“How does he not know that she is bad?”
This was the question blurted out by one of my middle school students as we were reading the story of the Red Cross Knight, the first book of Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queene. The Red Cross Knight, who represents the Christian’s pursuit of holy living, had been deceived again by the same character that had previously caused him great harm. Having the perspective of the reader, it seemed so clear to my student.
The reality for us as characters in a story, and we all are characters in God’s story, is not always so clear. Many of us have learned this from that hard master, experience. Deceived by some seemingly good idea or lured by some seemingly beautiful object, we like Adam and Eve took and ate. Like young lovers, whom no one can persuade that they are being foolish or that their lover is harmful, so we could not see so easily “that she is bad.”
I think about this often. I think about my friends and family members who have been seduced away by the promises of sin, who like the White Witch always offer the nicest treats but fail to ever deliver on any of their promises. I think about the students I teach and how they will one day be move from their parents’ home, gone from their churches, and out of a school like Augustine. I find myself praying that they will know that “she is bad” and run to the one who is good.
How can we as teachers, parents, and pastors ensure that a child stays on the path that is straight and narrow? After all, few will be on this path with them and it is not an easy one. In short, we cannot guarantee that they will, and our diligence may not see the fruit we desired. Ultimately, it will be God who gives the increase and to this end we must pray. God, however, still calls on us to water. By watering we can give them deep roots, which keep them from being blown this way and that. It helps them to have connection to a place, a story, and ultimately a person, Christ.
Finding “Solid Ground” For Our Children
I am a Millennial (please hold your boos or cheers), though confessedly a bad one. Social media, multi-culturalism, globalization, tolerance, iPhones at dinner, and too much education are just a few things that characterize my generation. Also, Millennials are making a mass exodus from the churches in which they grew up. These defining characteristics of my generation contribute to what Polish philosopher Zygmut Bauman calls “liquid modernity.” In short, Bauman describes our age as one that gives precedence to the transient, praises utility as is highest value, and acts with only the short-term in view.
Ours is an age to make your head spin as you have to constantly recreate yourself and cut any rootedness to keep up with the mania. It is a place where believer and non-believer alike have great doubts about the truth. With the media, in all its hydra-headed forms, spewing out hundreds of new ideologies and attacks on old ones, no one feels secure in their beliefs. Unable to fend off these heads or despairing at fighting new ones that emerge, many give up and allow themselves to be blown by the times.
Maybe an illustration will help. Imagine several people afloat at sea on ice caps trying to find something stable. They are without roots unable to stay being tossed by the waves and the whims of their desires. People are constantly changing ice caps as the one they are on melts or appears not to be leading anywhere. Ice caps melt like sin’s false promises and ideologies’ half-truths always melt leaving those that ride upon them lost at sea. While the sea is an enjoyable thing to splash in, being lost at sea leads only to despair and hopelessness. Trying to find something to hold on to, the drowning man grasps at anything around him; enter the absurd.
William Butler Yeats words in his poem The Second Coming, written after World War I, illuminate this further:
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
But what if there is solid ground, a place where you would not be easily blown by the changing times? What if there were permanent things: God, truth, goodness, and beauty? What if we could know “that she is bad?”
Drinking The “Medicine of the Past”
Men and women for generation upon generation believed we can. Often the best way to escape contemporary cultural maladies is to drink the medicine of the past. Remember G.K. Chesterton’s idea of a “democracy of the dead,” wherein we honor the traditions handed down to us by our ancestors. Here we find, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “roots that clutch.” What did our ancestors see so clearly that our modern society cannot? They saw that rootedness to a place, a God, and a people provide not only stability but also joy. You cannot move a man easily who is thus rooted.
Parents must water these roots by passing down their faith and values to their children. Churches must water these roots by faithfully teaching the word and shepherding their souls. Classical Christian Education must water these roots by supporting the family and church in its mission to root these children into solid ground.
Seeing my generation blown to and fro, identities confused, families fractured, relationships shallow, commitments malleable, drives me to stay at a place like Augustine, because here roots can be watered. While space does not permit a discussion about each root and its importance in grounding students, allow me to mention the roots that are watered here: grammar, logic, rhetoric, math, science, philosophy, the arts, literature, history, etc. These roots grow with and support the most important one, theology, which is taught at home, church, and at Augustine. While roots do not guarantee a child will not be uprooted, it does mean that it will be all the more difficult to do so. It does mean that they will more likely see that “she is bad” and less likely be deceived by Siren’s songs wrecking upon their shores.
Trusting God To Bless and Keep
“Now, now, sir knight, show what ye be, add faith unto your force, and be not faint.”
One lesson our knight of holiness, the Red Cross Knight, learns is that while he must use his force to fight the monsters he encounters, ultimately he will fail with his force alone. His companion Una cries out to him as he is about to be killed by the monster Error, “Now, now sir knight, show what ye be, add faith unto your force, and be not faint.”
So let us, too, add faith unto all of our toils, praying that the Lord will not only bless our children but also keep them.