Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey” is arguably one of the most important works of Western literature. According to a poll by the BBC, it is regarded as the most influential story of all time (as a Christian school, we can think of one better, but that’s another blog post).
The story of Odysseus’s journey home to Ithaca after the Greeks won the war against Troy, “The Odyssey” is a journey fraught with peril as Odysseus encounters the fearsome Cyclops, the six-headed monster Scylla, and is almost trapped for eternity by the sea nymph Calypso. Meanwhile, back home in Ithaca, Odysseus’ long suffering wife Penelope and son Telemachus attempt to fend off the advances of unruly suitors who are attempting to steal the throne.
Like Shakespeare’s plays, “The Odyssey” has been studied, analyzed, and adapted dozens of times because there is so much to unpack in the story. Two of the most notable adaptations are the 1922 modernist novel, Ulysses, by James Joyce and the Coen brothers’ 2000 film “O Brother Where Art Thou”.
In less than two weeks, we will bring our own adaptation of this famous story to life on Petra’s stage, November 8 and 9!
“The Odyssey” is not just a cornerstone of Western literature; it is also an important part of our school’s 3rd and 7th grade reading curricula. Our third graders read The Children’s Homer, a version true to the original but geared toward younger readers, while our seventh grade students read the original and discuss parallels between Odysseus and Christ and the theme of a hero overcoming temptation and obstacles.
We want our students to learn about virtue from reading stories such as this in class, but more importantly, we want them to learn to embody those virtues. Often, however, students don’t always know what virtue looks like. This is where our drama program comes in.
As an extension of our classrooms, our drama program provides students an avenue to practice embodying a character, as they are challenged time and time again to figure out what the character is thinking and why they say or do what the script tells them to say or do. In doing this, students are given an opportunity to see what fidelity, loyalty, and honor look like, as they are all important character traits in the story.
When choosing our plays, I try to find stories that help cultivate a deeper love and appreciation not only for the stage, but also for the education our students are receiving and (hopefully) modeling what virtue looks like. Bringing a beloved story to life is always a daunting task – especially a story that is the literal definition of “epic”! To emphasize this story, we’ve chosen to use minimalist theatre techniques and movement to bring to life the locations and monsters Odysseus faces along his way.
For those who know and love the story of “The Odyssey,” this will be an opportunity to see the story in a whole new light. For those who are unfamiliar (or only half-remember) the story from high school, this will be a play you won’t soon forget.
As we begin our fourth week of our 24th school year, here’s an excerpt from a letter sent recently to long-time (17 years) Humanities teacher Gregg Valeriano.
The student who wrote the letter did not finish at Petra, but she didn’t leave until after her freshman year, during which she had Mr. Valeriano for Humanities 9. She wrote:
Dear Mr. V.,
I’m sure you aren’t expecting my letter, but it’s been waiting to be written ever since I left Petra Academy. I’m in college now, so I feel it’s a good time. I was in your class my freshman year. Ironically, my next three years of high school only felt like regression. I kept thinking back to your classes – how much I missed and felt like I needed them.
The time I spent in them opened my eyes in ways I cannot thank you enough for. I, a young woman, was confused with myself and the world. I was ignorant but felt like I knew everything. I held myself up as a logical person, and I never thought hard about anything. When I sat in that classroom, I felt like I was who God had made me to be. I was so inspired from your ideas and perspectives. I felt like the way you put things was simply brilliant…
There are things you taught me that I still know now: Clean Slate Theory; Nihilism; Psychological Egoistic Hedonism…[but] there are two that stuck with me the most: relativism and objectivism. I sound like I might be insane, but those two things are what make me who I am today. I am on a constant hunt to find the truth about everything. I’m always dividing things I see into truth or lie…
…Life is harsh on people like us, I think. It seems as if ignorance and discomfort are viciously protected in the high school setting and most communities. The people who try to open their eyes to new perspectives are dangerous. I hope to change it if I ever get a sliver of a chance; you have taught me that it is worth it.
