Consider the Birds of the Air

By Dr. Lindsey Scholl, (7th Grade Humanities & Latin Chair)

The feeder was hung by the window with care, with hope that the chickadees soon would be there. I watched and I waited to see what would descend. Maybe blackbirds, or finches, or sparrows on end. I took out my camera, and I waited and watched, with the focus well set and the lens clean of spots. When what to my wondering eyes came to view, but a bunting bright- painted in crayon-like hues.

I jest, but this happened. John and I really did have a feeder that we watched with anticipation. Often, our only guests were “LBJs” as one birder has called them: little brown jobs. These were usually sparrows, but sometimes a wren would join us. One glorious spring, a painted bunting arrived, brought its mate, and stayed through the summer. We felt chosen.

Our birding enthusiasm started small: a feeder stocked with Pennington’s Classic Bird Feed, a clean window, a field guide, and the fascination that comes with the ability to identify something you’ve seen countless times, but only on the periphery of your vision. Who knew that blue jays have heads that are shaped differently than those of bluebirds? Cardinals always travel in pairs. Wrens are quite small.

John and I are not the only birders in our community. There are birders among our administrators, our teachers, co-teachers, and even students. You can discover these enlightened souls in the following manner: take a suspected birder outside, preferably where there are some trees and ideally where you know there is natural activity. Place your back to the trees while you engage her in conversation. If her gaze drifts to the branches, you are dealing with a birder. If her eyes light up, and she is unable to focus on what you’re saying, she has just spotted something red and is certain it’s not a cardinal. At that point, you should give up the conversation and follow her gaze.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote that a turkey was more occult and awful than an angel. Ancient observers would take omens from the flight of birds; these predictions were called auguries, and we have not yet taken our birding to this level. Our Lord told us to consider the birds of the air and then to live as worry-free as they do. The practice of birding is as classical as Aristotle and as Christian as Francis of Assisi, and I recommend it to any TCS family who likes to spend time outside. Actually, any family who likes to look outside.

I divide the advantages of birding into two categories: the quick pay-off and the long haul. First, the quick pay-off. If you are like me, you have paid birds no attention other than observing that a duck likes water and robins come out at spring. With a second look, you will begin to comprehend the variety of shapes and sounds that have formed the backdrop of your life. Those birds you hear at night while sitting at a stoplight? Those are Grackles. Those black shapes on the power lines in the spring are Grackles, (Houston has a lot of them), but also Starlings. That crazy bird you saw on the shoulder on your drive outside of Austin was a roadrunner. When you and your kids start putting names to faces, you will be instantly satisfied, yet curious to know more.

Once you get through the species you can recognize quickly and without binoculars, you start to experience the advantages of the long haul. You find yourself watching the bird feeder instead of the computer. You go out for a walk just to see what’s there. You take the kids for a drive to Edith Moore Bird Sanctuary, where you are certain you will see a turtle and might be blessed with a woodpecker. You pay attention to the seasons, not as dictated by Hobby Lobby, but as determined by the arrival of the goldfinches.

The great thing is that most of this applies to your children. Active children can enjoy the walks outside, where you will coach them to do their cartwheels more quietly so they don’t scare the birds. Those who love responsibility can carry the binoculars. Contemplative young ones can watch the sparrows at the feeder in the rain. In addition to the childlike joy of identification, they will also learn patience and wonder. Patience: not all birds are painted buntings. Wonder: some of them are.

The Theatre

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By Hunter Rapp, TCS Freshman

I’ve always loved going to see movies. The whole experience—from walking into the theatre to the lights dimming as the film starts—is just so enjoyable. The anticipation makes the process leading up to the actual movie just as fun. (Then again, it might just be the popcorn.) Whatever the case, I wanted to capture that feeling when I wrote this poem. Now, please silence your cell phones and enjoy the feature presentation—The Theatre.

