CHARACTER COUNTS: THE PRIORITIES OF PARENTING

CHARACTER COUNTS: THE PRIORITIES OF PARENTING

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

—Traditional Saying

Human babies are not like most animals when born.

They are far more dependent on their parents for far longer than most animals. The academic term is “under-socialized.” Human babies are highly dependent on their parents for life, nurture, and direction.

This is why responsible parents invest heavily in their children’s futures. Usually these investments fall into three areas: spiritual formation, character development, and academic preparation. Some parents see these three as highly interrelated. Others do not. Everyone is generally agreed, however, that education is highly important if a son or daughter is to achieve his or her full potential. A child without the ability to read and write is severely crippled in his or her prospects in the modern world. Reading failure is the single most significant factor in those forms of delinquency which can be described as anti-socially aggressive.

Compared to those in other parts of the world, American parents are generally lax. Leisure, entertainment, and sports are given a far higher priority in the United States than in other countries. Moreover, American individualism and child-centeredness parenting tend to undermine the influence parents have on pushing their children academically. The public controversy surrounding Yale law professor Amy Chua’s book on parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, largely proves this point. American readers saw the parenting practices advocated by Chua and largely taken-for-granted in India, Korea, Singapore, and China as draconian.

But a good education is not enough. A trained mind without character is a dangerous combination. Ernest Boyer writes,

To have people who are well informed but not constrained by conscience is, conceivably, the most dangerous outcome of education possible. Indeed, it could be argued that ignorance is better than unguided intelligence, for the most dangerous people are those who have knowledge without a moral framework. It is not the lack of technological information that threatens our society; it is the lack of wisdom, and we run the risk today of having our discoveries outdistance our moral compass.

Brilliance without morals is deadly.

So most parents acknowledge that it is far better to have educational rigor combined with concentrated character formation. Sadly, however, this is a task largely abandoned by many forms of education today where progressivism and relativism reign. The progressive emphasis is to allow the child to serve as his or her own authority. The relativism emphasis affirms that no one’s opinion is to be preferred over another’s, with the exception of a taboo against making any forms of judgment. Tolerance of individual whim is the logical consequence, and with it the death of character.

Abandoning one’s child to an educational system that undermines objective academic standards and moral absolutes is a choice facing many American parents. Ivy covered buildings with decades of inferred prestige mask the dangers lurking within their classrooms.

But intellectual and moral education does not float in a vacuum. The “why” behind the “what” must be itself grounded in a philosophical or religious tradition. T.S. Eliot wisely noted that all education is rooted in a “philosophy of life.” Religious instruction has historically been tied to educational aspiration.

If the root of all reality is spiritual and our flourishing is dependent on being rightly oriented to this spiritual reality, then the outright abandonment of a spiritual perspective in education, or its casual disregard by parents and teachers, is surely a problem. Author John Piper warns:

If you leave the infinite all-defining, all-controlling, all-pervasive God out of account, all understanding and all interpretations and all analyses are superficial. When the main thing is missing, what’s left is distorted and superficial, whatever it is.

Ideally, then, spiritual formation, character development, and intellectual preparation should be found together within a school. But it is not always the case. Consequently, conscientious parents have to seek carefully and make informed, individualized decisions about their children’s educational choices.

Dr. John Seel is a cultural critic and entrepreneur, an author of many articles and books, and is a sought after speaker.  He also happens to sit on St. Andrew’s National Advisory Board and serves on the faculty as the college counselor for our seniors.

Originally published in February, 2012 issue of The Standard, the newsletter of St. Andrew’s Academy.

THE BACK LAWN & PARENTING

THE BACK LAWN & PARENTING

As I sit looking at our back lawn on our typically cold Memorial Day weekend, I realize that the lawn must be mowed, and fertilizer would help greatly.  I remember the landscapers interesting and potentially beautiful design for this lawn, full of turns and twists and beautiful arcs.  I had expressed the basic idea and he took it further.  The lawn next to the house, along the patio, could be hard edges and ninety degree corners, but as it moved away from the house, I wanted it to gently push into the woods and manzanita; the wilds, so to speak.

I liked his design, but reality made me limit his artistic spirit.  I told him that my children (my son was 3 years old and my first daughter was one) would want to play on the lawn, and though his design was beautiful, it would make a five year old soccer game almost impossible.  We needed more actual square feet of lawn for the children to play.

