The Classical Parent


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

What both pride and pusillanimity have in common is a hyper focus on self which perhaps explains the familiar quotation about humility often misattributed to C.S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”3 What Rick Warren, the author of those familiar words, got right is that the antidote to pride is not less self-confidence, it is less self-consciousness. It is thinking about God and others before ourselves. What Lewis actually said about humility goes even further: “Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”4

Why does Lewis attach joy to humility? Perhaps because joy comes with living in harmony with the way we were designed, and we were designed to have an outward focus. We were made first of all to Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and second to Love our neighbor as ourself. (Perhaps you’ve seen the acronym JOY—Jesus, Others, Yourself.) In contrast, the inward focus of the vices of both pride and pusillanimity robs us of joy.

At the foundation of the virtue of humility is the recognition of our creaturehood. We were created from the dust of the earth. And with the breath of God. Pride forgets that we are dust and makes us into gods, creators and masters of our own destinies for our own glory. Pusillanimity forgets that we are image bearers of God and shrinks from the destiny that is ours as children of the King. Both fail “in co-operating with divine grace to achieve great things for God’s glory” and the good of others. In recognizing our creaturehood, humility gets our position in this world just right and opens us up to the fulfillment and joy of the work of the Spirit in us and through us.

One of our daughters has a figurine in her room of a young girl with arms and hands lowered and outstretched, palms facing upward. Its title is “Blessings.” One of the reasons I have always liked this small figure is that its posture seems to be one of both receiving and offering blessing. It is, in fact, a perfect image of the posture of humility: arms and hands lowered and outstretched both to humbly receive the blessing of God and to humbly offer the fruit of those blessings to others. It is in this posture that we find the antidote to the twin vices of pride and pusillanimity.

This posture of humility is one we try to strengthen at Trinitas. Spending time with others who are older or younger than we are is one good and often enjoyable way to do this, and so we intentionally cultivate relationships across the grade levels. Experiences like our recent trip to Raybrook, an assisted living and nursing care facility, also help to expand our worlds beyond ourselves. During that visit, students performed some of their Fine Arts Night pieces, and we joined the residents in a hymn sing and shared homemade cards and conversation. One parent sent this in response: “What a lovely event! Thank you for offering them this opportunity to share their time with an older generation. When we talked about it that evening I could see both our sons recognizing the value in bringing joy to others—such a character-building experience for them!” And for all of us!


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 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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CCE Corner – Thoughtful Readers: Playing with and Talking About Good Stories

March 9th, 2023

Trinitas recently hosted two annual highlights: Book Character Day and Thoughtful Reader Book Club. Each year, students and staff look forward to leaving their uniforms home and coming dressed like a favorite Biblical, historical, or book character. Last Wednesday was a delightful day for the likes of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ebenezer Scrooge, Anne of Green Gables, King Arthur, and St. Paul to be greeted at the door by Principal Gandalf and to do their math lessons with Grandmother West Wind and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, literature with Athena and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Latin with the golden fleece, history with the Cat in the Hat, and logic with Tweedle Dee (or Dum, we’re not sure which). Students return home excited to read new books or re-read an old favorite. Some even begin planning next year’s costume.

During Friday Focus time the previous week, we enjoyed activities and discussions related to our Thoughtful Reader Book Club selections. This year, our shared reading for the younger grades included fables by Aesop and Arnold Lobel. Students in grades 3/4 talked about how stories that feature animals and their particular characteristics (e.g., monkeys are inquisitive, beavers are industrious) can communicate truths about human strengths and weaknesses. The morals at the end of the fables continue to instruct over 2,000 years later!

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CCE Corner – Where the Air Is Clear

February 23rd, 2023

We continue our series of reflections inspired by the recent Calvin Worship Symposium. This week, Mrs. Tellinghuisen shares about a faith practices workshop she attended.

A few weeks ago, the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire recorded overnight wind gusts of over 100 miles per hour and a temperature of −47 °F. This produced a new US record low windchill temperature of −108 °F. These conditions are comparable to what airplanes experience at cruising altitude. I was told by my brother (a biologist and weather fact enthusiast, who lives in South Dakota, where they know a lot about cold and wind), that it wasn’t the cold and wind that led to such extreme conditions, but an interesting atmospheric phenomenon. In effect, the top of Mount Washington became part of the stratosphere. Talk about a mountaintop experience! But not one anyone would want.

