Too Catholic: A Classical Odyssey

It is probably safe to assume that every classical Christian school in the country sees itself as the rival of some better funded, more liberal Christian school across town. Let us call this school St. Adam’s Preparatory. The students at your school have many stories about St. Adam’s Prep and they always tell these stories with a spirit of envy, loathing, and disbelief. To begin with, St. Adam’s Prep has a GSA Club and a climate change elective. Their basketball players use the f-word during games, but so does their coach. They have a prom where a DJ plays trap music in front of everybody— the same trap music, in fact, that some kid at your school played on his phone in the locker room last semester and for which he was subsequently suspended for two days. The uniform skirts are always shorter at St. Adam’s Prep. The senior class goes to Miami Beach for spring break at St. Adam’s Prep. The religion teacher said Genesis was probably just an allegory at St. Adam’s Prep.

What is not often mentioned about St. Adam’s Prep, though, is that it is has been around far longer than your school. Of course, being older than your school isn’t all that difficult— your school is only fourteen years old, just like most classical Christian schools presently in operation—but the age of St. Adam’s Prep intrigues you. Has it always been this tawdry? Has it always been so gutlessly obedient to the spirit of the age?

When you ask several older faculty members at your school about St. Adam’s. They tell you it was founded in the 1940s and that it used to be a very fine school. If the founders of St. Adam’s could have seen the sophomore girls dressed like Kardashians, dancing to “Bodak Yellow” at the Spring Gala while the headmaster looked on nodding his head, they would have bulldozed the school and salted the ground ages ago. And yet, you know that such falls from grace do not occur overnight. Any school which does not vigilantly, diligently, constantly assert an unflinching loyalty to tradition will naturally slouch towards progressivism.

St. Adam’s Prep made compromises for all the predictable reasons, like boosting enrollment or appeasing wealthy donors who sent their arrogant, moronic sons and daughters to the school. St. Adam’s went hard for state money just once, then just once more, then they stripped every vestige of creationism from their science program so they could buy microscopes. “If we don’t do this,” the St. Adam’s headmaster said, back in 1983, “we’re not going to beat an 80% retention rate over the next two years. We would have to close.”

After a few lean years, St. Adam’s hired a new headmaster in 1987 and their fortunes revived. The school’s formal relationship with a local Catholic Church was officially severed, chapel was cancelled, and the statement of faith was made optional. Consequently, enrollment boomed. A local businessman offered to build a new gymnasium for the school if they were willing to remove the cross from their foyer, a few of the St. Adam’s board members quit in protest, but the gym was built. The basketball team won state just two years after the gymnasium was built.

You have been thinking of St. Adam’s Prep quite often lately because of a curious convergence of two separate events in your life as a teacher: first, the latest round of senior theses are about to be presented in front of the entire secondary, and second, because you have just become aware of Elias the Hermit— not the historical Elias the Hermit, mind you, who was a late antique Egyptian ascetic who lived in a cave— but Elias the Hermit Classical, a new and rather small school which has lately opened in the basement of a Baptist church across town.

Senior theses have brought St. Adam’s Prep to mind because the presentation of senior theses is the most political event in the annual life of any classical school— they are even more political than board meetings where there is shouting and cursing and threats to walk out. As always happens when senior theses roll around, some boy named Zeke (who should have been kicked out in 8th grade) is about to give his thesis presentation on skateboarding, and no one is quite sure how or why no one put the kibosh on this project months ago.

The fact that Zeke is about to graduate betrays the fact your school has a terrible problem with grade inflation, because everyone knows Zeke can barely spell. There is a rumor going around the break room that Zeke’s thesis advisor is being blamed for his bad thesis and that his thesis advisor is basically rewriting Zeke’s entire thesis before it is presented publicly. However, this round of senior theses has produced a problem far more exquisite than Zeke’s, for another student named Deborah has written a thesis which the administration has deemed “too Catholic.”

Deborah’s thesis is about “treasure in heaven,” but it could have been about sacraments, liturgy, St. Francis, charity, the death penalty, or six dozen other issues. If Deborah were a Catholic, her thesis would not actually be all that problematic, but Deborah is Presbyterian, and thus the situation has become political. Despite the fact Deborah has spent six months researching the expression “treasure in heaven,” her paper presents juicy quotes about the matter from Augustine and Aquinas and John Calvin and Karl Barth, and she is more or less just synthesizing what all these great theologians say about the matter, someone on the administrative team of the school has made the claim her paper “does not comport with what the school statement of faith says about salvation by grace alone.” There is presently discussion about whether Deborah will be allowed to present her thesis at all, or whether she will need to rewrite it and submit it to the school theology teacher for approval, even though there is absolutely no precedent for such a decision.

