Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Merry Christmas Day #6: A Semester in Review

Sitting on the cusp of 2010, the start of our next semester and the beginning of a new decade, I find myself looking back at what has been a memorable Fall Semester. Please allow me the pleasure of reliving some of those moments.

The year officially began for some students on August 19, as our new freshmen class arrived for Freshmen Orientation. We were particularly excited to have nine Armleder students join their North Campus classmates, our largest Armleder contingent yet. While the class of 2013 was smaller than the previous year, the percentage of new faces to CHCA was higher, with nearly a third of the class coming from the outside. Not only did students join us from middle schools across the Tri-State area, but Hee Woo Choi and Da Sol Kim arrived from Korea, while Che Li joined the class from China. I spoke with the students about the history and tradition they were joining at the MSL High School and we took a tour of the campus. They were then oriented to high school life, participated in a session on study skills, did team building exercises with Student Ambassadors, and finished with a “Schedule Scavenger Hunt” that ended with students trying out their locker combinations. Everyone who successfully opened his/her locker (everyone to my knowledge), found a neon green freshmen class t-shirt. Thanks to this day, freshmen seemed more at ease on the first day of school.

We began our year as a community with our Opening Convocation at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church on August 20th. It was a beautiful time for all of us to open our year with prayer and worship. Unfortunately our attendance was much lower than expected for the event but it was a meaningful time for all who participated.

Our first week ended with a celebration. Despite the early hour, a rowdy student body packed into the gym bleachers to root on the Eagles in a 7 AM pep rally on live television. The Fox 19 crew did live news spots and weather broadcasts from campus with performances by the pep band, Encore, and the cheerleaders. Players, coach, and AD were all interviewed as well. The network crew commented on our spirit. They said we’d be a hard act to follow and that we’d set the bar high for all schools to come.

In chapel Mr. Salkil kicked off the year with a series entitled “My School.” He focused each week on a different aspect that makes us unique: our identity in Christ, service, and worship. He highlighted how we are a community that shares life together and that we are to challenge each other to grow in our faith in Christ.

As we moved into the second quarter, we celebrated Spirit Week and our school’s twentieth year anniversary. Students showed their spirit, dressing for Nerd Day, Western Day, Twin Day, College Teams, and Class Colors. The highlight of the Spirit Competition was our first ever Homecoming Float Competition and halftime parade. Keeping wih the theme “There’s No Place Like Home,” the freshmen pulled the unexpected upset. A blow out for the football team and a beautiful Homecoming Dance at the Phoenix capped off a memorable week.

A memorable moment for me was at the 20th Year Anniversary program when alumni from each graduating class introduced themselves and told where they are now. It was humbling to see the outcome of the teaching and learning and growing we do here together. Then current students, from high school all the way down to pre-school , introduced themselves as future graduates. Our future is bright!

A number of other moments stick out so far this year. The Three Musketeers received rave reviews. The Eagles win against North Hardin on a game ending field goal was historic. Encore made us proud in their many performances, from the National Anthem at the Reds game to opening for the Lindner Great American Financial Christmas party. We were well represented at the Girls State Tennis meet, with a singles and a doubles representative. The MSL High School was listed in the Cincinnati Magazine issue on high schools as one of five schools named in the General Excellence category. Mr. Baker’s homeroom of freshmen guys, Baker’s Dozen, beat all odds and won the Homeroom Dodge Ball Tournament in front of a wild student body. The AP Art Exhibit "Drawn" awed all in attendance. And at the end of the semester, we were led into the Christmas season at the Sacred Music concert at St. Xavier church, where all of our musical groups and ensembles shared their musical gifts as an offering of worship.

The list of all the wonderful moments so far this year could go on and on. But much is still ahead. What will happen next? May we at CHCA have a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas--Day #3

I hope each of you has experienced the power and beauty of Christmas. My moment came at a Christmas Eve service. My wife and I commented that this might be the first Christmas Eve service that we’ve enjoyed since having kids. The past few years I’ve felt less like a worshipper coming to the manger and more like a warden arriving at maximum security. In the past, the goal was finding a way not to ruin the experience for everyone else in attendance and somewhere around the third outburst, I would be questioning why I didn’t keep our three “Christmas angels” under lock and key at home and guarantee a successful outcome for the rest of the church. This year was different. Abe was a “greeter” with me, welcoming those arriving in the sanctuary. Pete and Jake each played a Christmas carol on the piano with their piano teacher/mother as part of the prelude. And I watched as each one was engaged in his own way throughout the service. And as the service closed with a candle lit “Silent Night,” I was moved to tears and not because one of my children burned down the church. But as the pastor lit his candle from the Christ Candle, which we’ve been waiting for all of Advent, I saw the wonder shining on each child’s face as they watched the Light of Christ spread among the darkness of the congregation.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, Love’s pure light
Radiant Streams from Thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at thy birth! Jesus Lord at thy birth!

