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Combing Hair at Thermopylae

These were the notes from my talk for the ECS Fundraising Feast at the beginning of May.


On the first day Evangel Classical School met for classes I read the following quote from C. S. Lewis during my convocation address.

If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.

I had seen that quote in a few places, most applicably on the back cover of a book about classical Christian education. I quoted it to comfort those of us with more butterflies than boldness. It’s similar to the panic a rookie teacher might feel upon opening a fresh box of dry erase markers to find that none of them came with caps; would we open a school only to squeak out a faint mark? Our circumstances, while certainly not the worst they could have been, were not favorable. We were far from bouquets of newly sharpened pencils, or even from knowing which brand of pencil sharpener would survive for more than a week. We aspired to this noble task, though having more zeal than knowledge doesn’t always work out so well. We all know more than we did then—thank God—and that includes knowing that classical Christian education is an indispensable burden. We want it even more badly now.

Since that opening of opening days I have read Lewis’ quote in its native paragraph. He used those lines in an address titled “Learning in Wartime.” You can find it for free online or in a collection of Lewis’ articles called The Weight of Glory.

In his address Lewis raised and replied to a question about the legitimacy of study—especially study of the liberal arts—while in the middle of a war. It was October, 1939, and World War II was less than two months old. From the location of Lewis’ lectern in Oxford, England, his listeners were more than academically concerned.

[Every student] must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or to hell to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything.

Lewis argued from the greater to the lesser. He showed that Christians believe that death is always only one step away and that Heaven or hell await. A war reminds us of our upcoming death but it does nothing to increase the chance of our death. We have always been going to die.

The vital question is not whether learning in wartime is defensible but whether learning during any of our time on earth is. If teachers can, if teachers should, sow seed in the scholastic field with eternal reward or eternal punishment on the other side of the fence, then teaching and learning is appropriate when nations fight over a portion of the field.

Lewis observed that God gave men an appetite for knowledge and beauty. Want of security has never stopped the search, otherwise “the search would never have begun.” Instead,

[Men] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.

God didn’t make tastes and give men tongues to make them feel guilty for not caring about eternity. He made tastes for tongues so that we would eat and drink what “God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” The apostle Paul figured that Christians would go to dinner parties, sometimes dinner parties thrown by pagans. He didn’t instruct the Christians what to say, he told them what to put on their plate. If there’s a way to hunger for barbecue “to the glory of God,” then certainly there’s a God-honoring way to hunger for knowledge.

Lewis concluded that, not only is the pursuit of knowledge before Heaven and hell permitted, it is mandatory. God doesn’t concede study to us, He commands it. God gifts some to study more deeply but He calls every image-bearer to study devotionally. That is, our reading of both of God’s books—the world and the Bible—should increase our devotion to God. English homework and ethical holiness don’t compete against each other, they inform and activate one another.

The Lord’s commission requires us to make more than converts who profess faith. We are to make disciples who practice faith, here and now, on earth. “Disciple” is not even a good English word. It is a Latin word sounded out for English. The Latin word is discipulus which means student, learner. It’s exactly what the Greek word mathetes means in Matthew 28.

Jesus said, “Teach [disciples] to observe all that I have commanded you.” God made us to be, then saved us to be, then train others to be certain kinds of persons. He created and redeemed us to live a certain way. It is to live—whether thinking, talking, reading, writing, painting, working, playing, buying, selling, mowing, weeding, cooking, cleaning—in such a way that acknowledges Jesus is Lord. This is our confession, something we say. It is also our obsession, something we embody.

Jesus created all things. “Without Him was not any thing made that was made.” Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of His power.” He delights to keep gravity pulling and goats skipping and planets spinning. All true science is the Lord’s; insects and volcanoes and circus animals. He rules over every nation, “having determined allowed periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” and presidents and trending political hashtags on Twitter. Languages? He is the Word. Numbers and physics and formulas, musical notes and Picardy thirds, logic and literature are all from Him and through Him and to Him.

Great are the works of the LORD,
studied by all who delight in them.
(Psalm 111:2)

We cannot imagine anything lawful that cannot be studied and appreciated and used for His lordship. Imagination itself ought to be sanctified and put to His service. So Lewis said,

[H]uman culture is [not] an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we.

Everything we do that is done “as to the Lord” is received by the Lord.

