The Classical Parent


CCE Corner – Faith Formation: High Standards and Warmth, part I

September 15th, 2022

The beginning of the school year is a good time to reflect on faith formation. Take a minute to think about just how important this is. If we believe that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), then passing on our faith is really important. In fact, neglecting to teach our children about our faith would be worse than neglecting to teach them to read. Think about that.

Just as we spend time at Trinitas learning how to teach reading well, we also spend time learning how to raise children in lives of faith. In Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations (Oxford University Press), the authors communicate the results of one of the largest studies of religion and family across generations.* Spanning nearly four decades, their research follows more than 3,500 people in over 350 families to determine how faith is passed on, or not. In this and upcoming posts, we’ll reflect on some of the characteristics of families who successfully pass on their faith. According to this research, such families have: 1) high standards combined with warmth, 2) strong intergenerational relationships, and 3) parents who are “all-in.” We’ll explore what these can look like both at Trinitas and at home.

In considering what it means to have high standards combined with warmth in faith formation, we might first ask what it looks like to have one but not the other. If we have only warmth but not high standards for our children, they may initially be quite happy about this. It’s (fallen) human nature to like what is easier and immediately satisfying. It’s also human nature to rise only to the level of the standards that one is given. So, if faith is portrayed as pretty easy, requiring little of us in terms of time and our life choices, e.g., little to no worship or prayer or Bible study, little to no “dying to self” or “becoming a new creation”, it’s unlikely that our children will rise above our expectations. If, on the other hand, we present only high standards and little warmth, our children are likely to see the life of faith as unwelcoming, harsh, and undesirable.

So, what does it look like to have both high standards and warmth? Before answering that question, we should ask: Where do our standards come from? In a Christian home and school, the foundation of those standards is Scripture and Christian tradition, rather than the culture. We need to be deeply familiar with the Bible and the teachings and lives of the saints. We need Christian role models. We also sometimes need to speak with a vocabulary that differs from the world’s. We’ll focus briefly in this post and the next on two un-worldly words: “holiness” and “reverence”. Both words show the intimate connection between high standards and love in the Christian life.

All throughout scripture, God’s people are called to holiness: “[A]s He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:15-16) Note: we are not told to be “good” or “authentic”. We’re also not told to be “holy some of the time”. We are told to “be holy in all your conduct”. Now that’s a high standard. It could also be pretty off-putting, especially if it is approached without wisdom and love. If holiness is portrayed as a series of “no’s” to a long list of sins, it will be far from attractive to our children. Rebellion may have more of an allure. Of course, holiness involves saying “no” to some things, but those “no’s” should not leave a vacuum. They should be crowded out by “yes’s” to the endless good things of God.

If we attempt to pass our faith on to our children primarily by pointing out and forbidding sin, we miss the opportunity to draw them close to God by his sheer goodness and beauty. In the book of Jeremiah, we hear how God himself draws his people near to him: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Passing on our faith involves teaching our children to obey God’s commands: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It also means showing them that in such obedience they will find joy—the “life more abundant” that Christ came to give (John 10:10).

Practically speaking, it means that there will be times when we tell them they cannot watch a certain movie, listen to that song, read a particular book, or play a popular video game. But the conversation should not end there. As parents and as a school, we need to provide for our children, or join them in searching for, really good God-honoring alternatives. There are so many! It means that we don’t let their grumbling or gossip just slide, but we help them to see that God has called us to more grateful and loving ways of treating people. It means that we guide them in better choices about how to use their time. And in all this, we should help them to see that living this way isn’t being “uptight”, it’s being courageous: sometimes people will make fun of you; sometimes they will admire you; sometimes they will follow you.

And we should help them to see by our own lives that seeking to be more holy isn’t fun-killing, it’s life-giving. Loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and loving “your neighbor as yourself” requires making better choices, sometimes sacrificial choices in response to the One “who first loved us” (I John 4:19). Faithful Christians before us and all around us have made and are making such sacrifices. Our Lord has higher standards for us. He has those standards because he loves us. He loves us so much he gave himself for us.