I still regret not opening up to you back then. I think we could have had great conversations. However, I believe God is someone who can fill that void. Thank you for teaching me the way that you taught me, and [for] being the way that you are. It has changed me forever (in ways I find very hard to explain). I hope you and your family are healthy and I wish you the best in life.
This former student’s letter illustrates much of what goes on in our classical Christian classrooms. We’re grateful for teachers like Mr. V. teaching our students, as well as for your support of our school. Please pray for our students – present, past, and future – that God will use Petra to spur them on in “finding the truth about everything.”
After a two-year stint teaching at L’Abri Fellowship in Huémoz, Switzerland, “Mr. V.” (as he is affectionately known) moved to Montana and eventually began teaching humanities and logic at Petra in 2003. He and his wife, Anya, have two daughters and a son, and his favorite literary/historical figures are Abdiel from Paradise Lost and Edmund Burke.
One thing I tell our faculty and staff during Orientation is that our goal by the end of the time is to be 80% on the same page of what we need to know for the year.
I’m not trying to give us permission to slack; the reality is just that there’s only so much we can do without school beginning and students and parents being on campus with us.
Sometimes 80% has to be good enough.
This is especially true at the beginning of 2019-20 – our 24th school year – as there are plenty of new challenges facing us right off the bat:
– As you’ll discover (if you somehow haven’t already), Cottonwood Road is a mess thanks to the road-widening taking place, and none of us really knows how the construction will impact drop-off and pick-up. Will families be excessively late? Frustrated? Angry? Ask me on Friday and I’m sure I’ll know more.
– In addition to any immediate impact the construction might have, we’re unsure as to the long-term implications as well since learning that the city’s current plans do not include a left-turn lane into Petra from Cottonwood. We’ve met with city planners and suggested an alternative that would make a left-turn lane possible, as well as begun and encouraged Petra families to join us in a letter-writing campaign to the City Commissioners (I’m also attending their next meeting on Monday, September 9), but no one knows yet what access is going to look like yet.
– We have a new Portal system we’ve been working on since May, and while its launch to currently-enrolled families has largely been a success, there are still bugs we’re tracking down. As you might imagine, the jury’s still out as to how our school community will utilize this new technology, but we’re hopeful. (Friends and alumni of Petra who do not have students enrolled, we hope you’ll join up, as we plan to eventually run all communication through it.)
– This past spring, our Board of Directors decided it was time to start charging admission for junior varsity and varsity athletic events (we’ve done this for tournaments all the way down to 5th grade in the past, but weekly for regular season games will be new). We’re going to need a little more help on this (not to mention some adjustment to our plan with regard to the sports field venue), so we’ll see what happens on Friday, when we host Billings Christian on both our sports field and in our gym. (Note: we will have season passes available; details coming this week.)
– If you’ve followed along in the Board packets of the past few months, you may know that we have a few new policies and practices in place as well: to better facilitate student connection and relational courtesy, we’re asking students to stay off all electronics in the academic wings from 8 a.m.-3:45 p.m. unless expressly approved by a teacher; we’re also grouping Secondary locker assignments by house rather than by grade to continue helping our students to think of themselves and others as Petra community members rather than just as *fill-in-the-blank* graders.
– Schedules. Every student and faculty member has one, and while we think we have them all coordinated via the Portal and transition bells, as well as across all the classrooms and public space, the only way to know for sure is (you guessed it), to run through the day and week and take notes.
These are just a few of the areas I can think of, which, for better or worse, being on 80% of the same page on our first day is going to have to be enough. This is especially true for staff and families new to Petra (though let’s not assume that we who have been here for a while couldn’t benefit from giving and receiving some additional grace as well).
In thinking about starting the school year, a verse I’ve occasionally prayed for all of us is Ephesians 5:21: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
As we come together tomorrow, I hope this verse will describe our relationships – that we believe the best in one another, that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one another, and that we talk to and not about one another – not because we have to (though we do) if we have hope of this experiment working, but because this is what Jesus calls and empowers us to do.
