of assignments to paper, pluck up, there are plenty of trees.

My Dying Teacher Scenarios

It’s Monday morning, or Thursday evening, or whenever, and you get a text message from a parent asking if there’s Latin homework because there is nothing in Renweb, Sycamore, etc. You realize that you were interrupted right when you were going to post it, and you forgot, but you had told the students in class what you wanted them to do. Do you:

  • A) Do nothing because you gave a verbal assignment?
  • B) Quickly post the assignment and expect that all the families will look at it and complete it?
  • C) Post it and notify the parents via a special group email or text?
  • D) Take the curricular bullet and have the students complete the assignment the next day in class?

Of course there are other variables, including whatever agreements and expectations there are between the school and parents about how and when homework is to be communicated. But if your immediate reaction is, “They should have remembered the assignment.” Then if it’s so easy, why didn’t you remember to put it online?

There are other options than panic. Email or text the families and say that due to your error, the assignment will be graded for extra credit for those who remembered to do it, or it will be finished in class and won’t be graded. Die to your pride, and sometimes it’s okay to die to your plan.

Here’s another scenario. You only have so many classroom minutes, and you really want to talk about Augustine, and you really need to give a memory verse quiz and a test. Do you:

  • A) Scrap waxing eloquent about Augustine and just do the boring quiz and test?
  • B) Punt the tests to the parents to administer at home so you can talk about Augustine?
  • C) Something else?

You are the teacher! Teach! Augustine is educational, even if you (wrongly) call him Augustine. The bishop of Hippo is probably applicable somehow to your curriculum. So ask yourself some questions. Is sending the test home instead of other homework better? Or is sending the test home something you’ve never done in that class and would likely cause confusion? Could you hold off talking about Augustine until next week, and plan to tweak the lesson plans to include it? Or could you move the test to next week instead?

There are other common scenarios too. Do you have a fussy student? Die (to your impatience) for him. Do you have fussy parents? Die (to your irritation) for them. Are you overwhelmed, not sure how to do the next day? Die.

You have so many ways to die to give life:

  • Give everyone all the points, or make that assignment extra credit.
  • Use someone who takes a perfect quiz as a grade for all (like justification).
  • Scrap the assignment all together, or assign just the odd problems, or only one page instead of the two, etc.

Teachers are especially tempted to pass the pressure off to others when:

  • When they are unprepared.
  • When they are upset with someone else, their spouse, their own kid, another student from another class.
  • When they made a mistake.
  • When they failed to communicate (as expected).
  • When they mismanage and run out of time (in class).

What do you tolerate in you that you wouldn’t tolerate in a student?

Conclusion

Dying to bring life is simple, not simplistic. There are qualifications, sure. I’m not arguing for a Montessori pedagogy, or that teachers never hold their students responsible. But we ought to be holding them to the standard when it is more, or at least equally, costly for us.

The gospel affects more than our content, it affects our methods. The gods of men demand sacrifices from men, and the system is rigged. The God of men sacrificed Himself, in Christ, for men, and the salvation is by grace. In most cases you are bigger, stronger, and smarter than your students. That means you could bully them, but it also means that you are equipped to sacrifice for them in powerful ways, not that you are equipped to lord it over them. That is the way of the Gentiles. When it comes to dying, it should be me first. That is some lesson.

Death isn’t just okay, it is the way of authority and glory. If sacrifice is glory, which it was for Jesus, then we reflect glory in the timely sacrificing of our lesson plans, our homework plans, etc.

As Julius Campbell told Gerry Bertier in “Remember the Titans”:

Campbell: You been doing your job?
Bertier: I’ve been doing my job.
Campbell: Then why don’t you tell your white buddies to block for Rev better? Because they have not blocked for him worth a plug nickel, and you know it! Nobody plays. Yourself included. I’m supposed to wear myself out for the team? What team? Nah, nah what I’m gonna do is look out for myself and I’ma get mine.
Bertier: See man, that’s the worst attitude I ever heard.
Campbell: Attitude reflects leadership, captain.

  1. I really hoped for a particular audience response at this point, and I totally got it. A lady in the front row let out a snort loud enough for the whole room to hear. I couldn’t have scripted it better.