Tapestry and Worldviews: Part II
This is the second half of an interview with Christina Somerville, one of Tapestry’s first students, about whether or not Tapestry of Grace is a worldviews-based program. (To read the first half of Christina’s interview, in which she defines what she means by a worldview and explains her parents’ background in worldviews studies, see Part I.)
I sometimes wonder if people miss the worldviews emphasis in Tapestry precisely because it is so deeply ingrained into every aspect of the program. After all, fish aren’t aware of the water they inhabit! By “ingrained,” I don’t mean just the fact that we have a row of reading assignments labeled “Worldview” in every week plan, or that we have a Philosophy elective for high school students, or that worldviews analysis forms part of almost every Literature class plan written for students at the high school level, or that you can hardly get through a History class discussion without being asked to explain and evaluate a worldview belief. It goes even deeper than that.
When writing Tapestry of Grace, my parents deliberately chose books in every subject that present a wide array of worldviews beliefs and interpretational slants, often including works by secular authors. They rejected the easier option of presenting the humanities via authors who wrote only from the Christian perspective, so that students are never required to peep through anybody else’s pair of lenses. Rather, after opening up the terrifying and confusing vistas of unbiblical thought to mature readers, my parents carefully and patiently wrote helps for parents and students to, together, untangle, understand, and biblically evaluate differing worldviews. History, philosophy, church history, literature–whatever the subject–we students were never permitted to make quick assumptions or hasty judgments.
You might say that Scripture was a land to which we Somerville children were brought as baby emigrants, but that we were not allowed to take that marvelous place for granted as we grew up. We were encouraged to ask hard questions because our parents firmly believed that Truth would stand their test, and faith would become stronger for the struggle. We often took trips to other lands, being invited to compare and examine, to ask ourselves whether we wished to seek a better country. We always found that no country was better, because none had so good a King. I remember that this was especially true in Tapestry Year 1, where I had my chance to visit every major religion under the ancient sun. I was struck then by the way Tapestry‘s history and literature studies demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over all rivals. I believe I fell in love with the Old Testament at that time.
Those trips to foreign places were excursions in which we very usefully had to look through other lenses. I remember that as a 16-year-old I had a working acquaintance with the Qur’an, which proved a great help to me when I befriended a Muslim theology student later on. I have had conversations with my parents about magic, which made quite a difference when I was working beside a Wiccan. I had studied human sexuality in Scripture, history, and literature, which helped me when two of my dearest friends turned towards sexual sin as a lifestyle. I had wrestled through the question of God’s goodness with my mother in history class as a seventeen-year-old, during that horrible week when we both studied World War I and watched the World Trade Center crumble. I came out of it more firmly convinced that God is beyond my comprehension, but that He is, nevertheless, both all-powerful and good.
I arrived at college not quite knowing how to put together a bibliography (everybody has some gaps in their education!), but I had two skills that were already much-honed by my Tapestry education: the abilities to 1) carefully understand and 2) biblically evaluate worldviews. I also felt that I had already explored most of what the world had to offer, and I was convinced that none of it compared to Christ.
It is hard to quantify, further than I already have, how this happened in terms of readings or lesson plans. I cannot tell you which week of which year-plan convinced me that God is who He claims to be, and that my whole understanding of reality must bend around that belief. I think that Year 1 (the study of the Ancients) had most to do with it, though my greatest crisis of faith came in Year 4 (when studying the 20th century). What I can say for sure is that the program so faithfully engages with each worldview that there was hardly a week out of the four years which did not somehow reinforce the truth that human history is a tapestry of grace, woven by a God who is both to be feared and adored… and that all other explanations of reality are ultimately lies.
As you may know, Tapestry presents an integrated plan of study. This means that the various school “subjects” are interwoven such that one studies many of the aspects of a slice of time from various vantage points. A careful study of worldviews is found not only in Tapestry‘s history discussions of a given era, but also and perhaps even more explicitly in our Literature class plans. For instance, while studying the ancient Greeks, we read the Iliad. Worldview studies were present in the way we study Achilles’ experiment in living and his quest for glory. Discussion questions and outlines display to students that ancient Greeks believed glory was the only path to immortality.