Let’s be 100% for that!
(Note: If you have any good stories from our first day this year, please share them with me. And, of course, if there’s something you think I can do to make things better, let me know as well.)
With just three weeks of school to go, many of us eagerly anticipate summer and the change of pace it brings. But summer often brings other kinds of changes, too, and this can be especially true for members of our staff.
Thankfully, Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Transition can be scary, but we can be confident the Lord is not wringing his hands about what is going on; rather, he is very much in the midst of the changes, guiding our plans according to his will.
With this reassurance in mind, I’d like to tell you about what’s on the horizon for five of our staff and ask you to pray for them and for our school in the midst of their upcoming transitions. We love and wish them only the best as they seek God’s purpose in their future endeavors.
Secondary Humanities/Latin teacher Thomas Banks is in the process of packing his bags for a move east to North Carolina, where he will wed his bride-to-be, Angelina Stafford, after having taught 10th grade Humanities and Secondary Latin for nine years at Petra. Our seniors have asked Thomas to give the commencement address at graduation this year, so we look forward to hearing from him before he heads out in June.
Office Manager Karen DeGroot has served in our Petra office for 12 years and is one of the few staff who has worked with all three headmasters at two different locations (Discovery Drive and Classical Way campuses). A mother of three Petra graduates, Karen is looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Tad, as well as being able to more fully enjoy her hobbies and interests when she retires from Petra later this summer.
5th grade teacher Kate Gannon is planning a move to Salt Lake City this summer, where she will be pursuing further training in the field of special education. Kate started at Petra as a long-term maternity substitute before becoming our 5th grade teacher for two years, and while she is looking forward to the next chapter, she says the transition is a bittersweet one as she leaves Bozeman and Petra.
Pre-K teacher Joan Kempf is looking forward to watching her daughter, Hannah, walk across our graduation stage later this month, and with that an end to her time teaching at Petra. Joan has taught Pre-K at Petra for five years and is looking forward to a new challenge in moving from Pre-K to possibly working with MSU college students as she pursues helping them personally prepare for the future.
Secondary Spanish teacher Giuliana Rodriguez is taking a break from teaching to pursue new career options to allow her to invest more time for her art after 13 years of language education (including running her own Spanish tutoring business out of her home). Just last week, Mrs. Rodriguez took and passed her citizenship test and is soon to become an official U.S. citizen. We are glad to have had her teach Spanish to our Secondary students for the past two years.
As I tell staff and families in the midst of transitions like these, roles change but relationships don’t have to; yes, such anticipated departures will be bittersweet, but that’s exactly how we want them to be (after all, who cries over a place and people you won’t be sad to leave?).
To honor these departing staff, we’re planning two special gatherings: the first is an after-school reception on Wednesday, May 22, from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Cafeteria, during which parents and students are invited to come and go to say thank you and goodbye; the second is as part of our Final Assembly on Friday, May 31, from 10:30 a.m.-noon in our Petra Performance Hall, during which we’ll honor these departing staff in front of the entire student body.
We’re grateful for the contributions each of these staff members has made and encourage you to express your own gratitude, either by attending the reception or by writing a note or email (you can click their names to email them directly). We’re in the process of hiring for their roles for next year and are encouraged with the progress we’ve made (more to come on that), but as you might imagine, they are big shoes to fill!
As headmaster of a school accredited by the Association of Classical and Christian Schools, I serve once a year on an ACCS accrediting team that visits one of a number of schools seeking ACCS accreditation or accreditation renewal.
The process involves an extensive evaluation of a school’s self-study, two full days of onsite observation, meetings with the school’s board, administrative leadership, and individual faculty and students, and then culminates in the writing of a report that commends, recommends, or points out discrepancies between the school’s performance and the rigorous ACCS standards.
