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Every Thumb's Width

Marysville Sun

In the spirit of starting somewhere, I finally followed up on this post. Instead of Standard I decided to go with Sun, because it has obvious metaphorical value AND because it seems like a playful acknowledgment that in Marysville’s geographical/meteorological condition, we really would like more sun.

I now own the digital property at marysvillesun.com but there’s no building there yet.

And actually, I decided to try Substack for a 1.0 version. A weekly newsletter seems right, and Substack makes subscribing and eventual paid subscriptions easy. There’s just a Coming soon there now, but nothing is stopping you from subscribing today. 🙂

Subscribe here!

There’s also a new Twitter account if that’s your thing.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

A New Standard

I’ve been thinking again about starting a newspaper (or a newsapp) for Marysville.

It’s an idea and conversation I’ve had before, but at that time there was the “Marysville Globe.” According to Wikipedia the paper was established in 1891. That was even before the internet. For the two decades I’ve lived in Marysville it was the only local paper I knew about. It’s also the local paper I rarely read due to the less than scintillating copy. It might have been bad, but at least it was ours.

Sometime in the last year or so it disappeared. The url – www.MarysvilleGlobe.com – redirects to the Everett Herald. Bleh. There’s just an archive of the Globe available now.

Which means we’ve got a real opportunity and zero current competition.

There’s a fantastic book called, Rules for Reformers. It focuses on place rather than media, but one of the principles is finding a city that is both strategic and feasible. It is a place that matters and is also a place that can be taken. A “paper,” so-called,” isn’t a city, but it is a source of information and perspective that could really start a fire.

So what if we started a paper that was Local first, State second, Nation next?

What if we loved our city in a way that brought out more of its loveliness?

What if we provided a biblical perspective on what’s happening among and around us, re-presented our Constitutional liberties to our fellow citizens, and pushed our local magistrates to remember their authority and responsibilities to protect us against so much tyrannical overreach coming from the “power” cities of our State?

What if we celebrated our local businesses – where you could enjoy coffee and beer and more – and promoted entrepreneurial opportunities?

What if we highlighted the ridiculousness of some of the official positions in our public schools, and also highlighted some of the other educational movements that are actually awake to the deadly dreams of the woke?

What if we connected churches, not to be under the same roof, but to build a better culture on behalf of the same Lord?

What if we acknowledged that Jesus is the Lord (Romans 10:9), that He is before all things and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 17), that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and that we will give an account for everything to Him (Hebrews 4:13)?

So what if we called this venture The Marysville Standard? A friend of mine started working with this name a couple years ago. That name might remind us that we are under a (transcendent, eternal) standard, it could urge us to set a new standard for local news and editorials, and it respectfully recalls the name of the paper Abraham Kuyper started in Holland, De Standaard, the same guy who said that Jesus claims lordship over every thumb’s-width in the domain of human existence. That includes Marysville.

Let me know what you think, if the juice would be worth the squeeze, how you could help.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Local Fruit

Maybe you’ve been waiting for the nine-weeks of word study to begin. There are nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit, and they could all get individual attention, but I don’t plan to go one-by-one, week-by-week. Keep them all in mind: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Peeling back the fruit metaphor is constructive, and some of the contrasts are as helpful as anything. Unlike physical fruit, we look for continual harvest from Spirit. Consider, though, an ironic resemblance: like physical fruit we should look for physical Spirit-fruit. Let the fruit of the Spirit be embodied and earthy.

It’s ironic, right? The Spirit’s work affects our internals and our externals. The Spirit starts in the heart, but what’s in the heart always eventually comes out. In Galatians 5, the fleshly bite and devour one another. Immorality and strife and anger and envy and drunkenness are not only personal, they are relational, cultural.

So love isn’t just for me. Self-control is of self for the benefit of more than one-self. Patience, kindness, gentleness are only as good as they are not private. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t limited like a little plant in a terra-cotta pot on the kitchen window shelf.

This series of exhortations isn’t only so that you will think about being spiritual, but so that you will think about being spiritual in Marysville, and her Snohomish suburbs, being a destination for others to see a spiritual field. I get that red states have an appeal, but we are committed to a spiritual community. Such a spiritual state is embodied by families, businesses, schools. The fruit of the Spirit is local, tangible, jealousable. Let us double-down on living by the Spirit, not relocating.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Why “Comeford” College?

