Love Covers All

Imagine the horror of losing your personal journal, full of your most intimate and vulnerable thoughts.

Now imagine being a sixteen-year old girl, and doing that same thing.

Imagine also losing it while at school, leaving it in a classroom frequented almost solely by junior high boys.

And finally, imagine doing all the above in a relatively small school where everyone knows everyone else.

Can you think of anything more horrifying for a teenage girl? It is the plot of pretty much every teenage angst movie ever made (anyone seen Mean Girls or Touched by Grace?) You can imagine how it might play out: girl shows up at school, forgets her journal in a classroom, it is found by boys who quickly pass it around school before posting excerpts, with names and all, on every social media website imaginable. Girl is mortified and, in a pool of tears, tells Mom and Dad there is no way she can ever show her face at school again.

JournalThis same scenario actually happened at our school this year: a high school girl accidentally left what equated to a personal journal in a classroom, where it was found by a junior high boy.

Only, the unexpected followed: the junior high boy who found the journal did not use it as an opportunity to selfishly look cool in the eyes of his friends, or to become the center of attention with his bit of insider information; horror did not ensue; no one was publicly shamed; and no mortified girls had cause to beg mom and dad to transfer schools. Instead, the junior high boy did an exceptionally beautiful thing: he discreetly asked his teacher out into the hallway, and quietly gave the journal to him to handle.

None of the boy’s classmates were aware of what had happened. No one was shamed, and no one’s innermost thoughts were made a public spectacle. The situation, ripe with scandal, was diffused and done.

1 Peter 4:8 reads, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. How tragic it is when others expose our weaknesses to the world for their own gain; but how beautiful it is when brothers and sisters in Christ cover for one another in love! This is a key difference of a Christian community; as Jesus said, the world will know us by our love for one another. And it is a difference for which the world around us is desperate.

The world is watching. May they know us by our love for one another.

Serve One Another

In the Upper School, the month of May is intense: thesis defenses, final exams, Senior Baccalaureate, and graduation make for an exciting, though tension-filled, end of a year. As a natural introvert serving in a calling that requires me to live outside my comfort zone, the final days of a school year can get to me. On occasion I find myself tired, stressed, and in need of some encouragement.

I was in just such a state in the final week of school this year. I walked into my office at the end of a rough day and threw myself into an armchair. My eyes wandered to find a package on my desk, neatly wrapped in forest green tissue paper. A plain white card was attached, which only read, “From a grateful student.”

I get thoughtful gifts of appreciation on occasion; however, this particular package was more than I could have possibly imagined. It was light, so I opened it carefully. Peeling aside the wrapping paper, I found a beautiful piece of student art. The impressionist painting showed a path leading under the eaves of a great forest. A lone traveler stood far within, a mysterious shadow in the distance, inviting the observer to follow.

TGWAs a self-styled outdoorsman, at first I didn’t think any more of the subject of the painting; I just thought a student knew of my love for landscapes and painted something nice for me. It wasn’t until I turned the painting over that I realized what I was looking at. On the frame of the canvas was written the title “The Golden Wood.”

The painting from a student representing a subject so near and dear to me affected me deeply. The heavy weight of the end-of-the-year rush withered away, and I was immediately encouraged and hopeful that God was at work in my life, sustaining me through a difficult week. That the artist was thoughtful enough to give the gift anonymously, and thereby “not let [his] left hand know what [his] right hand was doing” – was evidence to me that the gift was given truly and out of love, for my encouragement, and not for any gain of the artist. What a beautiful thing!

Galatians 5:13-14 reads in part, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” While I don’t know any specifics around the painting – who the artist is, if the subject was truly inspired by this blog, or under what circumstances it came to be – I am fairly certain the thoughtful nature of the gift was not compelled by Mosaic Law, nor the mandate of any teachers or parents. It was instead the product of a teenage student, called to liberty, and using that liberty to serve others in love.

Mission accomplished.

Iron Sharpens Iron

All was silent. It was late May, the day after classes ended, and 234 teenagers put their summers on hold long enough to cram in to a stuffy gym for Epilogos, our final exordium of the school year. To a student, they hung on my every word.

“The Ambrose of Milan Award for Academic Year 2016-2017 is given to….”

Giving The Ambrose of Milan Award is wrought with difficulty. As a classical Christian school, our primary purpose in education, the thing we value above all others, is the cultivation of virtue. Students can study quadratics and stoichiometry anywhere; only in Christian community can they be forged in to the men and women God has created them to be.

Recognizing and celebrating virtue can also be difficult. Virtue is rarely quantifiable. It doesn’t fit neatly in to a rubric, a grading scale, or a lesson plan. It is most often unseen: it happens at dinner tables, in car rides, on athletic fields, and in the dark and secret recesses of Instagram and SnapChat code.

