Like A Tree

I grew up on the farm that my great-grandfather farmed.  The white barn on the property is over hundred years old and is still a working barn.  I remember as a boy walking into the tack room and seeing pictures of his teams of draft horses placed among the actual yokes and harnesses that those horses were hitched up to plow and pull the farm equipment to take care of his 80-acre farm. As you would look over the land, which is now grassy pasture instead of rows of crops, you will notice these long rows of small hills.  These hills are called terraces.  My great-grandfather actually created them. Over time, farmers became more and more innovative in their farming and creating these terraces helps keep all the precious topsoil in place.  Farmers in the Midwest learned this the hard way.  In the 1930’s, something called the Dust Bowl swept through the Dakotas, Nebraska and even all the way into parts of Texas.  As farmers had machines that allowed them to farm larger and larger tracts of land, they began clearing out trees to make larger and larger fields.  It seemed pretty ideal, large flat fields with no trees to get in the way.  However, what happened is that it didn’t rain.  For a long time.  That is called a drought.  So you have large flat, treeless fields, in hot, dry conditions.  When you add wind that mix, you can start to imagine what happened, but imagine it happening over entire states and regions.  These winds would pick up huge amounts of dirt and blow unobstructed through farms and towns.  My great-grandfather would tell of stories of seeing these big, gray billows that you could hear the roaring get louder and louder and this massive wall of dirt would come crashing through the farm covering everything with layers of dirt and dust.  The dust would find any cracks in the windows or house and your house would be filthy in an instant.  Any crops that survived the dust storm would usually get devoured by the grasshoppers.  These grasshoppers would travel in huge swarms looking for food.  Again my great grandfather recalled hearing them like a giant helicopter coming closer and closer.  They would frantically run to get a fire to light firewalls to try to keep them away otherwise they would eat everything.  Clothes left out on the clothesline, leather harnesses, leaves, crops, anything they could sink their teeth into.  I heard stories of how grasshoppers would even eat the shirts off the backs of farmers who tried to stay outside to fight them off.  You see some of these horrible problems could have been avoided if the farmers would have done a couple simple things.  First, if they would have terraces to help keep the soil in place better and secondly if they would have left some trees up to help block the wind.

Now when you drive by farms, more than likely you will see terraces and rows of trees in strategic locations.  Some of those trees planted after the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s are still around today.  These trees, usually oak trees, are massive.  Their trunks are thick and strong.  Their roots run deep.  The tree reaches high in the sky and its branches make a huge canopy, bringing shade to all who pass under it.

In Psalm 1, King David has been telling us how we are to live a blessed life.  He first told us to watch the direction of our lives and to be so careful.  Every decision you make, both big and small, set the direction of your life.  If you follow the selfish desires of your heart, things go from bad to worse.  Instead, the thing that should bring you the most joy, the most delight, is God’s Word.  You should love it so much that you should want to not stop thinking about it, to meditate on it.  All day and night.  Now David tells us to be like something sort of unusual.  He says, be like a tree.

Psalm 1 describes this massive, healthy, vibrant tree.  All those that have gone through a plant biology class will know that trees, like all plants, need rich soil for their roots to draw up food, plenty of water to stay healthy,  and lots of sunlight to get its energy.  The tree is Psalm 1 is planted by rivers of water.  It has a fountain of a never-ending supply of nourishment.

The picture of a tree is an analogy.  An analogy is comparing two things.  In this case, how a blessed man is like this tree.  So, let’s think about this analogy.  What are the soil and water? This should be obvious.  It is the Word of God.  God’s Word, the Bible, gives us energy and life, just like rich dark dirt and fresh water brings life to a tree.  We should be feasting on it.  Things that are full of truth, beauty and goodness, give life to our mind, body, and soul.  Our roots grow deeper and deeper.

We become unmovable.