A good friend of mine encouraged me to actually read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol instead of just watching another version on television. And after reading it, the most poignant part that no movie I’ve seen fully captures is the sense of rapture in Ebenezer post ghostly epiphany. William James discusses in his Varieties of Religious Experience how for converts, the world is radically changed. It is as if they are seeing the world for the first time, or put another way, are actually living in a different world altogether. Once Ebenezer Scrooge understands what power, joy, and hope the birth of Christ can bring to the world generally and his life specifically, he enters a world of wonder and opportunity.

We often bemoan the commercialization of the Christmas holiday and the busy-ness and bustle. We often burn out before the day actually arrives. In America, we in the church have in many ways lost Christmas to the malls. A perfect example of this is the post-Christmas let down. On December 26th, we have the sense that it is over for another year. Nothing could be further from the truth! In the West, Christmas proper has historically been a 12-day feast, beginning on the 25th and running until Epiphany on January 5. In the Church calendar, there are five Sundays of Christmas. How long is too long to celebrate the Incarnation?! But in a consumer driven culture that runs on how much we spend and what we buy, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving and stops when the stores close on Christmas day. Sadly, once the stores have nothing left to market, we Christians fall into the same trap, as if we have nothing left to celebrate!

So let me encourage and challenge you. Today is Christmas Day 3—celebrate it accordingly! You have nothing left to buy, no holiday tasks left to do. Just celebrate! Christ’s birth has changed all reality. A personal God became human to engage us in a relationship that caused even angels to sing! How do we celebrate accordingly? I don’t truly know. Everything seems understated in comparison to an event so significant. Find the power, joy, and hope that Ebenezer found all around him. Where can I see the Light of Christ today? Create traditions in your family that continue your celebration of the Savior’s birth. For the next twelve days, every dinner together around our table, we light the Christ Candle in the middle of our advent wreath. We also try to spend time with friends and family that sadly we don’t always find time for during the year. May the Festival of Christmas restore our body, mind, and spirit! May it restore our relationships! May it restore our churches and our communities! May it restore our world!

Joy to the world, the Lord is Come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
Let Heaven and Nature sing!
Let Heaven and Nature sing!
Let Heaven and Nature sing!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Christmas Confession

Merry Christmas! As I sit in a house with three wired kids only three days from Christmas, with snow gently falling outside and a cup of coffee in hand, all seems perfect with the world. It has been a wonderful semester with many highlights over the past months. But I must confess the obvious: I have been a blogging failure! While it has been a successful semester, it was also an extremely busy one. And I had the pleasure of teaching sixteen thoughtful, intelligent, creative seniors in my "Israel in the World" course, but the fifteen hundred pages of reading I assigned kept me "engaged" as well! I have four "Peace Plans" left to read and then the course will be complete.

Over the next couple weeks of vacation, I will try to catch everyone up on what's been happening on campus as I try out my New Year's resolution early of being a better blogger. So hit on the blog every few days and check on my progress. In the mean time, I need to get out and finish the last of the Christmas shopping.

I hope you and your family are having a beautiful time together in the midst of this Christmas season. May you experience the love of Christ among you and may you make memories together!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Homeroom: Making a Small School Smaller

This is the second year that we have had homerooms at the high school. Homeroom period is ten minutes every day (except during block days) between 3rd and 4th bell, and immediately after Chapel on Wednesdays. Homeroom replaces the old advisory groups which met quarterly. Each group consists of ten to thirteen students of the same grade and gender and one faculty member or administrator. We have been able to create this period without taking away from instructional time because our expanded cafeteria has allowed us to go from three lunches down to two.

Homeroom has a few basic purposes. First, it is a place to give announcements, hand out forms and paperwork, and generally take care of school business. In the past, this happened at the beginning of 2nd Bell. But this wasn't always the most ideal way to communicate information. While 2nd Bell was slightly longer, occasionally announcements and business could bleed over into class time. This system had the effect of shortening the same class with every overage. We work hard to restrict classroom interruptions as much as possible. Another benefit to disseminateing information in homerooms is that, generally speaking, the smaller the group hearing announcements, the more effective the communication. Homerooms are generally much smaller than a typical class.

Second, and more importantly, homerooms form communities within the greater school community. Even though our school is small by some standards, some students still feel isolated. Because of homeroom, every student connects with the same group of classmates and an adult every day. Many churches create this community within a community with "small groups" or "home fellowships groups." Homeroom is ultimately relational time. Our homerooms foster relationships that help students navigate the school year socially, emotionally, and spiritually. It is a safe place for discussion, sharing, and praying together. Because it is immediately after Chapel, it creates a great place for chapel debrief as well. Mr. Salkil even creates potential discussion questions for his chapel talks.

