Christmas Eve

As the Primer School Director, I am surrounded by families in the phase of life that just ended for me. Toddlers and babies, strollers and sippy cups, diapers and diaper rashes used to be the norm for me. I am in a new phase of life. My children can set alarms, dress themselves, make lunches. They need my practical help much less now. But I am still close enough to remember the moments that felt lost due to a missing shoe, and the guilt that can weigh a mom’s heart due to lack of patience. I wrote the blog post below when my kids were 2, 4, 6, and 8. The Lord was gracious to provide a glimpse of perspective in the middle of it all, and I hope it encourages you during this holiday season.

My husband leads the music at our church, so since the day Antonella was born, I have gotten the family ready for church by myself. No matter how early I start, we are always rushing out the door to make it to church on time. This is never more true than for our annual candlelight Christmas Eve service. Getting the four kids and myself into holiday attire and out the door requires a logistical plan including charts, alarms, and baby wipes. The timing of the snack, bath, and dressing are crucial if we want to arrive at the church looking somewhat picture worthy. I know that I could simplify all this, but I want the kids to know how special the night is, how we prepare all month, all day, to worship with our family in anticipation. On this night we dress up as if we were expecting a king… because we are.

I’m afraid that a lot of this sentiment is lost in the hustle, if not for the kids, for me. I arrive at church feeling tired and stressed and wondering how my crew will sit through the dimly lit reverent service. For the last nine years, I have paced the back of the church, bouncing a baby, entertaining a toddler, one eye on the older kids left to manage by themselves. Every Christmas Eve after all the preparations, all the ironing and wiping, all the tucking in and smiling for pictures, I attend the service and find myself wondering if we should have come at all. I rarely pay attention and the carols roll off my tongue from memory more than worship. My mind is occupied with the kids, guessing which of the boys will set their hair on fire. The few moments of sincere gratitude and adoration are sandwiched between baggies of Cheerios and Crayons.

This year, we arrived traditionally late and traditionally flustered. It wasn’t until we sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel” that I looked down our row and saw my four kids, sitting and singing. And I felt my heart change, not just because my little ones were worshipping, but also because I sensed some sort of pleasure from the Lord in the faithfulness of His people. The traditions we participate in matter to Him; He delights in them, even if our hearts are not always engaged. They are important to Him, and they are important for our children. We show up and sing and celebrate–flustered moms, tired dads, flawed families – because He is worthy, and not because we do it well.

I know the Lord does not care about what we look like or the matching sweaters, or even how quiet the kids are during the service. These things are usually a distraction and take away from the real meaning of Christmas. In this funny culture we live in, we dress up and make our kids be quiet… for Him, our King. And my flustered heart was at rest, not because my children were old enough to quietly sit through the service, but because I realized that all the years of pacing and shushing honored Him just as our songs did on this Christmas Eve.

 

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Affection for Paradise Lost

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

Our juniors are wandering the 17th century, drinking deeply from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. A couple of weeks ago, we were having a particularly good day. We had outlined the book’s tri-partite map on the whiteboard—Hell, Heaven, and Earth*—scrawled our theories about Milton’s vision of Satan, God, and Adam, and noted a few of his successes and failures, when one of my students looked up at me and asked: “Can you take a class on this in college?” What a delightful question! It is wonderful how a simple question can reveal a complex thought: that she loves the book, sees its complexity, knows we are barely scratching the surface, and wants to go deeper. The others agree and have expressed their affection in various ways—most recently drawings and quotes. Their love testifies to the book’s power and its inherent lovability.

It seems unusual that they should think this way, because a cursory glance suggests at least two strikes against Paradise Lost. First, it is a poem. In the ancient world, poetry was celebrated by young and old alike, by the educated as well as the uneducated. Plato, in creating an idealized republic, advised that poetry should be controlled by the state, because poetry, particularly epic poetry, had such a powerful influence on how people understood virtue and vice. It is different in our day; poetry is often confined to the classroom, the domain of the intellectual. Most high schoolers reject poetry, like broccoli, on sight and shut off their taste buds before the teacher can spoon Homer or Milton into their mouths—they never taste them. Thankfully, my students, fed a steady diet of great works and poetry memorization over the last several years, were ready to digest some Milton.

