I went to a conference and felt small. I felt poor. And I was both glad and grateful. In fact, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to on a number of levels. I left feeling profoundly encouraged.
It was the Circe National Conference in Charleston, SC. I was there sharing my books, and listening to sessions led by brilliant men and women. The conference was loaded with people involved in classical and Christian education. There were headmasters, teachers, and homeschoolers. We are a classical, Christian, homeschooling family. So why did I feel small and poor? And why did I feel good about feeling so?
I’ll explain. Why do we go to the Grand Canyon, or Victoria Falls, or to the World Cup Final to watch our nation play? Do we do it to feel big and rich? No, we do it to feel the deep significance of our comparative insignificance, of being united to something large and lovely. That’s invigorating. Part of my feeling came from the fact that I was relatively poor in educational attainment compared with most people there. This was good for me. It honestly made me happy. Because I knew that my own kids will have a very different experience of being 38 than I was having, due in large part to the work and wisdom of so many of the people there. I was, in many ways, just happy to be there. After all, I could have been introduced to this world at the age of 88 instead of 38. But my family is young, my wife is bright, beautiful, and diligent, and the world looks different at 38 than it would at 88. I have heaps of hope.
Would I have loved it if my own father had been at such an event 30 years ago? Yes, sure. But to my knowledge, no such event existed. So I’m grateful to have been given the chance to be here, and grateful that my family has been blessed to benefit from the labor of others in this classical and Christian education movement.
So I felt small. I felt a bit poor. And I smiled. I smiled when Andrew Kern spoke of harmony and his words went down like a satisfying slurp of water on a hot walk through Charleston. I smiled when I met Matt, a mischievous and wise guy. I smile meeting Kobi and Brandon, ordinary parents like us who had kind words and easy friendship to give. I smiled meeting Greg, a winsome and bright gentleman. I smiled seeing Kevin, Laura, Emma, and Abby, a beautiful family with kindness in spades. I smiled when I met Lesli and Lee, and experienced the energetic advocacy and mentoring possible when people care to see you succeed. I smiled meeting Chris, a man who immediately had words to say that I needed to hear, and a generous tenderness that left me feeling an enchanting mix of validation and inspiration. I smiled meeting Andrew, generous and humble. I smiled meeting Chuck, Deb, Graeme and Leah, because they were funny and kind. There were many, many more, and that doesn’t even go into how the conference went for me as an author. On that score also, it was profoundly encouraging and delightful.
I was amazed to be at a place where so many people we met were either already readers of The Green Ember, or they had heard good things about it from others. I was blessed to meet many, many kind folks who have welcomed our little story into their family life. I heard such encouraging things from Hope, Sarah, Emily, Abigail, Dave, Candace, and so many more. It did feel special to receive such a big dose of attention and affection from people who have enjoyed these stories. It can also be a little daunting to experience. It doesn’t feel quite real, like they are talking about someone else, another author’s book. I am still learning how to process that kind of attention. (Maybe feeling “small” in the way I spoke of earlier helped.) I hope God is answering my prayer for a humble, happy heart with a Yes. It was best when we got past the Encounter of Strangers stage and I got to hear about their kids and the ways stories (including mine) have shaped them. That’s the stuff I love most, because it connects me to the meaning I’m seeking in my vocation and inspires me to carry on in a way sales numbers, reviews, and similar evaluative measures can’t.
So I felt small and special, poor and incredibly blessed.
I’m eager to get the audio of the event and listen again to what I heard, and to hear what I missed. I don’t have thoughtful reflections to share right now, and I probably won’t. But I did peck a short poem in my phone while Tracy Lee Simmons, author of Climbing Parnassus, spoke.
The man spoke about architecture. How we build things that will not last. He fired my mind to build, to make things that span the centuries. But I looked at my hands. I knew they were not the hands of a builder. But such as I have….
A Cathedral of Words
I cannot, I think, build a great building of any kind,
To last a thousand years.
Not with these hands.
So I will try, in my own way,
To make something that lasts a while.
I will try, I think,
To build a cathedral of words.
But that is too grand.
A cottage is more likely, with washing on the line.
A little home.
A warm fire.
A cottage of words.
May it last a little while and lend fire to a few tired travelers, moving through whatever darkness,
This industrious world manufactures for them.
A cathedral of words? Perhaps that’s too grand a spire. But I, bold as a mouse,
So I will build what I can,
And let my children, when they are grey,
Say what it was.
I will stop navel-gazing for a moment and try to see the Grand Canyon in this. I think what Andrew & Kern’s Immortals are building is just that: a cathedral of words. They might say they are rediscovering an old cathedral, but I suggest that have only rediscovered old plans. And with those plans, in this age, they are making something new. I pray it lasts a thousand years. I believe the impact has been, and will be, profound. I’m grateful because of the way this cathedral’s top points to heaven, with its bottom on the earth, where heaven will come to rest in the True New World.
I have been captured by a calling in recent years. I want my life to be about kindling imagination for Kingdom anticipation. What I received at Circe’s conference was only fuel for that fire. Christ be praised.
Thank you, David. Thank you, Andrew. Thank you to everyone at Circe’s 2015 conference. I had a wonderful time with you, and can’t wait to do it again.
Deo adjuvante non timendum