The Theatre
I quickly climb the stairs, before diverting down the middle row
Squeeze past with hushed apologies, sitting just as the first trailers show;
I sink into my sproingy seat while everyone else watches quite intently,
Except for the noisy ten-year-old crunching candy not-so-silently.
Occasional laughter breaks out whenever there’s a funny scene
In the ads for sequels, sagas, and standalones that flash across the screen.
The room itself is dark, with the dim lights turned down low
Whilst the projector’s silver beam produces the brightest glow.
The seats, arranged like terraces, sit side-by-side in lines,
Speckled by groups of people, comfortably resting at inclines.
Of course, no cinema experience is complete without the grub:
Thus, in my lap there sits a plethora of popcorn within a pinstriped tub.
Accompanying it is a plastic cup filled with icy-cold perfection;
A straw leads to the depths of the carbonated confection.
Though my anticipation alone is even more bubbly than the drink,
As now I’m excited to the point where I can hardly think.
Just then, the lights switch off, eliminating the meager illumination.
I smile, knowing that it’s finally time for the feature presentation.

 

Commonplace Books

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By Dr. Christi Williams (6th Grade Humanities)

Why Commonplace?

Have you ever noticed how it is difficult to remember and recount the books you read five years ago? What about those you read last year? Anytime we read a book without teaching, discussing, studying, or writing about it, we tend to forget much of what we read. It is sad to realize how many books we’ve read and already largely forgotten. When we read quickly and passively, the stories and wisdom we enjoy easily pass in and out of our hearts and minds. I combat this tendency partially by highlighting and writing in my books, a practice which slows me down, engages me more responsively with the text, and makes it easy to locate and return to favorite passages ten years from now. But this only does so much. Commonplace books are another way to combat the tendency to read and forget. As St. Jerome said. “to read without also writing is to sleep.”

Commonplacing changes reading practices so that we slow down, digest, meditate, remember, and apply what we read.

What is a commonplace book?

A commonplace book is a personal journal that compiles quotes from books you read. It may also include illustrations, personal thoughts, lists, and anecdotes. We gain great understanding and encounter poetic beauty that shape our souls as we read, and by writing those passages down as we go, we build a storehouse of virtue and wisdom, a treasure trove of literary gems, that can then take the form of action in our lives. For, as Seneca says, “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”

Commonplace books have been used by scholars and readers throughout history. Marcus Aurelius kept one, and it later became his famous Meditations. Montaigne’s early essays were largely a compilation of the quotes, axioms, and historical notes recorded in commonplace books. Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon kept one. Even Bill Gates has a commonplace book.

But are commonplace books just for scholars? Absolutely not. I have introduced commonplace books to my sixth graders this year, and they have really enjoyed making their own. Each student selects different passages (they share their favorite quotes with the class, and explain why they chose them), and it becomes a unique, personal response to the books we read. It’s so exciting to see them taking joy in the power of words, expressing their creativity through illustrations, and learning to be active readers.

If you are interested in making your own commonplace book, or commonplacing with your children or students, I have some practical suggestions that have worked for me (many came from Jenny Rallens) about how to do it. This level of specificity and detail is helpful for children up through 8th grade, who thrive by having a model to adhere to. As they become older, more confident, and more creative, these books can become as unique as the people themselves.

How to set one up:

Choosing a commonplace book: I ask my students to select a durable, attractive, lined journal that is easy to write in. Picking out a journal is one of the most fun steps for the kids. Many students pick an elegant leather bound book with thick pages or an artsy hardback from Barnes & Noble. They can get pricey, but it is worth the investment and these journals usually take several years to complete.

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I explain to my students what a commonplace book is, why it is important, and pass around some of my prettiest commonplace books for them to see, touch, and smell. I point out the delightful smell of old leather, the texture of creamy white pages, and the classy attractiveness of careful penmanship. I encourage them to see these as works of art.

I require students to write in pen, and encourage them to pick a writing utensil that enables them to write beautifully (erasable pens and pilot pens are favorites). Pencil smudges too easily, disappears over time, and can encourage sloppy handwriting. Some students choose to write in black or blue pen only, and others have any elaborate color coding system. Allowing them space to be unique makes the process more exciting and rewarding.

Setting up the book (nuts and bolts):

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  1. Children write their names in cursive (when the they learn cursive) inside the front cover or on the first page of the book.
  2. Children number pages 1-100 (front and back) in the bottom corner margin of each page.
  3. On page 1, children write “Commonplace Book” and later may add a design or illustration.
  4. Skip pages 2-4 — later the child may use these introductory pages for favorite quotes written in beautiful calligraphy or additional illustrations.
  5. On page 5, child writes “TABLE OF CONTENTS” on the top line (see picture below). Children will fill this page out over the course of the year, so now they need only list the title of their first book (it can begin it with page 7).
  6. On page 7, children create a title page for their first book. The students are asked to write the full title and author’s full name in careful, elegant script two or three times larger than normal. Later, students may add designs and illustrations to this page.