For her part, Deborah is quite confused, because she knows “liturgy” has become a fashionable topic over the last twenty years, and in her own mind, her paper on “treasure in heaven” drafted on the fresh excitement over “liturgy,” even though she has had some trouble explaining the connection to her parents or the concerned administrator. While you were not Deborah’s thesis advisor, she spoke with you several times during her research, and it was you who directed her to passages from Calvin about the matter, and now it appears you may have to answer to the administrator for whatever you said to Deborah in these meetings.

The whole situation with Deborah is quite off-putting, though, because you understand the position of the administration on the matter. You know that your school is heavily stocked with families that would be quite upset if the administration took a soft approach to distinctly Catholic doctrines. You are not an idealist, but a realist, and at the end of the day, you know your school has to keep the lights on and keep the peace. Keeping the peace often means compromise.

At the same time, Zeke and Deborah’s theses are not the only matters which have you thinking of St. Adam’s Prep lately.

You became aware of Elias the Hermit Classical when a student mentioned it in class one day. The student in question said a new classical school had opened in town, that the school was small and cheap and had no basketball team, and that it must really suck to go to a school that met in a basement and had no basketball team. Another student mentions that some kid who used to go to your school now attends Elias the Hermit Classical, but there is debate about whether this kid’s name is Toby or Moby and everyone laughs. “He dropped out in seventh grade so his mom could homeschool him,” someone says. “Now he goes to basement school.” Even you laugh at this. Apparently, a monk teaches theology and English at Elias the Hermit Classical, Toby’s mom teaches biology, tuition is $2000 a year, and only thirty-two students are enrolled. The subject of Elias the Hermit Classical passes and you forget about it for a day.

Until, that is, you see a man who looks quite a bit like a monk sitting in a coffee shop grading a stack of handwritten essays. You sit in the corner of the coffee shop reading Drudge on your phone and stealing glances at the monk. You believe he is a monk because he is wearing a cassock, because he intimidates you, and because he does not have a white collar, as a priest would have. After some time, you gin up a little courage and walk over to the monk and ask him, “You don’t happen to teach at Elias the Hermit, do you?”

The monk looks up, sets down his pen, and says, “Yes, I do.” You introduce yourself and say, “I’m a history teacher at The Carpe Diem Academy,” and when you say this, the monk gives you a funny little smile which you immediately interpret as a sign he does not take you seriously. Though you shill for tradition (being Anglican and all), you have never met a monk before, and you are taken back when the monk does not introduce himself as “Sabbas” or “Brother Lucretio” or “Abba Matins,” but tells you his name is “Steve.” You wonder if his street name is actually “Brother Lucretio” but he has told you his name is “Steve” because he thinks you don’t know about street names. Obviously, he does not take you seriously.

You tell him that you’ve heard of Elias the Hermit Classical and that you are glad that “another real classical school has opened in this town,” but he responds to this claim by asking, “What do you mean?” You tell him that too many of the Christian schools have gone the way of St. Adam’s Prep, then you describe for him some of the outrageous things you’ve heard about prom and Spring Break.

STEVE: Do you see Carpe Diem as being very different from St. Adam’s?

YOU: Yes, why?

STEVE: Don’t you have a prom, as well?

YOU: It’s not exactly a prom. It’s more of a formal dance.

STEVE: Where everyone waltzes to The Blue Danube?

YOU: Well, we waltz, but it’s often to Lady Antebellum songs and that sort of thing.

STEVE: I don’t really see the difference. Sounds like a prom.

YOU: There are no waltzes at prom.

STEVE: There are no Lady Antebellum songs at a real waltz.

YOU: We’ve got to keep the kids interested.

STEVE: Sure.

YOU: What do you teach?

STEVE: Everything except biology and algebra.

YOU: What’s your theology curriculum like?

STEVE: Augustine. Plotinus. Chrysostom. Leo the Great. The Cloud of Unknowing. David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.

YOU: What grade is reading The Beauty of the Infinite?

STEVE: We don’t have grade levels. Grave levels are a progressive corruption of education, much like standardized tests, reports cards, fire drills, proms, and so forth.

YOU: Geez, even I had a hard time understanding The Beauty of the Infinite.