Of my twelve students in homeroom, I had only worked with five of them before in a class or Winter Term. Over the past three weeks, I have had the distinct pleasure of getting to know a group of talented, considerate, thoughtful, and fun(ny) senior men. I look forward to sharing this year with them! I hope they can receive from me all of the energy, hope, and insight I gain from them.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

My School

I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend after a very busy first two weeks. It is nice to stop and breath for a minute after a non-stop, action packed start to the school year. I cannot remember a better beginning! Here are some of the highlights.

We began with a wonderful Opening Convocation service. The evening began with a processional of faculty and administration in full academic regalia. Students, faculty, administrators, and even a parent welcomed, prayed, spoke, and shared musical gifts. The highlight of the evening was Ben Lapps sharing his musical piece "Reveille" on the guitar. If you have not experienced an Opening Convocation yet, you must be sure to attend next year!

The first day of school is always a special time here. The Miracle Commons has the feel of a family reunion as students and teachers reconnect after two and a half months away. This year Student Council added a nice touch by bringing bagels for everyone! Thursday was Meet the Teacher night as each class gave a glimpse into the year. In much the same way that students reunited with each other on the first day, the parents did the same on Thursday evening, catching up with each other and asking what each other's students were taking, involved in, playing, etc. I had so many great comments and emails about how impressed our parents are with what is happening around here!

Friday morning of the first week was a Spirit Day. Because we were part of the Fox 19 Game of the Week, the Fox 19 Morning Show did their weather spots live from the MSL gymnasium from 7-9 am. So at 7 am on the first Friday of the school year, we had an optional pep rally in the gym. The pep band, cheerleaders, Encore, the football team, and over a hundred students showed some Eagle spirit for the cameras. The Cincinnati area watched as we played, cheered, sang, and gave interviews. If you missed the broadcast, click on the link under News on the website to watch video clips of the event. We had a fun morning and the entire Tri-State area got to watch!

This past week we had our first block schedule of the year on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday we had our first chapel. "My School" is the theme of Mr. Salkil's first chapel series. He spoke about the way a sense of Christian community shapes our environment but how selfishness, fear, and elitism can break down what God can do among us. He challenged the students to consider what true Christian community could look like at CHCA and how God could use each of them to make it a reality. He pointed out how it was our responsibility to pull in all the new people so that they too could call this "my school."

Friday night was another one of those wonderful CHCA community times. Whether you are a football fan or not, Friday night football games are an important part of community here. Students from every building, parents and grandparents, alumni, teachers and staff all come together to share a wonderful evening. Watching and cheering over a football game only scratches the surface of what happens on a Friday night. Young and old catch up and rehearse old memories. Little kids play football in the grass, dreaming of the day they will be center stage out on the field. The pep band creates a festive atmosphere. People share food, whether tailgating or from the concession stand. High school students display their school spirit in all kinds of ways. New friends and aquaintances are made. And as a bonus to the evening, the Eagles won easily 21-0. (We also got a nice wrap up article in the Enquirer the next day!)

What a great beginning. This is our school! I've been moved the past two weeks watching our students engaging, learning, and growing in a school they proudly consider their own. But this is only a beginning. What will next week bring? I'm not sure, but I'll let you know.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Opening Convocation

The year is fast approaching! New Family Orientation is Tuesday and Freshmen Orientation is Wednesday. All teachers and staff report on Thursday and then Monday morning at 7:50, the 2009-10 school year will officially begin. Where has the summer gone?

If you are like me, summer typically ends with a list of tasks undone and a series of goals unfulfilled. No matter how much I do, I somehow always planned on more. I saw almost all of my family, traveled to wonderful places, made numerous memories with my boys, read many of the books on my "to read" list. Still I wonder, what if I only had another week? But no amount of wishing can change the inevitable.

Throughout all of human history, people have marked transitions--shifts in time, change of seasons, rites of passage. In education, we often fall into the rut of marking endings but glossing over the power of beginnings. We close each school year with Commencement, an ending which is also a beginning. But the start of school often hits us in a bustle of meetings, syllabi, and school supplies. The next thing you know, we are talking about mid-terms. We have attempted to break that cycle at the MSL High School with our Opening Convocation.

This year marks our third Opening Convocation. Two years ago it was held the first hour of the first school day on campus. Last year it was moved off campus to both raise its stature and make it more accessible to the parent community. This year we have moved it back a few days because for some, it was difficult on the night before the first day of school, especially with younger children at home. So our Convocation will be on Thursday August 20, 2009 at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church at 7:00 PM. (Please see the CHCA website for directions.)

