The Classical Parent


CCE Corner – Lessons from St. John

June 6th, 2024

I begin this CCE Corner with a shameless plug for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). * Participation in this group has blessed my family for more than two decades. This year, we’ve been studying the Gospel of John. When I re-read the final chapter this morning, I thought about Trinitas. Our school was founded in 2006 “to partner with Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox families to guide students toward the wonder, knowledge, and love of God and his world, cultivating lives of faith, reason, and virtue.” What can we learn from John about how to do this?  

Before reading the rest of this post, I encourage you to read or listen to John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) and his final chapter (John 21). 

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CCE Corner — Fear Not: Failure and Formation, part I

March 7th, 2024

When I sat down to write this post, I struggled to find a title. Using the word “failure” produced something of a visceral reaction in me. Associating that word with Trinitas seemed like a bad marketing move. I decided to risk it. Our virtue focus this quarter is Perseverance. Our hall and classroom posters display a definition from Plato: “a bearing up under labor for the sake of what is honorable.” We all know perseverance involves labor; this post explores the bookends of that definition: the “bearing up” and the “for the sake of what is honorable” parts.

Taking the latter part first—what does Plato mean by “for the sake of what is honorable”? Hard work is always aimed at something. Sometimes we need to pause and ask, “What am I working so hard for?” Asking this question can produce all kinds of responses, from staying the course to relatively minor adjustments to existential transformations. It can be a motivating question—remembering a goal of running a marathon can get one out of bed on a cold, rainy Saturday morning. It can be a course-altering question—an examination of our family’s hectic weekly pace during middle school years led us to cut back on some activities (good as those activities all were). Notice that perseverance, with its “for the sake of what is honorable” framing, may actually lead someone to quit something. Perseverance that does not aim at something good or that comes at too heavy of a cost to other goods or better goods is not a virtue but rather the vice of obdurateness.

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CCE Corner – How and For What Are We Formed?

January 31st, 2024

Formation is at the heart of classical Christian education. This is no small task. As James K.A. Smith observes in You Are What You Love, we are daily being formed by participation, often unintentional, in ubiquitous secular liturgies. Many of those liturgies are making the work of educators and parents more difficult. We believe classical Christian classrooms and homes can and should be spaces for intentional and powerful counter liturgies and formation. We encourage you to listen to Restless Devices: Christian Formation in a Digital World, a Calvin University January Series talk by Felicia Wu Song. Join us as we practice liturgies designed to form us, not for “permanent connectivity” through devices, but rather for permanent communion through Christ.

CCE Corner — Light and Life to All He Brings: An Epiphany Meditation

January 11th, 2024

We welcome Mrs. Tellinghuisen back to the CCE Corner. This reflection for Epiphany was written last year for her church, Fifth Reformed, where she serves as a liturgical consultant and writer.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is not just a festive song about some extravagant (yet impractical) gift giving. They are days of the true Christmas season: the liturgical season of Christmastide, which brings us to Epiphany (January 6, by the calendar, with Epiphany Sunday celebrated on the 6th or the Sunday following it), and the beginning of Ordinary Time, the period before Lent.

Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi and the manifestation of the Light of the World to all those in the world. (The word comes from a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearance.) The kings are individual characters, uniquely situated in time and history, but they are representative of the Gentiles and the truth that salvation through Jesus is available to all. The Gift came to us all because God loves us all.

Read the rest of the meditation as featured in the Reformed Worship blog.


CCE Corner — Trinitas Storytelling

December 7th, 2023

In C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, a terrifying chase by lions ends with two horses and two children barely escaping across a narrow inlet of the sea. As the four gather their wits, Bree, a talking Narnian horse, lays out the plan: “And now that we’ve got the water between us and those dreadful animals, what about you two humans taking off our saddles and our all having a rest and hearing one another’s stories.” Bree asks one of the humans to speak first, and the narrator tells us: “Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.”*

It’s a humorous comparison of genres but one that might make those of us in classical education a little defensive. A philosopher by training, I feel the need to explain, “Well, joking aside, Lewis actually thought essays were important and interesting too…” We shouldn’t be quick to set aside Lewis’s primary point though: stories are powerful. They grab our attention, engage the imagination, arouse emotions, direct passions, shape beliefs. In short, they form us. While it is important to train students in logic and analytical reading and writing, we have to admit that stories are important too—probably more important. As Jennifer Holberg writes in Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape our Faith, “[N]o matter what one’s childhood—even if one was not or is not really much of a reader—we are all profoundly story-shaped people. We live in a world that, for better or worse, most often seems to process through narrative, not facts.”** Trinitas is a school built on stories—on God’s story, and on the myriad stories that point us to Him.