Petra went through this renewal process in 2017 and will do so again in 2021 for our third five-year renewal. While it’s a tremendous amount of work for a school and takes almost a year to complete before the on-site visit, it’s also a very helpful process that yields much fruit, not only from the preparation of the school’s self-study, but also (and especially) in the interaction with members of the visiting accrediting team, each of whom is a headmaster, principal, or other administrative leader at another ACCS school.
Upon returning from the trip, I’ll say this: classical Christian education is alive and well. I could comment on dozens of aspects of why I’m encouraged with the state of the classical Christian movement, but let me narrow it down to three: people, place, and pedagogy.
Like any institution, a school is not a living entity itself, but a collection of committed people who make it up and give it life. One would have to look far and wide to find a group of people more dedicated to an increasingly counter-cultural movement than those involved with classical Christian education, but I found a number of such folks in the Portland area:
– the 11th grader who recognizes the devotion of her parents in sending her as the third of ten (ten!) children in her family to attend the school
– the grandmother who volunteers at the school four hours a day – everyday – despite the fact that her grandchildren no longer attend
– the retiring 70-year-old elementary principal whose passion for the school fuels her 60-hour work weeks
– the uber-successful business executive whose love for the school manifests itself in tears when answering the question, “Why are you involved?”
These examples are just from St. Stephens; I met plenty of others at the other schools, including teachers and administration members with their own stories of sacrifice in doing what they do in the name of classical Christian education. Like our faculty at Petra, these caring, educated, hard-working staff don’t make a lot of money to fully compensate them for their efforts, but that doesn’t stop them from giving their best.
St. Stephens meets in two different church buildings 20 minutes apart as they look for land to build and re-locate to one place their growing school; Veritas and Cedar Tree each are on their own campuses, but both meet in a configuration of portable modulars while they raise funds to build central spaces that will meet their need for all-school assemblies and community meetings.
However, the mentality of each of these schools is hardly one of “making due”; rather, they make the most of their places, filling and using every square foot of space as needed in order to carry out their mission. Students and staff rotate classrooms, books line both permanent and makeshift shelves, athletic facilities are rented and scheduled, and student drop-off and pick-up would be more of a challenge than it is if it weren’t for the patience of parents. In the midst of it all (whether in the outside landscaping or the bulletin boards on the walls), there is an effort made at excellence and beauty.
“Pedagogy” – a fancy word for “method or practice of teaching” – counts for much in educational circles, but no more so than in classical Christian schools. One of my favorite “pedagogical” moments of my trip was Cedar Tree’s morning matins, held outside – rain or shine – at the beginning of each day. As school leaders are currently raising funds to build an enclosed building large enough to hold their school and begin the day, the entire K-12 student body and staff line the sidewalks around their “quad” to read Scripture, pray, and sing, a portion of which I happened to catch in the video below:
It was gratifying to see familiar practices like matins and prayer, memory and recitation, discussion and debate, thesis preparation and presentation (just to name a few) in these schools so different from (and yet so similar to) Petra. To see students, teachers, parents, and board members in Oregon committed to so many of the same goals and objectives that we are here in Montana was a welcome encouragement I wanted to bring back to share with our folks for our remaining five weeks of school.
We are not alone in our efforts to train our students in truth, goodness, and beauty! As we head into the month of May and run across the finish line of the 2018-19 school year, may we consider these schools’ examples even as we remind ourselves of our own mission at Petra Academy:
In recent months, we’ve offered a few posts here in our Scholar’s Forum having to do with the impact and opportunity of Petra Academy’s particular brand of classical Christian education.
In January, we introduced you to Petra senior Valerie Lewis and the significant impact that her time at Petra has had on her life (Educational Freedom). In February, I recounted a conversation with a mom weary of the cultural tension she felt in sending her kids to a classical Christian school (Preaching What We Need to Hear).