Please come and join us as we open our year in worship, song, and prayer to the Lord! It will be a special time as we reconvene from the summer and celebrate what God will do among us this year. All are welcome. I look forward to seeing each of you!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lots of Reading, But Not a Lot of Writing

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. I've meant to post regularly throughout July, but as you may have noticed, it hasn't happened. I also promised an overview of Plantinga's Engaging God's World. That is still on the horizon. The only thing I've been updating with some frequency is the "What I'm Reading" list. Thank you all who have given me books over the past month or two. I'm catching up and enjoying the discovery of new authors and ideas. Malcom Gladwell's Outliers was a pleasant surprise that I find myself thinking and talking about at least once a day!

As the Nicholas family has been driving across the country, we've all been listening to the Chronicles of Narnia. It is fun to watch my boys encounter these stories for the first time. To add to the "Narnian adventure," we stopped at Wheaton College to see the Marion E. Wade Center ( Among the great academic resources they have housed there, C.S. Lewis' writing desk and the wardrobe from his study--the inspiration for The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe--were the ones of most interest to my children. If you ever get to Wheaton College, make sure you visit it, as well as the Billy Graham Center Museum (

I'll be back for more blogging later. Boys are calling, fish are biting, and books are waiting. Check back in a few days.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Reading

Summer and books have always gone together in my mind. From my earliest school days, reading was a part of the summer. As the final bell of the final day of the school year rang, “freedom” was the first thought in all our minds! School work was done. Projects were finished. Endless hours of riding bikes, playing baseball, swimming, fishing, cookouts, and festivals lay ahead. But then the first morning of summer vacation, Mom woke us up extra early, loaded us into the car, and took us to the neighborhood library. Like it or not, we were signing up for the Summer Reading Program.

The Summer Reading Program was a way to keep kids’ minds active. Each summer had a theme and the library was decorated accordingly. Around the library walls was a construction paper track that had a marker for each reader. Everyone received a form to fill in the titles read throughout the summer. And with each book read, one’s marker moved along the track. Therein was the hook. Reading was school work. But the Summer Reading Program was a competition! The masses would read their two or three books over the next ten weeks. But for the overly competitive (i.e., my sister and me), we would schlep a sack of books home each week, looking to leave the competition in the dust by the Fourth of July. We’d look to lap them by the beginning of the State Fair in August. My mother started monitoring our selections when we were scolded by the librarian for checking out picture books in the fifth grade. So we may have been reading for all the wrong reasons, but an important habit formed in us. To this day, summer is the time when I begin to read all the books I’ve piled up but never got to during the school year. If you are looking for a few good reads, let me suggest a few things I’ve read this past school year.

This past fall I finally read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson ( This is the true story of a man who almost died attempting to climb K2 in Pakistan. After being nursed back to health in a small village, he decides to come back to build them a school. This began Mortenson's quest to build schools for the remotest areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson gives a complex view inside a part of the world we fear. And his solution to fighting Islamic extremism challenges us to consider again whether the Way of Jesus might actually triumph in ways bombs and war cannot.

I reread a book this past year on a Winter Term flight to Israel. Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers is a simple book that can be read very quickly. But the power of its story is life changing. Chacour’s autobiographical work tells how his Palestinian Christian family lost their home, possessions, and village with the formation of the State of Israel. And despite the pain of his loss, his Christian father always told him that Palestinian Christians are “blood brothers” with the Jews and therefore must not fight them but make peace with them. And Chacour spends his life doing that very thing. In one of the highlight moments for me in this school year, Archbishop Elias Chacour spent two hours with our group in Haifa in January telling us his story. He challenged us to take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount seriously because He is calling on us to “get our hands dirty”! This book is a must read.

Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded will affect the way you look at the world around you. The sequel to his past best seller, The World is Flat, this work looks at globalization, the rapid rise in population, and climate issues and considers their potential consequences on America’s future standing in the world. This book seems to be a primer on many of the central news stories of the day.

One of the books a number of high school faculty are reading this summer is John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. This book has haunted me from the first time I read it. The story opens with the narrator crediting Owen for his belief in God. The character of Owen intrigues and baffles the reader throughout as he brazenly proclaims that he is an “instrument of God.” Every time I read this novel, I am again left wrestling with how Providence works in our world and I am challenged to think whether I am an actor or an observer/critic in the story unfolding all around me.

Another book I would like to strongly recommend that you read is Cornelius Plantinga’s Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. This book is the theological map of how we understand a Christian education and how we shape our curriculum at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy K-12. I will write more about this work in my next blog because it deserves a more complete treatment. But if you are a part of CHCA and want to understand the way we think about what we do here, you must read this book!

So enjoy your summer. Begin finding the books you will read during your time away. Make some authors your new friends! I’ve already fallen head over heels for Anne Rice (check out the sidebar for what I’ve read of hers recently). And we’ll talk in August over a cup of coffee!

