Fragmentation is a word I have found myself thinking and saying often over the past few years. So many things in our culture feel like they are falling apart. Though long a favorite poem, Yeats’s prophetic words have never rang so self-evidently true:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Our multiplying, deepening divisions have become clichés and commonplaces. Seeds sown centuries ago are bearing their ugly fruit, and yet here we are in the ruins of our world, trying to rebuild the humane culture our fathers were given by faithfully building families and educational communities centered on Christ.
While I am encouraged to see the marked growth in homeschooling, I have still been somewhat surprised at how difficult it still is to build homeschooling communities. Although more and more families are fleeing the collapse now glaringly evident in the public education system, it is still very hard to find what we are moving to. As we break free from institutional problems, we still face cultural problems from within ourselves: decision fatigue in the face of over-abundant choices, residual individualism, persistent therapeutic deism, personal ambitions, and the very lack of educational depth and understanding we are trying to remedy.
As I work this summer to lead our local scholé community, I am sobered not as much by the fragmentation around us as by the fragmentation within. If we are to rebuild something out of the broken ruins of our world, we must first reckon with the broken ruins inside ourselves. As I pray this June over how to strengthen and grow our local community, these are the commitments I believe we need to renew.
1 – Return to the Center
If we are to pull together while the world pulls apart, we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the One who is before all things and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Our lives need a point of unity around which all our decisions, habits, thoughts, relationships, and communities can gather and cohere.
We are troubled by many things but only one thing is necessary (Luke 10:41); seeking the presence of Christ in this moment. And the next. And the next. Allowing our words and thoughts and days and work and relationships to be gathered up as an offering to our Savior, the source of life, the Logos who orders all things well.
2 – Simplify
Part of returning to the center will mean allowing things to fall off the periphery. Like a good soldier set on his mission (2 Timothy 2:4), we must drop all the excess weight of cares, vanities, and ambitions that we can. I find the medieval practice of memento mori (“remembrance of death”) to be indispensable for life among the ruins. When I am facing my last moments of life and I look back at all my work and relationships, what will really have mattered? We must run with our end in mind, laying aside every possible weight and the sin that clings to us, so we might run as to win the eternal prize (Hebrews 12:1).
Building a homeschooling family or community feels like trying to build a sandcastle with dry sand; work as fast as I can, most of the details of my day fall off my hands and I do little more than make a formless pile of something that happened. But if that pile of words and actions are centered on Christ, it truly is enough. He is the Logos who orders our meager offerings into good and beautiful things. We will drive ourselves—and each other—mad trying to perfect the pile, to control all the details, to make the perfect choice in every decision. If we have our values in order as we make our decisions, then we can rest in our gross limitations as given to us by God and for our own good. As we accept our God-given limits, we can together embrace the peace of good enough.
3 – Care for Community as much as Individuality
Our culture especially struggles with this one. We have collectivist ideologues pulling from the left and libertarian idealogues pulling from the right, and each of us has a temperament that naturally leans one way or the other. The truth is that Christians are called to live in the balance between community and individuality. We are made in the image of the Triune God and for a life of Triune fellowship. In the Trinity itself is the eternal perfect balance of unity and multiplicity. While we must firmly oppose the evils of collectivism, we are made to live in authentic community.
In my experience, we in the homeschool community easily default to caring primarily, even exclusively, about the needs and ambitions of ourselves and our children. For those who lead communities, this reality is painful. Leaders often feel exhausted and anxious about how to make ends meet for the school or community. The harvest is plenty but the workers are few. Kingdom life, especially the counter-cultural work of Christian classical education, is an all-hands-on-deck adventure. The ship isn’t going to make it to shore without everyone rowing. Of course, when push comes to shove, we do need to put our own families first; but as much as possible, we must care about and work for all God’s children and His Church and His communities. Our families are bigger than we think. In the end, we will realize how much we need each other.
4 – Value the truth over feelings
Community life comes with conflict. We are easily offended. We easily misunderstand. We are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. A hundred wise things could be said about dealing with conflict, but I think the most important for this moment and the theme of re-centering ourselves on Christ is this: center your responses on truth, not feelings. Our culture is pathologically centered on feelings, and we are deeply influenced by it whether we want to be or not. When the emotional flood is flowing downhill, we will be forced to intentionally swim uphill if we are to keep our heads. Our emotions matter and we should not anesthetize ourselves, but they are not reliable witnesses to the truth. You will be annoyed and offended by the people in your school or homeschool co-op. Expect it. Base your actions on the truth of what God has called you to, the truth of the whole situation in which you find yourself. Your heart will follow if you make a daily habit of coaching yourself in the truth from an eternal perspective.
5 – Practice Hope
When endeavoring to do great things—and classical education is a great thing—it is easy to fall into a scarcity mindset. The work is far, far greater than we are and so we try to preserve our energy, to protect ourselves, to control the work so it stays manageable within our paltry resources. But our efforts to control kill the work; the work must be done in faith, trusting God to supply our many needs, to show up through the many cracks, to be the primary presence and power in all that we do. Our weakness is what allows kingdom work to grow life in others.
This is how kingdom work always is; we are asked to do things that are far beyond our own resources, that only God can accomplish because in truth He is the source of all good things and all honor and glory and power belongs to Him. In his love and grace, He lets us help like a father who lets the toddler help with the cooking. The job is beyond us because in reality He is the one doing the work.
So as we spend this summer re-centering ourselves to lead our homeschool families and communities well, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Epistle to the Hebrews, 10:23–25).
Let us pull together while the world pulls apart.
Annie Crawford is a cultural apologist, classical educator, and homeschooling mom whose passion is to help others look at the world around them and see that all truth is God’s truth. To read more of her writing, visit her blog at www.anniecrawford.net
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