*Vern Bengston, with Norella M. Putney and Susan Harris

CCE Corner – Super Stories

April 28th, 2022

Chances are you’ve heard this story before. An ordinary citizen going about an ordinary day suddenly gains superhuman power (from a fancy suit, an insect bite, an experiment gone wrong). Maybe our hero is truly superhuman, like a surprisingly normal-looking alien masquerading behind a pair of glasses. (Seriously, could no one figure out that Clark Kent was Superman?) With this great new power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes. Our new hero (superhero!) might fight that responsibility at first, perhaps feeling unworthy or perhaps feeling the enormity of the task. But our hero eventually submits to duty, bringing justice to a corrupt city and saving it from a maniacal villain.

Superhero movies are popular to say the least. Consider this: there have been more than two dozen Marvel movies in just fifteen years. It’s no surprise that they generate interest—and revenue. They are full of action, adventure, and intrigue. Just about every emotion we are capable of feeling is on display at some point: love, fear, anger, regret, doubt, joy, grief, hope.

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CCE Corner – Gratitude – All as Gift

April 14th, 2022

In a recent introduction to our post on grumbling v. gratitude, we asked, “What do the Feeding of the 5,000, the Last Supper, and the Road to Emmaus have in common?” In each of these accounts, after receiving bread, our Lord first “gave thanks.” He then “broke it and gave it…” Gratitude was central to these generous, self-giving, miraculous acts which overflowed in abundance and faith. In this post and the next, we’ll reflect on these accounts a little more.

As we mentioned in the previous post, G.K. Chesterton defines gratitude as “happiness doubled by wonder.” A sense of wonder notices not only the desirable qualities of a thing, but it sees those things as gifts. What is the proper response to a gift? Gratitude.

We respond most naturally with thanks to a gift that is out of the ordinary or we feel is undeserved (e.g., a surprise party, a “random act of kindness,” a glorious sunset). If something is ordinary or we think we deserve it, it is easy to take it for granted. We fail to recognize that it too is a gift and something for which we should offer thanks (e.g., a regular dinner, a school or music lesson, time with a friend).

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CCE Corner – A Grumble or a Gratitude

March 11th, 2022

As we mentioned in our previous post, our virtue focus for the quarter is Faith. As is the case with other virtues, Faith has some “prerequisites”—certain things that are required as a condition for faith to grow. Perhaps chief among them is a sense of gratitude. A heart that is full of thanks rises to the One to whom that thanks is due and overflows with generosity toward others. It can be hard work to have full hearts. Pride is often identified as the first sin of the Fall, but ingratitude did not play a minor role. Adam and Eve were given all of the trees of the garden but one, and yet…. You know the rest of the story: discontent became part of our fallen human nature.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, an unnamed Narrator finds himself in Grey Town where he boards a bus. That bus takes the travelers to the foothills of Heaven. Grey Town, it turns out, is either Hell or Purgatory, depending on whether one chooses to remain there or not. On his journey, the Narrator meets George MacDonald,* sent from Heaven to greet him, and their conversation is “interrupted by the thin voice of a Ghost talking at an enormous speed…” If you’ve read the book or seen the play, you know what follows is a veritable flood of complaints, a self-absorbed “shrill monotonous whine.”

MacDonald notices the Narrator’s distress: “What troubles ye, son?” asked my Teacher. “I am troubled, Sir,” said I, “because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.”

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CCE Corner – The Virtue of Faith

February 25th, 2022

Our virtue focus for the third quarter is Faith. In the next few CCE Corner posts, we will talk about the importance of passing our faith on to our children and ways to do that well. If you missed it earlier this fall, now would be a good time to read this introduction to the virtue of Faith.

CCE Corner – Made for Love, part II

January 27th, 2022

In our previous post, we encouraged our readers to listen to a reflection on Canto 17 of Dante’s Purgatorio. In this post, we draw your attention to Canto 18.* Here, Dr. Steve Boyer examines the moral psychology of love. He takes us on a journey inside the soul from attraction through imagination to inclination to quest. If one’s reason does not actively stand guard in the face of temptation, Dr. Boyer observes, the soul finds itself captive to worldly passions. If you do not listen to his 12-minute reflection, do at least hear Dr. Boyer‘s words about the dangers of distraction:

“Time is love. What you do with your time shows what you really love. And it ultimately becomes what you love. So, don’t be content with mere entertainment. Don’t doze off. Wake up! What are you giving yourself to?”

*Again, even if you have not been reading Dante’s Comedy or listening to the lectures, this is worth a listen! We recommend parents listen first, before sharing with their student, as not all content may be appropriate.