STEVE: It’s much easier to understand after you’ve read Plotinus. What’s your theology curriculum like?

YOU: You know, there’s some Augustine. There’s some Karl Barth. We also do some of the better theology books written in recent years, the kind of books I think will stand the test of time.

STEVE: Like Girl, Wash Your Face? That sort of thing?

YOU: Oh, no. Nothing like that. Some stuff by John Piper, actually. Francis Chan.

STEVE: Never heard of him.

YOU: He’s good. I guess you could say he’s “at the level” of the students.

STEVE: I get it. Why test them on stuff they don’t know when you can test them on stuff they already know?

YOU: I see you’ve got a stack of tests you’re grading there. Mind if I asked what the students were writing about?

STEVE: No, these aren’t tests. This is a book which a priest in Alaska wrote and asked me to type out for him. We don’t do written tests at Elias the Hermit. There are oral examinations once a year. That’s it.

YOU: No reading quizzes or anything?

STEVE: Obviously not. It’s a classical school.

YOU: How do you ensure that students do their homework?

STEVE: There’s no homework.

YOU: Do you assign reading for students to do at the end of the day?

STEVE: Does a husband assign his wife the task of making dinner every night? Does a wife assign her husband the task of mowing the lawn every week? Or do we simply do these things because they are right?

You leave the conversation with Steve shaken. You begin making a list of ways your own school is not like St. Adam’s Prep, but you are vexed by the fact that St. Adam’s Prep is far older than your school and that their slide into zeitgeist-worship had to start somewhere. What is more, Elias the Hermit Classical seems “too Catholic” in exactly the same way Deborah’s thesis was judged “too Catholic,” and yet Elias the Hermit Classical does not seem in danger of zeitgeist-worship at all.

The following morning, you walk into literature class and some of the sophomore ladies are laughing that one in their midst has received a uniform violation on account of the short length of her skirt. The young lady who received the uniform violation is saying something about modesty and rolling her eyes. While reading Paradise Lost, a benign use of the word “ejaculate” occurs in the text and all the boys burst out laughing. Before you can regain control, one of the boys explains the biological meaning of the word to a guileless girl named Louisa. You begin composing an email to parents in your head.

At the end of the day, the principal asks to talk with you.

PRINCIPAL: I wanted to have a word with you about Deborah’s thesis.

YOU: Of course.

PRINCIPAL: What have you said about “treasure in heaven” when the subject has come up?

YOU: Deborah hasn’t been a student of mine in two years.

PRINCIPAL: I know, but what have you said on the subject of “treasure in heaven” in class? We’ve spoken with Deborah about her thesis and she said you would lecture about “treasure in heaven” back in sophomore year.

YOU: I’m quite sure I told my students they ought to “store up treasure in heaven,” but other than that, I don’t recall exactly what I said. This was several years ago now.

PRINCIPAL: Well, why don’t you tell me what you think of “treasure in heaven”?

YOU: We should store it up, like Christ commands.

PRINCIPAL: I think the problem is that some students are confused about what you’ve said on the subject, including Deborah. The statement of faith at this school clearly puts forward a belief in salvation by faith alone. I don’t want to get into a theological argument with you about what that means, but a number of things you’ve said about “treasure in heaven” are at odds with salvation as a free gift.

YOU: Has Deborah not offered numerous quotations in her thesis from great Protestant intellectuals on the subject of “treasure in heaven”? She isn’t quoting me, is she?

PRINCIPAL: No, but your influence seems very obvious in her work.

YOU: Is the influence of Calvin and Barth obvious in her work, as well?

PRINCIPAL: I’m not sufficiently familiar with the work of John Calvin or Karl Barth to know his influence when I see it. Look, I’m just not a theologian. I’m just a principal who is trying to keep the peace at an ecumenical Protestant school, and the fact of the matter is this: Deborah has written a paper which sounds very Catholic.

YOU: If you’re not a theologian, how do you know what “very Catholic” sounds like?

PRINCIPAL: Be careful. I also know what “very disrespectful” sounds like.

YOU: I apologize.

PRINCIPAL: You’re forgiven. Look, the short version is this: Deborah’s thesis just doesn’t sound like the school statement of faith. If it doesn’t sound like the school statement of faith, she can’t present her thesis publicly. I also need you to make a personal apology to Deborah’s parents.

YOU: For what?

PRINCIPAL: For confusing her on the matter of “treasure in heaven.”