We compromised, and we still have the undulating edges away from the house, and my kids have played many a backyard game of soccer, sometimes with all the neighborhood kids joining in.  The pond and the flower garden there have taken quite a beating in these games.  Living in the Almanor Basin is a bit of challenge with both ponds and flowers, but it was worth it to have the kids enjoy their backyard in the way they do.  And the girls in particular have grown into enjoying the flowers, too.

Now that my children are in double digits, the lawn still gets used, but more as a base, not as a complete playground.  As theyve grown, theyve ventured into the woods, into an overgrown area known as the Secret Garden.  And now they go to their cousinsplace, further away, and venture into what theyve termed The Wilderness, wide open forest that may some day become another neighborhood, but not in their childhood.

As they go, they need advice, wisdom, guidance, but theyre going more and more on their own.  Id be a fool to try to stop them.  The back lawn, as lovely as it can be, and, I hope, will be again in a few weeks’ time, is not big enough to hold them.  Theyve had the safety of the house and then the lawn, and then the outer yard and the woods, and now theyre in the wilderness.

Its scary being a parent.  There isnt much help in this job in our current culture.  We all want the list of the five must-dothings to make a kid turn out as a great adult.  No such list exists.  Our job as parents is to show them how to pedal and steer, point the way, walk along beside them until they seem to get the hang of it, and then let them ride away.  If weve done our job, theyll avoid the biggest dangers and well see them again.

If we make it about us, and about control, and safety at all costs, and a list of rules, theyll learn to ride that bike and then ride away hoping never to return.  The wilderness is often a scary place, but it is also full of adventure, and excitement, and a sense of wonder.  Dont you remember wondering what was over the next rise?  I do.  I want my kids to wonder as well, but I want to give them now as much help as I can for when theyre over the hill and out of my sight.

Maybe Ill get my son to mow this lawn this week.  Ill be doing it again myself in a few years time.

SACRAMENT AND SACRIFICE

SACRAMENT AND SACRIFICE

By Jared Tomlinson

Some evening, a few years ago, I was walking out of a theatre in downtown Toronto with a good friend of mine. As we made our way to our regular post-movie haunt, a bar on Queen West, our conversation drifted easily away from whatever we had just seen to weightier matters. The topic of discussion that night? The Holy Communion — one of our favorites. We were theological sparring partners, stepping comfortably into a familiar ring — he, the Roman Catholic, and I (at the time), the good Baptist. The fight went as predictably as you’d imagine.

Round One: The Real Presence. The bell had barely rung when I was already backed into a corner, unable and unequipped to defend myself. “Est! Est!” he cried, throwing the punches relentlessly. In the heat of the match, the irony of his Lutheran-style attack was lost on us. To my relief the bell rang again, and I returned to my corner bruised and bloodied. I needed a new strategy. My coach (the Holy Spirit, I figured) whispered in my ear. That’s it! I’ve got him.

Round Two: Eucharistic Sacrifice. Re-energized, I charged at him with the full force of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Once for all! Once for all!” I insisted, jabbing at him with fiery Protestant zeal. Ding! Before I knew it, the fight was over. I had recovered in style and managed a draw.

Or so I thought.

But like in the famous biblical match, God had knocked my hip out of joint, so to speak. I couldn’t defend my symbolic view of the Holy Communion, and I was itching for answers. Before long, I began to find them at a cousin’s wedding in Dallas, of all places. I was staying with my uncle, an Anglican priest, and over the course of those few days, he gently nudged me in the right direction. “Do this in remembrance of me.” By degrees, I came to understand that that meant more than a recalling of past events. A biblical memorial is an action through which the reality of past events is brought into the present. Through Eucharistic action, the reality of the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood on the altar of the Cross is brought into the present and becomes food for the nourishment of his people. My uncle was right. My friend was right. The Holy Communion was a sacrament. But, a sacrifice? It couldn’t be.

It’s often said that God has a sense of humor. Well, it’s true. God mounted his assault on my remaining fear of Eucharistic Sacrifice from the funniest and most unlikely place. I was reading Kingdom Through Covenant by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, two professors at Southern Baptist Seminary, when I came across this: “In the Bible, a ‘sacrifice’ is an offering that is followed by a meal. When there is no meal, the offering should not be called a ‘sacrifice.’”