Commonplace Entries:

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  1. I choose the first quote from their first book and write the entire entry on the board for them to copy in their books. Quotes are enclosed by quotation marks and written in cursive. Later I teach students how to select important quotes and use ellipses (…) and brackets [] to skip less important parts of a passage.
  2. Each quote is followed by a citation and tag. Skip a line after the quote. On the following line, flush to the right and write the citation in print, which includes author, title, and page or line numbers. I encourage students to use “Ibid” where appropriate. After the citation, students write down a tag in brackets and all caps. The tag gives the topic or theme of the quote for quick reference later. [DOUBT VS. FAITH, PATIENCE]
  3. Students skip two lines between each quote. Quotes for books are recorded in the order that the books are read. A page is skipped between each new book and all books are given a title page (and optional illustration), I like to include a couple of additional sections at the beginning of the commonplace books for “Favorite Words” and “Song Lyrics.” After years of using commonplace books, your child will have developed into an active, careful reader, be able to look back on the wealth of wisdom gained through his education, be more likely to remember what he has learned, and carry these literary treasures with him throughout life.

Anticipate. Expect. Trust.

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By Todd Rapp, TCS Parent

Is it worth the wait? If you are over 40 years old, you probably remember a Heinz ketchup commercial on TV that was all about anticipation. The company used the song “Anticipation” by Carly Simon to sell us on the idea that the slow flow of the ketchup out of the bottle was worth the wait because it is so rich, thick, and delicious. Smilingly they said, “Wait ‘til you taste it! It’s worth the wait!” Maybe so, but I didn’t ever have the patience to wait on gravity to get it to come out. I would stick a knife inside the bottle to get the ketchup moving!

The season of Advent is all about anticipation – waiting (eager expectation) for the Savior to arrive. The first way we can observe Advent is to celebrate the Messiah’s first coming as the Suffering Servant and Sacrificial Lamb who purchased our salvation. We can imagine the excitement Old Testament believers must have experienced through the words of an elderly Jew named Simeon at the temple when Jesus first visited with His parents. He said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

For years, Simeon trusted that God would follow through on what He told the prophets would happen regarding Jesus, who fulfilled all the 300+ prophecies! Take a look at just 8 of them!

Prophecies regarding the Messiah Fulfilled
1.  Born of a virgin, Isaiah 7:14 Matt. 1: 18,24,25
2.  Born in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2 Matt. 2:1
3.  Enter Jerusalem on a donkey, Zech. 9:9 Luke 19:35-37
4.  Resurrected from the dead, Psalms 16:10 Acts 2:31
5.  Sold for 30 pieces of silver, Zech. 11:12 Matt. 26:15
6.  Hands & feet pierced, Isaiah 53 & Ps.22:16 Luke 23:33
7.  Bones not broken, Psalms 34:20 John 19:33
8.  Buried in rich man’s tomb, Isaiah 53:9 Matt. 27:57-60

Isaiah and Micah were both written about 700 years before Christ. Can you imagine how much ridicule Isaiah must have received when He proclaimed that there would be a birth from a virgin? They must have thought he was crazy! But if God says it, then it is true…even if the odds are preposterous. Famous mathematician and astronomer Peter Stoner calculated that the odds of one man fulfilling just 8 of the more than 300 prophecies are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000. To demonstrate what that looks like, take for example 10 raffle tickets. If you place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Now, suppose that we take 1017 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover the entirety of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars (with a red “x”) and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar that has the red mark. This is the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man. (Peter Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) pgs.106-109).

If you’ve ever doubted whether the Bible is accurate, understanding these O.T. prophecies and their fulfillment testify clearly that God’s Word is true! Jesus is the Messiah! Hallelujah for His arrival! Praise God for Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, purchasing the forgiveness of our sins! That’s why we can say, “Merry Christmas!”

What God says will happen, will happen…. No matter how long it takes. Anticipate. Expect. Trust. Rest assured, the Bible can be trusted as God’s words to us! Unfulfilled prophecies regarding the 2nd coming of Christ can be anticipated with full assurance.  That’s the second way we can observe Advent.  We eagerly anticipate His 2nd arrival as the Judge, Conqueror and Rewarder. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” For me, that is sobering and exciting at the same time.

