It seems like everyone loves a rebel. There is something alluring about an individual who is independent, takes charge of his or her own fate and does not care what the world thinks. The appeal of characters like Han Solo or the crowds that are drawn to Donald Trump are a testament to the popularity of rebels. It is in our blood, as Americans, to rebel. Our country was conceived through revolution, through defiance of the British crown’s sovereignty over us. We treasure the resulting freedom and the idea that we are now the masters of our own lives. It seems like everything in our culture is pushing the message that you are powerful, you make your own decisions and, by no means, let anyone tie you down with their expectations or rules.
As a school, we are very counter cultural in that we expect our students to respect authority, work submissively and orderly while practicing common etiquette and courtesy. The question is, why? Why not follow the common trends of our culture and seek a relaxed and comfortable environment? Why do we make our lives and the student’s lives harder by enforcing rather strict rules?
For the answer, let’s turn to F.W. Boreham, a Baptist preacher in the 1920’s from New Zealand who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Here is an excerpt from an article he wrote entitled Etiquette that is found in his book Mountains in the Mist.
“The old gardener at Versailles was in sad distress. What pains he took with his flower-beds! How patiently he mapped them all out in the evening, and how deftly he executed his own designs in the daytime! How he longed for the summer, that he might feast his eyes upon the perfect patterns and the beautifully blending blossoms! But that joy was never his! For as soon as he had got his rare seed nicely sown, his fragile plants fondly set, and his delicate young cuttings tastefully arranged, the courtiers from the palace trampled them all down, and reduced the poor gardener to tears. Season after season the nobleman and great ladies in their strolls among the beautiful terraces and graceful parterres, ruthlessly destroyed the cunning labour of the old man’s skillful hands. Till at last he could endure it no longer. He would appeal to the king! So right into the august presence of the great Louis the Fourteenth the poor old gardener made his way, and confided all his sorrows and disappointments to his royal master. And the king was sorry for the old man, and ordered little tablets – ‘etiquette’- to be neatly arranged along the sides of the flowerbeds, and a State order was issued commanding all his courtiers to walk carefully within the etiquette. And so the old gardener not only protected the flowers that he loved from the pitiless feet of the high-born vandals, but he enriched our vocabulary with a new and startlingly significant word.
The art of life consists in keeping carefully within the ways marked out by the etiquette. From cannibalism to culture is a long way. And the individual or the race that sets out on that pilgrim age forfeits more and more of freedom at every step. The cannibal can do as he likes, and have what he wants, and go where he pleases. He tramples without restraint on all life’s flower-beds. But as he moves towards civilization he finds himself becoming subject to all sorts of rules and regulations. ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not’ speak out imperiously. He must not do this, and he must not have that; he must not touch here, and he must not go there. His path is marked out by the etiquette. And the more refined and cultured he becomes, the more those laws subdivide and multiply. He must not only do this thing; but he must do it in a certain way. He must not only go to this place, but he must go at a certain time, and dressed in a certain fashion, and stay for just so long. Cannibalism is freedom- and wretchedness. Civilization is bondage- and delight.
For the beauty of it is that the pleasures of King Louis’ lords and ladies were not at all curtailed, but were really very considerably increased, by the introduction of the etiquette. I can easily imagine that for a month or two, whilst they were chafing under the new restrictions, and whilst as yet the gardener’s precious bulbs were but slowly developing towards their coming glory, the courtiers thought of the old man as a boor, a nuisance, and an enemy to their freedom. Why could they not tread wherever they liked? But afterwards, when their well-kept promenade was fringed and bordered by the most rare and beautiful and fragrant blossoms, then they blessed the old man as a benefactor, and laughed at their earlier folly. It is a very ancient heresy. Ever since the soul of the first man revolted against the etiquette that marked off one tree in the midst of the garden, the minds of men have rebelled against the royal legends, ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not.’ We abhor, as we saunter through the park, being eternally commanded to ‘Keep off the grass.’ We forget that it is only through the instrumentality of that obnoxious mandate that there is any grass left for us to keep off. The verdant and velvety lawn that charms the eye and soothes the sense is the triumph of the etiquette that sounds like tyranny. The truth is that I never enter into my best inheritance by putting my foot upon it. I more often come into my own by keeping my foot carefully off it. The world is too wisely arranged to play into the hands of the tramplers and the trespassers. The etiquette that subtracts from my freedom multiplies my felicity. Otherwise the cannibal and the criminal would be the happiest men breathing. Things never work out that way.
The courtiers learned in time that it is not necessary to trample upon a thing in order to enjoy it. We are most of us somewhat slow in making that discovery…
Life is all a matter etiquette. Louis the Fourteenth never supposed for a moment that the dainty little tablets would prevent the courtiers from trampling on the bulbs if they were determined to do so. The tablets indicate the king’s pleasure, that is all. Indeed, that is all that etiquette ever does. It is indicative, not imperative. God does not protect His flower-beds with impregnable fortresses. He makes the way perfectly clear to a man; but if the man has set his heart on outraging the etiquette, there is nothing to prevent him. God in His mercy hedges our way about with His commandments, His exhortations, His revelations; but it is the easiest thing in the world to break through a hedge…”
Boreham goes on to give sobering examples of men going outside the bounds of “etiquette” and the consequences they face while also demonstrating the beauty and bliss of life in submission to “etiquette.” As Boreham describes, our new students are often “chafing under the new restrictions” when they first come to CLA. However, the change that takes place can almost seems miraculous. As students learn to be disciplined in their work and the way they carry themselves, as they respect one another and submit to authority it enriches the whole environment of the school. Suddenly we are free to learn, fellowship with each other and have a lot of fun. This prepares their hearts for a life of submission to their heavenly Father while also giving them a taste of the joy found in that submission. To quote Boreham one last time, “All the etiquette of the law is designed to keep a man from trampling on the flowers: and all the etiquette of the gospel marks out for contrite trespassers the way that leads up to the cross.”
If you are interested in reading F.W. Boreham’s article in its entirety feel free to contact me at [email protected]. In addition, I highly recommend Boreham’s book A Bunch of Everlastings which gives the salvation stories of many of the great men of the Christian faithand the Scripture passages that led them to Chris