As I read that little golden nugget, quoted from Peter Leithart’s A House for My Name, my friend retroactively and unknowingly won our fight. In the Holy Communion, we offer to God the memorial Christ commanded us to make, and through this memorial Christ’s once-for-all oblation of his broken Body and shed Blood becomes a meal for his Church. In this heavenly Supper, the offering of the Mass and the offering of the Cross become one Sacrifice.

Like Jacob, I’m happily defeated.

Jared Tomlinson is a teacher, organist, assistant choirmaster, and resident composer at St. Andrew’s Academy.

A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION

A LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION

Recently, while I was touring a certain University with some of our students, the tour guide mentioned, “When I first came to this University, I didn’t know what a liberal arts college was.  Since then I have learned that the a liberal arts college requires me to take classes such as history and biology along with my business major courses, so I can have a well-rounded education.” This answer amused me, and I was also amused that the St. Andrew’s students I had with me could probably have explained it more thoroughly than this college student. A liberal arts education is far more than taking science and history.

But what is it, then? The phrase,“liberal arts,” is common in our culture, but, as this tour guide demonstrated, we do not have a very precise idea of what it means. The liberal arts are truly foundational to our Western Culture. If we value our culture and civilization, we need to refresh our knowledge of them, and their implications for us.

So then: according to one scholar, “The Liberal Arts are the learned habits of thought and speech considered essential for a free man.”  They are the acquired skills that are required for a free person to live well—though not perhaps wealthily—and to remain free. 

Those who went before us, those who built the culture we now see in decay, did not presume that a free person naturally knew how to live well.  Our inclinations lead us downward, to gratify our desires immediately, to trade our birthright to fill our stomachs. The habit of self-denial for the sake of a larger good must be learned; it is not naturally occurring.  This is the real task of a liberal education—teaching the young person to see truth and wisdom and to love living by it.  A society that does not understand this principle will find itself becoming less human, less free, less beautiful.  To be human is to be free, but free from what? The self is a tyrant as powerful as any.  To indulge one’s impulses, to be governed by one’s passions, is to be enslaved.  The habits of mind and speech must be trained in better directions.

How did this happen in the past? First of all, the seven liberal arts of the Middle Ages were divided into the Trivium (three paths) and the Quadrivium (four paths).  The Trivium was language-based and included Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.  The study of these subjects taught the individual to think clearly and to express himself well—skills a person must have if he is not be a slave—but they secondarily taught the student how to approach further learning.  For these reasons, the study of the Trivium remains the foundation of education at schools such as St. Andrew’s Academy.

The subjects of the Quadrivium are arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and harmony (or music), and the study of these was only to be undertaken after the student had proficiency in the Trivium.  It is important to note that these four subjects touch on ideas of beauty and form.  For example, the study of form in numbers is Arithmetic; of form in space is geometry; of form in time is astronomy; and of form in sound is harmony.  These subjects taught how to find and create beauty in the physical world and are therefore more sublime than we generally acknowledge, especially in contemporary education.  If one understands beauty, then his actions and his life are more likely to be beautiful.

The recovery of Liberal Arts education is vital to the preservation of the blessings that we have thus far enjoyed in America. Schools like St. Andrew’s Academy and many Liberal Arts colleges and universities need to be supported in whatever ways possible.  Institutions labeling themselves as “Liberal Arts” need to be held accountable to all that the title implies.  We have been entrusted with a great heritage; let us protect it.

Originally published in the August, 2007 issue of The Standard, the newsletter of St. Andrew’s Academy.

NOW THESE THREE REMAIN

NOW THESE THREE REMAIN

by Father John Boonzaaijer

Stone pillars in the little English church bordered the Norman apse, surrounded the altar, and encircled the choir stalls, where two dozen young souls, from St. Andrews Academy and Good Shepherd school, nervously held their music, ready to sing. Silent tombstones checkered the floor. A chalice and paten, worn and dented from centuries of hopeful fingers and fervent lips, reflected the candlelight. The early gray light filtered through stained glass windows, which told the stories of damaged souls and faith kept alive.  