By the way, my kids are already signed up for the Summer Reading Program. The race is on.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Greater Things

Driving into school the morning after graduation, I was exhausted. Our speaker, Paul Young, flew out at 6:10 so we'd arranged a 4 am pick-up time. As I neared school, the rosy sun rising on a late spring morning, the lyrics from a song we sang in chapel ran through my head:

Greater things have yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done here

This has been a remarkable year. It has gone so fast, yet so much has happened. When the year began, we still had a muddy mess in our parking lot without enough parking. Now we have a great new addition, with a new science lab, a computer lab, larger foreign language rooms, a beautiful artroom, larger instrumental music space, and a dance room. Our library has been enhanced as well. Alumni are awed when they see how we've grown!

This year we welcomed and celebrated students who are citizens of thirteen nations around the world. Their flags were represented in the Miracle Commons. The International Club began this year and the lunch they hosted in May was a highlight! At Commencement on Sunday, we had graduates from China, France, Germany, Korea, Mexico, and the UK.

We had our largest freshmen class in the history of the school. And they weren't just a large class. They were remarkable. Freshmen made their mark in the classroom, on the stage, in the field, on the court, out in the community, and in our chapels. Our future is bright.

Our senior class led with distinction this year. Lena Tome led as class president. Darris and Emilee set the tone in chapel. Hannah Frank was a fixture in SOS. Dana Hartsig has brought recycling to CHCA. Elizabeth Mangels spearheaded the NHS Leadership Lunches, kicked off by Dr. Nancy Zimpher. And the entire class set an example for how to form community. If the classes that follow can find ways to imitate the unity and comraderie of the Class of '09, our school will be a better place.

Again tragedy has touched our community this academic year. We continue to remember in our prayers the Corrados, Bains, Everharts, and Heaths. May God's peace and comfort come to them as they grieve.

You're the strength in our weakness
You're the love to the broken
You're the joy in the sadness
You Are

I sensed God doing something unique among us this year. Our chapels had a sense of reverence that I cannot recall in my time here. Worship was often contagious. Messages were challenging. Students were respectful. Visitors always commented on the music. We had many wonderful guests this year but we will always remember our time with Paul Young. In three days, he became part of our community. And many of our lives were changed. We prayed with each other. We confessed to each other. We began to care about each other in ways we always knew we should. We all know our school is far from perfect. But something has begun.

The perfect memory for me of this year happened on Thursday evening at the end of Diaspeiro. Following a memorable message by Mr. Salkil to the seniors, the Class of '09 stood together on the theater stairs as Darris sang "Friend of God" one last time. A wave of emotion came over me as I thought about all of these wonderful, talented, beautiful lives leaving to be scattered as seeds into the world.

What would come next? How will our rising Seniors lead? What will be the remarkable moments next year? What memories will shape us? What stories will be written about what is to come? What will God do among us in 2009-10? What role will you play?

Greater things have yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done here

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Last Things

The end is upon us. And it has come more quickly this year than I have ever remembered. We are entering into the last week of school for our seniors. For freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, everything is now the "last time" this year. For our seniors, it is forever. We've now had our last Winter Term, our last Spring Break, our last Spiritual Life Emphasis Week, our last Sacred Music concert, and our last beginning of AP Testing. This week we will have our last AP tests, our last full day, and our last chapel. The week after, seniors will have their last exams and last Academic Awards night. Then there will be Diaspeiro and Graduation practices and then the actual events. On May 31st, the CHCA experience will end at a ceremony rightly called Commencement. And in the joy of completion and "freedom," hints of sadness will be just beneath the surface as a community of students and teachers is scattered out of our school and into the world.

Many seniors who have longed to escape our "hallowed halls" for the past four years begin to exhibit melancholy and nostalgia at the thought of leaving friends and familiarity. Difficult classes and assignments, tech week, and two-a-days are now fondly relished as communal rites of passage that made us stronger and closer to each other. The end is near.

The Bible often talks about the End. The Greek word is eschaton, literally meaning "last." (So the word eschatology is really the study of "last things.") The biblical writers, when confronted with difficulty and struggle, always look forward with Hope toward the Eschaton. Whether it was the Hebrew prophets describing the establishment of God's shalom throughout not just Israel but the entire cosmos or New Testament writers longing for the "blessed Hope" of Christ's return, the End was always in sight. Apocalyptic literature, like parts of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation, explain the catastrophic turmoil of the present as the harbinger of God's closing of history itself, bringing about His perfect End.