None of the above requires a school per se, but this life of discipleship is not different from classical Christian enculturation. We received a way of life under Christ’s lordship and we seek to pass that on. There is a way to talk to adults that pleases Christ, a way to dress, a way to respond when someone kicks a soccer ball in your face, a way to listen and match pitch with the person standing next to you. A school like ECS promotes such a culture.

But the circumstances are not favorable. It used to be that the government legislated the height of the drinking fountain outside the bathrooms, now the government claims authority over who can go into each bathroom. The government, though, is not the biggest problem. Fear and distraction within the church trump all that is outside. Christians have forgotten the cost of discipleship. Christians have dared anyone to make them think, or read, or pay, or die. Troubling things have happened in the shire, not while we were off fighting wizards and orcs and evil, but while we were watching Netflix.

Friends of ECS, you have given us your evening. A team of servants have worked to give you a feast of tastes and sounds and sights. And yet all of us must give up much more. We must give up our lives and “get down to our work.” Hannibal wanted to beat Rome so badly he took elephants over the Alps in winter. The cause of Christ is greater than that of Carthage, and more difficult.

We work “while the conditions are still unfavourable.” We play soccer during recess on a parking lot, but we are thankful that it’s not on a gravel driveway (like we used to). Our part time teachers do not teach for the money, which is good, because we only have baby carrots to dangle in front of them. Many families want this enculturation for their kids but cannot afford it. We have not turned anyone away for financial reasons yet, but we would like for that to always be true.

We have more things to be thankful for than to complain about. God has already grown great fruit in such a young and tiny orchard. Favorable conditions may never come, but we ask some of you to join us, some others to come further up and further in, and some to be encouraged that “in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.”

Eat, drink, laugh, learn, and give heartily as for the Lord and not for men even without favorable conditions.

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Bring Them Up

The Red-Blooded Trivium

I gave the following talk at the end of February for the Information Night at Evangel Classical School. If you’d prefer to watch the talk instead of read it, I won’t be offended.


How would you describe most modern education? A lot of parents and professionals (and employers) agree that there is a crisis, but there is little agreement on the cause or the cure. So many students graduate from high school with pale interests, foggy thinking, and sickly convictions. If they could stand up, they wouldn’t know where to stand. They have educational anemia.

I recently had the opportunity to learn about anemia, its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Due to a yet-to-be-identified source of internal bleeding, I hemorrhaged too much blood to sit up, let alone stand or walk around. Every time I tried to get vertical my blood pressure dropped and my heart rate doubled trying to compensate for the loss in volume and decrease in red blood cells.

That’s anemia: a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the body parts and, if the body doesn’t get oxygen, it shuts down. My body gave up, including my brain.

As I said, I couldn’t stay upright, I had almost no energy, I processed questions as quick as a cement truck, and, as my oldest daughter described, I was “as white as a new pair of tights.” Peaked, numb, and weak, like the typical college freshman.

To treat anemia, first you need to stop the bleeding. I’d say the biggest cause of educational bleeding is teachers telling, or acting like, none of it really matters. If everything in the universe came from nothing and moves with no personal purpose, then it doesn’t matter. At ECS we believe that Jesus is Lord, that by Him all things were created, that He’s invested and interested in it all. He gave it to us as a gift, to receive with thanks, to study, and to use for good as a reflection of Him. Nothing is neutral, nothing is useless. There’s a bigger reason to be at school than standardized testing.

Once the bleeding stops, though, there’s still more required to return to health. I’ve learned that in order to replenish red blood cells, the body needs iron. But the body doesn’t doesn’t provide it’s own, it must get it from the outside. There is a breathtaking variety of iron sources: beef, chicken, turkey, shellfish, broccoli, sweet peas, tomatoes, lima beans, potatoes, green beans, leafy greens, beets, and cabbage. There’s no reason just to swallow a pill.

To make educational blood cells we need the iron facts. Think of iron like grammar, the building blocks of learning. Grammar is the first stage of the Trivium and takes place during the early grades. Students are taught math facts, English jingles, characters of history, scientific data, Latin chants, and Bible stories. It doesn’t have to be bland or stale. We feed it to them in songs and sound-offs, reenactments, toga days, and coloring pages.

“Boredom is not neutral–it is the fertilizing principal of unloveliness.”

—Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

It takes a lot of work to take in all God has given us to enjoy and use. It’s work, it can be fun, but it certainly isn’t boring. We’re feeding students with the loveliness of God in His world and work.