However, I was concerned that their appetites would be squashed by a second problem: they already know the story. Paradise Lost retells the fall of Adam and Eve, and Milton knew that his readers would anticipate the main events: Satan’s rebellion, the temptation of Eve, her and Adam’s sin, and the ensuing divine judgment and punishment. There are no cliff-hangers here, no plot twists, and, as if to destroy any lingering ignorance, Milton foretells the narrative twice before he even gets to the Garden, once in the first five lines of the book and then again in the mouth of God the Father. Is this not like taking a journey to a place we have already been? Not unreasonably, I thought my students might get bored as they trudged through three hundred pages of dense poetry on this well-worn road.

My fears were quickly dispersed; on day two of our study, the first or second comment was “I love this book,” and we were soon sharing favorite lines. This affected me in a surprising way. As their teacher, I was hoping to influence my students’ tastes, but I did not anticipate that, when they fell in love with the book, my own appreciation of it would change. It reminds me of the time when my wife and I picked up our dog, Amadeus; as we drove home with him, a fuzzy, squirmy puppy crawling on my wife’s lap and she responding with laughter, I, a critic of the canine, started to like him. Amadeus was the answer to my prayers: my wife’s companion on long days while I was working, a little creature for her to nurture, and so I loved him precisely because she loved him, because he filled a space that I wanted to be filled. Milton did the same thing. I have been praying for my students and longing for them to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable … whatever is lovely.”** It is not a given that someone will readily love good things. There are many failures or shortfalls in the road to developing someone’s tastes; shockingly, children sometimes prefer McDonald’s to better hamburgers. Two months ago, Shakespeare’s Hamlet flopped; my students saw its quality but did not enjoy it, were not compelled by its questions. I am grateful, then, to Milton not only because he wrote a great book but, even more so, because he wrote one my students would love.

Why do they love it? This is like asking someone why they like Dr. Pepper; it is not one thing or even ten, but the ensemble, the marriage of the whole, that pleases the taste. Forced to explain themselves, my students point to the poem’s beauty, a concept easier to recognize than to define. When first planning this article, I intended to dissect their thoughts, to explain what they could not explain—how foolish!—I could not do it.  

At best, I can offer up one of their favorite sections. In Book Two, Satan encounters Death-personified on his exit from Hell; the two immediately prepare for mortal combat: “Each at the head / Levelled his deadly aim: their fatal hands / No second stroke intend.”*** It seems odd to enjoy this moment: Satan and Death are the stars of the show. Should we not be repelled? Instead, Milton draws us in, envisioning them as mighty warriors, and evokes their intent—to kill each other in one blow—without saying it directly. One of the radical things about the poem is Milton’s depiction of Satan; he makes him at times a sympathetic figure, a Greek hero trying to rescue his men. It is shockingly, almost disturbingly beautiful. Where we are ready to sideline Satan, to label him, like Hitler, as an incomprehensible villain, Milton depicts him in familiar, essentially human, terms and engages us in Satan’s disturbing rationale. It is a testament to his ability that the poet does this through metaphor and word choice, without ever telling us his intent. As we encounter Satan, we are engaged and repelled almost simultaneously and so gain a deeper understanding of our own sinful natures.

If you have not read Milton, I encourage you to try him out. He reminds me of C.S. Lewis, or rather Lewis reminds me of Milton, for echoes of Paradise Lost appear here and there in Narnia. His beautiful writing engages readers in a surprising way and draws us to a deeper consideration of ourselves and our relationship with God.

 

* The ordering here follows the order of places and people in Paradise Lost; Milton begins in Hell before heading on to Heaven and Earth.

** Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

*** John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Gordon Teskey (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 46: 2.711-713.

