Yesterday was the first day of 11th grade for my son, David, and the first day of 4th grade for my son, Joshua. Speaking for parents everywhere, the first day of school is absolutely wonderful. The children were dressed in new clothes and their backpacks were filled with new school supplies. Everyone sensed the excitement due to the possibilities of a new year with new teachers. Social media will inevitably be filled with photos of our bright-eyed scholars ready for the commencement of new classes. And, while the young ones are at school, precious hours of peace and quiet returned to homes everywhere.
I have memories (through a thick fog of time) surrounding a number of “first day”s of school: buying Garanimals at Bradlees, writing my name in my new Trapper Keeper, wondering if any of my friends were going to be in my class, trepidation over the navigation of hallways and locker combinations, walking down Park Street (first to the Clapp School and then to the E. A. Jones School). I remember nearly all of my teachers’ names. I can still see the hallway and stairway where one of my first grade classmates (who will remain nameless) had a meltdown of epic proportions due to what we now call separation anxiety. First days of school leave an indelible mark.
These memories, however, are fading as I get older. School days are no longer part of our adult lives. We do not buy new clothes for ourselves at Labor Day sales and we detest the incredibly long lines at Staples. Many of us have not been in a classroom setting (outside of parent-teacher conferences) in decades and assume a mindset that education is only for the young. According to Pew Research, 27% of adults did not read a single book last year. The world around is constantly changing, but, sadly, some of us see no need to hone our intellectual resources.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42
One of the counter-cultural practices of the Christian church is a devotion to life-long learning. This weekend, communities of faith all over the region will be holding, in one form or another, a “Rally Day” to resume Christian Education classes. Through Sunday School classes, Bible studies and C. E. discussions people of all ages will devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. People of diverse backgrounds will gather in church basements and conference rooms and read the Scriptures together. Women and men of all ages will share experiences and insights, equipping one another to face the challenges of life.
At Calvary, Sunday will be the first day of school. While we will not expect you to have sharpened #2 pencils or matching shirts and khakis, we do encourage you to devote yourselves to learning more about the Lord. Whether it be in Dorchester or wherever Christ has called you, I hope you will get together with constructively curious people this weekend and equip yourselves with the Sword of the Spirit, readying one another for whatever the world may bring.
The other day I saw, via Facebook, a picture of me from 40 years ago. It was the fourth grade class picture of Room 13 at the Central Elementary School in Stoughton, Massachusetts. As I looked over the miniature portraits of my 23 classmates and our teacher, Ms. Berman, it was amazing to me how many names and memories flooded my mind – playing in the school yard during recess, getting a ‘pen’ for penmanship, staging a production of “The Point!”, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, marveling at our neighboring class’s Miss Walsh’s record setting nails, and preparing for the Bicentennial.
As I read the comments attached to the picture and clicked through a number of links, I was saddened to discover that two of those nine-year olds did not survive to their fiftieth birthday. Some have remained in Stoughton, but most have not – moving within and beyond Massachusetts. Most went on to college and a variety of careers. Many have been married. Some, like my Facebook page, have posted pictures of children and some even had pictures of grandchildren. Much has happened to all those little kids from the autumn of ‘75 – successes and losses with many good days and many bad days.
Looking back and reminiscing about life during the Ford administration has made me wonder about another group of pictures I have in my house and in my mind – the cherubic faces in the class pictures of my kids. The kids in those portraits live in a much different world than my fourth grade classmates did. My children come from an environment of cable television, smart phones and the internet; that is a far cry from three networks (and no remote), a single corded telephone in the kitchen and encyclopedias. My fourth-graders live in the shadow of 9/11 and Columbine; the worst we had to fear was the nebulous Soviet Union. I’m not sure which childhood I would prefer.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV)
Whether we are in the suburbs in the 1970s or the city in the 2010s, the paths of our lives are arranged by God: this is not to say that all the bad times were given by the Almighty (after all, there is that pesky dynamic known as the consequence of sinful behavior) but rather that the Lord has a delightful plan for each and every one of us, and the Lord is delighted when we remain in it. As I look at that tiny face in the corner of that yellowed picture, I think about all the things I wish I could have told him. I’d tell him that God’s got a plan for him. I’d say that there will be relationships that will not be worth the emotional investment and others that will be. I’d tell my nine year old self to save the saxophone, avoid getting a perm at all costs and play a sport in High School.
Much as one may want to, you cannot relive your childhood, not even vicariously through your own children. All you can do is trust that God has a plan in all the details, and that somehow it will all work out…like the day you saw an old photograph and thought about ‘the good old days’ at the Jones School.