YOU: What have her parents said about her thesis?

PRINCIPAL: Like myself, they’re not well-versed in the writings of John Calvin or Karl Barth, either. They were quite surprised to find Deborah had written a paper which sounded so Catholic.

YOU: When did her parents first raise their concerns?

PRINCIPAL: When they read the final paper.

YOU: Was she not talking with her parents about her research while she was working on the paper?

PRINCIPAL: Why does that matter?

YOU: I’ll put my cards on the table. I think Deborah’s paper is “too Catholic” in the mind of exactly one person and that one person keeps putting the idea in other people’s heads.

PRINCIPAL: And who do you think this one person is?

YOU: Someone on her thesis board.

PRINCIPAL: Who?

YOU: I don’t know who is on her thesis board, so I couldn’t say for sure.

The matter of your apology to Deborah’s parents is put on hold for the moment. You leave the principal’s offer dispirited. You are vexed at yourself for defending the school in your heart earlier when you heard that Deborah’s thesis would not be presented publicly. At that time, you were content for Deborah to be a scapegoat for the school’s ecumenical frustrations.

At home, you phone the one and only Catholic who actually works at The Carpe Diem Academy: Carl, the grizzled old gym teacher, whose Catholicism is nearly unknown and entirely undiscussed among students, staff, and faculty alike. You explain the situation to him.

CARL: These things happen.

YOU: What do you mean?

CARL: At ecumenical schools, these things happen. Nobody wants to be ecumenical. Presbyterians who like classical education wish there was enough interest among Presbyterians to start a classical Presbyterian school. The same is true for Lutherans. The same is true for… whoever. What everyone wants is to be parochial, but there’s not enough interest— or ability, really— in anyone’s church to create a parochial school. So, you bite your tongue, you write a very basic statement of faith, and you make yourself an ecumenical school.

YOU: What does that have to do with Deborah’s thesis being “too Catholic”?

CARL: Well, “ecumenical” just isn’t much of an identity. It’s a concession. So, from time to time, you have to give “ecumenical” some teeth. You’ve got to draw a line in the sand so that you know who you are. Haven’t you ever read Rene Girard? Every now and again, a little purgatorial violence— usually bureaucratic violence, but still— is necessary in order to assuage our fear that “ecumenical” just doesn’t mean much.

YOU: But, why me?

CARL: Was anyone ever so young? Why me? Are you serious?

YOU: I don’t know, Carl. Your explanation of the situation just strikes me as too… too…

CARL: Too… Catholic?

You hang up the phone. What does Carl know? He teaches at an ecumenical school, after all. He can’t mind it too much. You wonder if Elias the Hermit is an ecumenical school. It must be. Toby couldn’t have been Catholic, could he? But Steve the monk must be Catholic, and so Elias the Hermit must be ecumenical. You decide to check Elias the Hermit’s website to see if your suspicions are correct, but Elias the Hermit doesn’t have a website. At this moment, you get a notification on your phone that Louisa’s parents have sent you an email. They want to have a meeting with you and the academic dean to discuss the Paradise Lost incident from earlier in the morning. Several words in their email are written in all caps— words like “very disappointed” and “dangerous” and “harassment.” You do not read all of the email. Emails wherein such words are written in all caps are, in fact, all the same.

The person who has claimed Deborah’s thesis is “too Catholic” is almost certainly the Reverend Baldwin Henry, a retired Lutheran minister who teaches four theology classes at Carpe Diem. In the four years you have known the Reverend Henry, he has never once asked you a question. Baldwin likes RC Sproul, Tabletalk Magazine, and he opens every class with five minutes of dumb blond jokes he has memorized from a book. You once heard him pronounce the name Nietzsche “Nitch-key.” He claims to know quite a lot about the Catholic Church because he was “raised Catholic,” although you’ve heard him refer to the miraculous conception of Christ as “the Immaculate Conception” and he regularly contends that the corrupt Renaissance popes were “all Arminians.” The Reverend Henry has been with Carpe Diem since it opened fourteen years ago, and this alone accounts for his continued employment.

The following day, the Reverend Baldwin Henry comes into the breakroom and begins brewing a pot of coffee. You are making photocopies from a book of essays by Montaigne. There is no one else in the breakroom.

YOU: Did you have a chance to read Deborah’s thesis yet?

BALDWIN: Unfortunately, I did. It’s a shame about that young lady.

YOU: Did you find something problematic about her thesis, Reverend Henry?

