Episcopal Schools: Both/And

Praying HandsHow do we express our Episcopal identity in our own unique way, as do all Episcopal schools? Our school is a laboratory of sorts in which we have the chance to rejoice together, grieve together, learn together, and, finally, to begin to understand a little bit more about this mysterious and wonderful gift of life that we all share.

An important theme for this week is that Episcopal Schools are “both/and” kinds of places rather than “either/or” kinds of places. We can be both spiritually grounded in certain core values—gentleness, generosity, truthfulness, kindness, and bravery—and seriously intellectually rigorous. We can be both ridiculous and serious; we can be both happy and sad; we can be both professional and familiar—buttoned-down and ready to go when it comes to our academic performances and yet comfortable in our skin, at home together as faculty, students, and administrators.

We can of course also be both/and when it comes to the question of tradition and innovation. We learn from the wisdom of the past here. We are, in the best traditions of Episcopal schools, humanistic. This means that we believe that the human experience in all its varied forms is worthy of study and attention, whether that’s Plato’s Republic or Euler’s Formula or the Krebs Cycle or R&B albums of the 1970’s. Learning from the wisdom of the past helps us to understand how individuals and societies have grappled with some of the most difficult questions we face as humans.

But our humanism goes even further. If we analyze and explore all the intellectual richness of the past, we also pay attention to what we find there. And what we find is, quite simply, fascinating. We find love and hatred, fear and courage, good and evil. Talking about what we find through a deep study of the past leads us, hopefully, to contemplate what it means to be living in this present, this very moment, the now of tragedy and violence and fear as well as the now of optimism and hope and faith. The now of possibility, so brilliantly illustrated by all of you sitting here in this Chapel. One of my favorite quotations from classical literature comes through the French thinker Michel de Montaigne. He was a humanist and had etched quotations from the past on the ceiling of his study. One of these, from the Roman playwright Terence, states, “I am a human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.” What a powerful and revolutionary thought: that, because of our shared humanity, there is no one in the world, past, present, or future, who isn’t worth our time, our attention, and, especially, our understanding and empathy.

Maybe the best question isn’t “what is” Episcopal identity, but “where” it is. It exists anywhere in our schools that all students, faculty, and administrators, regardless of their own particular religious traditions, can demonstrate and proclaim the unique worth and beauty of all human beings

Andrew Armond ,Ph.D., is Chaplain at Episcopal School of Acadiana in Broussard LA. His comments are from a chapel address during Episcopal Schools Celebration Week.