THE GOALS OF EDUCATION One question we always ask parents (current and prospective) during enrollment season is, “What are your education goals for your kids?” Barna posed a similar question and received familiar answers:
When it comes to what they consider to be the goals or ultimate purpose of education, parents of both current ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) students and prospective students want more for their children than a list of accomplishments or path to wealth. Parents clearly think of schools as meeting a complex range of student and family needs. Of course, that includes academic subjects. It also includes other ways of developing and nurturing children.
Barna asked these parents to choose the top five purposes of education. For both groups of parents, the most selected goal of education is to instill strong principles and values (current: 69%, prospective: 53%).”
While it may seem there are differences between prospective and current parents’ views, they are not so much qualitative as quantitative ones; both sets of parents want similar things, but the ordering and value of their priorities is not the same. For instance:
Prospective parents are more focused on objectives related to personal achievement and social skills like ‘practical life skills’ (51% compared to 31%), ‘increased opportunities in life’ (45% compared to 29%), and a ‘fulfilling career’ (38% compared to 22%). On the other hand, parents of current students place a higher priority on spiritual goals and a lower value on personal achievement…In addition to instilling strong principles and values, a majority of parents of current students place a high priority on five goals that include ‘love for God and other people’ (65% compared to 33%), the ‘ability to apply their knowledge’ (referred to as wisdom) (60% compared to 47%), ‘faithfulness and obedience to God’ (54% compared to 21%) and ‘leadership skills’ (52% compared to 46%).
Some parents may be vocal about STEM, sports, or AP electives. And some may care about these things. But, we should not take our eyes off what they really want the most.”
WHAT PARENTS WANT WHEN CHOOSING A SCHOOL It’s no surprise that what Barna learned about what parents most want when choosing a school had to do with safety and staff:
Most parents are looking for a school that aligns with their general ideas about education—what a school should do. However, parents’ specific priorities when it comes to choosing a school seem to reveal another side to what they value in an education—what a school should be like.
Safety’s first. Next come quality teachers, academic excellence, and character development. Barna asked parents to rate 23 characteristics of a school from ‘essential’ to ‘nice to have’ to ‘not necessary.'”
Safety is at the top. This could be physical (building security). But, these days, it’s often the safety of their child’s feelings within the community…And genuine love cares for the souls of the students; it’s not simply a synonym for niceness. Parents can perceive the genuine love of a school as they interact with it.
There’s no substitute for good teachers. If your school values caring teachers who are accessible, it will be noticed.”
Regardless of whether you’re a current or prospective Petra parent, do these findings resonate with you? Are these some of the reasons you’re at Petra…or are thinking about being so? I’d love to hear your thoughts and interact with you if you’d care to email me.
In my next post, I’ll share some revealing findings from a survey conducted among our 7th-12th graders just before Spring Break. I think you’ll find it encouraging from a student point of view.
A “dramaturg” is someone whose expertise is in the literary composition and thematic elements of a play. This person works closely with the director to help in understanding the context and the major themes of the play, ensuring that the director’s vision doesn’t lose any of the author’s intention. Here is some dramaturgical insight from Humanities teacher, Ginny Owens, who teaches A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of our 8th grade curriculum:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an easy play to enjoy: between the young lovers striving for satisfactory marriages, the fairies who intervene (benevolently intended, though comically enacted), the hilarious play-within-a-play, and the play’s smart and self-conscious pivot between fantasy and reality, it offers just about everything we look for in a good comedy. Its title derives from a common legend that a young woman could dream, on midsummer’s night, of the man she would marry.
While the collision between the human world and the fairy world offers whimsy unique in the Shakespearean canon, its treatment of love – its struggles, its power, its danger, its elusiveness, its changeability – is a tale told time and time again. Because really, at its core, this play examines love, specifically why we love.
Shakespeare alerts us to this focus in the opening scene, where characters talk of marriage, love, and the moon, known for its nightly transformations, its inconstant phases, and its mythical ability to inspire lunacy. And so this play, funny and innocent at first glance, is after something deeper: it explores the fickleness of the human heart, how easily our hearts are led by what we see, how easily our love is directed by physical attraction.