The CHCA experience might parallel that apocalyptic pattern. If one considers a 12 or 13 year experience (which some of our graduates have here!), the last two years could easily be see as the cataclysmic beginning of the end! The strenuous and stressful nature of the junior year, ushering in the senior college search and decision making process, punctuated by final papers and the AP exams, the End is now in sight. When Friday comes and we sing and worship together for the last time as an entire community, we will be at the doorstep of an academic Eschaton.

Let us finish strong! Let us push to the end! The End is near!

We are in the days of Last Things.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Winter Term

One of the harbingers of spring around the MSL High School is the beginning of enrollment for Winter Term. Winter Term is one of the signature programs of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy which distinguishes us from other schools in the area. Since January 2001 we have been creating a two week interim period between semesters for intensive experiential learning. In order to accommodate the program, we moved first semester exams from January to December, immediately before the Christmas Break. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and effort, not to mention resources to make the experience successful. And while teachers are energized by the experience in the long run, the effort needed to plan and then execute a great Winter Term is taxing. So why do we do it?

Our misson at CHCA charges us "to unleash a passion in students to learn, lead, and serve." We also endeavor to make "life long learners." But sometimes sitting in seven different desks for seven different 50 minute periods in the same building week after week starts to feel a bit artificial. Students often have difficulty seeing how day in day out school connects to the world they live in and why they'd want to do this "life long." But then comes Winter Term.

By breaking the normal schedule and rhythms of the school year, students pick a subject to study in depth for a two week period. When freed from the fifty minute bell, students and teachers begin to plumb depths and discuss nuances, following where interest and curiosity leads. The type of processing and deep thinking about a topic that can come over a two week in depth study cannot be mirrored in the regular school bell schedule. In a society like ours that loves sound bytes, 30-minute newscasts, internet surfing, and text messaging, we are not conditioned to slow down and study a thing thoroughly from every angle and perspective. We expect quick answers. But what might happen if we let a problem remain in our mind's eye for an extended period? What if we let ourselves ruminate on difficulties, allowing our subconscious minds to work a problem through? I believe people who develop such patterns will one day solve the big problems and find ways to change the world. Winter Term teaches our students new ways of thinking and learning.

Winter Term allows students to get out of the building and explore the world. That might mean exploring the history of the Queen City, serving in Chesterwood Village, viewing murals around town, or seeing the Taj Mahal, a Costa Rican jungle, or the Church of the Holy Seplechure. When our students travel down the street or around the world, they begin to develop a sense of adventure and often a feeling of awe. The world is filled with beauty, power, mystery, and wonder. The books we read and the lectures we give are actually about real things out there! To talk about World War II or Ancient Rome is one thing, but standing on location, so to speak, makes the classroom come alive. I love when a student finds a hidden treasure in her own city. I will always cherish the look on a student's face when we stand together at a place that was pictured in a textbook. I will never forget this January taking communion with my students at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. When a person appreciates the fact that learning is about encountering and understanding a world that ever surprises and contains mystery upon mystery, how could one ever intend to stop?

Winter Term also fosters community on many different levels. First, one of the biggest barrier breakers in our school is Winter Term. Each course creates a learning community that transcends grade, gender, and social grouping. New social connections are always created in January! Like summer camp or a sports team, the shared time and camaraderie form bonds that last in our school. On another level, teachers and students connect in new ways as well. Interacting with each other outside of the normal classroom setting changes the nature of the relationship. Our teachers become mentors and friends to their students and Winter Term plays no small part in his phenomenon. Another level of community forms over Winter Term as well. Relationships form, even if temporarily, across every kind of boundary outside of our school. Through travel, cultural immersion, and service, our students encounter all kinds of people and relationships form. Our students get to know the elderly, young children, the homeless, the physically challenged, orphans, people of different ethnicities and religions, people of other cultures both nationally and internationally. We have a core value which talks about the value of each person. In Winter Term our students encounter those who are other, and we come to see how much they are like us.

Finally, we are a school that teaches our students to view the world in a Christ-centered way. We are called, each of us, to engage God's world. In Winter Term we do this first hand. All the world is God's! Everyone we meet, everywhere we go, everything we do--it is all part of God's world. We are called to live in this world and to bring the mind of Christ to every situation, every problem, and every question. This is not a theoretical situation. We want to live out this practice with our students. We do not want to tell them what it is like and then wait until they graduate and go out on their own. Every year we go out with them, for two weeks at a time. We walk along side them and help them think and question and engage. This is God's world!

So when someone asks me, why do we take off school for four weeks at Christmas? Why do we waste two weeks of class time? Why do we just give our kids extended vacation? I am saddened. We either failed at our task or we didn't do a good enough job talking about what we're doing. If it is the latter, hopefully this is a start toward correcting it. In the meantime, please go to the front of the website and explore all of the amazing opportunities to engage God's world next January!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Power of Easter: A View From the High School

(The following appeared in the Campus Connection last year. But being Good Friday, it seemed appropriate to post on the blog today. May this be a blessed Easter weekend for each of you!)