I don’t remember the first time I thought about the possibility of starting a college in Marysville, but as the years passed and conversations happened and then a committee was formed, the question of what to name a college became more pressing. I mean, how could we have a Facebook page without a name?

We talked a lot about it at home. I didn’t doodle a bunch of names on the back of a notebook, but I do have a text file with over a dozen options. Once the committee was called to decide if we should start something, and that decision was affirmed, we spent a few months brainstorming and collecting and criticizing our ideas.

Something with “Kuyper” certainly seemed appropriate. The work of Abraham Kuyper has been especially helpful in knocking down dualism for our church and K-12 school community. Christ claims every college course just as much as every square inch in the universe. But, there’s already a Kuyper College.

The Comefords

We thought about something like the (New) Free College, since Kuyper started the Free University of Amsterdam. But in our day “free” refers to cost, not free from State control as it meant to Kuyper. How about a synonym for free, without the socialistic baggage? What about Liberty? Ah, right, I already went there.

We also love Marysville. We’re devoted to our city and want it to be a destination of sorts, which is part of the reason for starting a college. But, Marysville College or, The College of Marysville seemed like just about the least creative effort we could make. So then what about things Marysville is known for? Other than the homely fact of not having anything our own, the only historical highpoint is our water tower, and geographically we are near Mt. Pilchuck. “Water Tower College” was a dry run, and how many Pilchucks do we need? I suppose there is always “Premium Outlets College.”

Then one of our board members did some digging into Marysville’s origin story. The founder of our city arrived in 1872, established the first hotel, the first store, the first post office, and started the first school. The best accounts say that he named the city after his wife, Maria. And his name was James P. Comeford.

That was it: Comeford College. We do have a local park called Comeford, and the water tower stands next to the park. But the name connects us to the city, to the city’s start, and to a man who started a number of things in the city.

Thus far we haven’t found any reason not to name the college after him; he apparently didn’t start the first brothel, or vape store, or casino. But again, we’re loving on where we’re from, and praying that this new institution will make Marysville even more lovely, more Kuyperian, and more educated.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Good Fences Make Good Students

I used these notes for my most recent Information Night address at ECS.

Maybe Robert Frost’s most popularly known poem is “The Road Less Taken,” but the title of my talk plays off a line from the poem, “Mending Wall.” A stone wall separating two farms in New England needs mending, and while they work one of the farmers questions if the work is really necessary. Twice the neighbor farmer says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Among other layers of meaning, we’re reminded that boundaries are a blessing. I know where myself and where my stuff belong, and so do you. A good wall, rather than create tension, enables neighborly trust, and trust enables fellowship.

When it comes to so much that poses as education today, the primary passion seems to be to break down every wall, to tear down all the fences, to demolish every boundary line, especially if it looks like someone is hiding their privilege. Modern education is a bulldozer in Prius clothing, driven by suspicion and doubt and envy.

Just last week WA State Democrats introduced House Bill 2184 to provide “comprehensive sexual health education” starting in 2022, which includes compulsory sex education for Kindergartners. A Comprehensive Sexual Health Education work group (CSHE) argues for starting so soon because the “social emotional needs of our youngest students must be addressed for prevention of future challenges.” On one hand there have always been sex assumptions for Kindergartners; Bill was a boy and Jill was a girl. Bill had the pocketknife, Jill had the butcher knife. No one had to teach students that there were two sexes, and it certainly wasn’t controversial. That was education with good fences, with the God-given (and naturally observed) distinctions: male and female. This is a truth, one of many truths in God’s creation, that are a blessing to those who leave the fence alone, or at least have two separate bathrooms.

The denials of male and female by many modern “educators” causes the opposite of education. That kind of curriculum isn’t transferring a body of knowledge, it questions knowledge about the body. It causes confusion, it raises doubts, and it grows fruitlessness. It is built on tearing down walls. The unwillingness to distinguish and celebrate and train toward strengths of the differences between male and female is just one example, but it is the sort that has other faces. How many politicians have recently said that “Abortion equals healthcare.” That is like saying “War is peace,” which George Orwell wrote in 1984. It’s how the Ministry of Truth trashed truth and rewrote history.