Around the transition to Junior High comes the transition to the second stage, the Dialectic or Logic stage. We might say this is when the red blood cells are formed and readied to carry the load of oxygen. The Logic stage includes formal logic, how to mind one’s Ps and Qs, how to distinguish donkeys and elephants. (Imagine how helpful this would be to a voting populace.) We encourage them to investigate apparent contradictions and difficulties. We expose them to different opinions and train them to love the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the lovely, and the excellent.

Then the final stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage. They take the facts, fit them together, and present them with persuasion. Though they’ve already been writing by this time, now they are polishing papers as well as unscripted presentations. They are ready to stand, ready to take a stand, ready to run. But unlike the empty bombast of so many cultural talking heads, our students talk with lifeblood.

So we get students to soak up truth, sort out arguments, and speak with heart, stamina, and backbone. They stand upright in a bent culture. It takes a lot of work to treat educational anemia. They are not just ready for more learning, they are ready to bear God’s image in their generation. They’re not just surviving on Doritos and Mountain Dew, they have a life.

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Bring Them Up

The Forgotten Planet

Here’s a short story I told the students for the ECS year-end assembly.


On the day before the very first summer break, the planets talked about their plans for the next three months. There were eight planets in the class, and their names were: Sol, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Luna, Mercury, and Venus. (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto weren’t old enough for school yet, though they had finished Kinder Prep and were enrolled for the Fall.) If you were counting, you may be wondering about the one planet still unnamed. Her name was Amy, and this is the sad story about why no one knows about Amy anymore.

In another classroom down the hall, some of the stars were taking about getting away from the city and out into the woods where there was a lot more space. Next to them, many of the moons moaned about being assigned a planet to follow around and longed to be off on their own. Most of them were still too young to understand the gravity of the situation. A few meteors hoped to form a rock band.

Back in room 1543 almost all of the planets were excited to take their turn telling about their future intentions. All of them, that is, except Amy.

Sol went first. He was always trying to outshine the others. He said, “Every morning I’m planning to get up and run. I mapped a course that only the strongest can enjoy. Once I finish my run, I’ve got my eye on some little seeds that need a tutor. They need to be knee-high by the 4th of July, and I can help them as long as the clouds don’t get in my way. I’ve also been invited to a bunch of pool parties, family reunions, and camping trips. It’s going to be busy. I just hope I don’t burn out.”

Amy could not have been less impressed. She never appreciated that Sol acted like the universe revolved around him.

Mars raised his hand next. “I’m planning to play a lot of golf. I just got a new set of woods and irons, and I’m dying to try them out. My teammates and I, Phobos and Deimos, have been having some astronomical battles, so it should be fun.”

Amy thought to herself, “What a waste! Playing games all day? He might as well sit around and eat candy bars, too.”

Big Jupiter laughed like friendly thunder. “This summer is shaping up like a prince for me. I’m going to organize a canned food drive, and every Thursday we’re going to make a huge dinner for the homeless. Not everyone has great fortune like we do, so it’s good for us to give something back, you know?”

“Why would you give your stuff or your time to others?” Amy asked. Jupiter laughed again and said, “At least I won’t be too celestial minded to be any earthly good.”

Saturn said sadly, “There is never enough time. By the time I’ve penciled out my to-do list, summer break will be done. The whole thing is going to be a disaster. All you other planets will run rings around me. I really need to give some thought to this before it makes me sick.”

“What an Eeyore,” thought Amy.

Luna had been reflecting on all the previous plans, especially from Sol. She new she’d go mad if she didn’t work and make some money, and was looking forward to her graveyard shift job at the lake. She did wonder if it would mess up her cycle, but the silver lining was that she’d have plenty of time to hang with her friends at high tide.

Mercury said that he had a lot of people he wanted to write to, and might even start his own novel. He also hoped to study at least one new language. “And don’t forget about reading bingo; keeping track of all the books will be fun.”

Venus, who was one of the older planets in the class, said she was planning to surf a couple online dating sites. Some of the other planets laughed. Of course Jupiter did, and his face turned a little red.

There was only one more to go, and all the planets spun to look at Amy. She was thinking that she thought every other planet was stupid. She was thinking that she just wanted class to be over. She was thinking that thinking was hard. She was thinking…meh.

The teacher asked the question again in case Amy had forgot. “What are your plans for the summer? Are you going anywhere special? Doing anything in particular?”

And Amy said, “No.” (She would have said, “Huh?” if she had been a junior high planet, but she wasn’t.)

The teacher asked again. “There’s really nothing that you want to do?”

