Blogging the Confessions: Friends

Confessions II.iii(8) - II.x(18)

This lengthy portion of book II of Augustine's Confessions covers much information. Any number of these sections of book II could be made into one longer essay. However, I have noticed an overarching theme here: friends. It is here, also, that we encounter the great pear controversy of Augustine's young life. Telling the story of a time when he and his friends went out into the night with the sole intention of causing trouble. They came across a pear tree and stole many of the pears. He writes that "I picked solely with the motive of stealing" (Chadwick, ed. 31) and "my feasting was only the wickedness which I took pleasure in enjoying" (31). He further elaborates that, were he alone, he would not have committed such a crime. Rather, his "love in that act was to be associated with the gang in whose company [he] did it" (33). He ends book II with a comment that "friendship can be a dangerous enemy, a seduction of the mind lying beyond the reach of investigation" (35).

Augustine is anything but shy to admit the depth of his own depravity and his love for sin the natural state. But, he gives us a keen insight into the nature of something further: the influence of community. The power of friendship is a profound power indeed. Those whom we allow into the more intimate places of our lives can exert great influence upon us. They can be a strong power for ill and for good. Augustine experience the pull of sinful companions. He did not pull them up, but they pulled him downward. I believe we all sense the pressure in being the "odd man out" in social circles. We must heed the confessions of Augustine and seek those companions who desire godliness and holiness. We ought to pray that we would not bring others down into folly and sin, but be brought up by others who seek his face.

May God be gracious to us all and provide godly men and women to pull us up and who are grounded firmly not to be pulled down.

Blogging the Confessions: Parents

Confessions II.iii(5) - II.iii(7)

In ancient Rome there was no such concept as public education. Either your parents possessed the financial means to fund an education or they didn't. Because of this usually only the wealthy could afford an education. This explains why such a vast majority of populations until the modern age were illiterate. Augustine's parents were not aristocrats. They were of humble means. It was because of this at age 16 Augustine did not continue his education. Apparently, Patrick (Augustine's father) was saving money to afford his education. Yet, he still spent beyond his means. It seems that many in their community highly regarded Patrick for his sacrifice. Augustine writes

"At that time everybody was full of praise for my father because he spent money on his son beyond the means of his estate, when that was necessary to finance an education entailing a long journey. Many citizens of far greater wealth did nothing of the kind for their children. But this same father did not care what character before you I was developing, or how chaste I was so long as I possessed a cultured tongue - though my culture really meant a desert uncultivated by you, God. You are the one true and good lord of you land, which is my heart" (Chadwick, ed.26).

Patrick's only concern was the praise of his neighbors and the education of his son. He had little concern for his internal character. Just the next paragraph we see that Patrick became aware of his "virility" at the local bath house and celebrated this by becoming drunk (27). Patrick had all the wrong priorities. He had no concern for the type of man Augustine was becoming, only as long as he was educated. Patrick could care less about the sexual immorality Augustine was walking into, as long as he provided Patrick with grandchildren. Augustine says that "he was drunk with the invisible wine of his perverse will directed downwards to inferior things" (27). Though he was a catechumen (a new entrant into the church - he had yet to be confirmed as a believer and welcomed into full fellowship in the church), he failed to raise Augustine as he should.

Augustine's mother seems to have expressed some concern, but it fell on deaf ears. He describes it as "womanish advice" (27) to his young, arrogant heart. Her words are still the words of a mother with a godly concern. He recognizes the admonishment of his mother was also the words of God. He writes, "they were your warnings and I did not realize it. I believed you were silent, and that it was only she who was speaking, when you were speaking to me through her" (27). The importance of godly parents cannot be understated. Augustine saw that when he penned this work. It is something that we must see today as well. It seems that part of God's plan in regenerating and sanctifying his children includes parents. It is fortunate for Augustine that he had a godly mother. Yet, it is equally sad that he had such a foolish and ignorant father. Were Patrick a wiser, more God fearing man, maybe some of Augustine's sinfulness could have been avoided. As Augustine needed in his day, so we still need godly men who raise children rightly and in the fear of the Lord. God will move their hearts in the day of his choosing. But the proverb of Solomon still holds true: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6).

