Known & Yet Loved
Christian school boards and leaders rightly focus a good deal of time and energy on strategic planning, policy development, and procedural competence. Without careful attention, in these areas our schools lack the order and structure they need to flourish, so continued focus remains a high priority.
Order in and of itself, however, is not enough for our schools to flourish. As Andy Crouch reminds us in his book Strong and Weak, a flourishing organization finds the mysterious balance between order and abundance.
Foundational to the success of any Christian school is culture. What is the tone of the organization — does the culture make people feel accepted, safe and loved? How is morale among staff? Is there a healthy sense of organizational trust? These are key indicators of our cultural health — and cultural health is a necessary condition for a flourishing school.
I was recently reminded of the importance of school culture when I attended the retirement celebration for a long-serving Christian school leader, Curt Tuininga. This event was unique because of the circumstances of Curt’s retirement. He was diagnosed with cancer for the second time in 20 years and was on a palliative treatment plan. In an abstract sense we all know we are going to die, but for Curt this reality was imminent and very real.
Curt approached his disease and impending death with openness, integrity and even humour. He used this event to point everyone he knew to God’s overwhelming goodness and love.
As such, his retirement celebration followed the same theme. We honoured and celebrated Curt, thanking God for his leadership and we roasted Curt for his unique character traits and leadership foibles — from doing donuts with a school bus full of pre-schoolers to body checking students off the ice rink into the snowbanks to playing king of the hill where the only rule is ‘if you cry, you can’t play!’ We laughed heartily with Curt and his family and we shed some tears as we toasted and roasted the night away.
Curt was deeply moved by this event and by the number of people who came to share this evening with him. When it was his chance to speak he framed his comments around the theme, ‘known and still loved’. Curt reflected:
“Not only was the evening a laugh out loud riot, but it was also a celebration of life, a ‘living eulogy’ if you will, due to the fact that I have stage four cancer and my ‘retirement’ comes about as a result of a diagnosis of impending death. My love language is words of praise and compliments and I received many of those too and was touched beyond belief – I may have wept a little (or a lot). I know most of my faults very well and I even enumerated several of them in my comments, but the amazing thing is that none of them matter. The people that came that night know me very well and they still love me – I am known and still loved. The people who spoke know me to the core of my being and they don’t care that I am judgmental, sarcastic, selfish, lazy and a glutton, they still love me and that is the greatest blessing of being part of a grace filled Christian community. My sins, and they are many and some egregious, have been forgiven and I have been, for fifty four wonderful years, surrounded by people who offer grace, kindness, and love to me who is so underserving. They model what they have been shown by our Saviour and Lord.”
Curt then spoke of those who knew him best; five close colleagues, his children and his wife. These are the ones who really knew him – including his faults and shortcomings, yet they are the ones who loved him the most. Curt marveled at this mystery and gave thanks.
Being known well and still being loved – what an incredible gift that comes from the grace of our great God who knows all of us and still sent His son to die for us because He loved us. His grace is his great gift to us and it can only be found in Christian community. I implore you all to continue to share His love and grace with all those you know and love. There is far too much ungrace in the world – be ambassadors of his love and grace now and forevermore and you too will be known and still loved!
Curt’s leadership was shaped by this mantra of grace – to know and love. He worked hard with his boards and staff to establish a school culture saturated in a strong ethos of being known and yet loved. He related with staff and students in meaningful engagement, coming to know not only the public veneer that we all show to others, but the story behind the veneer – the hopes, expectations and achievements along with the failures, struggles and heartbreak of unrealized dreams. Only when we are known deeply and fully are we truly known, and schools ought to be intentional about creating a culture where each member is truly known.
Only when we have a culture of belonging and being known does the gospel message of unbridled grace make sense.
If the shining public persona is what we are known by, then few of us need grace. Only when we are deeply and fully known can we share God’s grace with one another by loving despite what we know about each other. Curt’s heartfelt words at his retirement event resonated with the audience and it is my hope and prayer that they resonate with you and that we take up the challenge of creating cultures of deep belonging, authentic knowing and profound grace — places where all students and staff are known and yet loved.
After reviewing a draft of this article, Curtis enjoyed the Christmas holidays with his family and close friends. On January 15th, 2019 Curtis succumbed to his cancer. His family, friends and colleagues mourn his loss even while we celebrate a life well lived in faith, hope and love.
Ed Noot (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SCSBC Executive Director
. IVP Academic