Amy said, “Why would I? This is supposed to be summer break, not summer “bust-my-behind.” This is time for vacation, not vocation. I have the rest of my life to work. My only aim is to do as little as possible.”

And this is why you’ve never heard of Amy. She lost her way that first summer break and never made it back to school. Every planet doesn’t need to follow the same course, but an aimless summer is out of place on our planet. Consider how to expand your sphere of influence, and model your plans around those who are determined to do great things. Don’t be like Amy.

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Making a Contribution

I had a roommate in college who loved to play SimCity. Even though I’ve never been a huge video game sort of guy, he let me play every so often and it was strangely fascinating. At that time, SimCity was a fairly new game without the niche variations available today.

“Sim” in SimCity stands for “simulation.” It means to imitate or make a computer model of something. The goal of the game is to build a thriving city, keeping digital citizens happy and maintaining a stable budget. You, as mayor, start with a given amount of capital and you choose where and what to build. You need transportation (roads, railroads, airports), power companies, stores, schools, and homes for all the people. As the population grows, you also need an adequate amount of police stations and hospitals to keep people safe and healthy. Even in the two-dimensional world, without the complexities of personalities, it gave a bit of appreciate for the challenges of setting up a society.

Unlike SimCity we live in the world where your thumb hurts if you hit it with a hammer, not because you smashed the controller buttons too many times. Here there are life and death consequences without a reset or reboot. Even more unlike SimCity, we are not the architects of humanity, we’re not city mayors or presidents, and certainly we are not God. We do not get to make all the decisions even if we thought we knew all the ways to guarantee a glorious future.

However, even though we don’t get to be the boss, we are all called to build. We don’t get to start with a full back account and open fields, but we do get to invent and design and fix and remodel and renovate. We are cultural construction workers. We’re not building in order to make it nice for Jesus when He returns. We’re building because this is what Jesus made us to do.

As we start our fourth year of Evangel Classical School, I want to remind us who we are, what we’re trying to do, what we’re up against, and why we work hard with humility and laughter.

You are the imago Dei, the image of God. Each one of you, students, parents, and teachers are mirrors of God Himself. God revealed our reflective nature in the story of creation. According to Genesis 1 He made a world for men and then He made men to be makers in the world. Dorothy Sayers wrote the following 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 reason you color, cut and paste, write and paint, sing and dance, is because the creative impulse beats in your chest. At some point drawings are not only art for the front of the refrigerator, they become blueprints for better refrigerators. You cut paper made from trees and later you cut trees to make paper. You sing tenor in the school choir and then someday you give your report on the city council; both are better when you contribute your part.

God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and take dominion. What He had made was great and yet He wanted them to make more great things. God made little makers with minds and hands. You bear God’s creative glory as you create.

ECS exists to equip and encourage culture creators, or at least culture contributors. It takes faith to see how a kindergartner chanting phonogram jingles could one day write a novel that shapes the thinking of generations better than Virgil’s Aeneid. But phonemes become graphemes via penmanship which turns into published books. You will learn names and dates and places, not only so that you can rule at Trivial Pursuit (which you could), or even so that you can be thankful for the good foundation we stand on (which you should), but also so that you would want to do your part in these days in this place.

Not only can we honor Christ in our work, we must work if we want to honor Him. We’re made to make.

Again, we don’t reign on earth as sovereign kings and queens, but we are poets and plumbers and pilots and parents. We do flavor and preserve and influence and shape the world. If you want to be a Christian doctor or nurse, we want you to know the skeletal, muscular, nervous, sensory, reproductive, digestive, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and endocrine systems. We also want you to know in your bones that God loves life. If you want to be a Christian lawyer–and why wouldn’t you?–we want you to know the true law, to love righteousness and hate evil. If you want to start a business or write books or build buildings, then believe that God is pleased with those who do such culture construction.

It is true, however, that all image-bearers are also the bearers of bad news. We are all mirrors of God’s glory, but we are also all broken mirrors due to sin. Sin is what ruins our plans and spoils our relationships. You will, at some point, prefer laziness to labor. You will choose to be angry with a classmate who disagrees with you, or a teacher who corrects you, rather than serve or learn. You will seek to grab rather than contribute. This happens because of sin. The reason the world is so messed up is because of sin.

But we have a Savior. It is of first importance that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. This is the evangel. He saves us and is sanctifying us to be like Him, which includes enjoying and using all the things He has made. Math? He created the problems. Logic? He is the Logos. Poetry? His invented language and lovers and flowers and rhyme and rhythm. Biology, history, Engrade, recess soccer? He is Lord over them all.