Even when stormy winds blow, we are not moved.  When the foolish and wicked tempt us to follow them, our roots hold firm and we say no.  Just like a massive tree brings forth fruit and shade for others to enjoy, as we grow in our blessings, we bless others in how we live our lives.  We love our neighbor.  It can be something as simple as holding a door for an adult, looking them in the eyes, smiling and saying hello.  It can be rushing to help someone in need.  Praying for others.  A blessed person is a happy person and one who wants to spread that joy to others.

Again, how do you become like the tree that is planted by rivers of water?  Delight in God’s Word.  What does a tree planted by rivers of water look like?  One who obeys.  Right away.  With a happy heart.  One who fears God, and keeps his commands.  One who honors others, above yourself. That is how a person looks like a healthy tree.  This isn’t just for kids.  No, it’s for parents, teachers, and principals.  We are also called to be like trees planted by rivers.  How should it look like in our lives?  For starters, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.  This isn’t a good idea or principle, this is a command.  Not doing it is disobeying.  If God forgave much for us, then how can we not but forgive others much?  Kindness, love, forgiveness, obedience is all the rich soil that make our roots run deep.  This is the season of thanksgiving.  If we are Christians, running to God’s word and being obedient to the Bible is an obvious response to thankfulness for the amazing things He has done.  To not do this, just like the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, is to invite drought of the soul and the winds of life will follow and eventually your heart and mind will be overtaken with a massive cloud of dust and dirt that will contaminate everything.  So let us now give thanks to God for giving us the perfect gift of His son and giving us His word so that we can know how to live a blessed, flourishing life and be like a massive 100-year-old oak tree that reaches it branches to sky inviting the sun in.

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Dear Annapolis families and friends (and other bezoomy chelovecks and devotchkas!),

In the perennial size matters debate, bigger is usually better, right?  Not when it comes to schooling.  I’ve spent my whole life in small, private schools.  I graduated high school from Annapolis Christian Prep School (the predecessor to Annapolis Christian Academy) the proud salutatorian of the class of ’94 – a class of four graduates!  I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree from Hillsdale college (1,200 students) and my master’s degree from St. John’s College (800 students), both small, private liberal arts colleges. For the past decade, I have served as head of school for Annapolis Christian Academy and seen the school grow from a mere 180 students to almost 300 students over the course of my administration.  My experience in small, private schools has left an indelible mark on my character for which I am profoundly grateful and I am convinced more than ever that small, private schools like Annapolis are simply the safest and most effective model of schooling.  Period.

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Calling

I grew up on a farm and one of the things I hated the most was during the summer was when my mom would make a list of chores for me to finish before I could do anything else.  The thing that I wanted to do more than anything else was to go fishing but I knew I had to do chores first.  Of all the chores that my mom could write down, the worst ones were cleaning.  This wasn’t vacuuming or dusting, no it was cleaning up after animals.  You see we had a fair number of chickens and horses and they would spend their nights in the coop or stall and they would make their mess inside.  Someone, usually me, had to keep these buildings clean.  It was a hot, dirty, smelly job.  In the 1500’s, people would look at someone who did those kinds of jobs and think, only people who work in the church are really doing the work of God. Today I am going to talk briefly about an idea that Martin Luther brought forward during the reformation that was completely revolutionary for its time.  It was the idea of calling.  He insisted that the farmer shoveling manure and the maid milking her cow could please God as much as the minister preaching or praying.

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My Why

Dear Annapolis Friends and Families (and other concerned citizens),

I recently returned from a head of school retreat hosted by the Society for Classical Learning. We were a motley crew of 40 battle-hardened, classical Christian heads of school with plenty of stories to share and scars to show. There was lots of coffee drinking, khaki pants and loafer wearing, and lamenting the general decline of Western Civilization brought on by the ubiquitous presence of hand-held, soul-destroying digital devices. We were a sight to behold; but it was a truly wonderful time of fellowship and renewal of vision as we were challenged to think through the big “why.”   Why do our schools exist?  Why in the world did we ever choose to subject ourselves to careers in Classical Christian school leadership?  Stuff like that.

