50th Reunion

I spent the weekend at my 50th high school reunion.

I’m at (something of) a loss for words to describe it, but that may be because I don’t want to do kiss-and-tell, and I don’t want to generalize (at least publicly) about the 26 or more precious individuals who came (out of a class of about 60, with at least 6 having died). But I can still reflect on it for an audience only one of whom, so far as I know, was there over the weekend.

There’s an unusual reason why my reunions are such a draw for me, though they’re at a campus some three hours away: for about 40% of us, including me, it was a boarding school. And I entered at age 14. It’s a major life landmark to get that much “distance” (geographically and emotionally) from parents at that age especially. Maybe college means that to you, but it’s probably less intense because you were older.

The 50th reunion, I think, is a draw because we’re all feeling our mortality. Where in the heck did 50 years go? How can 10% of our classmates be gone already? Does anyone know how Jane died? Cal? Randy? (We knew what took Rich, Gwen and Carol.) Most of us looked pretty healthy, but one of the really rowdy and athletic young men is crippled (his own word) as a result of accidents the bade well to kill him. But he’s glad to still be here. And we were glad he made it, too; his undiagnosed ADD made him pretty unforgettable.

Ten years ago, one of our classmates was awarded alumnus of the year and I couldn’t remember him! There’s a good reason for that: he was there only 5 months, second semester senior year, and had to study constantly to compensate for his prior educational deficits. He didn’t even have time to run track, where he would have excelled.

In the world of evangelicalism, he’s our most famous classmate, but I didn’t know that, either, as I had left evangelicalism, at least equivocally, about the time he joined the little evangelical charity he turned into a huge evangelical charity. He’s the kind of guy of whom evangelicals might say “You know him?! Too bad the answer would need to be “sort of.”

The weekend brought testimonies of how the school changed us, including that former alum of the year. But the world has changed, too, and we’re in the middle of a continuing revolution in how devout Christians will be allowed to live in the culture. So Saturday night, some of us were huddled earnestly discussing how our grandchildren or great-grandchildren are going to survive the unfolding social revolution as Christians.

One of us, now retired from teaching, said “Classical education. Then Hillsdale, or St. Johns, or Thomas More.” I tend to agree, but would generalize: some place that has had the foresight, integrity, and private support to shun government money, and maybe even to scorn the accreditation martinets.” I could go on a little longer, too. Read The Benedict Option, and Shop Class as Soulcraft, and some of the delightful books of Joel Salatin, even — maybe this (which I’ve read) or this (which I haven’t). [UPDATE: Or anything by Wendell Berry, of course.]

I wish we’d had time to probe “why classical education” at greater depth. But I’m going to connect that to something a school leader said in my hearing Saturday morning. He is adamant about the name “Academy:”

“High school” is a made up category, born of the industrial revolution. And it’s going away.

I appreciate the vision that tacitly says “our mission is too distinctive to do exactly what other high schools are doing at the moment but with a little Jesus thrown in. The current ‘high school’ model isn’t even very healthy.” Classical education gives the tools for being a good person in any kind of society.

My alma mater is not a classical school, then or now, but with leadership like that, it has, I think, the integrity to make costly refusals of the unacceptable demands that I’m all but certain will be coming. The open question is whether the prosperous parents (who probably have big influence in the school’s leadership) will understand why the Academy cannot offer even one pinch of incense on the altar of Leviathan.

At a closing Alumni Chapel Sunday the Alumni Choir sang something that I’d never heard before:

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find


Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

(Find us Faithful, by Steve Green)

As we rehearsed it, I thought “This is kind of a thin gruel, middle-class-American version of why my Church has icons. ‘Those who’ve gone before us’ are the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 11. They’re not just stories. They had faces and bodies and can be pictured. They’re worshipping with us as we worship. They’re cheering us on. I appreciate the visible reminder.”

And many of them suffered, and entered into glory, for refusing to offer that pinch of incense.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think anything that bad awaits us in the U.S. during even my grandchildren’s lives. But we’ve gotten soft. It might not need to be threat of death to trigger apostasy. It seems to me that it’s very, very likely to reduce us from middle class to a kind of dhimmitude, but under secularism, not (yet) Islam.

I remember nothing about Fox’s Book of Martyrs, the only martyrology the Academy knew back in my day, except the feeling “those dirty, murderous Catholics!” I knew nothing of the pre-Protestant heroes of the faith, Catholic and Orthodox, whose martyrologies leave one not hating their killers, but marveling at their lives and courage and how they won glory.

I’ll try to be fair to evangelicalism at its best, which I caught many glimpses of this weekend, but they need to get to know the earlier martyrs. In fact, they need to get deeper into history generally; the Church did not disappear, or become contemptible, with Constantine and until Luther.

Ultimately, they need to get into the ark that is the Orthodox Church, but the troubles may be coming sooner than that’s plausible. May God find my old friends faithful anyway.

* * * * *

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.