One more thing. ECS is a training ground for cultural contributors. You will (hopefully) bear much fruit after you graduate. But you are also creating now. Working hard is never wasted. Loving one another now is loving one another. Confessing rather than covering sin is building, not destroying. The stakes are high, the Savior is great, the new school year is here. It’s not a simulation game. Let’s get to work.


These were my notes from the ECS convocation assembly.

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More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.


If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

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Every Lesson Is a Gift

What is missing most in most education? For me, my public schooling was more like a week-old donut hole: bite-size, dry, and missing much of the context. I missed many great books, in part because I didn’t read what I was assigned and in part because significant others weren’t assigned. I missed a definition of revolution and how our war against the British wasn’t properly one. I missed logic–formal and in blue jeans. These are just samples. But what I missed most was teaching to thankfulness.

We learned things but we didn’t have anyone to thank. To be consistent with the materialistic, evolutionary worldview that drove what we did, learning shouldn’t have been fun, it was merely in order to survive and advance. But if God created all things and sustains them by His Word, then every page of every lesson and every fact on earth is a gift. That’s how to get kids excited. Unwrap the present that is parts of speech and scientific classification and counting by tens and A Tale of Two Cities and see the tag “From: God.”

This is the advantage of Christian education. The Christian God gives. More than blindfolding students from unrighteousness in the world, teachers at a Christian school work to open eyes to see God’s glory in the world. We give thanks for Christ and through Christ and to Christ. Not anything that was made was not made by Him. It’s all His. He rules it. He cares about it. He gives it to us to enjoy and use.

So Christian education is not only learning the Bible but also learning how to see all the things we have to be thankful for. (And perhaps learning how to not end sentences with prepositions. Or split infinitives.)

How do we get all of it in? We can’t. We’re finite. But what kid rejects a gift because it is too big for his hands? We try to get a hold of as much as we can, and the process we use at our school is the Trivium. Here is the advantage of classical education as it follows the “three ways.”

The Grammar stage is nonstop collecting, ubiquitous capture, building mental shelves and loading them. During the elementary years we teach the ABCs and 1+1s and Genesis one and Romans one and details about wars and who won. The students drink up as much as possible from the ocean of knowable things. But it tastes sweet because it’s gift for which we can be grateful. The 10 Commandments, Egyptian history, Latin declensions, math investigations, Narnia, these are all notes and lyrics and parts for our songs.

At this age, one readily…rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things. (Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”)

For example, this year our grammar students in Bible class are learning a ten minute song from Genesis to Joshua that includes events and dates and Bible chapter for the six days of creation, the call of Abraham, Joseph as a slave in Egypt, the plagues, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. Our kindergarten students are learning a rhyming rap about counting by tens. Our second year Latin students are translating Green Eggs and Ham (or Virent Ova! Viret Perna!). This is a lot of work, but it is not burdensome because we receive it as good from God.

Next comes the Logic stage, a phase that trains for attentive assessment. We do not often think of a junior higher as distinguished, but we can help him to be a distinguisher. Students learn formal logic, a thing to be thankful for itself, as a way to spot lies in what the world says to be thankful for (i.e., personal autonomy) and what the world says not to be thankful for (i.e., God’s laws). Students take the store of information they’ve collected and dissect it, debate over it, and come to some conclusions about thankfulness.

It will, doubtless, be objected that to encourage young persons at the Pert age to browbeat, correct, and argue with their elders will render them perfectly intolerable. My answer is that children of that age are intolerable anyhow; and that their natural argumentativeness may just as well be canalized to good purpose as allowed to run away into the sands. (Sayers)

The Rhetoric stage is persuasive presentation, not learning to dress up like an insincere salesmen but rather learning to adorn the truth and win others to thankfulness for it. Not only can students avoid being manipulated by advertisers and media propaganda, they can articulate the truth better.

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
(Proverbs 16:23)

This year our older students have read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and others to see what rhetoric looks like driving down the road. We recently read The Communist Manifesto and observed how it argued for a worldview of envy, not thankfulness.

Is this classical approach to education (the Trivium) particularly Christian? It is when it runs on the energy of gratitude and to the goal of gratitude. That said, we acknowledge that unbelievers can and do learn and teach many things. We even know how that’s possible.