After thirteen years of working with high school students, I have come to realize that my life revolves around Easter. In the school calendar, Easter often signifies warmer weather, Spring Break, and in many students’ minds, the “beginning of the end” of the academic year. But my focus is different. As we move from the darkness and gloom of winter, into the newness of spring, Easter reminds us that the weight of despair, the heaviness of failure, the brokenness of sin are all overwhelmed by the power and light of the Resurrection. It is the great paradox of our faith that the redemptive death of Christ produces the triumph of New Life and the possibility of a New Creation.

As I spend time across our CHCA community, the view is unique in each locale. If I were to continue my comparison with the Church calendar, when I am in our elementary schools, I often think of Christmas. Life and faith are fresh and new. One is reminded of the beauty and innocence of the Babe in a manger. Children bring gifts to the King, if not gold, frankincense, and myrrh, maybe art projects and narratives from a Writer’s Workshop. Christ admonishes us to have faith like a child and we can sense what that might look like when we walk down these halls. One cannot imagine from here the horror of the cross.

Something happens when those pure children make their way to the high school. Somehow, things do not seem so simple anymore. The happy child who liked to smile and sing “Jesus Loves Me” has somehow turned cynical and listens to disturbing music. Boundaries were made to be broken; everything is questioned. What has happened to our children? They are figuring out how to become adults. And to be honest, they begin to look a lot more like us than we would like to admit.

If you are going to live in the world of high school, Easter must become your paradigm. One of my favorite biblical characters is Peter. As the Passion narrative unfolds, Peter denies three times even knowing Jesus. He is distraught by his failure. But after the news of Jesus’ resurrection, Peter runs to the tomb! And when he first encounters the Lord again in the Galilee, He gives him a chance at redemption. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. Three times Peter answers in the affirmative. Easter brings a second chance! And when we read the Book of Acts, a transformed Peter preaches to thousands and then gives a defense of his message before the authorities (Acts 3, 4). Because of Easter, Peter is a New Creation.

Every day I walk through our halls, I see grown up elementary school kids. And sadly for some, Christmas has turned into Good Friday. The darkness is not just a passing storm but rather the shadow of Death. Lives are broken. Mistakes are made. But of all the valuable things our school can provide, I believe the greatest is a loving guide from the cross to an empty tomb. When the world tells us there is no hope, the failure is too severe, the mistake is too great, the power of the resurrection tells us there is new life! I like to think at the high school we celebrate Easter every day.

May the power of His Resurrection strengthen you and give you hope this Easter season!

Friday, April 3, 2009

High School Chapel

In light of our life changing Spiritual Life Emphasis week, a number of people have been talking about High School chapels in general. And a couple comments have surfaced that surprised me. So I will share our view of chapel and then address some misconceptions.

The typical chapel at the high school is on Wednesdays from 10 am to 11 am in the Lindner Theater. When we have block schedule, the time shifts to 9:30 to 10:30. Occasionally the day will shift to accommodate a guest speaker or some other anomoly in our schedule. Parents are welcome to visit and we ask that guests use the top two rows of the theater.

Chapel is community time. It is the one time each week we are all together. Usually we open with a few announcements. Occasionally we have short videos (typically student created) to highlight an upcoming event, show the topic of the day, or provide a lighter moment. We then have a time of corporate worship through song, and then a message to challenge our students to grow in Christ. Mr. Salkil, our chaplain, does a large portion of the speaking but other faculty also share. Outside guests make up the rest of the speakers.

It is our desire that chapel is a time when all of our students, no matter their background, can be challenged to think about Scripture and what following Christ in today's world could look like. We deal with the issues of the day. Students appreciate authenticity and the last thing we want to do is present them with a Gospel message that seems canned or cliche. At the high school, we often talk about how we want to present the Christian life to our students in a way that engages the head, heart, and hands. Chapel is the center of the "heart" piece of that equation. Chapel is a time to encounter God in meaningful ways, through worship in song and the Word.

Something that I hear occasionally is that high school chapel is optional. I want to be clear--that is not and has never been the case! Last year we tried something new. For some time we have struggled with the musical worship portion of our chapel. A number of reasons exist for this. 1) While some denominations use music extensively for worship, in some traditions the singing of praise music is very foreign. Other traditions might sing for 30 minutes to an hour to prepare the worshipper for the preaching of the Word. Our community has students from both ends of this spectrum. 2) Some churches use music more for performance than participation. People listen to those singing but do not join in. We are no longer a culture that regularly sings. If you do not attend a singing church,when was the last time you sang? A birthday party? Christmas carols?