These days, I’m a Tapestry teacher and author, and my area of expertise is Literature. During discussions of the Iliad, my students and I have thought together about a system of belief in which your gods don’t care much about you and have no intention of opening a way for you to join them in joy, unless you can impress them with your great deeds. We have compared that worldview to a Christ who covers our failures with His success at the cross, because He so loves us and wants life eternal for us. We also have seen God’s strikingly unique character revealed against the dark backdrop of our examination of the literature and gods of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, the Americas, and Rome. In each successive culture, He only shines brighter and brighter!
At the other end of time, we Literature explorers have watched the way a 20th century British play (Waiting for Godot) revealed a futility and emptiness that seemed to come straight from the pages of Ecclesiastes, seeing again the meaninglessness of an experiment in living that exchanges the truth about God for a lie. In my handbook, Poetics, Tapestry students read a careful description of every major worldview in human history (based on Sire’s descriptions and our own research), then examined each in turn through literature.
First, we do our best to understand. Students are expected to find examples of particular beliefs in their Literature readings. Then, we biblically evaluate. We ask why the human soul would wish to believe such things, what the attractions of the alternates are. We talk about how our worldview beliefs become translated into patterns of choices, and how choice points become seeds that always result in harvests to be reaped, whether for good or evil. Often, we ask, “What does this mean for our own lives?”
Within the last few years, I have had several chances to talk to other Tapestry graduates about their experiences. You can read their stories in other posts on this blog. Not a single interview went by without some mention of ways in which Tapestry‘s emphasis on understanding and biblically evaluating worldviews has shaped a graduate’s own worldview and ability to engage with those of others. Yet this was so much a part of the whole Tapestry experience that few of the graduates I interviewed would have thought to describe it as separate “worldviews studies.” It was simply an essential part of their Tapestry lives: it was the water in which they swam, as it were.
Perhaps it seems a shocking thing to say, given all I have been explaining and urging up to this point about worldviews studies, but I think it is important to confess that I do not believe any education can guarantee a biblical worldview. I do not want to give any parent a false hope, or lay a false burden of responsibility on any teacher, to make one suppose that a student’s worldview is a thing one can make good purely by careful teaching.
This particular belief of mine has been painfully burned into my own worldview. Friends mentioned earlier who turned to sexual sin took the same Tapestry classes that I did all through high school, and from the same teachers. We attended the same church. We had the same peers. I learned that in some sense and on some level, the revelation of truth is something that belongs to God. If you are a sinner, you may examine your life and then choose to live a lie.
I learned that lesson again later, when I spent a year pleading with a class full of Literature students about the inadequacy of unbiblical worldviews as revealed in the modern American literature that we were studying, then watched several of them choose those worldviews anyway. Their families were my friends. I grieved and wondered whether I had failed them, as my mother must have wondered whether she failed my classmates. But then I had the great joy of seeing several of my students repent and return to God several years later. I understood then that it was for me to be faithful in helping them understand truth and lies—but that I could not choose a worldview for them.
Salvation is a grace, a gift–not a guarantee. That is a terrifying thought for parents and teachers, but it should not drive us from the battlefield. Rather, I believe it should lead us to intensify our love, listen more carefully for our Commander’s orders, and wait patiently with hope for what only He can give. Ignorance added to sin does not produce life-giving wisdom. I do not believe that my classmates or my students rejected the Gospel because they were presented with other options. I believe they rejected the Gospel (as I did, up until Christ saved me) because they (and I) wished to do it.
I also believe that the careful worldviews training that I was given, and that I have tried to faithfully give my students, makes it harder, not easier, to exchange the truth about God for a lie. If you are shown the empty falsehood of such a position, how much harder it is to go on worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator! Because of that, I remain deeply grateful for the patient, gracious, balanced, careful, wise, and consistent emphasis that Tapestry of Grace places on the process of understanding and evaluating worldviews. It is an essential element of the curriculum, and I think it is impossible for any Tapestry student to complete the program without being deeply affected by it. Students may reject the Gospel after studying Tapestry, but it will not be because they are ignorant of its power, influence, and truthfulness as compared to all comers.