Overcoming Evil with Good

The Upper School House Retreat is one of those times where I feel like I have to have all hands on deck to make sure things run smoothly: conventional wisdom says that with 200 teenagers at a camp in the mountains, someone is bound to misbehave. So the Upper School faculty does all the same things other camp staffers do: we have an assigned time for ‘lights out,’ we do bed checks, we sweep the grounds at night, etc.

Last week on the final night of retreat, Mr. Hosier and I were doing our obligatory 11:30 p.m. sweep of the camp. We were walking along a sidewalk when, no sooner had I made a joke about how we never find mischief on these walks, we saw a pair of shadowy figures go sprinting across the sidewalk in front of us, headed towards the chapel.

I thought to myself, “Finally, something really scandalous to merit these late night walks of ours!” Mr. Hosier, as is his wont, was right on top of it.

“Hey,” he yelled out. “Where are you two going?”

The shadowy figures stopped and saw us approaching. Mr. Hosier repeated, “Where do you guys think you’re going?”

The sound of a freshman girl replied, “I left my Bible out here last night and it got really wet. After dinner, I saw a few more Bibles out here, and I just remembered them. I didn’t want them to get ruined by the sprinklers, so we came out to pick them up.”

Sure enough, two freshman girls, with their arms loaded down with five Bibles each, appeared from out of the shadows. They had risked life and limb – or at least invoking Mr. Hosier’s wrath – to save an armful of Bibles that weren’t even theirs from the sprinklers. We thanked them for looking out for their friends and sent them on their way.

Romans 12:21 reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is a great example of a couple of teenage girls doing just that: not only were they not out and about doing something inappropriate – something evil – but they were instead out doing something honorable, and thereby overcoming evil with good.

So much for my scandal.

On Becoming Men

The best conversations happen in my office.

For example, at the end of this past year, I had two boys sent to see me. There were some shenanigans in their classroom, and their teacher, a woman, thought it would be good for the boys to talk with a man about it.

It turned out the teacher was out of the room talking with another student. These two boys thought it an adventure to play a game where one boy does a wall-sit against the wall, and then another boy sits on his lap, and then another and another, and so on, until the weight of the subsequent boys causes the first boy to collapse (I guess this is a game kids play?)

Anyway, I asked the boys to tell me what happened, and they described it to me accurately and giggled the whole time. As I asked them what was wrong with what they did, I got some great answers (“We weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing…,” “It was disrespectful to our class and teacher…,” and such,) but after ten minutes of going in circles, I wasn’t quite getting the depth of thought out of the boys that I was aiming for.

That’s when the Holy Spirit prompted me with a dash of inspiration.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Boys, who do you admire most in life? Who do you want to be like?”

Boy 1: “My dad. Totally my dad!”

Boy 2: “Agreed. My dad!”

(Pause and enjoy the beauty of those two answers for a moment….)

Me: “That’s great! I also admire your dads. Now, imagine for a moment your dads doing what you both just did. Imagine Dad 1 sitting on the lap of Dad 2, and a long line of other dads sitting on their laps until the whole group of dads collapses into a pile, giggling all the way….”

The look of horror on the faces of both boys was priceless.

Boy 1, squirming: “No, I don’t want to imagine that…..”

Boy 2, blushing: “Yea. That’s not a visual I like….”

Me: “Right! So ask yourself, why was it ok for you to do it, but you’re horrified to even imagine your dads doing it?”

Both boys, seeing things clearly now, answered in unison: “Because we’re boys, and they’re men.”

Me, for dramatic effect: “Because you’re boys, and they’re men….”

I had them right where I wanted them.

Me: “Now is the time, boys, to become men.”

Prolonged adolescence is a growing problem for the broader culture. Adulthood generally, and manhood specifically, is continually delayed longer and longer: the Affordable Care Act allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26, even if they are married; the average age of a man’s first marriage in 2010 fell to 28 years of age, delayed over 5 years in the 50 years from 1960, when it was 22.8 years old; and young men at an alarming rate are choosing to stay in Mom and Dad’s house and play video games instead of going to college or joining the workforce.

At The Ambrose School, we want our boys to become the men God created them to be. Our school mission statement says that we seek to form “Christian leaders” who will “[transform] the church, the community, and the world,” and this cannot be done from Mom and Dad’s basement virtually through Call of Duty. Growing into a man requires much: we as parents and educators need to expect more from our boys than they expect from themselves; we need to challenge our boys to do hard things; we must demand they take personal responsibility for their mistakes, and resist every urge to rush to their aid when trouble finds them; we must require that they apologize and ask for forgiveness when they’ve wronged someone; and we need to continually call them to a higher standard in their conduct, in their speech, in their dress, and in their personal relationships.

Occasionally, I get to do all of this in a single, really fun conversation in my office.

Walk in the Light

I recently read a great quote from Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who wrote, “”[I]t’s amazing to see the difference between schools that have been around a little while and figured out how important culture is at their school versus those who have just gotten started and think that all they have to do is get it right in terms of having the right curriculum in place and then everything will work. So much more of what happens is the sea of assumptions that kids are raised around about what the good, the true, and the beautiful are and what you want your appetites and your heart and your loves to start inclining towards.”

Every school has a culture, those mostly metaphysical characteristics that are shaped and defined by what students love. There are good cultures and bad ones, cultures of light and cultures of darkness. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics that shape school culture, and I’m constantly looking for key markers that reveal the health of our own school culture. There are several things I keep a pretty close eye on, like student interest in our House program and community service, church attendance and involvement in our student body, and student adherence to our community standards, just to name a few.

LightThis year I saw something pretty awesome. It was mid-May on a Wednesday morning and our students were on their way out to play ultimate Frisbee for House Games. I was in the foyer, watching students go outside, when I saw one of the most encouraging indicators imaginable that our school culture is one of light: a small handful of our alumni, newly returned to the valley from their freshman year in college, came walking in the door. They were proudly wearing their House t-shirts and athletic shorts, all ready to play ultimate Frisbee for their beloved Houses. Our student body erupted in joy, and smiles and hugs filled the foyer.

One thing to note: this wasn’t a page taken out of Dazed and Confused – a twenty-something refusing to grow up – but these alumni are among our best and our brightest: valedictorians and national merit scholars, drawn back to our school by the community they loved and where they could find truth, goodness, beauty, and Christian fellowship.

I graduated 25 years ago, and I haven’t set foot in the hallways of my former high school in all that time. There simply wasn’t anything to draw me back. It speaks volumes about our culture that alumni are excited to come back and want to remain a part of our community.

1 John 1:5-7 reads in part, “… God is light and in Him is no darkness at all….  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” A community of students walking together in the light. That’s about the best definition of a healthy school culture that I can think of. Crafting a culture of light, where our students and faculty walk daily in the light as Jesus is in the light, is something we strive to do at The Ambrose School. I’m encouraged that, by the grace of God, we’re having some success.

Our alumni seem to agree.