With an impending marriage and the thoughts of future children I pray regularly that I would not succumb to the patterns of men today. I pray that I raise the children God grants Whitney and I in a way that glorifies the Father and keeps them on the path of righteousness. That is a prayer that all men ought to pray. Without the intervention of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we all shall fail as Patrick failed.

Blogging the Confessions: Adolesence

Confessions II.i(1) - II.ii(4)

Puberty is a confusing and hectic time in an adolescent's life. I was no different and Augustine was no different. Growth spurts, the influx of hormones, an acute awareness of the opposite sex creates a trifecta of confusion. To make matters worse, the power of indwelling sin makes this time more than a confusing time. Usually, in the present day, most men and women begin an "exploration" of sexuality. Surveys are showing that young boys are exposed to pornography at an earlier age. I believe that it is now averaging at age 12. Additionally, more and more women are developing addictions to pornography. Sexual sin is a pandemic in our culture as it has been in every culture.

Considering his days of adolescence Augustine writes, "the bubbling impulses of puberty befogged and obscured my heart so that it could not see the difference between love's serenity and lust's darkness" (Chadwick, ed. 24). I like the imagery Augustine uses in this section. Explaining lust as a "bubbling impulse" and "fog". I picture a simmering pot that quickly becomes a rolling boil. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus teaches us that adultery begins with the lust of the heart. It is an inward, bubbling passion. Notice, that it also brings confusion. Not only does it slowly take dominion over the person, but it brings confusion with it. To this day men and women confuse lust for love. Sexual promiscuity is often termed "making love". The modern man cannot understand a romantic relationship devoid of sexual passion.

Augustine writes further that "sensual folly assumed domination over me, and I gave myself totally to it in acts allowed by shameful humanity but under your laws illicit" (26). The bubblings and confusion quickly lead to a domination. It is no surprise that sexual sin is always followed by addiction. The two go hand in hand. Where there is sexual sin there is addiction. Any man or woman who has experienced sexual assault or been inprisoned by sexual addiction or perversion can attest to the overwhelming feeling of domination. Sexual addiction and sin is a ruthless slave master keeping men and women under his destruction thumb. He tears apart families, destroys careers; destruction follows in his wake. Only by the power of God - the same power that raised Christ from the dead - can a man or woman be set free from such an addiction. Only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit can a man or woman stand up under temptation. The gospel is the only remedy and the single hope of anyone in the chains of sexual addiction and bondage.

Let Christ redeem your sin. The grace of Christ is greater that the depth of our sin. The power of God can restore a fractured and broken sexuality. Look to the cross and the empty tomb, plead with him in prayer and endeavor to fight sin by the power of God.

On Christian Jargon

I have a pair of Levi’s that I wear everyday. I bought those Levi’s at a Kohl’s in Louisville, Kentucky over three years ago. They have seen me through job changes, childbirth, cross-country moves, weight loss (and gain). They are comfortable. To me, there are few things as comforting as an old pair of jeans. They have been stretched and worn in all the right places. Even after going through the wash, they sit just right on the hips and conform to every curve. Unless I am forced to wear a different pair, I will wear the same jeans every day. Only after they have become too dirty will I switch them out.  

That may be too much information. But, I’m not ashamed of my favorite jeans.

...And I shower everyday. So, it’s no big deal.

I had to shelve those jeans a few weeks ago. Month after month of daily wear is starting to show (and threadbare denim starts to show other things). Like those threadbare Levi's we Evangelicals have our favorite words. We drop them as often as possible. They are comfortable. They still seem to fit just right. Having lived in four different states over the last ten years I can attest that Evangelical jargon is the same in the Midwest as it is in the South.

