Editors are a lot like theatrical lighting designers—when they are really good at what they do, you don’t notice them. Gary Van Arragon has guided the Christian Educators Journal for just shy of a decade, and, because he is excellent at what he does, most of the time readers didn’t notice the good work he was doing. Gary picked the themes, sought out the writers, encouraged their work, edited their submissions, provided guidance for proofreading and layout, and worked with the CEJ Board of Trustees to develop policies and initiatives—and did so in such a graceful and humble way that he usually escaped notice.
And that is a shame because Gary is the sort of person you would like to meet. He is good-humored, unflappable, and yet quietly passionate about Christian education. We have peppered this issue with quotes from Gary’s editorials, and if you read a few, you will start to see certain themes come up again and again. Gary believes as deeply as anyone I have ever met that the job of Christian schools is to bring shalom into a broken world. He believes Christian schools must engage the world as examples of grace-filled communities. He believes teachers can make a difference in students’ lives by modeling a grace-filled Christian life. He believes teaching is a hopeful, joyful activity. He believes Christian schools have the power to transform the world. And if you think about it, all of those sentences are getting at the same thing.
Sometimes these passionate beliefs have resulted in issues of the CEJ that caused controversy and generated letters of complaint. Gary never seemed to mind this. Quite the contrary. He was always excited to have a conversation with the letter writer. As a board member, I was fortunate enough to read some of those letters, and I was struck by how patient and grace-filled such letters were. Often the letter exchange would go on for a while. Gary and the letter writer might not see eye to eye, but I suspect that, in nearly every case, they came away understanding each other a bit better.
Gary also loves books. Each year he served as editor, the April issue was dedicated completely to book reviews. And this comes back to the list in the earlier paragraph. Gary realizes that for students to be able to transform the world, they need to know it, understand it, and empathize with it. Have a look at the archived issues on the CEJ website and you’ll see what I mean.
Editing is usually a behind-the-scenes activity, yet one of the great things about CEJ is that the articles that our writers labor over reach real teachers who put those ideas into practice. I am certain that Gary’s words have not only changed the way I think about Christian teaching; I am certain he has had a similar effect on the many amazing teachers that comprise the CEJ’s readership.
Gary says he is retiring from the CEJ, but that implies leaning back and taking a well-deserved rest. I don’t believe that for a minute. Gary will be involved in refugee resettlement in the Canadian town in which he lives; he will spend time with his wife and extended family; and I am sure he will live a life of service in more ways than I could count—probably in a quiet, humble way that few people will notice.
Thank you, Gary, for your excellent work on the CEJ!