Mountaintop experiences usually involve moments of clarity, conviction, or renewal. From a spiritual—and Christian—perspective, it might be descriptive of a moment when someone felt especially close to God or felt the moving of the Holy Spirit in a very tangible way. For me, any visit to mountains can lead to a mountaintop experience. The landscape inspires awe and draws my eyes upward and inclines my heart toward praise and wonder.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1–2)

The psalmist was saying more than just mountains are pretty. High places were locations for pagan rituals and sacrifices (e.g., Ahab and prophets of Baal as told in I Kings 18). But the psalmist is saying that when he looks to hills, it is not to seek answers in the idols of man. He trusts in the one true God, maker of heaven and earth. In the gospel accounts, Jesus goes to a mountain to find solitude and to commune with his father in prayer on several occasions. One of the most memorable accounts is the Transfiguration, where Jesus appears radiant in his glory to Peter, James, and John. And, more than that, Moses and Elijah appear alongside him (Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:2–13; Luke 9:28–36). Now that was a mountaintop experience! Isn’t it remarkable then that those same three disciples were the ones who fell asleep, ran, and even denied? How could they have seen that and not stood firm? Or maybe, if we are honest, we know all too well what it means to see and yet forget.

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CCE Corner – What We’re Learning: Worship Symposium

February 9th, 2023

It was just over a year ago that Mrs. Poortenga and Mrs. Tellinghuisen submitted their application for a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship. This week brought them to the CICW Worship Symposium where they continue to learn and plan for the remainder of our grant year. We wish there was a simple “download” button that would allow us to share everything they’ve experienced, but we will share summaries and resources you can use in the coming weeks. Watch for CCEC posts that will discuss the following workshops: Performing the Bible: Exploring the Performance Genres of Scripture; Discerning Leadership with Students; Faith Practices for All Ages. This week, we want to share from the panel presentation, “Fruits of the Spirit, Mental Health Crises, and Our Practices of Christian Worship.”

This workshop covered a number of the same themes we covered in recent CCEC posts. Angela Williams Gorrell and John Swinton began the presentation by drawing attention to the crisis of psychological distress that is intensifying across all age groups–stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and trouble sleeping all continue to rise at alarming rates. They pointed to both the lack of a coherent moral story and the dangers of many of our digital habits. If we see ourselves as mere individuals in this wide universe, as creators of our own identities, and as part of a world that is interminably in conflict, the natural result is a sense of meaninglessness, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The pandemic showed us how much we need to be connected to others, but it may also have shown us how much we have come apart.

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CCE Corner – Screen-free Community at Trinitas

January 26th, 2023

I was going to title this post “Screen-free Learning at Trinitas,” but our decision to be a screen-free* environment is about more than helping kids build their attention spans for academic achievement. It’s also, and more importantly, about helping them build their ability to pay attention to others, to engage the person next to them or across the table, to “be present” in community. We founded Trinitas in 2006, the year before the first iPhone was introduced. Already many schools were jumping on the screen-learning bandwagon. We resisted that temptation, not primarily for budget stewardship reasons but rather for the sake of the students (and their teachers and families). We suspected that benefits of screens in schools might turn out to be something like the emperor’s new clothes. What we had not anticipated was how screens at school and at home and in cars and in pockets and nearly perpetually in hands could be worse than the naked emperor.

We’d like to highlight two articles recently linked by Protect Young Eyes. (If you do not receive their emails, we recommend you sign up for them.) The first article is very short, it’s on social media and brain development. The second is longer, but worth the read; it’s a call by Doug Lemov for phone-free schools and for re-wiring (or de-wiring) the learning environment for attention, achievement, and belonging. As Lemov points out, it’s not good enough for schools just to say “be responsible with your phones.” I remember waiting to pick up one of my high schoolers for an appointment during lunch. It was a lovely day, and a group of girls was eating together outside. I should say “together.” In the ten or more minutes that I waited, not one of them looked up from her cell phone. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, one did look up briefly. To take a selfie. I’m not exaggerating when I say my heart broke a little when I witnessed that snapshot of what we are losing. Simply put, in light of the overwhelming data on attention, anxiety, loneliness, and depression, a best practice for school and home is carving out long periods of time free of screens.

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CCE Corner – In the Beginning: World(view) Formation

January 12th, 2023

At the beginning of the new year, we turn our attention to The Beginning by looking briefly at two creation accounts. One thing a good Christian education should do is provide a keen awareness of both the familiarity and foreignness of Christianity (as G.K. Chesterton put it, both the “welcome and the wonder” of it). As we are prone to take Christian teachings for granted, they can lose their power in our lives, so it is an important act of the spiritual imagination to occasionally stop to appreciate the strangeness of it all. * A brief comparison of the Babylonian creation story, the Enuma Elish, with the account in Genesis can do this for us.

Before we compare those accounts, there is another reason for this exercise. There is an expression that “ideas have legs” and this is certainly true of origin stories—they have an impact not only on our thinking about how the cosmos came into being but also about its present and future states, as well as our place and purpose in it. In other words, creation accounts are not only about a world but also a worldview. As we’ve noted before, Trinitas students in the logic stage (grades 5-8), learn to ask “Ultimate Questions.” As they engage history, scripture, literature, and popular culture, they are encouraged to ask what is being said about God, Humanity, and Nature, and what are being identified as problems and proposed as remedies. In this post, we conduct something like a logic-stage exercise, looking at the two creation accounts to see what answers they give to such questions.