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CCE Corner – Taking God’s Word to Heart

November 2nd, 2023

Mrs. Tellinghuisen returns to the CCE Corner to share about last week’s chapel guests, her seminary program, and the importance of hiding God’s word in our hearts.

There’s a delicate balance to be found between the task of learning and the joy of learning. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but they don’t always overlap. Sometimes the learning process is hard and doesn’t leave us feeling joyful. We may, even in moments of frustration and impatience, have a sense of satisfaction that we are growing in knowledge (hopefully wisdom too). But we might not call that joy.

This is food for thought in a classical school that has high standards and lofty expectations. We ask a lot of our students. (Case in point, how many middle schoolers do you know who study Greek?) Each day at Trinitas is full, for our curriculum is full. And each day, a certain amount of work needs to happen. Facts must be taught. Concepts must be applied. Assessments must be given. There are learning tasks that must happen in a classroom. Of course, how that happens makes all the difference. The goal of teaching is transformation, but we all know that knowledge alone can’t transform hearts.

The challenge for a Christian classical school is even greater. We have Bible classes. We have Bible memorization assignments that, yes, are graded work. But even if we know that memorization is important and good for our kids (good for adults too), we may wonder—Is this assignment being presented as a joy as well as a task? Is it being received as a joy and not just a task?

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CCE Corner – Persistent Prayer, part II

September 28th, 2023

As mentioned in part I, the classical Christian tradition teaches us that friendship with God is humankind’s highest good and that cultivating this friendship requires a life of prayer. How then should we pray? Together and alone. Through the words of others and in our own. We have a God who created and sustains the universe and yet also hears each of our prayers. How blessed are we when in our solitude and without concern for the form of our words we offer our adoration and thanks, make our confessions, plead our requests, and express our emotions. We find our model for this intimate individual and spontaneous form of prayer in scripture. The Psalmists poured out their hearts to God. And we know from his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane that our Lord poured out his. But private prayers are not the only soil in which friendship with God grows.

In his book Prayer, George Buttrick draws attention to the act of praying together, saying that it “should be stressed in a generation which easily neglects and discredits public worship. For a man to argue, ‘I do not go to church: I pray alone,’ is no wiser than if he should say, ‘I have no use for symphonies: I believe only in solo music’” (35).* To this I would add that praying through the words of others might also need to be stressed in a generation which admires the “authentic” and disparages the rote.

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CCE Corner – Persistent Prayer, part I

September 14th, 2023

Like all of Jesus’ parables, his stories of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) and a person who repeatedly knocks on a friend’s door at midnight (Luke 11:5-13) contain a “hidden” meaning. I am reluctant, even with the help of commentaries, to try to interpret this deeper meaning about prayer and the relationship of asking, seeking, and knocking to receiving, finding, and opening. I have too many questions about prayer in general (and am also shy about the possibility of committing heresy): Do our prayers somehow change God’s mind? But isn’t God unchangeable and impassible? Do our prayers merely change us? Do they simply give us a better “perspective,” cultivate psychological equilibrium, build our character? Does the timing of our prayers matter for a God who is outside of time? (I once attended a philosophy colloquium on the topic: “Praying for Things to Have Happened.”) While I have a desire to know the answers to such questions and can appreciate the subtle debates, I know that mystery will continue to veil much of prayer. It is part of the Christian tradition, however, not to let mystery be an impediment to action. At some point, we may need to be satisfied with the classic Sunday school answer: “Jesus.” Jesus prayed. Jesus told his followers to pray. And, in these parables, the message close to the surface is that we are to do so persistently. 

