2018 Orientation Address

August 28, 2018

TCF bank stadium holds just over 50,000 people. That’s a lot of people. There’s a sport that, in the 1920’s and 30’s, was so popular that 50,000 would come down to the bank of a lake or a river to watch it. That sport was rowing. One, two, four, or eight men in a boat, pulling on oars as hard and as fast as they can to beat the other boats down the race course.

This summer, I read a book called ‘The Boys on the Boat.’ Some physiologists have said that for an Olympic length race, 2000 meters, it’s like putting your body through two back-to-back basketball games straight – except that you do it all in under six minutes.

Let me set up this scene: George Pocock is a world-famous shell builder; a shell is the name for a rowing boat. He builds shells at the University of Washington. Joe Rantz is a student at the University, and he is very interested in learning what Pocock knows. Here’s an excerpt of an interaction between them:

On a bright, crisp September morning, as Pocock started up the steps to his loft in the shell house, he noticed Joe doing sit-ups on a bench at the back of the room. He motioned Joe to come over, said he’d noticed him peering up into the shop occasionally, and asked him if he’d like to look around. Joe all but bounded up the stairs.

The loft was bright and airy, with morning light pouring in from two large windows in the back wall. The air was thick with the sweet-sharp scent of marine varnish. Drifts of sawdust and curls of wood shavings lay on the floor. A long I beam stretched nearly the full length of the loft, and on it lay the framework of an eight-oared shell under construction.

Pocock started off by explaining the various tools he used. He showed Joe wood planes, their wooden handles burnished by decades of use, their blades so sharp and precise they could shave off curls of wood as thin and transparent as tissue paper. He handed him different old rasps and augers and chisels and files and mallets he’d brought over from England. Some of them, he said, were a century old. He explained how each kind of tool had many variations, how each file, for instance, was subtly different from another, how each served a different function but all were indispensable in the making of a fine shell. He guided Joe to a lumber rack and pulled out samples of the different woods he used—soft, malleable sugar pine, hard yellow spruce, fragrant cedar, and clear white ash. He held each piece up and inspected it, turning it over and over in his hands, and talked about the unique properties of each and how it took all of them contributing their individual qualities to make a shell that would come to life in the water. He pulled a long cedar plank from a rack and pointed out the annual growth rings. Joe already knew a good deal about the qualities of cedar and about growth rings from his time splitting shakes with Charlie McDonald, but he was drawn in as Pocock began to talk about what they meant to him.

Joe crouched next to the older man and studied the wood and listened intently. Pocock said the rings told more than a tree’s age; they told the whole story of the tree’s life over as much as two thousand years. Their thickness and thinness spoke of hard years of bitter struggle intermingled with rich years of sudden growth. The different colors spoke of the various soils and minerals that the tree’s roots encountered, some harsh and stunting, some rich and nourishing. Flaws and irregularities told how the trees endured fires and lightning strikes and windstorms and infestations and yet continued to grow.

As Pocock talked, Joe grew mesmerized. It wasn’t just what the Englishman was saying, or the soft, earthy cadence of his voice, it was the calm reverence with which he talked about the wood—as if there was something holy and sacred about it—that drew Joe in. The wood, Pocock murmured, taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.

“Sure, I can make a boat,” he said, and then added, quoting the poet Joyce Kilmer, “‘But only God can make a tree.’”

Agape Christi is a tree that God is in the process of growing up. We started as a seed many years ago. In 2013 the seedling sprouted. I like to think that when we added Logic two years ago that we made it to the sapling stage. You can trace the story of our life through the growth rings within.

It’s true – even the strongest of trees goes through times of adversity. Just like Pocock said, “Their thickness and thinness spoke of hard years of bitter struggle intermingled with rich years of sudden growth.”

We’re coming off a tough year. We’ve parted ways with some beloved teachers, some wonderful families. We wrestled through an almost, but not really location change. We learned some hard lessons about educating in community.

But I believe that we are primed for a rich year of sudden growth. We have some very exciting new teachers who are passionate about what we’re trying to accomplish here. I watched a whole minivan full of them leave together this afternoon – on a Chipotle run. They did come back. We have a community of families who can see the vision and mission of Agape Christi coming to fruition. And I have discovered the secret to success: Stay true to the vision. Embrace the challenge of doing these things that are against the culture around us. And do all these things – together.

I want to remind us of the commitment, parents, that we all made when we came to the school:

  • Will you endeavor with the faculty, staff, and other parents and students to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love (Eph 4:2-3)?
  • If you develop any concerns about the school, the Board, other parents or students, or any faculty or staff in the future, will you commit to talking through any issues with the appropriate people in such a way that is full of grace and truth, loving the other person(s) involved in such a way as to pray, hope, and desire the Lord to bless those involved?

I look forward to working together with each family to accomplish the vision of Agape Christi.

Jed Culbertson