Love Thy Neighbor

I’ve become captivated by cross country meets. It seems to me that the entire sport is built around one’s ability to suffer well: “run three miles as fast as you can.”

The essence of the sport is to push your body to the very edge of utter physical exhaustion. Our varsity cross country coach (whom I know fairly well) has a favored saying: “if you get to the finish line and you aren’t bleeding, crying, or vomiting, then you had something left in the tank.”

I have my own saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who openly admit running is miserable, and liars.” (I jest. Mostly.)

As such, the drama involved in a cross country race is compelling. Runners approach the end of a race and they are in the very throes of physical anguish. This makes crowd participation even more important than for most sports. Cheering for and supporting all runners up to the very finish line is essential.

However, cross country is like most sports: there is a wide chasm between the elite runners and those who finish last. As you might expect, there is always a huge crowd gathered at the finish line for the elite runners who are competing for 1st place finishes; when the last runners come through, which can be 10 to 15 minutes later, it is typically only coaches and parents who linger to cheer them on to the finish.

Sometimes they’re not even around.

At the district meet this past week, the varsity girls race was nearing the end. All but 2 runners had finished. The boys varsity race was ready to start, and virtually all the spectators had migrated over to the starting line. Mr. Velasco was headed that direction when he noticed the last two runners from a competing school struggling towards the finish line: none of their teammates, coaches, or even their parents appeared to be there to support their final struggle towards the finish line.

That’s when Mr. Velasco heard it:22519508_10154727157167331_5064391673815005944_n

“Come on! You can do it!”

“You’re almost there! Finish strong!”

“Good job! All the way home!”

Cheers. Love. Support.

A group of ten Archer runners – all Jr. High kids – had remained at the finish line to cheer the final two runners on to the end. Mr. Velasco may have been the only adult to witness it, but I promise you the two runners noticed.

22492017_10154727157202331_5846043773300361182_nMatthew 22:36-40 contains God’s two greatest commandments to us as Christians; the second of those states, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This cuts against the grain of everything our hedonistic culture tells us to do: “be yourself,” “do what feels right to you,” “have it your way,” etc. This is a hopelessly selfish and narcissistic philosophy, but it provides a powerful opportunity to us to be the lights of the world. When the world sees us first loving God and, out of that, loving them, they will notice.

Especially when that love comes at the very edge of misery, like at the end of a three-mile run.

Faithful in Little Things

It was arguably the most important day of our school year: the entire gym was converted into soup packing production lines, and our students and staff were on target to package 60,000 meals to be distributed to needy families in our community.

But before any of that could happen, we hoped to point the hearts and minds of our school community towards God Who makes it all possible. We planned to do that with our first morning hallway hymn sing of the year, but there were some hurdles to overcome: Mr. Warmouth, our beloved Grammar School Dean who is so skilled at leading the hymn sing recently had surgery and was sidelined; students were in jeans and t-shirts for the Feed the Need day and as such were more restless than usual; and it was our first hallway hymn sing of the year, so the community was out of the habit of doing it.

Since so much was riding on the hymn sing, we had planned to have our student group The Boethius Quartet accompany the hymn sing. The group has been sacrificing their own lunch hour to gather and practice the hymn, and as of Thursday night was ready to go; however, come Friday morning, one of our seniors and the de facto leader of the Quartet, woke up ill and wasn’t able to make it to school. Her mom frantically tried to email and text Mr. Bryant and I, but the busyness of the morning had us unreachable.

The hallway hymn sing and our related goal of redirecting our students’ affections towards Christ first thing on our big day all hung in the balance.

Enter the remainder of the Quartet: the three did not panic, but instead took the responsibility and the initiative to solve the problem. Without needing direction from any faculty member, they recruited another talented violinist to fill out their Quartet. I wasn’t even privy to what had happened until well after the fact when I gathered the quartet together to thank them and they weren’t the quartet I was expecting.

Screen Shot 2017-09-30 at 8.06.28 AMThe hymn sing was the best I can remember in my seven years at the school, and the musical accompaniment was no small reason why.

In the Parable of the Unjust Steward found in Luke 16, Jesus says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.” This is an important educational principle that resonates in almost everything we do at The Ambrose School: if we can train students to be faithful in little things – things like wearing their ties and sweaters on formal days or processing into exordiums quietly, then we know that when God places big things before them – things ranging from organizing music on that most important day to remaining dedicated to their spouses in difficult times – they will similarly be found faithful.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, men and women of virtue and mature character are not formed in an instant. It is a slow and steady process of training them to be faithful in little things.

Despising Youth

It was 7:15 a.m., and I, still half-asleep, had just walked into the building.

“Chris, you’re not going to believe what is happening in my room!”

Mr. Velasco was obviously excited. While he is famously given to hyperbole – everyone knows this! – “Papa V,” as he is affectionately called by the Upper School community, is not overly excitable. I wondered immediately what was afoot.

“There are 12 Upper School boys – juniors and seniors – singing hymns in my room!”

As I asked further, it turned out that a group of male upperclassmen have been meeting in Mr. Velasco’s room for weeks to do a Bible study and sing hymns together. They meet first thing in the morning, and the Bible study is entirely student organized and led. The Bible study and hymn sing are led and attended by the leaders of our school: juniors and seniors, House presidents, and star athletes.

Every school has an “alpha male,” a student who sets the tone and drives the culture for the rest of the school. That student can be a force for good or ill; he or she can point students towards the True, Good, and the Beautiful, or away from those things. God is raising up young leaders who will use their influence to build His kingdom instead of their own, and this student-led Bible study is a shining example of that.

In 1 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy the following: “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity…. give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” It can be easy for older generations to despise the youth of others, but how beautiful and inspiring it is when young people take seriously Paul’s exhortation to be an example to older generations!

These are the church’s future leaders, and the faculty and staff at The Ambrose School feel humbled and grateful to be a part of their molding and shaping.

Walk with the Wise

It was one of those things that is so easily overlooked. It was Friday at lunch time, and The Providence Room was abuzz with students: a group of boys at one table, a group of girls at another, two boys sitting on the couches, and a table of girls out on the patio. It all seemed so ordinary for a high school.

However, if one took the time to notice, the scene was far from ordinary. A second glance revealed a beauty absolutely foreign to most schools: not one, not two, not even three, but all six tables were filled with juniors and seniors having lunch with 7th graders.

mentorshipPause and reflect on that for a moment: juniors and seniors were having lunch with 7th graders.

These were not only House leaders, but also other junior and senior students, all sacrificing their lunch hour and valuable time with their own peer group to invest into the lives of younger students: to pray together, to do a Bible study, or to just talk about life.

As those of us who attended one can attest, typical high schools are deeply segregated. The athletes hang out with other athletes, the cool kids hang out apart from the nerds, and the upperclassmen don’t go anywhere near freshmen, let alone junior high kids. It is an oppressive caste system that is at its core self-serving, demoralizing, and breeds all that is bad about human nature.

As a Christian community, our school is inherently different. We endeavor to be a school community walking together in the light of Christ. We want our students to walk out the Great Commission: to go out into the world and make disciples. This starts in our classrooms, our hallways, and in The Providence Room.

Proverbs 13:20 reads, “He who walks with the wise will become wise.” The Christian life is at its very foundation relational. Virtue is caught rather than taught. We cultivate an affection in younger students for Truth, Goodness, and Beauty by bringing them into relation with our older students, the wise leaders in our student body who are striving to live for Jesus.

One of our primary goals for all our students is that they become wise; in order to do that, they must walk with the wise.