 

Blessed Are the Trees

By Mr. Anderson – Head of School

All the attention on Psalm 1 this first quarter pushes my thoughts towards trees. I love trees. They are one of my first neighborhood prerequisites before choosing where to live. I lived in a treeless neighborhood once and it was terrible. To make up for it we basically moved into a forest with our next home purchase. We named the biggest trees in the neighborhood and visited them often on walks. Sometimes, when the kids were young, they would make comments like “I wonder how Big Earl is doing today?” He was an unusually huge pine. His presence always made an impact on us. We’d give him a firm pat when we walked by just to see how he was holding up.

I am troubled that my family hasn’t made it to the redwoods yet. I have fixated on that forest for almost a decade now. Lately, the Appalachian Trail hiking keeps stealing the show, but it’s a source of steady heartburn in my life that I have not experienced a giant sequoia in person. In my mind, all the redwoods are falling and I fear that by the time I make it there, the last one will fall as I drive through the desert. A portion of my fear turned to reality last summer when the headline struck my news feed that the iconic tunnel tree fell (great article about it here). He died before I could visit.

Trees are transcendent. Like rivers, oceans, and mountains, trees seem to connect us to some higher truth of God’s world more evidently than other elements of nature. That’s why they are steadily used as metaphorical images like in Psalm 1. He is like a tree planted by streams of water.

God enlightens us through his word and through nature. In this case, he is doing both at the same time. The psalmist calls our attention to a tree in order for us to contemplate a blessed life. So I challenge you all to think about trees when thinking about your life. I’ll provide one extension of the metaphor here, and leave the rest of the contemplation to you.

Trees grow slowly. I remember a time straight out of college when I was preaching through the books of Acts. As I exhorted the church to “get our act together” in order to more closely resemble the church in Acts, an older gentlemen pulled me aside one Sunday morning and gave me a gentle correction. He asked me if I was aware of the amount of time that transpired in between all the inspiring stories in Acts. He asked me why it is that there is no documentation of what happened in between those stories we have collected. His point was obvious. God brings things about in seasons and cycles. Change doesn’t happen all at once. Real life is more like that of a tree. Roots inch downward. Bark thickens over decades. Leaves turn in annual cycles. Fruit is born and flowers bud after seasons of purposeful death and dormancy.

A tree planted by a stream is a life rooted in God, poised for slow change, thickened against the elements, sprawled with branches ready to bud when God says it’s time. I will not notice any changes today, nor tomorrow, in the six trees that are in my front yard. I will walk past them and to me they will be the same. But they are preparing for change. And they will all be fuller, stronger, and more mature through time.

As we read through the Psalms this first semester, I’d encourage you to meditate on Psalm 1 often. I’d encourage you to pray Psalm 1 over your children. We are looking to see a forest of trees, planted by The Stream, displaying the grandeur of God.  

God, let it be so.

* If you want to play with the tree metaphor and learn something that will blow your mind, listen to this from Radiolab.

 

