“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44
I imagine standing in line at the local bank when the man in this parable rushes in to withdraw all his money. I can see him bounding up the stairs – two at a time – into the office building where he has worked for years, kindly but quickly making his way to find his boss and resign.
I can see him sitting on the edge of his seat in a favorite Starbucks, trying to be patient with a confused close friend who keeps asking him again and again, ‘so you are really leaving?’
If you could watch this man in that holy span of hours and days after discovering true treasure and then re-ordering his life around owning it and enjoying it, you might call him busy. And how could he not be?
Whatever his life was before finding a true treasure, he now has a clear focus for his person and his passion. He has an organizing principle for prioritizing his time. He has a reason for work and for rest. He has touched truth and he is now free to live into the ownership and meaning of what he has found. Sacrifice is not painful but instead joyful.
Busy Episcopal Schools
Episcopal Schools are busy places. In fact, one of the most consistent criticisms of any resource-rich school is that we are too busy for anyone’s physical or spiritual health.
Stress from constantly competing and pressure to never fail in anything are as much psychological problems as spiritual problems in our schools. There is no end to the books and blogs that warn educators and parents that we are making ourselves, and our children, sick with striving for success. And yet we are busier every year.
But is the problem that we are too busy? Is the best advice to ‘slow down?’ Should the man who has found treasure in the parable ‘slow down?’ Is there any virtue in embracing his new life more slowly or with less urgency?
I say no.
This parable is an image of the energy, inspiration, and joy that flow from finding something true and liberating. This parable does not teach moderation any more than it condemns urgency. I have seen enough Episcopal schools in this country to say that our stress, anxiety and mission failures are not necessarily a problem of velocity but of values.
Defined by Our Treasure
I reject the diagnosis that we are ‘too busy’ in our schools, not because it is wrong but because it is imprecise. I believe the anxiety in our schools is more about what we treasure than how fast we are digging.
It is cheap and easy to say ‘slow down.’ The harder question begged by the parable is: What treasure are we rushing to own? If our treasure is a true source of life and meaning, then rushing to order our lives around it will bring freedom, not exhaustion.
If our treasure is a shallow cultural wish such as consumption or celebrity, then it will suck out our joy and stamina. The message of the parable is not to slow down but to order your life and the life of school around treasure that is real.
I have been involved in Episcopal education for more than 20 years. And this experience has led me to say that the true treasure of Episcopal schools – that which we ought to name and claim and order our communities around – is the Gospel of the love, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the sacramental embrace of Jesus in the Episcopal faith.
If I could whisper one thing in the ear of Episcopal educators this fall, it would be this: “Sell everything to buy that field.” Schools that don’t explicitly choose their treasure will become schools chasing after the culture’s treasures of competition and consumption.
Centralize the Gospel in your classrooms, whether or not your school has an overall culture of healthy Episcopal spirituality. Take matters into your own hands. Like the man in the parable, rush to order your curriculum and your concern around sharing the life-giving message of the Gospel and you will experience the joy of seizing the chance to share abundant life.
Whether you teach kindergarteners or 12th-graders, post the Beatitudes on your walls, pray in your classrooms, play inspirational music while teaching, light candles, and sit in silence with your students.
All of the longitudinal research we have about primary and secondary education cries out that pictures, music, candles and silence stick in the minds and souls of students for decades more than letters and numbers and grades.
Don’t just be a teacher, be a pastor. Let your classroom and faculty room become altars where sacramental power transforms the profane into the holy. By grace we are vessels of the real presence of God. Find the treasure in the field and use it to replenish and restore your vessel.
Part Two: Reclaiming Faith in Episcopal Schools
I am an unapologetic progressive Episcopalian. I am neither a dogma bouncer nor a liturgical police officer. But so many of our Episcopal schools have lost sight of the treasure of Episcopal education: the sure foundation in forming our communities (classrooms, faculty offices, board rooms, athletic fields, drama stages) around the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in our sacramental tradition.
We cannot let the spiritual shyness of our leadership or the failures of imagination of our chaplaincies rob our communities of the rich promise of our missions. Death is the darkest shadow in human learning, while life and our Gospel of resurrection is the light that casts away all shadows in any child or adult.
Travel the country and you will see that schools that are not afraid to name, claim and live out their Episcopal identities and lead with the passionate language and ritual of our faith tradition are thriving. Having and sharing a coherent message about life and death and purpose is also good for business. It’s good PR. It’s good for fundraising.
Meaning, purpose and a hopeful answer to death is what families are seeking from our often very expensive schools. I am not asking folks to walk off the cliff of institutional security for religious language or proselytizing. Rather, I am sharing the observations of schools that are growing because they are getting this right.
The Episcopal tradition of education is one of unlimited inclusiveness, intellectual curiosity and social justice. It is tragic and absurd to worry about a school with these qualities of being “too Episcopal.”
The Rising Number of Nones
This is the most un-churched generation in the country’s history, many of whom indicate their religious affiliation in survey research as “none.” It is entirely possible that our schools will be the first and last chance that many will hear a coherent presentation of the life of Jesus and the hope of the Christian faith.
We could get away with peddling watered-down and generic ethical teaching in our schools for the past 200 years, when the ambient Protestantism of America assured a certain “Christian” culture. But no more.
People who think that local religious institutions are currently forming our kids in faith are kidding themselves. Despite what any priest or bishop or rabbi thinks about the situation, the Episcopal school is increasingly the only church or synagogue students will ever encounter. If we do not bring up Jesus and the Episcopal Church, most likely no one in this generation’s future will.
Purpose of Episcopal Schools
The purpose of “school” in the Episcopal tradition is to find and form one’s gifts from God, receive substantial training in the arts and sciences, and then take up one’s unique and God-given role in the building of a just society. Education is nothing more and nothing less than the joyful training of people to discover the sacred connections between their gifts and the needs of the world.
Episcopal schools must teach more than manners and must articulate more than virtues. When Jesus walked this earth, the Romans and the Pharisees proved to be excellent at both.
The purpose of an Episcopal School is not to bring everyone to serve one religion, but to bring one religion to serve everyone. Schools that endeavor to serve the entire community with the fruits of sacramental faith – hope, joy and love – become a resource for all people in our schools.
Faithful leadership sets the table of resources from our Episcopal faith for all members of the community and all are free to consume them or not. It is not “inclusive” to leave the feasting table bare of faith commitments and narratives; it is inhospitable and an abdication of school missions. What is truly inclusive is presenting all that we know and love and ritualize about the life of Jesus, and inviting all, without barriers, to feast if they wish.
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Fall 2015, Vol. 28, No. 1, page 12-13 & Summer 2016, Vol. 28, No. 3, page 6-7