BALDWIN: Yes. It was entirely too Catholic. Extremely Catholic, even.

YOU: Would you have preferred the thesis be mildly Catholic?

BALDWIN: I would have preferred her thesis not be Catholic at all.

YOU: What about all the quotes from Calvin?

BALDWIN: Even Calvin had his problems. Deborah wrote as though Calvin had more authority than the Bible.

YOU: There was a good bit of Scripture quoted in her paper, as well.

BALDWIN: It was all taken out of context.

YOU: The rules which govern the authoring of a thesis require citations from six scholarly sources. If not Calvin and Barthes, who do you think she should have quoted from?

BALDWIN: I couldn’t help but noticing that Deborah interprets the Bible through a very Catholic lens.

YOU: You couldn’t help noticing?

BALDWIN: She was a student of yours last year, after all.

YOU: Does that seem curious to you? You know that I’m not Catholic, don’t you?

BALDWIN: You’re Anglican, though, and aside from the Pope, I don’t see much of a difference between the two.

YOU: How do you figure?

BALDWIN: The head of the Anglican Church is the king of England, which gives the Anglican Church a pretty considerable problem so far as the separation of Church and state goes. The Catholic Church also had a sizable problem with the separation of Church and state, at least during the Dark Ages.

YOU: Fascinating. What other similarities do you see between the two?

BALDWIN: Theological liberalism, for starters. Prayers for the dead. The so-called doctrine of apostolic succession. An emphasis on good works rather than obedience. I was raised Catholic, so if anyone at this school would recognize a Catholic influence, it would be me. Deborah could have chosen an edifying topic, like Piper. Piper wrote a fantastic paper about why Christians should play sports. It’s dense with Scriptural prooftexts.

After school, you meet with the Principal, who tells you that apologizing to Deborah’s parents is non-negotiable. In its present form, her thesis warrants a C, though she will be allowed to edit it and resubmit it for a higher grade. You ask the Principal what you should apologize for and he tells you, “She obviously came out of your literature class last year very confused about the matter of salvation and theology. I don’t think you meant to lead her astray, but this is a Protestant school and we have a Protestant statement of faith. Protestant parents need to have confidence their children won’t come home sounding like Roman Catholics. I know Deborah has a lot of teachers, but you’re her only non-Protestant teacher.”

You leave the meeting downtrodden. The meeting actually went on for more than two hours, though the content of the meeting can be summarized in less than thirty seconds. You want to quit. You are fed up with classical education. You want to feel sorry for yourself, but Elias the Hermit will not let you. You want to pronounce yourself more wise, more well read, and more human than the Reverend Baldwin Henry, the Principal, Deborah’s parents, and Louisa’s parents, but in your imagination, you see Steve’s face rise up like the sun. Steve does not think you have any right to feel sorry for yourself. You are angry at Steve for thinking so little of you, but you are also angry at yourself for deserving so little respect. You have gotten what you deserve. You were never the real deal, you are not the real deal now, and you never will be.

There is no way Steve is where you left him. What would a monk be doing at a coffee shop? Still, you need Steve to be at the coffee shop, and perhaps you need him to be there badly enough that sympathetic magic will make it so. By the end of the following week, you will have heard thesis presentations on why Christians should learn to dance (“David danced before the Lord”), why abortion is wrong (“You knit me together in my mother’s womb”), why R-rated movies are okay to watch (“Christian liberty”), why democracy is Biblical (“All have sinned and fallen short”) why evolution is wrong (“In the beginning, God”), why classical education is Biblical (“Train up a child”), why the death penalty is Biblical (“Blood for the blood god”), why nuclear war is allowable (“Blessed is he who dashes your little ones on the rocks”), why women should be elders (there is one United Methodist at the school), and seven different theses which treat on the subject of Christians and sports (“Run the race,” et cetera). Most of the scholarly sources cited in these theses will be motivational books written by celebrity pastors, conservative news entertainers, and social media polemicists, all of which have been published in the last six years. Any Scriptural citations will have been acquired through BibleGateway.com searches and interpreted in the most convenient manner possible. You do not fault the students for any of this. Like all human beings, they are only doing what they are told. By the end of the following week, the only student who will have presented a paper which respects the academy, tradition, old and venerable books, and the classical spirit will be Deborah, who will receive a C for her work. For now, the whole experience will merely confuse her. Then, in a few years, memories of the whole ordeal will lead to a well-found skepticism of authority, then cynicism, then apostasy. As you drive to the coffee shop, your eyes involuntarily fill with tears at the maddening injustice of it all.