Human love is, after all, vulnerable. We think that because it’s love, it’s supposed to be firm, and of course no one enters into love expecting his or her heart to change. And yet Shakespeare pulls back the veil and lets us see how prone to change our affections truly can be. The play’s fascination with the line between fantasy and reality (maximized by the uproariously obtuse Mechanicals) comes to a point in Theseus’ insightful line, “The madman, the poet, and the lover are of imagination all compact,” because they all see what isn’t there, but act as if what they see is real. Love sometimes makes no sense, but is it supposed to? Without this capacity, how would married love weather the decades following the glow of youthful beauty?
And so the play’s fascination with dream constantly forces us to ask what is real. How do we know? Can we trust our senses? Is love anchored in the eyes or, as Helena suggests, in the mind? The play’s interest in the moon’s changeability seems to suggest that love that alters each night can’t possibly be real – even if what is perceived through the eyes and thought to be beautifully attractive inspires seemingly eternal love.
Of course, this kind of intermittently committed affection might recall to us the fair-weather relationships that can so often characterize high school relationships – hence the setting of our play, Athens Academy, a space that brilliantly illuminates the tenuousness of the romantic affection and loyalty we see in Shakespeare’s characters. High schoolers that are avidly messaging each other and “into each other” in September, when the year is fresh and spirits are high, might have cooled by December, and suddenly what was once attractive is commonplace or even undesired.
Oberon’s vindictive prank on Titania unwittingly reveals the potential shallowness of young love: how easily young people can assign their love based on appearance and then abandon previously supposedly stalwart affection and relocate that affection onto a new recipient, how easily their loyalty can shift, and with it their “undying affection,” based on what – or whom – they see. And Shakespeare does not allow us to blame just the magical intervention for this altered affection: we must remember that prior to the action’s start, Demetrius and Helena had been a couple; he had pursued her just as ardently as he is now pursuing Hermia.
But lest we think that Shakespeare is indicting only adolescent love, we must realize that the only character who seems to see most clearly through the love-sight-transformation is Bottom, the most ridiculously myopic, fatuous character on the stage. Perhaps the truth is plain, but adults just aren’t often very good at recognizing it. Because this is what Shakespeare is good at: taking plain truth about the human condition and packaging it so that it can’t be ignored. That’s why we still read him and bring his plays to life on countless stages across the globe (ha ha) 400 years later.
Shakespeare’s work is relatably powerful because it pinpoints irreducible elements of humanity that characterize life, no matter the century or country in which one lives. People are the same, really, whether they lived in the 1590s or the 1900s or the 2000s. (And this play was funny and relatable in 1595 even without social media, Tinder, The Bachelor – how much more now?). We like to think that we outgrow the shallowness of stereotypical teenage love, but Shakespeare seems to suggest otherwise.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the adults are as willing as the young people to accept the rapidly transformed love that concludes the action. The question is, are we?
(Purchase tickets now for one of four performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., March 28-30, and also on that Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.)
(The following homily was given at Petra Academy’s All Saints’ Feast.)
All Saints’ Day is a holy day that the Orthodox church traces back to church father John Chrysostom in the 4th century as a recognition of saints – many of whom were martyrs – celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Parthenon at Rome to Mary and the martyrs, initiated the practice in the Catholic church in 609 A.D. before Pope Gregory III officially established the holy day on November 1 in the mid-eighth century.
Historically, Catholic churches have thought of “saints” as those officially canonized or “made” saints by the church, but in the Orthodox church, as well as in many Protestant denominations today, All Saints’ Day is celebrated as a remembrance of departed Christians from any time and place – those whom Hebrews 12:1 calls a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding the Church universal. Thus, All Saints’ Day is a day on which we honor faithful believers who have died, but also those by whom we are sitting even now.
