What I Did For My Summer Vacation

Most working adults don’t dream of spending a week of their summer tromping through the mountains with 150 high schoolers and a copy of Plato’s Meno.  But the staff of Wheatstone Academy are an odd bunch. Wheatstone Academy is the brainchild of Dr. John Mark Reynolds, founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, inspired and made possible by Mike Kiley and John Siefker, and perfected by Executive Director Rebecca Fort.  Founded ten years ago, Wheatstone is as fantastic as it was in 2000, but no easier to explain.  That’s what makes Wheatstone a week that will change your life.

Wheatstone is not an academic camp, though the students spend most of the week discussing Plato and learning from professors of various disciplines.  It’s not a typical summer camp, though the students have mentor-counselors, go rock climbing, and stay up far too late each night.  It’s not an arts camp, though we go to the Getty, dive into Shakespeare’s plays, attend classical music concerts, pursue artistic skills in artisan-led workshops, and follow a film professor through a guided viewing.  Wheatstone is at once all of these things and none of them, because at its core, this program is an introduction to the examined life.

It’s not just about thinking.  Many of us live a bifurcated life, as though we’re brains living inside bodies that are mere “earthsuits,” or animal desires conflicted by an overdeveloped cultural consciousness.  Our modern culture perpetuates this divide, urging us to interpret morality in purely rational terms divorced from biological desire.  The Church, in opposing it, far too often overcompensates by negating the body entirely, casting it in the role of biologically sinful tempter bent on thwarting our sanctification.  Neither view accurately describes the complex relationship that makes us what CS Lewis called spiritual amphibians, bodies intertwined with souls.  Therefore, neither view is particularly helpful, especially as we try to understand the world around us and cultivate virtue.  And when it comes to knowing a being as complex as God, this confusion can be fatal to our faith.  No wonder over half of students who claim to be Christian at the end of high school leave the church before they finish college.

For a week this summer, Wheatstone students and staff pursued the life of the head, heart, and hands—what Plato would call the whole soul.  In Plato’s Meno – the text for the week – Socrates tries in vain to get the young, handsome Thessalian general Meno to explore a question with him: What is virtue?  Meno is intent on finding out if virtue is teachable, but Socrates insists the question is unimportant if they don’t know what virtue itself is.  He spends most of the dialogue proving to the stubborn Thessalian that he doesn’t know what virtue is, but Socrates cannot convince Meno that it’s a problem.  As Plato knew his readers would remember that a few years after this dialogue was meant to take place, Meno betrayed Thessaly in battle against Artaxerxes, was captured, tortured for a year, then executed.  Even Socrates couldn’t save Meno.

Socrates’ attempt at intervention came too late for Meno.  In the same way, most of our attempts come too late for Christian students who, like the thickheaded Thessalian, think they have the answers they need until harsh reality exposes the inadequacy of their faith.  We usually try to stuff information into the cracks of their belief—apologetic techniques, creation/evolution debates, platitudes and word studies to deal with the problem of pain.  But the problem isn’t a dearth of information or conviction.  The problem is that we segment our emotions and rationality into separate spheres that never intersect and we view our bodies either as enemies to be fought or spoiled children to indulge.  Thus dividing our own reality, we render ourselves incapable of comprehending the greater reality of a Triune God.  Through this broken system, most of us end up worshipping an idol, created from half-formed notions of God as father, teacher, disciplinarian and Santa Claus.  It’s no wonder that bright young adults raised in the church reject from this false vision.

This is why Siefker and Kiley created Wheatstone.  It’s a difficult week for student and mentor alike.  We spend hours in discussion of ancient philosophy and end up with more questions than answers.  We spend a day in the outdoors challenging ourselves on ropes courses and scaling cliffs to remind our minds and hearts that we have a body that must be incorporated into the life of the soul.  We watch Othello in Griffith Park and spend hours staring at paintings in the Getty to try to catch a glimpse of Beauty.  We realize that maybe Plato understood virtue better than we do and worry about what that means for those of us who have a relationship with the Living God.  Most important, though, we learn to see each other as we really are.  If we could truly see how the souls and bodies of our fellow humans bear the image of God, we might be tempted to fall down and worship them.  We learn that love, whether we can adequately define it or not, is the key to becoming whole souls, and a whole community with other beings made in His image will draw us closer to Him.  And we follow Plato’s Socrates in agreeing that we probably don’t know anything we think we know, and instead we try to ask the right questions.’

Published by

Lindsay Stallones

Lindsay teaches Advanced Placement history and political science in a Christian high school. She graduated from Biola University summa cum laude where she earned a B.A. in history and she holds a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Stanford University. She is a Perpetual Member of the Torrey Honors Institute, a film geek, and a screenwriter. Both in her classroom and beyond, Lindsay spends her time bringing history to life for the uninitiated, promoting ecumenical and bipartisan conversation within the Body of Christ, working for social justice at home and abroad, and enjoying and preserving God's Creation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.nilsen David Nilsen

    Excellent article. It's true that many churches contribute to this “segregation problem”, however I think an even more important factor contributing to these bright young people leaving the church by the time they graduate college is that they were never really in the church to begin with. They went from nursery to Sunday school to youth group, and then when they went off to college they plugged into IV or Campus Crusade, and not once in their 20-ish years of life were they ever truly a part of a church. They never partook of the means of grace, they never truly heard the Word preached with power. And worst of all, they remained segregated within their own age group, with a “youth pastor” barely older than they were. You mentioned that all they get in response to the problem of pain is platitudes and word studies. That's because they never spent more than 5 minutes talking to the nice old lady who lived through WWII and cancer and the deaths of children and yet remains a pillar of faith.

    In short, they were always placed into a segregated program designed to be “relevant” and to meet their needs as youth, and as a result they grew up segregated from the church itself. Rather than witnessing and taking part in a healthy, diverse church community and receiving the full benefits of grace and life as members of the body of Christ, they constantly got little sermonettes about dating, because supposedly they couldn't handle actually reading large portions of Scripture and hearing it expounded. If that isn't an obvious cause for a segregated life, I don't know what is!

  • LindsayStallones

    You hit the nail completely on the head, David! I agree – and even as adults, we live segregated little age group lives in the church, don't we? Unless you're lucky enough to go to a church small enough to make it impractical, or solid enough to refuse such segregation, you might spend your whole church life only talking to people who are going through what you are right at that moment. You make a good point that that mirrors the segregation of soul and body.

    I know Wheatstone's a good start for fixing the latter – but how do we fix the former?

  • http://dillieodigital.net/blog Dillie-O

    As for promoting “integration” within the churches, I think more activities to do just that can help. I grew up in a smaller church, but there were workdays to clean up the grounds or paint that brought the entire body there. I remember working with some of the older “grandfathers” of the church as well as some of the “dads” there too. We even went so far as to have an “adopt a grandparent” thing at our church where kids were paired up with the elderly at the church for a few events. The perspective gained was amazing.

    At my current church, Wednesday night is typically the big night for all of the bible studies, and they also open up the main fellowship hall for dinner an hour before the things begin. Meals are good, and cheap, and the tables are large and open. I think every week we sat next to somebody knew, of various ages, with and without kids. While there wasn't necessarily any deep conversation going, just getting to know my fellow members of the body is priceless.