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**As you know, I am in the midst of starting a school–Odyssey Leadership Academy–that will open in Oklahoma City in August, 2015. The goal of Odyssey is to help shape “wise, virtuous, and compassionate architects of repair in the world.” I thought I would take some time in the next few posts to explain a little bit more about the vision and values for Odyssey.


In today’s public discussion of school reform, the words you hear most often relate to “College and Career Readiness.” Now, while I have no problem (well, at least not a huge problem) with the idea of being ready for college and/or a career, my great belief (as I have expressed in previous posts) is that schooling during a child’s formative years should be about so much more than that. In fact, it seems that by focusing on college (where almost 40% fail to graduate, and those who do stick it out end up sitting in large, impersonal lecture hall courses or doing almost half of their coursework online without any deep relational connection to the professor, and end up owing tens of thousands of dollars in debt–many to be paying it off for the rest of their lives) and focusing on career (meaning, for too many, doing work that has no deep intrinsic personal or communal value, doing work they may not do without the carrot of a high salary, pursuing careers in the marketplace rather than cultivating deep roots of relational connection), we may be undermining any deeper sense of the community, connectedness, and emphasis on the common good so highly esteemed in previous generations. As I’ve written about before, I’ve known good people pursue jobs, criss-crossing the country, bouncing from one position to the next, uprooting their families every few years, solely to build their resume–something that makes sense only in a culture saturated with an ethos of getting ahead for getting ahead’s sake.

That, to me, is the very cultural ethos that must be redeemed if we are to see an end to the relational poverty that is at the heart of our great social ills.

Therefore, the vision of Odyssey Leadership Academy hinges upon three “cardinal” tenets. While there certainly are more than these three, as you will see, trying to foster even one of these three would take a lifetime of intentional habituated effort. Trying to do all three is a yeoman’s work! Here, then, are the cardinal tenets of Odyssey Leadership Academy:

Wisdom: It will come as no surprise to you who have been reading this blog for a while that I think the pursuit of wisdom is foundational to living a life that flourishes in blessing. As I’ve written about extensively throughout this blog, there is a big difference–a wide chasm, in fact–between being wise and being smart. The world is full of tragic examples of really smart individuals who did not live wise lives. I do not think that Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, or the politician Jonathan Edwards were fools. In fact, they were each highly educated individuals from prestigious universities. What I would argue is that, for all their “smarts,” they were not wise. 

In an age where my four year old has access (if I allowed him, which I don’t) through the Internet to more collective information at his fingertips than Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Copernicus, and Shakespeare combined, the real question is not how smart he can be, but what he will do with that information. Will he use it to do terrible things (both for himself and/or for society) or will he use it to create out of the lumber of his life not a tavern, but a temple?

The goal for Odyssey Leadership Academy is not the transference of information (something that no longer matters in a Google world), but the formation of certain kinds of individuals who will work for the transformation of certain kinds of communities.

VirtueThere is another wide chasm between virtue and vice and right and wrong. Right and wrong have historically been culturally contextualized. For example, if you lived in Virginia in 1838, it would have been right (legally, socially, economically, and even religiously) to own slaves. If you lived in Berlin in 1938, it would have been right (legally, socially, economically, and even religiously) to send your Jewish neighbor to the crematoria at Auschwitz. If you lived in the American South in 1958, it would have been right (legally, socially, economically, and even religiously) to beat, spit on, segregate, imprison, stab, even bomb your African-American neighbors with impunity. The problem, as I’m sure you’ve caught on to by now, is that, while these things were considered “right” to do (and “wrong” not to do), they were not (in any ontological way) virtuous. 

I believe that the ancient Vices are still bad morally and socially. I still think lust, greed, gluttony, wrath, and pride are not good either for individuals or for society writ large. Just because we have made them virtuous” by advertising them and placing them on every street corner does not make them so.

At Odyssey, we want students to wrestle both with the deep problems of historically contextualized “right” and “wrong,” and to be able to point out the things that are “right” today that may not be virtuous.

Compassion: Etymologically, com|passion literally means to “suffer with”– to enter into the suffering of another. Think about how hard this is, even in our own homes, let alone with our neighbors (do you know your neighbor’s name, let alone his pain?), or even yet with those who live radically different lives than we do. The pursuit of one’s own self-indulgence and self-gratification, historically, were not considered to be good things (in fact, in Greek, the word for “individual” is idiote–the one who lived for his/her own gratification at the expense of the community was literally considered an idiot). 

The work of Odyssey, then, is to help students learn, as Aristotle and Jesus both wrote about, to “see” correctly (it’s hard to see the agony, suffering, and misery in front of us if our gaze fails to extend beyond our own navels). It’s mission is to help students listen to the cries in their communities and be moved and equipped to lean in. Odyssey desires to help students think mindfully about what their vocations (“callings”) should be in light of the world’s most pressing needs. Fostering compassion helps students become individuals who see, hear, live, and love in rightly ordered ways.

As David Orr writes, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane.”

The goal of Odyssey Leadership Academy is to help shape wise, virtuous, and compassionate architects of repair in the world who have the moral courage to tell better stories, both for themselves and for the world around them.

**For more information on Odyssey Leadership Academy, check us out at our website: www.odysseyleadershipacademy.org