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CCE Corner – Finding Wholesomeness at the Movies

February 6th, 2020 by Becca Tellinghuisen

In this CCEC, we’re taking a break from the lessons learned about thriving in a Christian classical school to reflect on the vision we have for Trinitas. Sometimes we run across words that so perfectly capture what we’re thinking that we have to share them in their entirety. That’s the case with the following quotation from a review of the recent film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you should.) When we read what Joy Clarkson wrote about this classic story in The Forma Review, we thought, “That’s just what we’re trying to do at Trinitas!”

Little Women shows sweetness and family in its most potent and least saccharine form. It reminds the viewer that wholesomeness isn’t naiveté, that it can be a life-giving force to be reckoned with. It is innocent, wholesome, and un-ironically so. Little Women reminds me that before we can know how to conquer evil, we must be deeply in love with what is good. This wholesomeness is not one which hides its eyes from the darkness and pain of the world—the Marches live in a world with war and financial strain and the death, after all. But wholesomeness and innocence aren’t things that can be snatched away forever; they are instead dispositions toward life which can be cultivated, teaching us to see the world in terms of hope, love, and kindness, instead of scarcity, depravity, and isolation. Cultivating this disposition is countercultural and teaches us to live radical lives of kindness and meaning. Watching this movie will make you want to join the March girls in the battle for a love of goodness.”

It’s so well-said, that we should probably leave it at that, but a number of Clarkson’s statements are worth developing briefly and applying in the context of our vision for the Trinitas community. We’ll end each with a question or challenge for you at home.

1) “Before we can know how to conquer evil, we must be deeply in love with what is good.”

Philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to C.S. Lewis have viewed human beings as having reason, passion, and appetite. In a rightly ordered soul, reason rules with passion as its powerful aid. An education which addresses reason alone will leave the person ill-equipped to control his appetites and resist, let alone fight, evil. Lewis labels the result “men without chests.” In order to be equipped and motivated to counter evil, persons must be raised not only to know the good, but also to love it. At Trinitas, we recognize the importance of educating the “chest,” of filling our students with those things that are true, good, and beautiful so that they will come not only to recognize them but also to love them. Aristotle taught that it is of utmost importance to do this with children from a very early age, and we agree; but, we also know that the power of the Holy Spirit is great, and that He can make us a new creation at any time of life. What things do you and your children have a passion for, what do you love? What are you doing to cultivate those?

2) “This wholesomeness is not one which hides its eyes from the darkness and pain of the world.”

Trinitas students learn about world history and salvation history; they read Shakespeare and Steinbeck. They see the fallenness and the brokenness of the world. But, and here’s an important distinctive, they are taught to look at these things as Christ does—to identify the fallenness and brokenness and to grieve it and work to redeem it. We do not expose our students to the darkness and pain of the world in a way that celebrates that darkness or leaves them in despair over the pain. As you look at and experience the world together in various ways, ask yourselves if that experience is one which celebrates darkness and builds despair. If so, see Clarkson’s alternative below.

3) “But wholesomeness and innocence aren’t things that can be snatched away forever; they are instead dispositions toward life which can be cultivated, teaching us to see the world in terms of hope, love, and kindness, instead of scarcity, depravity, and isolation.”

Trinitas students are taught to discern the various world views surrounding them, e.g., in literature, politics, and popular culture; and, they are equipped to answer those with a Christian worldview. In light of Christ’s death and resurrection and promised return, we have hope and not despair and we are called to live lives of gratitude through the power of the Holy Spirit. In what ways can you cultivate dispositions toward life that live out the truth of the Gospel?

5) “Cultivating this disposition is countercultural and teaches us to live radical lives of kindness and meaning.”

There is much about Trinitas that is countercultural, from our low-tech and challenging learning environment to our focus on Christian virtue and intergenerational relationships. It takes a countercultural education to live radical lives of kindness and meaning. We can’t do it alone, and we are grateful for your efforts at home. Living counterculturally, being set apart by God for his good purposes, takes courage and support from others. In what ways are you being set apart, and how can we support each other in this work?

6) “Watching this movie will make you want to join the March girls in the battle for a love of goodness.”

We know how powerfully attractive characters in movies and stories and real life can be. Human nature desires to be like and is quick to imitate those examples. This is another reason why we look carefully for examples in Scripture and history and literature and even contemporary culture that are worthy of intellectual and emotional assent and imitation. When our students want to be part of that group, we want it to be a group that pleases God and brings joy to others. What examples do you surround yourselves with?

Our goal at Trinitas is to partner with families to guide students toward the wonder, knowledge, and love of God and His world by cultivating and practicing habits of faithful discipleship, embracing truth, goodness, and beauty. We’re grateful for your partnership!