In his classic book on prayer, Presbyterian minister George Buttrick writes that on the issue of prayer, “as always [Jesus’] deed and word are an indivisible flame” (35).* In less eloquent expression: Jesus “walked the walk.” Jesus prayed in solitude and with friends, he prayed in routine days and in crisis, he prayed at his baptism and in the desert, he left the crowds to pray and he prayed before choosing his disciples, he prayed on the Mount of Transfiguration and he prayed after the feeding of the five thousand, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and he prayed on the cross, he prayed, “until prayer became the climate of his days. The saints said that ‘to work is to pray,’ and they believed profoundly that ‘to pray is to work.’ Jesus said in the language of deeds that ‘to live is to pray,’ and that to pray is to live’” (36). If Jesus prayed, shouldn’t that be good enough reason for us to do the same? 

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CCE Corner – Goldilocks, Creaturehood, and the Posture of Humility

May 25th, 2023

Our Virtue of the Quarter is Humility. “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” may not be the first story that comes to mind for instruction in this virtue, but had the tale of the burglarous little girl been available to Aristotle, he might have chosen it to illustrate a fundamental observation about all virtues. According to this ancient Greek philosopher, virtue is a mean between two extremes. In Goldilocks’ vocabulary, “A virtue is something not too much and not too little, it’s just right.” Courage, for example, is the mean between the extreme of cowardice on the one hand and rashness on the other. Neither Goldilocks nor Aristotle had much to say about humility specifically, but we can use the idea of getting things just right or finding the mean between extremes as a fruitful way to explore this virtue.

So, what are the two extremes, the vices, on either side of the virtue of humility? The more obvious vice is pride. Simply put, pride is thinking too much of oneself, of one’s abilities or importance or worth, especially in comparison to others. Pride can be a private sentiment, but it also often seeks to draw the attention of others. The proud “are like the fly on the chariot wheel, crying, ‘See how fast I make it go!’”1 The other extreme is a less obvious vice because it is sometimes mistaken for the virtue of humility and it goes by a less familiar name: pusillanimity. Pusillanimity is thinking too little of oneself; it is a “smallness of soul,” a smallness “that shrinks from noble or arduous tasks.”2

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CCE Corner – Shaped by Story

March 29th, 2023

Mrs. Tellinghuisen returns to the CCE Corner with another reflection inspired by the Calvin Worship Symposium and the March 6 Vital Worship Grant event.

We are story-shaped people who live in a story-shaped culture. Let’s withhold any “that’s good” or “that’s bad” judgment for the time being (spoiler: it depends on the stories we hear and tell) and simply acknowledge the reality. Everyone and everything tells a story. For all that we see around us has history, context, function, and purpose. When we walk through a neighborhood, we are not just seeing houses and sidewalks and trees and utility lines. We are seeing a story. When we stroll through an art exhibit, we aren’t just seeing pictures and sculptures and artifacts. We are seeing a story. When we meet a person for the first time, we aren’t just exchanging words and social pleasantries with someone. We are seeing a story incarnate.

Granted, we don’t see the whole story. To know more about that neighborhood, you’d need to talk to some of the neighbors and research the history of the city that led to that area being developed. To learn more about the area or people group featured in the art exhibit, you would have to read some books, take some classes, or even travel to that location. To learn more about another human? Well, you would need years together. And even a lifetime together wouldn’t tell you everything. (You’d probably learn more about yourself along the way too!)

Stories are involved and complex. They take time to tell. But we like facts, don’t we? “Just the facts, ma’am,” said Dragnet’s Sergeant Friday. Facts are simple, obvious, clear-cut. Unless they aren’t. One need only flip through the various news channels to see that we don’t always agree on facts. But you don’t have to take the path that leads to flat-out relativism to recognize that facts are always internalized and interpreted before we inject them into our conversations and contexts. If this sounds at least a little disconcerting, it is. How can we live in community (familial, local, national, global) if we are “my story is what I know” kind of people? On our own? Not so well. But there is a good answer for this, and hopefully your mind is already going there.

Before we talk about that answer, let’s look for the good in the fact that we all have “my story” and the fact that we are story-shaped storytellers and—story listeners—at our core. Consider the different answers to these “simple” questions.

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