It’s been a long while since I’ve stopped into the Shire. For a good many of you, the old Headmaster’s Hobbit Hole writings may only be the stuff of stories past, and many of you reading are now new to CCA since those old bygone days. And since I’ve been on a long journey (of not keeping up with my weekly musings), we have a lot of catching up to do. Or, as Bilbo once said, “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like.” For the rest of you, I say that it’s good to be back! At the beginning of each month, I hope to offer you a handful of thoughts on current events, Scriptural insights, trends within classical Christian education, or simple observations that come with living in the day-to-day at CCA. I call it the Headmaster’s Hobbit Hole, and I welcome you to my little round-doored house of ideas. Make yourself at home!
When Dorothy Sayers delivered her justly famous speech “The Lost Tools of Learning” in 1947, she warned that merely teaching students how to read would be no protection against manipulation or bad thinking. In fact, simply stopping at that skill itself leaves them more vulnerable, not less:
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. (accsedu.org, 9)
Today, all signs point to a collapse in comprehension and a meltdown in meaning within our broader culture. Every other day we see a new distortion of an old word, be it “love” (or “hate”), “man” (or “woman”), or “recession” (or not). Culturally speaking, we use words to judge one another and then condemn judgment. We preach tolerance and then justify canceling those with whom we disagree. We protest the death of animals and rage against laws that preserve unborn human life. We call abortion “health care,” child mutilation “gender affirmation,” and good old-fashioned lies “misinformation.” It’s hard to know if we’re living in Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, or C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. The answer is yes to all three. A shirt I saw recently read, “Make Orwell fiction again!” What are we to do?
Sayers begins to answer the question much like Lewis’s Professor Kirk did in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe: “Distinguo!” Once upon a time, students educated in the Western tradition would have recognized that call immediately, namely, “Make a distinction! Define your terms!” I, myself, need this reminder on a regular basis. For those of us who have not had the benefit of being raised in the classical Christian tradition, we have more learning to do than we would like to admit. This is one of the reasons we should fight so hard to make sure our own children remain on this path, and we shouldn’t be surprised when the road gets rough at times. Are we prepared to dig in for the long haul, to wait for the fruitful harvest? What is it that we really want for our kids? Distinguo!
Christians are not immune from the problems of poorly defined words or thoughts. This may be part of the reason Paul calls us to take every thought captive to Christ: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4-5). We find pitfalls around every corner, wherever we fear something (man, death, failure, rejection…anything) more than God. As Solomon tells us in the opening chapter of Proverbs, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7). We can misdefine even good things, including law, grace, sin, love, and more. We can become afraid of the Lord’s good commandments while trying to avoid the ditch of legalism; and we can become afraid of our Christian liberties while trying to avoid the ditch of lawlessness. All the while, we face the effects of the fall on our minds as well as our emotions, affections, and will. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25)
Much of what we aim for at CCA is a life of habits that shape our students’ loves in a God-ward direction, and a lot of this comes down to the daily practice of walking in the light, living in righteousness, regardless of our feelings, or even of our full understanding. The psalmist adds an interesting nuance to Solomon’s starting point in Proverbs 1 when he says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10). Notice here that understanding is possessed (or gained) by those who DO the Lord’s commandments. Jesus picks up this same idea in His sermon on the mount: “Therefore, whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24). In the Gospel of Luke, He declares, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). If we take Jesus at His word, then we can expect wisdom and blessing to come from keeping His word. This is not to be confused with a salvation issue–we want to obey and do God’s will not to earn His favor and justification (Christ did that for us through His perfect obedience, broken body, and shed blood), but because we love Him, and He promises us blessing and wisdom from following His commandments. And THIS is what we want for our children.
May the Lord bless you as you partner with teachers to raise your children in the Great Tradition, and may you enjoy the blessing of true words rightly defined and distinguished, anchored in God’s good Word! Thank you for joining us at CCA.