The only way for there to be liberty and justice is by acknowledging the fences of objective and fixed truth. For Christians, we have these walls because God made the world, and He made it knowable (not exhaustively but dependably), and He blesses those who receive His gifts, including the boundaries. What God has joined together let no man separate, and what God has separated (light from dark, day from night, male from female) let no man muddle up.

At ECS we see His gifts and we utilize the tools of classical education to help our students appreciate the fences and enjoy the gifts.

In the earlier stages, K-elementary school, we teach the facts about the alphabet and phonograms, about how letters make words (with proper spelling), about how words make sentences (with proper syntax). We still teach that 2 + 2 = 4, that triangles have three sides, that addition and multiplication share the associative property, that long division can be checked because it is not a guessing game. In classical education jargon this part of the Trivium is referred to as the Grammar stage, with grammar referring to the ABCs of each subject. Each piece of truth is like a brick in the wall. Gravity only works one way on earth, and that’s helpful to know and changes what you expect when you walk out the front door.

We aren’t creating robots, though there is a lot of repetition and reminders through songs and chants and catechisms and sound-offs. They may sound like parrots, but it’s fun, and it’s not filling their minds with the false.

As students mature, as they begin to see even more things for themselves than what their parents and teachers put in front of them, they start asking questions about how? things work together, or don’t. They start asking a lot of why? things are the way they are or aren’t, should or shouldn’t be. Our emphasis around the time of Junior High is in Logic, the second part of the Trivium, which includes training in formal logic and validity of argumentation. It also includes putting questions of worldview to Homer and Plato, to Beowulf and The Divine Comedy, and many other great books.

There are two problems with teaching students logic. One is that they can get critical of those who are sloppy or those who cheat when they argue; ideally, though, they are learning to sort out their own faulty thinking first. The biggest actual problem is that so many people today, including the talking heads on television and YouTube and Instagram, only care about how something makes them feel. Our students should be able to say that’s the Snowflake Fallacy. Or, narcissism.

Already at the Logic stage, but encouraged even more as they near the latter years of High School, we emphasize Rhetoric, presentation, beauty in art and artful writing and speaking and singing. It is possible to adorn a pig, but the truth can be adorned, too. Persuading others is not pummeling them, nor is it propaganda. It is the art of showing that the walls we live by are attractive.

We want to help make Marysville great again (#MMGA). We want to play a part in making Marysville a destination for Christians to worship and work and raise the next generation to carry and advance Christ honoring culture. That means that we need walls, and teachers, working beside parents, who maintain those walls. Good fences make good students.

I love this illustration by G. K. Chesterton near the end of his book, Orthodoxy:

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased. (p. 143)

It’s no wonder that so many students are having no fun; they have no safe place to play.

We live in a wild world, but not an imaginary one, and the walls of truth enable us to laugh and to learn; if you visit on a school day, you will hear how loud it is; our song has not ceased. Ironically, in our context, living with such walls makes our school offensive, not just as an annoyance but on the assault. Because we believe that Jesus is Lord over it all, we are outrageous. More than outrageous, we want you to consider ECS as a place that helps your students become outcourageous.

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Every Thumb's Width

A College

My wife and I moved to Marysville, WA, in the summer of 2001 as I took a job as a youth pastor. I loved almost everything about that job: the church body, the elders, the youth staff, and the junior high and high schoolers themselves. In the youth ministry I had freedom to study and teach whatever book of the Bible or theological subject that interested me. I got to lead, and to grow alongside, the other leaders as well as plan and lead events with them. Most of the parents were very supportive, and most of the students were very responsive. I thank God for His grace to me during those years.

The one thing that became a growing frustration was the expectation that students who could, should get out of Marysville. If they had enough academic or financial ability, or just the gumption, they should find somewhere to go that wasn’t here. Maybe it would be temporary, or maybe we would just see them when they visited for the holidays. This expectation was sometimes spoken and always felt.

Marysville is a small-ish city, and, I’m not sure that it’s ever had a stellar reputation. Even our outlet mall is named “Seattle Premium Outlets,” though Seattle is 35 miles south. Before we moved from the Los Angeles area, Mo was talking to someone familiar with Marysville who called it “the hell of Washington.” I still recall being driven down the main drag in Marysville for the first time and wondering how there could possibly be the need for so many auto parts stores.

