Whence? What? Wither? - Linny Dey
The following address was given at the March 2017 Imago School Benefit Dinner.
I’ve taken the title for this talk from the title of a painting by Gaugin which I will talk about later. Where do we come from? What are we doing? Where are we going? How does one make sense of the past, the present, and the future? The answers to these questions help us do that, but the answers depend on one’s starting point.
Before I address this deeper theme, let’s look back at where Imago came from and forward to where we are going. Whence Imago? Two single women recently returned from working at L’Abri in Europe are having dinner with Pastor John and Betty Crighton and their five children and talking about what they might do next. I had trained to teach high school English and was saying I might go back to teaching to which John responded, “Why don’t you start a school?” It seemed like an outrageous idea to me, but the seed was planted and over the next year and a half Joodi and I read lots, talked to people in Christian education, formed a board, held meetings with interested parents, and in September 1981 welcomed thirteen students in grades 1 – 6 into our three rented classrooms in Acton. God had sent us “Miss A”; she and I were the teachers, and Joodi, the super Factotum, did everything else. (When his mother asked one of the 1st graders what Miss Ward did, he answered, “She sweeps the floor after lunch.”)
What? What is Imago? What are we doing? We are doing education, but “doing education” means different things based on one’s answers to “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” The second half of this talk will say more about this. Here I want to give one important answer to this question. We are a school operating on a set of founding principles about what education is and what it’s for which have not changed over 36 years. We’ve certainly learned more about how to implement these principles, and we’ve refined them and learned new ways to talk about them, but they have essentially remained the same. We have not been “tossed to and fro” by every wind of educational doctrine.
Whither Imago? Where are we going? We are going forward with new leadership. Once again God sent us the right person at exactly the right time. Danny Burbeck cares deeply about where we’ve come from, and he’s committed to the “what” which defines us. Danny, Joodi, and I have something important in common. All of us spent time studying, living, and working in L’Abri, and this time shaped for each of us our understanding of Christianity as the Truth about reality, all of reality. This truth undergirds our view of education, and it’s this view which we’ll look into more deeply.
What do we want for our students? We see education as more than information transfer and socialization. We start with the truth of students being made in the imago dei, the image of God, and of their being made by God for a purpose which fits into God’s plotline for the Story which began in Eden and ends in the New Eden. We impart knowledge and skills toward the end of helping them become what God made them to be. We want them to be able to answer the big questions about life and its meaning based on an understanding of the truth about who they are, and we want them to understand as much as they can about the world in which they live, the world which is the setting for the unfolding of God’s story. In other words, we want to give them answers to “Whence? What? Whither?” from a Christian perspective to help them understand their part in the Story.
The painting entitled “Whence? What? Whither?” is by the modern French painter Paul Gaugin, and it was painted in the late 1800’s. The questions are written right on the painting. Gaugin thought he could find the answers to these questions by leaving behind the civilized world and all its corrupting influences and going to live among the natives in the unspoiled, pristine world of Tahiti. He, like others in this time, was following the thinking of the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau who saw the civilized world as the locus of evil and those living outside of it as “noble savages.” Gaugin did not find what he was looking for in Tahiti because our biggest problems are not outside of us, and so we see in this painting that the innocent baby pictured on the right grows up and eats the fruit in Paradise, but grows into an old, unhappy woman and dies. This was Gaugin’s explanation of Whence? What? Whither? There was something which hinted at the truth in Gaugin’s search for meaning amid the beauty of a tropical Paradise, but Tahiti wasn’t Eden. Gaugin had accepted a different story. At Imago we teach answers to Whence? What? Whither? based on the Story God has given us in His Word.
Whence? We are Eden’s children. Our story begins with God creating two people in His own image who were, in His words, “very good” and placing them in Eden to care for His Creation. We were made by a loving God for a purpose - to love, to think, to imagine, to create – as creatures dependent on Him but like Him.
What? We’re not in Eden anymore; we now live in a spoiled, fallen world because those two chose not to accept God’s description of reality. But, God has not abandoned His creatures or the world He made. He’s provided a way to recover what was lost through His Son, the perfect imago dei, the 2nd Adam. And He has left hints of His glory in His world which beckon us to seek Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. In the words of our school hymn: “The Power and print of Paradise meet your eyes in all things good and beautiful and true.” The fallen world still reflects its Creator.
Whither? The Story does not end in death. There will be a new Eden; Eden will “bloom again.” In the new Eden there will be no more sorrow and no more dying for all followers of the resurrected King who have come to Him through Christ.
The painter El Greco painted an amazing picture which covers the whole wall of a chapel in the Church of San Tomasso in Toledo, Spain. The painting is called The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, and right below the painting is the Count’s tomb. This painting shows a different ending to life on this earth than Gaugin’s painting suggests. There are two worlds shown here, this world and, above it, the world to come. Time and eternity are intermingled here; the saints Thomas and Augustine have come from the world to come and are lowering the Count into his tomb. Simultaneously an angel is lifting a newborn up to Heaven where Christ awaits his arrival with open arms surrounded by saints and angels. The newborn represents the Count newly born to eternal life. Here the supernatural world is shown to be just as real as this world. We as Eden’s children have a future and a hope.
Imago students aren’t just given skills and a certain amount of unrelated bits of information about life in different cultures and different times so that they can create their own identity and figure out who they are for themselves. Imago students are taught that they were created by God for a purpose which He has ordained and will help them discover so that each in his own unique way can live in this broken world as a representative of Eden, the lost Paradise, and of the world to come where all things will once again live in harmony. They are part of the Story which began in Eden and ends in the New Jerusalem, the New Eden.
This understanding of Whence? What? Whither? was central to Imago’s vision in 1981, and it will continue to be our vision as long as God wills for the school to exist.