Common grace is what happens when God allows non-believers to participate in and enjoy that which could not be true if their view of the universe were true. Common grace is the blessing that results when God allows non-believers to be inconsistent. (Doug Wilson, Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education)

Non-Christians can give thanks, but they can’t give thanks consistently. And Christians can only give thanks consistently because of the evangel (a great name for a school). The gospel frees us from discontent and opens our eyes to see God. We are thankful for open eyes, and we are thankful for all the things our now open eyes see that God has given.

Thankfulness keeps us sharp, always receiving (from God who doesn’t stop giving), always discerning (from the world who doesn’t stop lying, or from our own sin that keeps whining), and always declaring. Following the Trivium we learn how to keep learning, in particular, how to keep growing in our appreciation for truth, goodness, and beauty.

Classical Christian education isn’t a bore or a chore. It keeps kids interested because it’s all for them and shapes their loyalties to the Father of lights who gives every perfect gift. For that we can be thankful.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Lawless Laws

In the ECS Omnibus class we’ve recently been reading the foundational documents of the United States. We spent a few weeks reading and rereading the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution with all her Amendments. We just read and discussed some of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. And one of my take-aways so far, especially in light of our current regime, is that legislation becomes unruly when men will not take responsibility for themselves.

Take our economic regulations as an example. The law works when it penalizes men who won’t work. The law is in trouble when men who won’t work write laws to penalize those who are, or to cushion the lazy from their empty field come harvest time. Nothing good comes when the Have-nots write laws, or vote for lawmakers, to redistribute what the Haves have. The government arrives with the Sheriff of Nottingham’s gun but wearing Robin Hood’s hat, or, if you prefer, carrying Goliath’s shaft and cloaked in Joseph’s jacket, passing out benefits and breaks for everyone, except for those they took from in the first place. It is selfish men legislating their lawless greed.

There are a few ways to learn to take responsibility, but perhaps the most vital place where we learn not to blame others for our problems is when we come to confess our sin. We do not look to rewrite the Law. We submit and admit that we have disobeyed God. We also look for a Savior, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We know we aren’t entitled to help, but we come for His grace.

The only way that men will be free under the law is when they are free from their lusts. Otherwise we will keep expecting others to fix our issues without bothering to acknowledge that they are our issues. A society of irresponsible blame-shifting citizens will self-destruct; we see the cookie crumbling today. Christian politics starts with worship and recognizing our responsibility to God and our responsibility for our sins. We will know that God is acting when, like He promised to Israel, His Spirit causes us to remember our evil ways, and our deeds that were not good, and we loathe ourselves for our iniquities and abominations (Ezekiel 36:31).

Categories
Bring Them Up

The Door

I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.


This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.

Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.

The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.

Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?

I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.

I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?

It’s that one. [Ed. Note: Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit.]

“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.

The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.

G. K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)

This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.

In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,

A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)

The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.

When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)

He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that

says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)

The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)

God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.

You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?

May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.

Categories
Bring Them Up

A Good Egg

I gave the following address at our school’s fundraising dinner last Saturday night.


It’s been said that a man shouldn’t put all his eggs in one basket. That assumes, really, that all your eggs are of equal value. Putting a bunch of unremarkable eggs into a bunch of baskets diversifies a portfolio of unremarkable investments.

But what if you found the egg? What if you found the treasure of all eggs? What would you do to secure it for yourself? How much would you be willing to spend to make it yours? Would you still prefer multiple baskets of low-budget eggs rather than owning one of ultimate value?

Once upon a time a young man was working in a field. As he drove his ox into a far corner one summer afternoon, the plow hit something hard. He didn’t find an egg, he found a nest egg. He unearthed years of dirt from a box full of some families’ future, buried by them long ago to protect their fortune. He could hardly believe it. Here was treasure enough for generations. He quickly recovered the trunk and ran for home.

Early the next morning he pursued the purchase of the entire field. The asking price was a number too large to fit in his financial books. What would he do?

Jesus told a one-verse-long version of this story that Matthew recorded for us.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44, ESV)

Different sources provide conflicting positions, but it seems that the law usually gave ownership to the finder. In this situation, however, the finder may have been an employee of the landowner. He may have been concerned that his boss, the owner of the field, would also claim ownership of the treasure. In order to close every loophole and leave no legal doubt, the finder sold everything he had in order to buy the field.