I wonder, though, if we really believe this – that we are sitting next to saints? I know that I struggle with the idea, not so much because I know all of you but because I know me. I’m much more likely to think of myself as a sinner saved by grace than a saint who sins.
How do you think about yourself? As someone who usually messes up but miraculously gets it right every now and then? Or as someone who is loved and cherished even (and especially) when he messes up? Does it matter? I think it does.
Let me tell you a Little Mr. Dunham story.
When Little Mr. Dunham was in 7th grade, he played basketball on a really good school team. Little Mr. Dunham wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was a perfectionist and often got down on himself pretty easily if he didn’t play up to his standards. One night, after a particularly bad game, Little Mr. Dunham came home, threw his duffel bag in the corner of his room, sat down at his desk, and carved into the wood a question: “Why does Little Mr. Dunham play basketball?” And then, in the throes of true teenage angst, he carved the answer: “No apparent reason.”
Little Mr. Dunham’s coach noticed his tendency to get down on himself and made the comment to Little Mr. Dunham’s parents that he was going to die at the age of 14 from beating himself up over his perfectionistic ways. Little Mr. Dunham’s parents told him this, which made him feel even worse…until his parents told him what the coach had also said: “But he’s the smartest player I’ve ever coached.”
This was what Little Mr. Dunham needed. He knew he would never be the fastest player or the best rebounder or the top scorer, so he tried to play up to what the coach had said about him being the smartest player. Someone else loved him enough to believe in him, and that made all the difference for Little Mr. Dunham and his team for the next six years. He no longer thought of himself as a bad player who only rarely and miraculously got things right; instead, he learned (and it was a process) to think of himself as a smart player who, yes, sometimes missed the mark, but was loved and trusted by his coach and his teammates anyway.
It’s true that you and I are sinners – ones who miss the mark of God’s commanded perfection. It’s also true that, if we trust in the work Jesus has done for us on the cross, we are sinners saved by grace – by a love we never deserved, but were given anyway. It is only by this undeserved love any of us can call ourselves Christians.
But God thinks of those who are Christians much more as saints who sin instead of merely sinners saved by grace. There are plenty of passages from the Psalms (among other books) that tell us this (see Psalm 16:3; 30:4; 31:23; 34:9; 37:28; 85:8; 97:10; 116:15; 132:9; 132:16; 145:10; 148:14).
It feels good and means a lot to hear God call us his saints, but I wish we were better at thinking of each other in this way. Sometimes we don’t treat each other like saints at all. We talk poorly about one another; we do mean things to one another; we think of ourselves as being better than one another.
You know where we most often see this happen at school? On the playground, in the garment rooms, in the hallways, in the gymnasium, in the bathrooms in the parking lot – places where we think no adult is watching or listening closely, but God always is.
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and so many other great books you’ll read at Petra, writes in his book, The Weight of Glory, about how he, too, wished we could see each other more as God sees us because of Jesus. Listen to what he wrote:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
We are called to see our fellow Christians the way God sees us – not just as sinners saved by grace (though we are), but also as saints who sin (because we do).
What would it look like if we thought of and spoke to and played with one another in ways that saw the good in one another rather than only the not-so-good? What if we believed – really believed – that when others sin against us and hurt our feelings, we should forgive them because they are saints who sometimes sin rather than dirty, rotten sinners saved by grace and a real pain in the neck? What if we ourselves experienced this kind of forgiveness when we hurt others but were treated as saints who sometimes sinned rather than sinners saved by grace?
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day and think about those who have gone before us, let’s remember to honor those saints we see everyday – at Petra and elsewhere. Let’s believe the best in one another, stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, and talk to and not about one another. And while we can all heartily affirm that, indeed, we are sinners saved by grace, let us also pray for courage for one another to live not just as ordinary people or mere mortals, but as saints – yes, who sin – but as saints nevertheless because of Jesus, who died on the cross to make us so.