Keep in mind… “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…. (2 Peter 3:9),

AND… “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.”  (Revelation 21:4),

SO… “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” (2 Peter 3:11-12).

‘Tis the season to rejoice at His coming, and anticipate His forth-coming with the prayerful eagerness of Simeon!  I’ll wait on Jesus, trusting He will come at the right time, and it will be worth the wait! But I’ll keep on praying, “Lord, come quickly!”

Something More: A Circle in the Hallway

novemberblogpic2By Dr. John Scholl, Academic Dean and Rhetoric School Director

A few weeks ago, one of my favorite classroom liturgies was enacted for the first time this year. My students marched out of class, turned into a dead-end of the hallway, in front of the fire escape, and sat down in a small circle. Oddly, they make bad circles; despite their knowledge of geometry, they tend to make battered-looking, squashed circles, more like polygons than shapes with radii. In fact, when we were first forming this ritual, three years ago, they tended naturally to devolve into a line, despite my clear direction to “sit in a circle.” Maybe geometrical heresy is part of the liturgy. At any rate, they recreated the now-customary, malformed circle, and I took my place in the middle of one side. After the usual chit-chat, the group fell silent and awaited my standard question: “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate this book?”

I stumble on good things in the same way everyone else does. The first time I sent them out into the hall in 8th grade I had little vision for the trajectory of this practice; it seemed a nice change of pace, a good way to celebrate the completion of a book. We were reading some hefty books that year—highlighted by Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the mysterious Kim, and the philosophically challenging Time Machine—and my students were working hard. A celebratory change of pace, signified by an informal discussion, was in order. Also, my classroom was a windowless cave, while the hallway was lined with windows. Its brighter, though less comfortable, environs made the hallway a strangely relaxing spot. Somewhere along the way, we established the 1-10 rating system as the centerpiece of our discussion, and I realized that I had something good.

What makes this a good liturgy? In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith reminds us that liturgies, by training us to worship, train our loves. In the hallway, my students cultivate a love of reading. In our most recent discussion, the focus was Augustine’s Confessions. Before we rated it, two very important things happened. First, one student asked, since we had a new student among us, if we could go around the group and name our favorite books, the ones that earn a 10. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen were bandied about. Second, a question was raised about the basis, or rule, for rating a book. Was it just the simple pleasure and love of reading it? Or was there something more? We determined that our rating is based on how likely we are to choose the book voluntarily, as pleasure reading. I think we were all in agreement that there had to be something more as well, something that smacked of greatness. An easy page-turner would not rate a 10 merely because it whiled away a few hours at the airport; it would have to do something more. But we left that “something more” undefined, hanging in the air above us. It is precisely these terms, the frame for our rating system, that make the liturgy good.

One of the things I aim for is that my students connect what they read in school to the things that they read outside of school, to link The Iliad to Harry Potter, to see that the great texts speak to their lives and not just to their transcripts. If there had been a Barnes and Noble in ancient Athens, The Iliad would have been flying off the shelves. Homer was not composing torture devices for schoolchildren but bestsellers. Unfortunately, in our era, it is all too easy to leave Homer and his cohorts at school. My students’ hallway liturgy breaks this barrier, by setting the books we read at school in our mental libraries right next to the books we read, by choice, on a rainy day, a vacation, or a long summer night.

Admittedly, the schoolbooks can fare poorly in our rating. Kim, above all, had a rough day, when we carried it out there, averaging a 4 or 5, and we beat on Eusebius rather roughly when he stepped into the ring.

Yet it is surprising how many of the books do well. I was shocked the day The Iliad graded out as more than a 9. In fact, one or two students even considered giving it a 10 and suggested that it might be their favorite or second favorite book of all time. The other day, one student mentioned Dickens as a possible 10, partly because she encountered him in 8th grade—an exciting reminiscence of my own education, since I also came to love Dickens at school, when in 10th grade I read David Copperfield, still one of my favorites. Corrie Ten Boom, C.S. Lewis, and H.G. Wells have also been hailed by the judges. This is exciting confirmation that our students are growing to love the kind of great writing and thinking that we want them to love.