It’s never been more popular to talk about "brokenness”. This one is relatively new to the jargon scene. For most of my young life our go-to words were “community” or “transparency”. We all became masters at dropping them into any and all conversation. If we were looking for a good group of friends we would say, “I just really need to find some community”. Or, if you found a new group and were on the fence you might offer the critique that, “they’re just not very transparent.”

And we would all nod in knowing agreement. If we gave any sympathy we might even offer to pray, “that you would really just find some transparent community.”

Mm. Yes and Amen.

Here’s my problem with comfortable words: they’re weak.

When “brokenness” first started being used it was a powerful word. It cut through the bloated “community” and turned “transparency” on its head. “Brokenness” forced us to see that our community had become anemic - more like Cheers than the twelve. But “community” had not discipled anyone in over a decade. “Brokenness” (and his brother, “Broken”) revealed that our “transparency” was only opaque, at best. Having not seen a naked soul in a generation we were exposed to our own inability to handle those fragile creatures.

I fear “brokenness" will soon find its place next to my old Levi's. It used to be valuable, powerful, fresh.

It is becoming threadbare and weak. And so young too.

“Brokenness” is becoming weak because few know what it really means. We may know exactly when and how to use it. But, I have met very few men and women who can name their brokenness. You see these words still have power but only when they are used by those who know them. These words are not tools to be used. They are not passwords into the Christian club.

They are old friends.

“Community” is powerful because it is freighted with faces and names; people who know the best and worst of me. Yet, they love us all the same. I think of specific friends and particular moments. One time Whitney and I were having a “disagreement” (let the reader understand) outside of our small group’s house. Others were showing up and walking by our car as we “discussed." My friend came out to ask if we were okay. I snapped. It was harsh and I knew it. He went back in and the whole group waited for us.

With every last ounce of determination we walked in not five minutes later. I apologized to my friend and he said, “Don’t worry about it. We had our own “disagreement” earlier today.” No one treated us any differently.

No whispers.
No knowing glances.
No, “I’ll pray for your marriage” leg taps.

They were just happy to see us.

“Transparency” moves us only when we remember all those times we bared our fragile souls and found them welcomed with gentle hands. Few know how to hold a naked soul. You can’t squeeze it, force it, command it, order it, quote Scripture to it. It must be held with all the strength and gentility of a parent with their newborn child.  

Having held many newborns, I thought I was an expert.

Then I held my son for the first time.

I obsessed over my every finger. “Don’t grip too tight” I repeated. “Hold his head up with your fingers and his back with your palm.” “Don’t let his legs hang.” “Keep him close to your chest,” I told myself, “but not too close. Don’t squish him."

Two years later I know exactly how to hold my boy. He is much stronger and much bigger than those early days. He squirms and fights. We wrestle. He climbs on furniture and jumps into my arms. He knows that I will catch him.

He knows that he can trust me.

He is bigger, stronger, and more brave today because I knew how to hold him then.

You don’t hold a newborn like a toddler.
And you don’t expect a newborn to wrestle and jump like a two-year old.

Don’t ask the naked soul to stand on its own two feet.
Push it too hard and it may never walk on its own.

“Brokenness” only has strength as we learn to trace the cracks in our soul. Those who use it without any hint of pretense are those who can free-hand their soul’s canyons. They can name what makes them broken. Using it casually robs it of its power.

The prophet Hosea describes brokenness also. In 6:1-3 envisions what a repentant Israel would say as they left their sin to return to God. "He has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him." These prophets show us that brokenness is not the natural state of the human soul. Naturally, we are far worse off. The Bible often speaks of human rebellion as being "stiff-necked" (Ex 32:9). It is a picture of our full-bodied resistance to bending towards the Lord. Repentance is the only thing strong enough to break a stiff neck.

Brokenness comes after repentance.