He had to liquidate his assets, which must have taken some time. As the days passed and others watched him sell off all his possessions, I wonder if anyone counseled him against it, or if anyone else criticized his foolishness. To most it must have appeared that he had no idea what he was doing, though it was their evaluation that was uninformed. The investment demanded everything and yet what he gave up was nothing compared to what he got in return.

Likewise, when the true treasure of the kingdom of heaven is found, that value surpasses the price of any sacrifice. Turns out that not all eggs are of equal value.

Classical Christian education is not the same thing as the kingdom of heaven, but it is part of it. The kingdom of heaven isn’t only a personal relationship with Jesus, it is new life in a new community under new management. At Evangel Classical School we are trying to enculturate (pass on a culture) at each stage of our student’s development so that they can love the King, serve the King, and represent the King in everything they do. His kingdom is everywhere. Jesus rules over more than Bible class and personal quiet times. He owns everything. He has vested interest in how we work, create, dress, play, sing, and sweat. He cares about how we interact with our neighbors and with other nations. Everything in life takes its cue from who is King.

Much has been made in the church about worship wars, fights among Christians about song styles on Sunday mornings. Much has also been made by the church about culture wars, fights with non-Christians about what is acceptable, the morals our society is supposed to agree to abide by. But really, all of it is a worship war and every school is a worship center.

G.K. Chesterton summed it up simply:

We have a general view of existence, whether we like it or not; it alters or, to speak more accurately, it creates and involves everything we say or do, whether we like it or not. (Heretics, 132)

In our inescapable “general view of existence,” what God will be recognized? What God/god gets credit for math, history, science, English, art? The nameless god of the state? The great god of the mirror, Humanism? Or the Lord Jesus Christ? Who gets the worship?

The treasure is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven involves life in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ. Purchasing the field isn’t referring to the price of salvation but rather about the cost of discipleship. That discipleship affects every facet of our lives: how we vote, how we write poetry, how we tell stories, how we relate.

The government schools want to define the treasure and regulate how we walk in the field and police what height we bolt our drinking fountains to the wall. They tell us that the treasure is naturalism; science and technology and opposable thumbs answer all of life’s questions. Other education experts say that there is no treasure, or that everyone’s treasure is the same. And whatever you do, please don’t use red pen to mark wrong answers. It might hurt someone’s feelings.

But we Christians know the Creator of the stuff, and it is wrong not to acknowledge Him all the time. We know the God who makes and sustains and liberates. We know the One in whom all things hold together, the One who gives meaning to flesh and blood life on earth. Knowing Him and living in His kingdom is treasure.

The work is not first about educating our kids, or changing our country, but honoring our King. It costs us everything we have. And we don’t know how good we have it.

The school is like an owner’s group with families of believers pooling their resources to buy-in together to get the treasure. The treasure is the kingdom of heaven, and we want that glad worldview that sees everything under the good rule of our King.

This is what we’re doing week after week at ECS. The treasure is worth it. It is a joy to pursue it, but the field costs more than we can afford. The treasure (again, living consciously as the King’s servants and stewards) will shape generations. It will pay for itself, but not immediately and not necessarily in dollars. While trying to keep tuition as affordable as possible for as many as possible, we have asked our teachers–especially our part-time teachers–to work for little pay, though hopefully great reward. Each teacher and parent is giving what he or she has for sake of the treasure.

Time, tears, training, jump ropes, prayers, reading, more reading, more tears, and dollars, are going into this purchase. Would you consider helping us? This is a treasure for you, too. This treasure will serve children and parents and grandchildren and grandparents and neighbors and churches and business owners and mayors and more for years. Again, we could use your help.

Don’t take tonight’s word for it. Come and visit. Pick up a book on what it is exactly that we’re trying to put into place, the part of the treasure we’re referring to. Do all the above and then consider a monetary investment so that we can share the treasure with more families, so that we can get the field in order.

This is–when we can catch our breath for a second–our joy. It is the point of the parable (as well as the point of the pearl of greatest price next door in verses 45-46): when you find what is most valuable, giving up everything is gladness to get it. Discipleship in the kingdom of heaven is worth all our lives.

Unlike the parable, we aren’t concealing the treasure, we’re advertising it. We aren’t keeping the treasure for ourselves, we want more people to have it. This isn’t an individual betterment, it is for the community.

We are not asking for you to give so that we won’t have to. It is our joy to sell what we have to buy the field. So as I say, we are not asking you to fund in our place, we are asking you to join us in the joy. This is one egg that’s worth it.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Defining Gifts

I told the following story for our school assembly last Thursday afternoon.