This truth (and our unity as saints surrounding them) is what we celebrate today, just as those before us celebrated as well.
(This is the second of two posts from 3rd grade teacher Sabrina Moody. Read part one.)
The Opportunity to Grow
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8
As we re-experience 3rd, 5th, 8th or whatever the grade may be, we have the unique opportunity to grow alongside our children. Chances are most of us did not have a classical Christian education. We may remember a grade level, but not always positively. By getting involved with projects, classroom and school activities, and homework, we positively reshape our loves and experience. The challenges and joys we experience will grow us, and as adults modeling a love for growth and learning, we couldn’t show our children a better example.
Questions like: “How can the Lord help you grow through this challenge in math?” or “How can I help you as we move past this frustration with homework?” are invaluable assets to your parenting experience. You will “grow much fruit” in your relationship with Christ and your child as you come alongside.
The Opportunity to Love and Understand More Deeply
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “ Romans 15:5-6
As a learning community that places Christ at its center, Petra offers families and students the chance to build a network of support in the Body of Christ and supplement the local church. This does not mean we seek to do the work that local churches do, but rather that we support each other in the body of Christ in an educational way. What does this mean?
We integrate our subjects with biblical, Christian teachings. We teach Bible as a class at the elementary and secondary levels, but we don’t limit understandings of other subjects (particularly math and science) as exclusive of our Christian ethos.
We give you the opportunity to pray with us (Moms in Prayer, Dads who Dare prayer groups) and the opportunity to receive prayer support (faculty prayer).
Finally, our Humanities (secondary) and Literature studies (elementary) are connected to our faith by teaching students to interpret God at work in the creation of characters, themes, and philosophies shown in classical and secular literature.
Your child’s studies may be the most challenging he/she has yet experienced, but the opportunity this gives you to encourage and persevere is rich with potential. Embrace the opportunities at Petra! And may it be a wonderful year of joy, exploration, and support for you and your children!
Maybe you’re at Petra Academy because you want a community in which your children can learn and grow. Maybe you’re here because you’ve grown to love classical Christian education, or have become excited about its promise for your children and family.
Maybe you’re here because you sense, on some level, opportunities at Petra that you and your kids have never had before. What are some of these opportunities?
The Opportunity to Share
And we pray this that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:10
At Petra, parents and families share in the classroom and school endeavors in unique and indispensable ways. Rather than turning you away at the door as you “drop off” in anonymity, we delight at seeing you in our hallways, hugging your child, delivering some extra words of encouragement, letting us know of requests or upcoming needs, supporting sports games and plays, or asking how you can volunteer in our classrooms or school.
At Petra, the premise of “in loco parentis” meaning “in the place of parents” (paraphrased as “being responsible for the child’s parents while the parents are absent”), guides our role as adults in your child’s life. We don’t replace you or supersede your role; instead, we partner with you to ensure that your authority and vision for your child is held throughout the time he or she is stewarded by us during the school day. This philosophy supports you as parents in a time when cultural norms can undermine and confuse your beliefs and vision where your children are concerned.
The Opportunity to Build Up in Christ
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude:20
Our community encourages and embraces the expression of love and fellowship through our Lord Jesus Christ. As our mission states, “recognizing our need for God’s grace, Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching them to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.”
The school year here at Petra gives you the chance to build up your child, your family, your child’s teachers, administration, and families within your child’s class and school. You can build up by your words, your time, and yes, your smile. Reaching out for help when you need it (i.e., “recognizing the need for God’s grace”) gives you the opportunity to be joyous on this journey. Reach out to teachers whenever you have a concern about your child – that is why we are here! – to support and help you and your children.
Words like “I really would like to hear more about ________( your studies in a subject, class, enrichment),” or “This learning must be such a delight. I wonder how we could live into this teaching at home?” or “What you did today sounds like fun. Can I do an activity with you to experience or learn more about this?” can go a long way with your student.