Passion & Paper Clips

By Holly Palandro, Choir Instructor
Passion is always something I have wrestled with. As a creative person, I tend to be passionate about many, many things. And not just kind of passionate, more like the all-in, do-or-die type of passionate. While that has its benefits, it can also be a challenge when it comes to living a balanced life.
At Trinity Classical School I have the distinct privilege of teaching Choir to our brilliant students. I may be a little biased (or overly passionate), but I’m pretty sure being the Choir Teacher is the best job there is in the whole school. Every 30 minutes I get to welcome 2 classes of beautiful students into the Choir Room. We worship and dance and listen to great music together and they share little tidbits from their day with me, and then we pray and they go on to their next great adventure of the school day. I am truly passionate about every kid that walks into my Choir Room. They always come bouncing in with their bright faces, open hearts, and the TCS logo proudly emblazoned on their uniform. It makes me smile every time when I get to see a fresh group of them marching in like an army of exuberant worshippers. Talk about Passion! These kids are always ready to sing about Jesus and really, whatever we are learning that day, they are all-in, do-or-die, passionate about it!
One of my favorite moments this past school year happened during a Kindergarten class. A little boy raised his hand after we finished singing our opening song. I called on him and he said: “Mrs. Palandro, my friend just poked me in the hand and it hurt a lot.” As I went over to investigate, I found another student had managed to procure a Paper Clip. He had straightened it out, as we all have done at some point in our lives, and was curious to see what kind of power this small tool-turned-weapon could wield. Once I had located the offending Paper Clip, which was clutched tightly in a Kindergarten fist, I removed it and placed it on the piano for safe keeping. I then checked the hand of the student who had been poked. Seeing that there was no puncture wound or redness or really even a dent to show where the poke had happened, I told the student “I am so sorry that happened to you! Your friend is going to apologize now.” He very quickly said “Oh no! Mrs Palandro, he doesn’t need to apologize! I’m grateful that he poked my hand like that!” At that unexpected response, I inquired further… “Well, why is that?” His answer was genuine and firm. “Because! Now I know what it’s like to be more like Jesus since he basically crucified me with that Paper Clip! I know exactly how Jesus felt when they were nailing him to the cross!”
Of course, the room erupted into laughter at that announcement. But after we all settled back into normalcy, it struck me. THAT is exactly the response we should have to everything!  Maybe the things that poke at us every day are the things we need to experience to understand Jesus better.  Maybe the things that poke at us every day are the things that we should be grateful for instead of wishing them away. Maybe the things that poke at us every day are actually what the Lord is using to show more of himself to us. Good or bad, we should be passionate about looking for how we can be more like Jesus in all things, even the things that poke us.
The fact that a 5 year old student is excited and passionate about being more like Jesus is an amazing and humbling thing to witness. I am grateful for that Paper Clip in the hand of that precious little boy. It taught me a lesson about passion that I will not soon forget.  I want to be more passionate about actively looking for reasons to celebrate when the Lord uses everyday things to shape us into his image! Even though it might be painful.
So what are we really passionate about?
As a Christian, I am passionate about worship and justice and love.  As a wife I am passionate about loving my husband well and building a strong, Christ-centered, family.  As a Mother, I am passionate about training my children to love beauty and to pursue kindness and to walk in peace. As a Music Educator I am passionate about teaching students to sing with boldness and to be filled with joy as they worship and to recognize that God is the greatest Artist the world will ever know.
I am also passionate about Babies and Beaches and the Tony Awards and Black Tea… and Paper Clips.

Dressed to See the King

By Theresa Tarn, Kindergarten Teacher and Grammar School Art Coordinator

 

Any student who has completed Kindergarten or 1st grade at Trinity would be able to tell you about poor, old Jonathan Bing. Here is what they would say:

Jonathan Bing by Beatrice Curtis Brown

Poor old Jonathan Bing

Went out in his carriage to visit the King,

But everyone pointed and said, “Look at that!

Jonathan Bing has forgotten his hat!”

(He’d forgotten his hat!)

Poor old Jonathan Bing

Went home and put on a new hat for the King,

But up by the palace a soldier said, “Hi!

You can’t see the King; you’ve forgotten your tie!”

(He’d forgotten his tie!)

Poor old Jonathan Bing

He put on a beautiful tie for the King

But when he arrived an Archbishop said, “Ho!

You can’t come to court in pyjamas, you know!”

Poor old Jonathan Bing

Went home and addressed a short note to the King:

If you please will excuse me

I won’t come to tea;

For home’s the best place for

All people like me! 

This is just one of many poems that are etched into the minds of our students. Oh yes, poetry is definitely a “thing” at TCS. In fact, we have a Slam of it. A portion of our school day is dedicated to poetry memorization. We work at it slowly and steadily, chipping away at each line until it rolls off the tips of our tongues without much thought. But all too often, we get caught up in the repetition of saying the lines without knowing what we are saying. Well, one day this spring, as I was reviewing this particular poem with my Kindergarten class, I had the most wonderful “ah-ha!” moment, where a silly poem led to a discussion of a powerful biblical concept.