But God puts us, He plants us, in the place He wants. If that place is lovely, He wants us to give thanks and be good stewards. If that place is less lovely, He still wants us to give thanks and then love the unlovely to greater loveliness.

In the 18+ years that we’ve lived in Marysville a lot has happened, to our family, our people, and our city. By His grace we are even more tied to them than ever.

The soil of these loyalties has been worked up by the tiller of Kuyperianism, which has also weeded out a lot of dualism. I’ve posted about Kuyper numerous times here, and have also been working on a site promoting the odd (for now), theological mutt of Kuyperian Dispensationalism. All that applies here because in our growing love for our people and our place, including our desire to see our children’s children be faithful disciples until Christ returns, we are trying to educate them to do all that they do in His name.

We started a K-12 school in 2012, and even before those doors were opened (in the basement of a farmhouse) I’ve had questions about what we would expect (and provide) for those students next. Were we really going to pour ourselves into sacrificial labors for 13 years to hand them a diploma and say, “Good job. That’s all we’ve got for you. Buh-bye!”?

There are some colleges that we like, but none that meet all our criteria. A precious few are Kuyperian, but I know of none that are Kuyperian (and understand it) and Premillenial. The higher education institutions that lean Dispy also lean dualist, lauding theology over the work of one’s hands instead of having theology about the work of one’s hands. To the degree that they educate about history and literature and math and econmics, it is inconsistent with the undergirding belief that it’s all just going to burn. Plus, even if there was a KuyperDispy college somewhere in the world, we live in (and love) Marysville. We at least want to provide an option for our students to stay and learn more and serve the church and possibly plant their families here. We want to make Marysville a destination, a place people love to be.

To that end we aim to start a college in the fall of 2020. It’s a nice round number, easy to remember in years to come. It also happens to be the year my oldest graduates from high school, as part of the largest class of seniors (a whopping seven) in our school’s existence.

The name is Comeford College, which I’ll need to explain more about another time. We’ve established a Board and a President, we’re investigating the long path toward possible accreditation, and we’ve started working through the scope and sequence of our courses.

A Christian college with a liberal arts flavor driven by Kuyperian weltanschauung is only one piece of loving our families and our city. We also need more local business owners/employers and vocational opportunities for our young people to be able to raise their own KuyperDispies. For today we’ve got no less work to do than we can imagine, and we’re trusting the Lord to take our small offering and bless the socks off our city.

If you want to know more, get in touch.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

At Insane Levels

Some of us are reading Dante’s Inferno again, the first third of his epic poem, in which a poet leads a Christian pilgrim through hell. As Virgil and Dante enter and then prepare to cross the first river of the underworld, the Acheron, Dante sees thousands of the wicked packed along the shore waiting to cross the darkened waters.

“They were cursing God, cursing their own parents, the human race, the time, the place, the seed of their beginning, and their day of birth.” (Canto III, lines 101-103)

The souls are eager for their judgment, while also refusing to take responsibility for their souls. They rage against reality, against all the good gifts God gave them in family, in the fellowship of other men, of their very birth and breath and existence.

Mankind are rebels; sin is rebellion against the Maker of man. As rebels we prefer to imagine that we can reject what God gives and create life as we want it to be. Our current culture is willing to lie (in rage) about reality at insane levels. Mrs. Warren states that people will have jobs if we shut down sectors of business. Mr. Sanders (and his envious offspring) says that we can pay for everything and it will be free. Judges accept that boys are the best female athletes. It’s extreme, and extremely stupid.

But our job is not to point out the foolishness of others who lie if we still lie about less obvious things. Christians, in the grip of learning to obey all things Christ’ commanded, are still tempted to deny reality, to deny their own responsibility.

If we want Marysville to be a destination, with a reputation as those who love and honor Jesus as Lord, then we must continue to confess our own sins, whatever they are, as hard as that may seem, and not merely complain about the sins of others, as obvious and easy as that is. We must not become a destination for sin-pointers, sin-coverers, or sin-complainers. We must make repentance look good.

Categories
Bring Them Up

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.

Categories
Bring Them Up

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

Or, (Students + The Trivium) Ă— 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.

Categories
Bring Them Up

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 of_incompetencies_ 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.↩