So we had a community where many got little out of the musical part of worship but for others it was a significant way to connect with God. Those who were disinterested, would use it as community time, talk with neighbors, and distract those who were wanting to worship. To find a way to meet the needs of all our students, we divided the chapel time. We divided it into two parts. During the normal chapel period, we had one song and the message. Then at the end of the day, we had options: musical worship, prayer, chapel discussion, or studyhall for those who were not at a place where worship was something they were interested in or able to engage. We used that schedule for most of the fourth quarter last year. We created a schedule to use that option occasionally this year, but due to a new level of engagement, we have not had the need. I could speculate reasons for this. But I won't.

Another comment I hear occasionally that troubles me is when a parent or student mentions that they do not go to church because chapel is "their church." Chapel is a great opportunity to find spiritual nourishment during the week and a way to hear from God. A Christian school like ours--with its Bible classes, Spirit-filled teachers looking to integrate a Christian worldview into every discipline, and a "vibrant senes of community"--can be a powerful environment for a Christian. But we must never confuse ourselves into thinking we are a church. Our work as a Chrisian academy supplements the work of the Church. We can educate and develop young people which will make them more dynamic church members. But the Church has a function and a role in the Divine economy that CHCA will never have. Therefore, our students need to know the life of participating and serving in church. When students graduate and leave for college, if this school is their only faith community, it is much less likely that they will find a church while in college. And if they do not find time to connect with a body of believers in college to share life with, life post-college will only get busier and more hectic, making such a commitment even less likely. God calls us to live a life of faith in community. Our school gives us glimpses of what that life looks like. But that does not replace the important role of the local church.

As our year comes to a close, I relish the few chapel times we still have together before we send our seniors out into the world! See you Wednesday!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spiritual Life Emphasis Week Spring 2009

This has been an amazing week with our guest author and SLEW speaker, Mr. Paul Young, author of The Shack. When I read his book this summer, I appreciated it and thought he'd make an interesting speaker. I never imagined the way this week would unfold.

As the week wrapped up in Friday's chapel, the Spirit moved among us in a way I have never seen in my thirteen years at CHCA. Others who have been here longer than me reported nothing similar in their memories either. As long as I can remember, students, teachers, administrators, and parents have been praying for Jesus to work powerfully in this community. We were fortunate to be present in a powerful and memorable moment.

Many questions were being asked Friday afternoon--what happened, why, what does it all mean? For what purpose? My most honest answer to each of those questions is: I'm not sure. God ever surprises. Who can know the Lord's ways or purposes? One thing I do know is that Jesus does not follow simple formulas. Authentic moments like Friday morning cannot be conjured up or duplicated by human efforts or planning. For some reason, the Spirit chose to move among us. But spiritual highs are not an end in themselves. How do we continue what God has begun?

Here are a few observations that I found significant. Each of you will have others from your experience and vantage points. There is nothing authoritative about the following. This is only what struck me as I've lived the experience, heard many other accounts, and reflected over the weekend.
  • Paul Young's authenticity, humility, compassion, and loving interest in everyone he meets are contagious.
  • Our facades limit our connections with each other and limit the level of true community we can have among us.
  • When we draw close to God and the Spirit moves among us, we seem to draw closer to each other as well.
  • Praying for each other has the potential of unspeakable power.
  • Many in our community are hurting.
  • Many referred to this as the most spiritually dynamic moment of their lives.
  • The underclassmen are willing to listen to God and step out in faith.
  • Seniors want the end of their years here to matter for something more.
  • While the date for Young was booked in August, the timing for our community seemed perfect...God is involved in the details of our lives!
  • Performance does not make God love us more.
  • Love, forgiveness, and relationship can change the future of our lives and of our school.

This list could go on and on. I have been emotional all week as I've seen God at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. Jesus is healing hearts and lives. He is mending broken relationships. The Spirit is opening our eyes to the messes in each of our shacks. My prayer is that this is only a beginning. May each of us listen for the voice of God. May we see Him at work in our lives. May we love each other.

I've never looked forward to a week at school more than I do right now. I can't wait to see what God will do next!

Welcome to the Blog!

Welcome to my newest blog. If you are wondering why I'm taking on this venture, it is to combat one of my greatest frustrations in the transition from classroom teacher to principal. As a teacher, I was constantly communicating with students--about a hundred a day in class. Through teaching, discussion, conversation, and written comments on papers, I was constantly sharing ideas and thoughts with students. Misconceptions were quickly fixed, dialogue was on-going. In this position, students and parents alike are often left to guess about what's going on or why things happen. I chat briefly with students passing in the hall, a parent in a meeting or a phonecall. But rarely do I get to speak broadly about matters of importance, cast vision for the future, or share what I see happening around here from my point of view. So this will be an attempt to connect and share in a new way.