Midway through the recitation process, I started to feel sorry for Jonathan Bing. This guy is so forgetful! He can’t seem to get it right and keeps getting sent home because he is not properly dressed. But pity was replaced with delight as I was reminded of the surety of our stance before our King. If we trust in Jesus, we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, which is why our God will not turn us away. What a glorious truth! Not only did Jesus secure for us the forgiveness of sin, but he makes us acceptable to God by the imputation of his righteousness. In the book of Zechariah, we are given a picture of Joshua, the high priest of Israel, standing before the angel of the Lord clothed in filthy garments. Then the angel says, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” (Zech. 3:4). This is what Jesus has accomplished for those who believe. Without Christ, we are much like Jonathan Bing – poor and dismissible. But thanks be to God that, through faith, we are dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne!

It may be many years before these 5-6 year olds fully understand the biblical doctrine of justification, but my prayer is that the seeds of the gospel would be planted in their minds, along with lines of poetry. So, this summer, as we scrounge around for all the right Land’s End uniform pieces to wear on the first day of school, may we also remember to help our children put on the new self, to be clothed with the garments of salvation.

Heavenly Language

By Neil Anderson, Head of School

Heading a school is fun, but I really love teaching. Dr. Lindsey Scholl and I dreamt up a creative writing course last year and I began to carve out a little section at the end of the day to teach it with her. She took the short story part of the job and I took poetry. Man, I love poetry. Don’t fear, this is not going to turn into another rant on the power of poetry. The reason I bring up the class is because something interesting and unexpected happened at the end of the first one and every class since.

That first class, I pulled out all the tricks to begin to prick the poetic imagination. I made them laugh–I made them cry. And then something beautiful happened. After closing in prayer, they stood to depart and offered up a chorus of “thank you.” Almost every one of them looked at me and said, “Thank you, Mr. Anderson.” Now… I must confess that in my pride, my first assumption was that I must have just nailed it. They were grateful for the level of teaching expertise they had just experienced to the degree that they felt compelled to transcend their natural teenage ingratitude as a response to a great class. To test this theory, I proceeded to teach a succession of less than inspiring poetry classes, yet they continued to say “thank you” every time.

If you have been around TCS for long, you know we believe in the power of liturgical habits.  It delights my heart to be in earshot of Dr. Williams’ class at the end of the day to hear them close in doxology or the Herbert Prayer, or to see Ms. Pfannenschmidt fist-bumping the peace of Christ to each student as they leave the room. I know that teachers are investing towards habits of healthy formation, but I don’t believe anyone has told them to say “thank you” after each class. I think this one grew on its own. Students are choosing to recognize the efforts of their teacher and they are participating in a liturgy of gratitude as they leave class.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Ward stopped by from the other side of the pond. He came to spread his theory that there is an explicit medieval cosmological metaphorical backing to the Narnia Books (I’m sold). We were a little concerned that students would not track, but they did, much in part to Dr. Ward slowing down his precious British accent to half speed. Once again, I witnessed this habit that grew without me knowing it. Students exited in front of Dr. Ward, one at a time, and said, “thank you.”

What’s the big deal? So they have some manners. The big deal is that this sort of behavior represents firstfruits to me. It represents soil fertile for even better things. It represents students with a conscience. It represents students showing virtue that us parents are not showing (when is the last time we made sure to say thank you to our pastor on Sunday before heading to lunch). It represents a collective representation of the one leper. There was one healed leper who came back to Jesus and displayed the most important evidence of healing. He went back to say “thank you” because his heart compelled him to give credit where it is due. The fall is being overcome in him. Gratitude is the language of new creation.

The fruit of discipleship is not always abundantly evident in upper school students. Sometimes we are merely looking for the signs that the Lord has not left the building. And then there are moments that move us. It moves me every time they say “thank you” after class. Every time. It increases the delight in teaching that was already so strong. It makes me want to give more, to love them more. It also reminds me that the movement towards wisdom and virtue might be more subtle than we often think.

 

 

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.