So, maybe out of a self-flagellating compulsion to confess, or maybe even out of a repressed desire to simply say “I’m sorry,” for better or worse, I leave to posterity my personal confession, my why:

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Happy Classical Christian Halloween?

Dear Annapolis Friends and Families (excluding all ghosts, gouls, or goblins who may be disguised among us),

Today is Halloween. To quote Jim Geraghty, “We live in a world with North Korean nukes, opioid addiction, Antifa, Russian hackers, a mass shooting in Las Vegas that still lacks a revealed motive, and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. Honestly, by comparison, ghosts and goblins are kind of relaxing!”

I have a confession to make: I was raised a Halloween “teetotaler.” Growing up, my parents had strong convictions that Halloween was demonic, evil, and rooted in occult practices dating back to the pagan Celtic druids and the festival of Samhain (pronounced “sah-wain”) marking the end of the harvest season and commemorating the dead.

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Meditate

Who do you think talks to you the most?  Your teacher?  Your parents?  Your annoying brother or sister who won’t be quiet?  I think the answer may surprise you.  The person who talks to you the most is you.  No one talks to yourself more than you do.  It is helpful if you keep the conversation in your head and not talk to yourself out loud because people may think you’re a bit weird. God created you and me to try to make sense out of life.  We are constantly trying to figure out what in the world is going on and we do that by talking to ourselves.

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Whatever Happened to Manners & Morals?

Dear Annapolis Friends and Families (and any other featherless bipeds who happen to read this weekly letter),
Yesterday in chapel, Mr. Lockyer, Annapolis’ Grammar School Principal, publicly praised the actions of a third-grade student, Brody Williamson, who regularly helps a younger student out by carrying his fencing equipment to and from the dance studio where the two engage in all manner of dangerous swashbuckling endeavors after school. I was truly encouraged by Brody’s example of selflessness and service and was reminded afresh that kids these days aren’t all bad! Thank you, Brody, for restoring my hope in humanity’s future!
Though a small kindness, Brody’s action illustrates a BIG part of Annapolis’ mission: the restoration of respect for good ol’ fashioned manners and morals.
Admittedly, we are swimming upstream in our current culture of casual crudeness. It’s no secret that good manners and virtuous morals are decreasingly important to our society and that coarseness, rudeness, moral relativism, corruption, and depravity rule the day. For those who care, this trend is deeply concerning as it signals the onset of a new dark age of barbarism that threatens to engulf us completely. But what can be done to restore respect for things and people? How can Annapolis encourage thoughtful manners and virtuous character in our students and staff?

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Soli Deo Gloria

The year was 1695.  It was midnight.  There were no street lights or electricity.  It was pitch black in the house.  A ten-year-old boy is tiptoeing down the stairs with only a candle to light his way.  He shields the light with his hand to keep the light from spilling all over and waking up the adults.  He slowly opens the door to the study, knowing if he pushes too fast, the hinges will squeak and his adventure will be found out.  He has a burning passion for music but he has been told that the music used for the church is too valuable to be used by children.  He squeezes his arm through an opening in the lattice and he rolls up a piece of organ music and pulls it out.  He spends the rest of the night copying the music on another piece of paper, all by candlelight.  He cannot wait to play this music the next day.  

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Me & Julio Down by the School Yard

Dear Annapolis Friends and Families (and everyone else who I may have failed),
I want to introduce you to a very remarkable person.  His name is Julio Cesar Viana. You may have seen Julio around campus dutifully taking out trash, mopping floors, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming rooms, and working faithfully to keep the Annapolis campus clean and safe for our students and staff on a daily basis.  What you may not know is that Julio is on a special mission from God to serve the Annapolis community.

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Delight

Let me ask you this question, what sets apart someone who is in favor with God and on the way to enjoy the blessings of heaven and someone who is turning away from God and on the path of destruction? The answer is, what makes you happy. I mean deep down, what you really want to satisfy your heart desire.

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