So how did Augustine’s Confessions do? Not quite as well as I had hoped: 7 out of 10. To be sure, I only rated the book a 7 or 7.5 myself, so as much as I hoped for more, it was unrealistic to expect that they would get that from me. However, the ensuing discussion reminded me not to read too much into the number. They did really enjoy the book. Several of them were compelled and profoundly engaged by Augustine’s discussions of sin and time; it may just be a little early for them to rate a work of philosophy as high as a favorite work of fiction. Still, I marvel at Augustine’s success with them: sixteen hundred years old, yet he broke out of the Roman world, met them in the digital world and walked a few steps with them in their Christian faith.

Running the Race

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By Tim Woods, Logic School Director

Having grown up a fan of the Missouri Tigers, I’ve watched plenty of football, good and bad. With Mizzou’s recent conference realignment to the Southeastern Conference (SEC), I’ve gained a newfound interest in things below the Mason-Dixon Line. One of those things is the football giant that is Nick Saban, head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Having won 5 National Championships and countless other football games, it would be safe to assume that this guy knows a thing or two about pushing through adversity. He iterated his thoughts regarding a recent University of Alabama quarterback who sought to transfer schools when he was denied a spot on the starting lineup:

“There’s certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through. I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don’t think I’d have a place to stay….”My dad used to always say ‘The grass is always greener on top of the septic tank,’ so it always looks better someplace else. So you think, instead of facing your fears and really overcoming adversity and making yourself better through the competition, you go someplace else thinking it will be better there. But until you face your fears, you’re always going to have some of those issues or problems.”

Now, we will forgive Coach Saban on this one. He’s getting up there in years and may have forgotten that he left the Miami Dolphins for his current job at Alabama with three years left on his contract. There may always be hypocrisy in the world of college football, and Saban’s another cog in that machine, but maybe we can still take some insight into the Christian life from his thoughts.

The first thought that immediately comes to mind is the human heart. Saban is picking up on something that, if we’re honest, probably festers in our hearts on a consistent basis. The festering disease is that of comfort. If you were to ask me if I would repeat high school for any amount of money, I would respond with a firm “no.” I would say this not because I wouldn’t learn a lot by revisiting that period in my life, or because I wouldn’t enjoy seeing some dear friends that have since parted ways, but simply because high school was difficult. I will confess that my sophomore and junior years in high school were the most challenging academically, socially, and spiritually that I ever had in my life (short of maybe the Spring semester of my freshman year of college, but more on that later). There were many times when I felt discouraged or downright outraged because of how much and how challenging our work was. Now, in retrospect, the work was not comparatively harder than many other schools, but to a 16-17 year old it really seemed that way!

However, God was faithful. He brought me through and I found myself at the University of Missouri’s Classics program. My second semester in college I thought it would be smart to take Honors Greek, Honors Humanities, and a graduate-level History class as an elective (amongst other courses). Suffice it to say, after some solid lessons learned, and often being carried by God, I slogged through that too, (even the painful lesson of dropping a scholarship by 0.06 of a GPA point).

I’m writing now on the dangers of comfort because I’ve made it past all that now and I feel the pull to slow down, kick my feet up and ease off the gas. I wrote about the need for rest over the summer because we as Christians can easily ignore the good gift of rest that God has in place for us in the fullness of time He has for us. But, on the other hand, we are called to great efforts on behalf of our Father in Heaven. Society tells us that if we just work hard in school, go to college, get a job and work it till retirement, there is a peaceful pasture coming ahead, where work is but an afterthought. But let us remember that work is not sinful. God made us to work, (read Genesis 1:28 and following if you don’t believe me). What is an aspect of sin are the physical, emotional and spiritual burdens that cause us to villainize the effort we pour into our godly vocations.

So as I write this, on the eve of another TCS Cross Country race, the metaphor of the Christian life as a race spoken of by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 seems especially appropriate in this instance. We’re all running a race in our call to godly living.

It is important to note that Paul makes a distinction for why we run as well, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor. 9:25) Our society runs the rat race to end in some sort of comfort that is associated with non-work, (negotium in Latin, leisure as a simple denial of work). When we reach the end of a leg of a race, it is good to rest for a time, but let us not deny the search for adversity to be overcome, since even diamonds are born from intense heat and pressure. Just as one of TCS’s house mottos reminds us, “Fire tests gold.”