Humanities Newsletter - December 2021
Merry Christmas, happy Advent, and welcome to the final Humanities newsletter of 2021. In this issue, you will find a student reflection on blending a passion for the humanities with a love for STEM-related fields, an invitation to a reading project for 2022, and my Christmas reflection to close the year. We wish you all -- students and parents alike -- a wonderfully merry Christmas! May you enjoy the blessings of this season and eagerly anticipate the second coming of our Lord in glory and triumph.
Mr. Toby Coffman
Student Voices: Liana Hase-Penn (‘23)
We tend to think of STEM as a completely separate entity from the Humanities. However, being a part of both the STEM Endorsement and the Humanities Endorsement, I have found they have more in common than most people realize. The three years I have spent in the Humanities program with Mr. Coffman have been an incredible experience that has enriched me with a wisdom that can be translated into every other field, including STEM. Pursuing both pathways simultaneously, I feel I get the best of both worlds. The innovative problem-solving learned through the sciences and the biblical wisdom and in-depth learning done in Mr. Coffman’s rhetoric class have combined to ultimately make me a much better writer, speaker, and person. Additionally, the many discussions we have in humanities surrounding ethics makes me consider morality and faith when pursuing STEM-related answers, keeping my moral compass pointing in the right direction.
An Invitation to a Spiritual Classic
In the spring each year, the Humanities II class reads excerpts from John Calvin’s classic systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Truth be told, we read a pitifully small percentage of the actual 1,800 page document. Just enough, really, to give a flavor of Calvin’s style and theological priorities. Over the course of 2022, I will be reading the entire work, almost as my devotional read for the year, alongside with some intrepid students and some folks from my church, and writing about the experience as I go. I would like to invite you to read this document with us. I have a plan for reading the book in short excerpts, five days a week for 50 weeks. If you are interested, please send me an email (toby.coffman@valorchristian.
A Christmas Reflection
In last year’s December entry, I wrote about Advent and the Age of Gold. It might be the best use of your time to simply follow that link and read those thoughts. This year’s are a bit, let’s say, less cheery but still true.
This has been perhaps the most difficult six-month period of my life. My son broke his arm on July 1st, cutting short a variety of summer plans; our family’s best friends for the past seven years moved away from Colorado at the end of July; I watched our school endure an unfair media campaign at the end of August; I lost a beloved coworker at the end of September; I found out the day after her funeral that one of my uncles -- and the relative I am closest to outside of my immediate family -- had inoperable Stage-4 cancer in four organs. He passed away shortly before Thanksgiving, leaving my two young cousins fatherless. We even endured one of our dogs being struck and killed by a car on our private, untrafficked road. Like I said, a difficult six months.
And now here we are in Advent. In fact, the day I am writing this is St. Nicholas’s Day. Tonight my wife and I will slip the first gift of the Christmas season into our children’s waiting shoes as they sleep. In a few short weeks we will celebrate Christmas itself -- the incarnation of our Lord, the first coming of Christ in obscurity that prefigures his second coming in glory. This past weekend, I cut down a tree with my wife and children, we decorated and drank eggnog and listened to Christmas music and then our youngest two danced to the Nutcracker and the oldest played Christmas songs on the piano and we ended the day with a smoked brisket and a full table of family and friends.
So, I find myself in the midst of a juxtaposition or a series of them. Light and dark. Death and life. Joy and grief. Anger and peace. Doubt and trust. I have found myself returning to the words from the funeral service in my church’s Book of Common Prayer: “In the midst of life we are in death.” This is an old sentiment in the faith, predating Henry VIII and Cranmer by centuries. But it is a good reminder. And one that we in America circa 2021 are good at obscuring. We hide death whenever we can and shove it to the margins. If you don’t believe me, look for a cemetery in Highlands Ranch. We willfully refuse to acknowledge the presence of death; we do not want its reality impinging on our life. But it will.
And here it is helpful to reflect that Advent is traditionally a season of fasting and repentance. We treat it oppositely. December is typically a month-long binge of cookies and sugary drinks and parties and gift exchanges so that by the time the actual 25th arrives we are wiped out from the whole endeavor and ready to commit to the next year’s gym membership in penance for our excess. But in ancient practice, Advent is about withholding, remembering that we had fallen so far that nothing short of the incarnation of the Son of God could work about our redemption. And the austerity of Advent explodes into the joyful feasting of the traditional 12 days of Christmas.
Advent, too, then, is a series of juxtapositions. Darkness at the threshold of light. Grief at the threshold of joy. Death at the threshold of life. Anger at the threshold of peace. Doubt at the threshold of faith. What I have had to face in the past six months is nothing new to our species. The lie that we are so good at telling ourselves is that the good times need never be punctuated with the difficult, that we are owed a sort of lifelong vacation from testing and trial and loss. That we can have Christmas without Advent, Easter without Good Friday, life without death. But what if the trials and hardships and deaths we face are meant to prompt us to pray, in the same words from the Book of Common Prayer, that God would “hasten thy kingdom, that we, with all those who are departed in the true faith of thy holy name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord”? What if our trials make us long for the kingdom to come and make us more prepared for it when it arrives? What if the fasting of Advent makes the feasting of Christmas all the sweeter?