The students had come to sing and study, and as pilgrims always have, to return other than as they left to shed a burden and purge the soul, and to bring some of the goodness that Christ has given elsewhere to the problems of their lives at home. The beauty of these ancient churches was a great part of that goodness.

At another parish, built in 675 by Irish priests with their wives and children, the students chortled over the irony of breaking forth the Te Deum between walls made of abandoned Roman stone, Minerva lying on her side.  Elsewhere wed seen the corner church turned a repair garage, a restaurantor a mosque. 

Then the voices begin, the priests, the teachers, and the students singing ancient prayers and canticles of the Church, as well as more recent music, all expressing the same faith in Jesus Christ the Apple Tree,as one lovely song has it. The harmonies weave together the voices of the choristers, who listen for each other that they might sing with one voice:

The tree of life my soul hath seen, Laden with fruit and always green.
The trees of nature fruitless be compared with Christ the apple tree.

Im weary with my former toil, Here I will sit and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be with Jesus Christ the apple tree.

The final note rose to the farthest arch, cantering from side to side, making sure each corner of Gods holy space was filled, before settling, never to leave, into the cracks and crevices and tombs of stone, and the broken hearts above them in the pews.  These voices, too, were now forever added to all those that have sung here before.

During that trip, the group often heard, with the searching eye of a many a parishioner upon them, We do not have much reason for hope, but today your students cause us to pray again. Will these hands and voices be the rebuilding of a decaying Church and culture?  They are weak and sinful, and they, too, drink deeply from the poisoned well of secularism; can they find older, faithful company under the shelter of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree? Can dying faith be kept alive?  

Now these three remain: Faith, Hope and Charity. 

Father John Boonzaaijer is Rector of Chapel of the Cross in Dallas, Texas, and he is the Headmaster of The St. Timothy School, the parochial school of the Chapel.

FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIPS

FRUITFUL RELATIONSHIPS

I’m single, in my thirties, so I think about and study the marriages around me with perhaps more attention than other groups of people would.

There was an angry boy in my class when I was in grade school, whose parents seemed never to get along. I don’t know if they ever had. As a child, mystery and vague apprehension surrounded the principal’s office, but this boy could and did fill me in on it, on his frequent returns.

I saw his parents a few years ago, holding hands, smiling and easy with one another, apparently at peace. They had finally seemed to come to terms, I heard, and been at some level of peace since.

Parents of childhood friends divorced in my early teen years, the fixtures of my childhood social circle. Things had really never been right, but it took a decade and a half to finally break down.

A woman I know came to me a few years back, to tell me that she and her husband were splitting up. “This year would have been fifty,” she said, the closest to sadness I’d ever seen her; but no tears. No abuse, no infidelity, nothing overt. They raised their kids, had grandkids, a boat, a motor home. And just short of the golden anniversary—an empty shell? It sickened me.

Friends my age have been married, divorced, and remarried, before age thirty.

My great-aunt first married when she was about sixty. She overcame her extreme shyness, married “a prince,” say all his acquaintances, and lived seven happy years with him. “Ain’t love grand?” she said girlishly. After he died, she lived another twenty years on her own.

When my grandmother had the birthday I myself just passed, she had in arms her sixth & last child, whose fiftieth birthday is today as I write this. She didn’t marry an easy person (does anyone?). I’m told that a lot of relatives prayed.

After 62 years of marriage, my grandfather passed away, and my grandma was 80. The years had had their effect: sickness, failing eyesight, failing body, confinement to wheelchair and bed. She visited him twice a day almost every single day for the 22 months he was in a care facility away from home. He was almost totally blind, mostly deaf. She cut his food for him so he could eat it with some dignity; shielded him as much as possible from the embarrassments of age and infirmity. She was a lady. She is a lady.

I believe that even the best marriages are complex, weighty, tangled, and painful—and the more painful when you refuse to give up. But I’ve come to see that the pain of that struggle (of almost any relationship) is to be had over the void that comes from drawing back. My grandmother may be the most beautiful woman I know. She didn’t get there by giving up.

Suffering well is a lost art. Suffering in little things: loving the strayed child, serving the difficult spouse, seeking the friend who hurts you, letting go of hurts. Seeking oneself produces no fruit. Dead souls tell no tales.