The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

Another Way

Last January, I preached a sermon on the Sunday nearest Epiphany, focusing on the theme of “another way.” Matthew’s gospel tells us about how the Magi, having paid homage to Jesus, were warned in a dream to return to their homes “by another way.” What other ways, I asked that Sunday, would God be asking us to ponder, indeed travel this year? Little did I know just what dramatic “other ways” would befall us in 2020.

While we have ample depictions of the Magi traveling to see Jesus, we have fewer images of what that return home, by another way, might have looked like. Recently, a friend mentioned a painting by the 15th century artist, Giovanni da Modena, of the Magi returning home from Bethlehem by another way, in this case by sea. In this depiction, the seas look rough, the ship is crowded, the Magi look apprehensive, and the camels are nowhere to be seen!

It is an apt depiction of what we experienced in 2020, hence the common, not-so-fond farewells to the annus horribilis that we have heard in recent weeks! What’s more, we are still uncertain of what “other ways” will now be required of us in 2021. While we have never been more eager for a new year to arrive, have we ever been so tentative about what a new year might look like, as we are now?

Whatever “other ways” we will be required to travel this year, indeed whatever rough seas might be encountered, it strikes me that there are a few important things that might guide us, as we set sail into the new year ahead.

First, it will be a year where purpose is more important than plans. As accustomed as we became to shelving plans in 2020, our sense of purpose has, in so many cases, strengthened. Be it on an individual or community level, we have been forced to rely on purpose as our guide, the force which binds us together.

Secondly, it will be a year where curiosity should prevail over certainty. As the author Margaret Wheatley reminds us, certainty does not give us stability, it actually gives us more chaos. Our current and deep polarization is evidence of what happens when presumed certainty holds dominance over the curiosity we need in order to learn from and about others. It is time for a reversal of these two.

Lastly, the importance of “we” over “me” has surfaced ever more clearly. We cannot risk navigating the upcoming days simply in the “me” mode. Our obligations to serve others—past, present, and future—must direct our thinking and doing. In turn that will shape our own personal well-being.

These are vital roadmaps for our “other ways” in 2021. Equipped with them, the work of Christmas, as Howard Thurman reminded us, truly begins.

This post originally appeared as a Weekly Meditation, available to members here.

Morning Meditation from Biennial Conference 2020

When I first began teaching, I thought academics were all that really mattered. But the more I worked with young people, the more I came to see that great intellect did not always come with a warm heart or a clear moral compass. I saw students crippled by sadness in their lives, or worry, or anxiety or anger and hurt that made learning a shadowy process. Slowly, I came to see not merely their minds but the totality of who they were, and who they were becoming. Read More »

Foundation and Community

In my twenty five years in education, I never thought I would see the day when our country was at such unrest. In every corner of the world, there seems to be chaos. The health and well-being of our neighbors, along with the major shutdown of our country is a stark contrast to what it was this time last year. Read More »

Schools are Real Places of Faith

As I write, I’ve just returned home from a candlelit prayer vigil at our school chapel. Two weeks ago, a student only in our Class of 2014 died, under as yet unknown though clearly tragic circumstances. I was contacted out of the blue by a former student who wished to organize a service for their friend in the chapel where they used to worship together. He sounded shy about asking, but when the school and I quickly embraced him and offered all we could to help, he was profoundly grateful that we were taking the time to respond to him with such enthusiasm. It was a small, simple, yet intimate opportunity to gather in the presence of God, in a place which was so much a center of spiritual, emotional and also collegial gravity for those friends. In a way, as one student remarked, it felt like “a home away from home.” Like a parish church, I suppose. Read More »

Explaining Jesus

“Hey! Who’s that?” shouts an excited three-year-old as he enters the church for the first time. He points again at the large Christus Rex (Christ the King) statute over the Altar and demands, “Who’s that?” Read More »

Third Grade Lessons for an Election Year

Welcome to 2020 – a leap year, a summer Olympics year, and a presidential election year. Are you nervous about the elections? Friends and colleagues with divergent political perspectives have expressed anxiety about the polarization in our shared civic life, especially for 2020. I have read blogs describing exhaustion from feeling like we are swimming in a sea of political and cultural hatred, and watched public figures give advice about how to talk to your intolerant relatives about politics. The funny thing is, folks from all parts of the political spectrum are making these same observations about feeling silenced, marginalized, and being branded as the other. My advice is to try to be more like a third grader. Read More »

New Year’s Revelations

For me, New Year’s resolutions always came with a sense of impending doom, as if I was being set up for failure. After all, how could I do something for a whole year? But soon after January 1 comes January 6, Epiphany. And Epiphany offers an opportunity that, to me, feels both profound and inspiring. Read More »

‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple

Is it my imagination or is Christmas coming earlier every year? The Great Pumpkin had not even appeared before – boom! – here comes Santa Claus. It seems that stores just can’t get the bows, ribbons, and wreaths on the shelves fast enough. Read More »


I recently had the opportunity to preach in our school’s annual Thanksgiving Eucharist. It is difficult, every year, to come up with new and striking ways of communicating a similar message, the message of gratitude. But this year I was fortunate to come across Diana Butler Bass’ excellent book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, which provided more than enough novelty for the occasion. Read More »