My son Jeremy and I golfed the other day at a nine hole, par three course. You can’t exactly call it golf. I scored 49 when par was 27. That’s a forgettable enough score. But what I didn’t forget is this. As we walked the course, I felt the slightest touch of coolness in the air. Coolness, in fact, is not quite the right word. It was more like a relenting. I could feel the summer heat—what summer heat we get here in Seattle—giving just a little bit of ground. Relenting. Yes, that’s the right word.
Then yesterday Priscilla and I made the trip to SeaTac Airport to drop our daughter off for college in Texas. On the way back, we walked our favorite waterfront path, Myrtle Edwards Park, which takes you along the bay with views of downtown skyscrapers and Mount Rainier looming in the distance. One tree, just one, was yellowed, with a blanket of leaves around it. A sign that summer is relenting.
My mother used to say, without fail, that she hated to see autumn come around. She always felt melancholy when the kids went back to school. Us too. We’ve never wanted them back in the drudgery of yellow buses and seven hours of sitting. So much of school seems to consist of teaching kids to listen for hours on end. Instructing them in the art of large group compliance. Training them to relent.
Kids should be relentless—not behaviorally modified to relent, to give ground, to concede and cave. Education should train them to be insistent, curious, inquisitive.
Jesus expressed this at the core of his teaching. He didn’t say, “Blessed are the peacekeepers,” but “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Helen Graham, writing in Return to Babel: Global Perspectives on the Bible, understands exactly this point. She tells the story of a popular uprising in 1986, during the days of the notorious Ferdinand Marcos, in a small village on the Philippine island of Negros called Cantomanyog. Villagers decided to create a “Peace Caravan” to circle the island. As they returned to the village at the end of their five-day pilgrimage of peace, they were met by a military helicopter disgorging soldiers in fatigues with M 16 rifles, barring their way to a small table, where the eucharist was prepared and several priests waited. Still, worship began. Some of the pilgrims began to trickle over toward the table. By the time in the service when people were to give each other the kiss of peace, worship was in full swing. Peace hadn’t just been kept. Peace had been made.
Jesus doesn’t say, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, sit still.” He says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer the left as well.”
When an unnamed woman breaks a flask and pours expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, prompting his closest friends to protest, “This perfume should have been kept—saved—and at some point given to the poor,” Jesus calls their passive-aggressive bluff, “That you can do any time.” Jesus even makes her action, her impulsive, generous, incomprehensible action, the benchmark for the gospel in all places and times: “Truly I tell you,” he says with an exclamation point, “wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Taking our cue from Jesus, we can see that education should drive our kids not to relent but, instead, to be relentless.
How to make peace and not just keep it.
How to carry crosses rather than avoiding them.
How to give, not prudently, but lavishly.
For that sort of education I’d happily send my daughter into a long aluminum tube seven miles above the earth to a college far away or relinquish our son to a yellow box on wheels and square rooms filled with books and lab tables a couple of miles away.
For that sort of education, I’d even happily endure the melancholy of these late summer suns.