Once upon time there was a boy named Ben Levite. Ben’s father, Jamin, was a scribe by trade. He worked long before computers or typewriters when every book was written by hand, including God’s Law. Ben’s dad enjoyed his job and took his job seriously because he didn’t want to make any mistakes with Scripture.

Ben loved that his dad had such a uncommon and privileged career. Most of Ben’s friends had dads who farmed or shepherded. Some of his friends’ fathers were soldiers in the King’s army, others worked at the palace cooking or in construction. A few of Ben’s cousins had dads who were priests. But Ben took pride in telling others what his dad did.

Copying the law was hard labor. Guiding an ox to plow a straight line in rocky soil takes one kind of strength and determination, but constant focus on jots (dots, small letters such as the Greek iota) and tittles (serifs or an small accent marks) takes all of another kind of muscle and backbone. Scribes worked six days a week and many hours each day. When possible they worked near windows but most of the time they toiled with only the light from candles or oil lamps.

Sometimes the manuscripts they worked from were ragged or faded. Other times the manuscripts were in fine condition but the previous scribes’ penmanship looked like a Kindergarten phonogram test. The work was also very difficult because writing supplies were limited. Papyrus (a sort of paper made out of plants) was not always available and papyrus (a thin material made out of animal skin) was very expensive. Because of these things, most writers used all the space possible and left very little margin. In Ben’s dad’s day the scribes used no punctuation; they didn’t even use spaces between words so that they could save room for more letters. All the sentences ran together making it easy to skip a letter, or words, or accidentally add extra ones.

The work also involved copying from scroll to scroll. Books with spines and numbered pages hadn’t been invented yet. So letter by letter, line by line, scribes paid close attention as they carefully, repetitively dipped pen in ink and stroked out a new copy.

Ben appreciated his dad’s diligence. Going to synagogue services each Sabbath he knew that the priest read from his dad’s handiwork. Most nights at dinner Jamin would tell the family stories from the section of Scripture he had transcribed that day. Ben heard the stories of Joseph in jail due to Potiphar’s lying wife, of Moses leading the people through the Red Sea out of Egypt, of David and Goliath, and of Daniel and the lions’ den. Many dads told their kids about the Passover, but few had read it for themselves in the ancient scrolls.

Ben’s family threw him a party for his 13th birthday. Many family traveled from out of town and all his neighbors came. When the evening was almost over Ben’s dad brought out one final present. Ben quickly untied the string and unwrapped the cloth covering. He could hardly believe what he held in his hands: his very own copy of “Solomon’s Book of Wisdom” (what we know as Proverbs). Ben’s dad had been saving since Ben was born to buy extra scraps of parchment and stayed a little longer at work a couple evenings each week to copy this special edition as a gift. He gave Ben something even he didn’t have himself.

Jamin gave his son a treasure. He also gave his son something transformative. Jamin knew that the word makes a young man wise. The word protects a man’s steps. The word strengthens a man’s hands. The word rejoices a man’s heart. The word lights a man’s path. Ben had been given a gift that would change his life. The whole community would know about this present. They would also see the effects of the book in his life.

Solomon described a similar gift in the first chapter of Proverbs:

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
and pendants for your neck.
(Proverbs 1:8–9, ESV)

The “garland” and “pendant” (or necklace) were symbols of health and prosperity. They were treasures worn, gifts from parents that adorned their kids. Solomon says listening to instruction and obeying teaching make a son look good. They are visible signs that your parents sacrificed to get you something expensive.

In our day, we do not need to handwrite copies of God’s Word to give to our kids. Buying Bibles is easy for us, and many of you will have multiple translations on your phones. Maybe some day your watches will shine holograms of the text in 3-D images. But all your parents and teachers are working hard to give you a great present just like Ben.

Ben’s copy of Proverbs was a costly gift. Your education at ECS is also, paid for with dollars, time, energy, and sacrifices. Your parents are working diligently, and most of the time with happy hearts, to give you something great, something more precious and more apparent then jewelry. We hope that one day you will graduate and that your worship of God will be obvious to the world. We are not copying literal pages of the Bible but we are copying Latin worksheets, science sound-offs, and teaching models for you to have. We are learning songs with you, singing Psalms with you, and stitching raggants onto sweaters for you.

All of this is to make you look good. We want you to listen (hear instruction) and obey (forsake not teaching) your parents (and the teachers your parents partner with). Then your life will be decorated with the gifts of wisdom and God’s blessing.