The Ambrose of Milan Award is our attempt as a school to recognize and celebrate virtue in the lives of our students. The process for doing so is rigorous. We dedicate an entire faculty meeting to it, nominating students from each class, reviewing their careers at our school, telling story after story of moments where students clearly showed the virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, faith, hope, and especially love. In particular, we look for instances where students showed a desire to love God and man, a legendary kindness, an unwavering courage and honor in trials, and a Christ-like attitude of humility and service to others.

You can imagine nominating students for this award might be difficult, and often it is.

On occasion, however, it is not. Thus was the case this year.Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 3.41.41 PM

“The Ambrose of Milan Award for Academic Year 2016-2017 is given to….”

Noah Squared.”

Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend.” The two Noahs – “Noah Squared,” as they have been known at our school over the last six years – have been an amazing image of this biblical truth for all our school to see. They have faithfully encouraged each other in classrooms, in Mock Trial courtrooms, on the playing fields of House games, on cross country courses, and everything in between. They have prayed for each other, formed accountability groups with other boys in their class, and have debated theology, literature, and philosophy at every turn. Through their close Christian brotherhood, they have made one another other better than they would have been on their own.

That is a beautiful thing we can all celebrate.

Be Still and Know

MonConIt was one of the those surreal moments where you aren’t sure that what you are seeing is actually happening: 48 junior high students were seated in total silence, faithfully copying and illuminating their favorite Bible passages, candles the only light in the room, with hymns playing in the background.

For 90 minutes. On a Friday night.

The moment I’m describing occurred during our annual Monastic Conventiculum, or “MonCon,” as it has become known. During this beautiful evening, our 8th graders, who study medieval humanities, meet at school to experience a night in the life of a medieval monk. When many kids their age were in a dark room playing video games, or at The Village watching suspect movies, this group of students was singing hymns together in chapel, breaking bread together in the refectory, playing together in the quad, and illuminating the Word of God in the scriptorium.

In Psalm 46, God instructs us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” If we know God in stillness, what can we derive from the inverse? Neil Postman famously cautioned that 21st century Americans were in danger of “amusing ourselves to death.” If we know God in stillness, is it possible we forget Him in amusement?

MonCon is a deep and rich experience that goes far beyond just pretending to be a monk for a night. By willingly sacrificing their cell phones, their game consoles, their Netflix accounts, and the many other entertainments that consume so much of their time and attention, our students learn the power of being still: still to sit in a quiet library for an hour and a half, contemplating a God Who loves them infinitely; still to work painstakingly on copying the Word of God; still to listen to music that soothes the soul instead of inflames it.

I’m not sure cultivating the habit of being still has ever been more necessary.

On Wisdom and Foolishness: A Graduate’s View

His voice rang out clearly: “Mom and Dad, WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?”

Our valedictorian stood at the pulpit during the graduation ceremony, and expounded on his question: in a world that sees standardized test scores, premier college admissions, prestigious career pursuits – and subsequent six-digit salaries – as markers of success, why in the world would parents send their sons and daughters to a small, classical Christian school like ours?

As our valedictorian so eloquently said, in the modern age of radical pragmatism, parents who make such a choice – and pay a sizeable tuition to do it – appear insane. To be successful in this world, in schools shouldn’t parents be looking for signature sports programs, robust class offerings, AP classes galore, an army of college admissions advisors, and more?

The valedictorian paused and repeated the opening clause of his last statement: to be successful in this world….

Therein lies the rub. As Christians, we need to be thoughtful about what success truly looks like. Should we accept what this age considers success: high standardized test scores, college admissions, premier professions, and prodigious salaries? Or, as disciples of Christ, is success something different for us, something higher, something beyond the understanding of the world around us?

As a graduating senior, this particular student fully grasped what it meant to be classically educated in the Christian tradition when visiting Rwanda two years prior. It was Pastor Patrick’s persistent and singular pursuit for his students, many of who live on the very edge of starvation, that really captivated his imagination and brought him to a deeper understanding of the true markers of success for the Christian student: to become good and virtuous servants of the Living Christ.

Success to the modern pragmatist lies in what a student does and how that brings him material gain; success to the Christian family lies in who a student becomes and how that enables them to serve Christ and His kingdom.

Our valedictorian’s final caution still resonates in my mind: because The Ambrose School has grown to meet and exceed many of the pragmatist’s markers – high standardized test scores, impressive college admissions and scholarship lists, etc. – we must be vigilant to remember the difference: our primary purpose as a school lies in who our students are and not in what they do. Let us never lose sight of the difference.

1 Corinthians 3:18-19 reads: “If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” Few things Christian families do appear more foolish to this world than to pay for an education when their sons and daughters can go to the government schools for free. Just as the world does not comprehend the wisdom of God, neither does it comprehend the Christian parent’s responsibility to raise up virtuous sons and daughters who love God and love their neighbor.

If the world thinks you insane, that’s likely a good thing.