CCE Corner – Made for Love, part I

January 18th, 2022

Let’s play a guessing game. Who said, “Let your pleasure be your guide”? The ancient philosopher Epicurus? The utilitarian John Stuart Mill? Beyonce? Here’s a clue: The words are from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Surely, you may be thinking, they must be the words of some shade or devil in Hell, designed to lead Dante the pilgrim astray down some hedonistic path. Would you be surprised to know that Dante’s trusted guide Virgil speaks those words to him at the top of Mount Purgatory? Listen to Dr. Brian Williams’ thirteen-minute reflection on Purgatorio, Canto 17 * to find out more about what Dr. Williams calls “sanctified hedonism” and the impact what we read (and watch and listen to) has on our lives. We were made for love. Are our loves becoming properly ordered so that we find pleasure in the right things and in the right way? Or are our loves becoming disordered?

*Even if you have not been reading Dante’s Comedy or listening to the lectures, this is worth a listen! We recommend parents listen first, before sharing with their child, as not all content may be appropriate.

CCE Corner – Persuasion with a Purpose

January 9th, 2022

One goal we have as a classical school is to build student skills in rhetoric–the art of effective, persuasive, even beautiful, speaking or writing. As a Christian classical school, we intend to produce no Sophists; this goal has a higher purpose–for students to be well-equipped to “give a reason for the hope that is in you.” (I Peter 3:15) If you did not have the chance to read our post before the break, you can read about how our annual Speech Meet not only builds confidence in public speaking but also helps us delight in God and his good gifts.

Click here to read the the most recent CCE Corner.

CCE Corner – Nursery Rhymes to Shakespeare: Our Annual Speech Meet

December 16th, 2021

We recently held our sixteenth annual Speech Meet. While the event is a highlight for many, a few students, especially those who dread the spotlight, may wonder why this is imposed upon them each fall. A short answer is that we’re a classical school, and classical schools do things like make students get up in front of people and speak. We think it’s good for them. The Speech Meet, like Bible memory, science presentations, history reports, book club discussions, Latin at Lunchtime, and Reader’s Theater, helps build skills in rhetoric—the art of effective, persuasive, even beautiful, speaking or writing. Skills in rhetoric are something classical schools value. We value growth that comes from hard work. We value the moral imagination.

It takes hard work and perseverance to select a piece, memorize it, and polish it to the point of public presentation. For those of us who have been around for a while, it is a joy to see students grow over the years, some of them from leaning against the classroom whiteboard, fidgeting, mumbling, and forgetting their lines to confidently addressing the entire school and guests with poise and delight.

In early fall, many students (and sometimes their parents) embark on a mini literary adventure, pouring over poems and Scripture and speeches. In the process of making and interpreting their own selection and in listening to fellow student selections, they gain an appreciation for the vast range of expression in the literary landscape. We invite you on this journey and ask you to imagine briefly our students reading, reciting, listening to, and thinking about this year’s speeches.

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CCE Corner – Lives of Faith, Reason, and Virtue: Dante

November 14th, 2021

As we continue the discussion of our new tagline, “cultivating lives of faith, reason, and virtue,” we’d like to draw attention again to our 100 Days of Dante reading group. It’s not too late to join!* Dante begins The Divine Comedy with these words: “Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wilderness, for I had wandered from the straight and true.” Dante’s epic poem is a profound picture of the life of faith, reason, and virtue as a journey from that dark wilderness to heavenly light. As Dr. Brian Williams observes in his reflections on Canto 6, such a life is a turning from earthly vices to heavenly rewards; a journey in which our intellect, affections and wills become “upright, wholesome, and free.” Dante and Dr. Williams draw a profound contrast between a life of “mud pies, cold rain, and eternal emptiness” and one of “living water, warm bread, and nourishing wine freely offered at our Lord’s table.” We hope Trinitas helps students see that contrast too. Even if you haven’t been reading Dante, Dr. Williams’ twelve-minute reflection on Canto 6 of Inferno is well worth a listen!

*You can still sign up for 100 Days of Dante. We are looking forward to our first discussion group on Friday, December 3, at 7:00 p.m. We’d love to have you join us! The videos and readings are short. If you would like to watch or listen to what you have missed, you can search YouTube–just type “inferno canto [#]” and you should be able to find any of the videos that have been posted by Baylor Honors College’s Dante project.