In the field of architecture and design, perhaps even in the field of manufacturing and production as well, there has been a push to restore and repair rather than throw away and produce anew. Recycling is still an important term in our culture. And each month there appears to be another new television show about restoring a home or an old car or a deteriorating neighborhood. In large part, the motivation in this restoration movement is to create less waste. The other motivation is to be better stewards of what has been materially passed to us. It appears we can all agree there is nothing honorable in being too quick to discard physical goods, social goods, or intellectual goods. Nonetheless, despite the push to restore, repair, and renovate, we are still a wasteful people, in large part because we are a revolutionary people. We rid our lives of the old; we cast away the broken; we grow tired of the mundane. Unless we rid ourselves of a revolutionary heart, we will never fully adopt a spirit of restoration. Unless we love the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of repairing, we will continue to merely remove and replace.
There is yet another reason why it is increasingly difficult to convince someone to restore something rather than replace it: we do not have a proper philosophy of restoration. What I mean by this is that we do not possibly see, with our modern eyes, how restoring is a better idea than altogether replacing. We have not given enough consideration to the following questions:
- What makes an idea or object worth restoring?
- What makes something worth repairing?
- What are the advantages of restoring over replacing?
- Even if removing and replacing is financially cheaper, it is costlier in other ways?
- Does my soul have a preference?
These kinds of questions don’t cross our minds. And there is a good reason why that is the case: we think too much like modern men; we think too much like revolutionaries. We are up to our eyeballs in ideas like new, innovate, progress, and future. Perhaps in many instances even if we thought it financially wiser to repair rather than replace, we would, for the sake of honoring the spirit of the times, take the more expensive road and simply replace.
Let’s face it squarely, in the modern world, there is little honor in repairing anything. Ours is a time of innovation, novelty, revolution, and authenticity. Why repair a car when you go finance a new one? Why restore a home when a newer one would be much more comfortable for life today? Why do the hard and humbling work of repairing a marriage when you can just go get a new wife? To repair something means to care for something that is old, probably much older than us, and to do so according to an original plan, a plan that is not our own. Consider that for a moment. When a man goes in to repair a car, he is not creating whatever he wants. He is repairing it as best he can, back to an original design. And that means he must submit himself to another man’s work, another man’s ideas. The person repairing must put himself second, or even third, but he cannot put himself first. To repair means to submit one’s self to the work done before us, to respect it, to honor one’s father and mother. This is not the easy road. It is in the modern spirit to hate such a demand on our lives, and so it is in the modern spirit to hate repairing and restoring. This is the second problem we face.
And yet, for the classical Christian academy, there is no other option. Either we love and live by a spirit of restoration and repair, or we vanish.
Each year the Association of Classical Christian Schools hosts their national conference. Every year it is titled “Repairing the Ruins.” It features vendors and speakers, and it is the largest gathering of classical Christian educators in the United States, probably in the world. The name “Repairing the Ruins” is, in some ways, an appropriate title. It communicates much of what the national movement, and indeed every school, must be doing: each classical Christian school is in the business of repairing, and each school is in the business of repairing “ruins.” In another sense, our consideration of our work in classical Christian education must go beyond the title, for there are many motivations for repairing something. Repairing, in and of itself, may not be all that honorable; one must consider what we are repairing. And to say “Well, we are repairing the ruins, of course!” may still leave us with yet more questions, like, “Which ruins? Whose ruins, and how much of the ruins are we to repair? How far down do the ruins go?” Again, we must especially consider our motivation for repairing something.
In one sense, we can restore or repair because we have a personal and particular interest in the thing. That is to say, we have such an affinity for it, that we don’t want to see it continue in its state of decay or destruction. This happens from time to time with family heirlooms, like jewelry or antique furniture. It happens around things like Star Wars memorabilia or museum installations. We take the time and resources to restore it because we have a certain affinity for it. But the problem with this motivation is that it is solely based on one’s taste, which is hard to defend, and it lasts only as long as one’s affections last. In just a short time, perhaps with the end of one’s life, that item will be long forgotten, tossed in a landfill or passed on but devalued altogether. If we intend to repair the ruins of classical Christian education in our cities, whether Beaumont or Boston or Baton Rouge, we cannot do so simply because we have joined together with people who have a similar taste as ours on the matter. This kind of repair will not last beyond a single generation, and it won’t be very persuasive to onlookers.
A second motivation in repairing something is that it is a kind of artifact for our cultural memory. This goes beyond personal taste; this gets into the realm of a social good, something like a piece of historic architecture or a sculpture in the center of the city or a piece of art that has found its way onto every postcard with our city’s name on it. In this way, we repair things because our lives are collectively richer with it. But even this motivation is too short-lived, for in just a few generations cultural values may change; social allegiances will adjust, and those symbols of old resolutions will be taken down and replaced. Beyond the social sentimentality of the building, for example, there is nothing more that holds the building in its place from generation to generation. And so it would happen that in just a few generations, the thing will be toppled to make room for a new structure, a new idea, even a new identity.