When you arrive at the coffee shop, Steve is there. You approach the table where he sits grading papers, ask if you can sit down, then sit down before he answers.

STEVE: I know you.

YOU: I teach at Carpe Diem. We spoke a few days ago.

STEVE: That’s right. What do you want?

YOU: Is Elias the Hermit an ecumenical school?

STEVE: No, it’s a classical school.

YOU: Is it an ecumenical classical school?

STEVE: No.

YOU: Are all the students Catholic, then?

STEVE: No, it’s a classical school, not a Catholic school.

YOU: Do you know what the word “ecumenical” means?

STEVE: Yes, do you?

YOU: At this moment, I’m not confident I do anymore.

STEVE: Elias the Hermit Classical is a classical school. Only old ideas have purchasing power at Elias the Hermit. I’m Catholic, but I respect the pedigree of certain Protestant ideas. The works of Luther and Calvin have lasted for hundreds of years. That means they’re worth something at Elias the Hermit. At Elias the Hermit, students can argue whatever venerable old ideas they want. New ideas aren’t worth much, though. New Protestant ideas aren’t worth much, but Protestants don’t have some kind of corner on the market of new ideas. There are idiotic Catholic theologians who publish novel theological tomes every year. I don’t care to hear students attempt to reconcile Catholic dogma with Marxism. I don’t want to hear students argue for female priests, though plenty of fashionable modern Catholics do. I’d sooner trust old Protestant ideas than new Catholic ideas— and that’s the word of a confirmed and honest papist. Long story short: if human beings have believed something for a long time, that idea gets respect at Elias the Hermit. Otherwise, save it for your blog, because it has no place at a classical school.

YOU: I can’t tell if that’s ecumenical or not.

STEVE: Does it sound like Carpe Diem?

YOU: No.

STEVE: Then whatever you think “ecumenical” means, it’s getting in the way of being classical. Your school needs to figure out what it wants to be. In my mind, “ecumenical” is not a virtue, but “classical” is.

YOU: Does Elias the Hermit have a statement of faith?

STEVE: The Nicene Creed.

YOU: Do your students write research papers?

STEVE: Research papers aren’t classical.

YOU: (sobbing, covering your face with your hands) You’re ahead of me. You’re ahead of me in every way. You’re so far ahead of me, I can’t even see you. I want to be proud of something, but there’s nothing to be proud of. I have nothing. My school has nothing. We’re no better than St. Adam’s Prep. We’re no different than the public schools. I don’t even know why we exist.

STEVE: Whoa. Hey. These are tears of self-pity. They aren’t worth crying. Only tears of repentance are worth crying.

YOU: I don’t know what to repent of. Being an idiot? Choosing the wrong school to work for?

STEVE: There is no wrong school to work for.

YOU: How can you say that?

STEVE: You’re not working at the wrong school. There’s no such thing as “the wrong school.” There are only wrong reasons, wrong motivations— corruptions of the heart.

YOU: (still sobbing) Why do you work?

STEVE: I work to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. That’s the only reason to teach. Don’t try to please your students. Please your God by turning from your sins. God does not desire the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his wickedness and live. Turn from your sins and live. Do this every day, every hour, every lecture. God gave you your job, your school, and everyone you know so that you could be saved. Everything points to your salvation, if you can only give thanks for it. Quit whining. Quit trying to get ahead in the world. Quit trying to change the world. Quit trying to make the world a better place. Quit trying to make your school a more beautiful place.

You return to work the next day. You apologize to Louisa’s parents. You apologize for not being a better teacher, for not loving the Truth as much as you should, and for seeking out your own glory, reputation, and satisfaction when you could have been dying to yourself, instead. You listen patiently through all the senior thesis presentations, even marking down a few nice things about a thesis on why Christians should own dogs, replete with Scriptural prooftexts from the book of Tobit, which no one seems to know comes from the Apocrypha. Zeke gets an A on his thesis. His father, who is on the school board, is both surprised and delighted. A week later, you get a dog for yourself. A dachshund, a wiener dog, which you name Baldwin. You leave anonymous gifts in the mailbox of Reverend Henry, congratulating him on what a fine job he has done with his students this year. And when you are fired two years later, for reasons which I shudder to record in these pages, you take up a position at Elias the Hermit. You teach literature for pennies and, in time, find better employment and strange new opportunities in the east.

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of FORMA.

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