Living in Tension | Week 10

By: Chris Armstrong

Posted in Program Updates on November 11, 2016 | View all posts

Like the water in the Chesapeake, life here at the Academy tends to ebb and flow. This week was an ebb… or a flow… an ebb, I think. Yes, an ebb.

This week, Laura Kenna visited again. Laura is an academic cultural and film critic who also serves on staff to advise us on our research projects. We look forward to Laura’s visits because while we still learn and process academically rigorous material, we approach the work in unique and fun ways. This visit, we watched the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom and analyzed it in class.

The film presents what is at first glance a utopian 1960s-era small-town island where life is easy and hearts are pure. But like all Wes Anderson films, nothing is as it seems, and life is quite hard for these little island denizens. In actuality, many of the characters are quite flawed, but fail to acknowledge their own issues, choosing instead to forge ahead in seemingly safe ignorance. Only Sam and Suzy, the film’s young protagonists, seem to fully embrace the flawed reality of their little island existence. A role reversal occurs, where children choose the path of maturity, while adults remain in their ignorance. Sam and Suzy end up finding their place in this strange world and achieve a degree of happiness and hope, partially because they choose to embrace living in the tension rather than giving in to a safer but dishonest version of reality.


I love this screenshot of Moonrise Kingdom for many reasons, not the least of which is that it somewhat resembles the field behind our property. That little windmill, a weathervane in the sky, could very well be our windmill heard groaning on a windy day. But this image also reminds me of a central theme of life at the Academy – the necessity of living in tension.

In the scene, Sam and Suzy meet for the first time. They represent wholly different experiences – Sam, a lifelong orphan who never had anyone to love, and Suzy, who lives on the island with her nuclear family. Both seem to have a sense that something in the world is amiss and that they are oddballs in this fake, naive world. Instead of continuing as their parents have lived, they choose to pursue a life together in the middle, fully embracing the tension. This scene visualizes to me in a very physical way what it means to move into the tension to live life together. It’s messy, but it’s real and whole.


image from

I had never heard the phrase “living in tension” before my time here at the Academy. Life had always felt to me not unlike those paperweights that sit on desks, glass enclosures filled with liquid. With a little push, water would rush to one side before crashing into the wall of the glass enclosure, bouncing back violently to its origin before starting the process over again. Ebbing and flowing, but never settling in the middle to rest and be still.

I’ve always experienced life at one polar opposite or another: lonely isolation or rich community; being fully known or totally anonymous; achieving astounding success or utter failure. Sitting in the midst of unpleasant emotions or confusing circumstances never felt fruitful. Shouldn’t I instead be working to move myself to more productive feelings? I think I felt that existence in between only served to propel us in one of these directions.

The lesson from these first few months on the Chesapeake is that life is almost always lived in tension between two extremes, and our call is to be present, feel fully, and live in the midst of uncertainty and struggle. We need to embrace the full reality of life and acknowledge that not every day is a picturesque sunset or a manifestation of the deep depravity of man. Some days will be difficult, and we’ll bear one another’s struggles. Other days will find us playing volleyball in the sun, laughing and finding happiness in each other’s presence. Many others will be a mix of both. Every day, we are called to be fully present where God has placed us and to live life to the best of our ability, knowing that both the good and the bad are part of our story.

Academy life isn’t so much about the coursework, our research, or even the chapel component – fully engaging in daily life while embracing the tension is the work to which we are called.