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CCE Corner – Faith Formation: The Importance of Inter-age Relationships

November 30th, 2022

Faith is central to our mission at Trinitas, and so we take seriously the task of cultivating an environment in which faith can grow. In addition to striving to maintain high standards in the context of warmth and demonstrating that we are “all in,” we also intentionally foster inter-age relationships as part of faith formation.* In the study mentioned in our previous posts, the authors focus on the important role of grandparents and great grandparents as moral and religious models for children. Their findings suggest that strengthening intergenerational bonds strengthens faith.

In addition to family, church is the place where children are most likely to engage with those who are generations removed from them. Our own family has been deeply blessed by witnessing the faithfulness of older congregants and hearing their stories. And our children have been blessed by opportunities to share their own stories as well. One Sunday, a nearly ninety-year-old gentleman asked our sixth grader if she had read any good books lately and if she would be willing to write a review for the church newspaper. As soon as we arrived home, she eagerly ran to the computer and quickly produced a piece on The Narnia Chronicles. The older man’s interest in her and her ideas eventually led our daughter to become a regular contributor of poetry for the church paper. This prompted others of his generation to warmly express their appreciation for her work. These and similar experiences, like singing in the Holiday Choir next to choristers five to six times her age, have given her a deep feeling of belonging to this intergenerational family of God.

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CCE Corner – Faith Formation: Parents Who Are “All In”

October 27th, 2022

We continue our series on faith formation looking at three characteristics of families who successfully pass on their faith: 1) high standards combined with warmth, 2) strong intergenerational relationships, and 3) parents who are “all in.” * Our previous two posts focused on high standards and warmth. In this post, we’ll focus on what it means to be “all in,” saving intergenerational relationships for a later post. If we want to pass our faith on to our children, they should be able to see our own commitment to and delight in the ways of God.

We tend to do this more naturally with things like careers and hobbies. Children often follow in their parents’ footsteps, ending up with similar interests and pursuits. In our family, four of our children explored STEM but eventually chose humanities majors in college (and the fifth is headed that direction). They just couldn’t get away from the passion for philosophy, religion, politics, history, and literature that seems to be in the air of our home. And, we know Trinitas parents whose own passion for the sciences has been passed on to their children. Whatever one’s passion—football, golf, choral music, hiking, woodworking, cooking—the interest and excitement we show and the energy, time, and even money we spend in pursuit of it will be evident to the young eyes watching us and learning from us. In very many cases, children grow to love what we show them we love. That’s not to say that children always follow in their parents’ footsteps. Sometimes they surprise and delight us and expand our worlds with interests and loves that are unique to them. Still, we should be aware of the influence our own interests, commitments, and loves have on them.

As a school, we hope to help you help your children cultivate God-honoring loves, and we try to provide various ways for them to see that when it comes to the Christian faith, you are “all in.” We are almost through the first quarter. Much has happened since the first day of school. New people have been met. New things have been learned. New routines and habits have been formed. One of our daily routines is all-school Morning Prayer. This time isn’t just a way to start our day; it’s a way to center our hearts and minds. What do we do in Morning Prayer? We sing and pray and meditate on God’s word. We’d like to remind you that parents are always welcome to stay and join their children in worship! And we would also like to encourage you to follow along at home as well. You can use this link to The St. James Daily Devotional Guide for information on subscribing to the same materials we use at school.

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

October 6th, 2022

In our previous CCEC on faith formation, we referenced a comprehensive study on religion and family* which concluded that having high standards combined with warmth is crucial to passing on one’s faith. We observed that having high standards sometimes requires us to speak with vocabulary that differs from the world’s. In that post, we looked at the un-worldly word “holiness.” In this post, we look at “reverence.”

Reverence is not a commonly used word nor a commonly pursued posture. Various dictionaries define reverence as “a feeling of great respect or admiration for someone or something.” Some include “a gesture of respect (such as a bow).” The verb, revere, not surprisingly, is “to regard or treat with reverence.” An important part of faith formation is cultivating such habits and feelings of reverence where they are due.

Reverence is due first of all toward God, the holy creator and sustainer of all. Scripture is filled with examples. In the presence of the burning bush, Moses was told, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” Isaiah and John wrote of six-winged seraphim and ten thousand times ten thousand angels encircling the throne and unceasingly declaring “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come,” “the earth is full of his glory”, and “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” A life of faith involves this posture of reverence. As our former language arts teacher was fond of saying, true education begins with the recognition that there is a God, and you are not He.

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