A third and final reason is the strongest and longest lasting: we repair some thing when its demise, destruction, or decay would lead to great harm for those who depend on it. In these cases, we restore because we believe the thing being restored is necessary for the good life. It is not simply a matter of personal taste or social sentiment; the thing to be restored must be restored lest we risk the catastrophic results of our own negligence. This is the case with things like bridges, marriages, political ideas, economic values, national military, theological treatises, or human bodies. In this kind of repair, we will repair it at all costs, because it is a priority. Its importance has reached the point that to lose it would result in a great, perhaps even irreversible, catastrophe. We do not replace human skulls like we replace plastic forks; we repair human skulls. We do not simply replace broken governments; we repair them. In fact, we spend generations making repairs which perhaps were flawed from the beginning.
So which is our motivation when it comes to classical Christian education? What is our heart to repair the image of God in man? What is our motivation in repairing our literary imaginations or intellectual heritage? What is the reason we repair the gaping hole left by a neglect of logic and Latin? Why, instead of replacing the whole thing, would we spend our time and resources repairing those inescapable flaws of modern art and music? What is our motivation to restore old buildings, like the one Veritas will be working on in the coming months? I’d like to put forth that unless we possess all three motivations—the personal, the cultural, and the necessary—we may very well be on the road to repairing in vain.
When a community like Veritas sets its hand to the plow of repairing education in Beaumont it must do so because it is vitally important for the future health of the city and its citizens. It is essential to the present and future health of the churches in Beaumont. In order for Veritas to be around for many generations, you, the first generation of families, must be convinced that if Beaumont wants to be a good city, it must classically and Christianly educate its children. You must also be convinced of the second reason I gave, namely that this kind of education is a great artifact in American history, and that to lose it would mean the loss of a great and rich cultural good. You must be convinced that this education is not just a necessity, it is also a gift and a privelege, a symbol to remind us of our great heritage. And finally, as a community, you must not just see the necessity of classical Christian education and the cultural importance for a city like Beaumont, you must also have a personal interest and affinity for this kind of education. That is to say, you must also realize that this education is to be enjoyed and not just implemented out of necessity. Nothing is restored without a lot of elbow grease and a lot more love. You should know that well as hardworking Texans. This means that if classical Christian education is going to truly be restored in this city, and if Veritas is going to do it, it must be because you personally enjoy it, because you have a taste for it which is persuasive to those around you. And In all this talk of restoring and repairing, as you are soon to find as you set your hand to a new building, preparing a future home not just for your upcoming senior class but also for your upcoming Kindergarten, you must be prepared to fully embrace the requisite labor. If in the year 2069, future families at Veritas and future citizens of Beaumont look back and consider how Veritas has grown to be such a beautiful academic institution, it will be because this first generation worked hard to make it such. And that will be required of each subsequent generation.
Our God is a maker; it is one of the only things we know about him in the book of Genesis before he makes man in his image. Therefore, in so much as we are made in his image, we too are makers. We cannot help but make, build, create, organize, beautify, name, and adorn. This is a fundamental characteristic of being human. But there is yet another fundamental characteristic of being a human, which is quite unlike God. While God never misses the mark, never labors for nothing, it is the case that man can labor in vain. As Scripture says in Psalm 127:1 “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” This verse is often quoted to remind us who the builder is, who the active agent is in building: the Lord, and that fact is important. But there is another lesson in this verse, one often missed: man ought to be laboring. There must be laborers with which the Lord to build. This is man’s blessed responsibility. Repairing something is labor intensive. It will be work, but it will be good, and honest, and joyful work. Fruitful work. Blessed and eternal work. What kind of laborer are you? Laboring at a school like Veritas, a classical and Christian and university-structured academy, requires us to have three virtues in our labors: Labor with piety. Labor with persuasion. Labor in partnership. These are the themes which will be required to not just steward your new facilities well, but also steward all of your facilities, and steward well this great inheritance we have in classical Christian education.
The architectural road you have started down to repair the education wing of the church downtown is truly a great metaphor for what this academy must always be about: repairing the space of a church one inch at a time, like repairing the soul of our civilization one child at a time, or repairing the image of God in man one classroom lecture at a time. I commend you for your work; I commend you as faculty, as parents, and as a school board for first seeing the restoration God has done in your lives and then turning that gift outward to your children and the children of this city. I pray the Lord continues to richly bless and repair all the things to which you put your hands. Thank You.