The broken soul is not the one that merely sins. The soul that is broken knows what it's sins are. And hates them. (Rom 7:15).

It took me a long time to learn how to trace the cracks in my soul. Still today it can be difficult to name them precisely. But the more the Spirit shows me about the state of my own soul (Ps 139:23-24) the more I experience his grace at work in my life. The more I see and name sin and its effects the more his Spirit brings life. Repentance requires us to see our sin in all its ugly. Because we can't repent of what we refuse to see.

As a preacher I have to weigh every word. James warns me. “You know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). On the day of judgement I will have to answer for every careless, thoughtless, self-righteous, evil word I have spoken (Matthew 12:36).

God the Father spoke and brought our souls to life. We speak and burn them to the ground (James 3:6).

Jesus was the Word eternally spoken by the Father. He put flesh and blood to every word the Father uttered. All that the Father is, Jesus embodies. “For I have not spoken on my own authority,” Jesus said, “but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment - what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49). We speak as Jesus instructs us - which is to speak as the Father speaks.

Psalm 19 tells us that the Father's words revive.
They make us wise.
They fill us with joy.
They enlighten and endure forever.
They are more desirable than gold,
sweeter than honey,
and grant great reward. 

Jesus spoke hard words too. He told the crowd whose bellies he had miraculously filled only moments before: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54). His own disciples recognize this is a hard teaching (6:60) He tells them “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (6:63). Some leave Jesus on the spot.

They want veneers not resurrection.

Turning to the twelve he asks, “Do you want to leave also?” Peter utters these famous words: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life” (6:68).

This is what Paul has in mind when he tells us to "let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph 4:29). Speak words that bring life. Resurrection.

Paul's command against "corrupting talk" has far less to do with not saying "hell", "damn", or even (dare I type it) "shit". This verse is right in the middle of Paul's practical teaching. He tells us to tell the truth; don't let your anger lead you into sin; do honest work, not stealing from each other. Immediately after we're told: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander but put away from you, along with all malice." While we're at it, he tells us to be kind, tender, and forgiving.

Corrupting talk puts our brothers and sisters back into the grave.
Speaking words of life means we speak as Jesus spoke, which is to say, words of resurrection.

The trouble is that we, like the crowds, want full bellies. We want veneers, not resurrection. As a professor of my wife's used to say, "People don't want to get better, they just want to feel better." Christian jargon has a way of making us feel better, but it is drained of any power to help us actually get better. This is why I struggle with "community" and "transparency" and "brokenness". I have no personal beef with those collection of letters. They're great. But when they become tools to preserve an anemic piety - ones that makes us feel better but not get better - then I have a problem.

These words can be whitewash or scalpels. A fresh coat of paint can sure make things look pretty. But a scalpel can save my life.

So, let's not use these words casually. Let's not wear them out like my threadbare Levi's - only to be shelved and replaced. Let's fill these words in with names and faces.

Let's truly be broken. Which is to say, let's eagerly anticipate resurrection.

Reflections on Cecil and Planned Parenthood

One of my favorite places in Chicago is the cat house at the Lincoln Park zoo. Unlike most zoos that keep their big game behind 20 foot tall plexiglass walls, this one only had thick, steel bars. On one particular day Whitney and I were there during the day with every other elementary school in the city. Along with the children we had gathered in front of the lion pen when we saw it stirring from his nap. His thick mane hung like a golden robe as he stood to his full height. I met his eyes and fear crawled up my spine. He was beautiful and terrifying. Only a second after I noticed his chest expanding did I feel the force of his deep-throated roar pressing me back and the heat of his growl causing me to turn my face. All the children promptly ran as the cat house filled with their screams. For some reason, I stepped closer. And so did the lion. He roared again. Pressed back, my ears rang. He would give one more roar, louder than all the others. The echo rang throughout the cat house. All the other cats ran for shelter.

I understood then why he was called the King.

I understand that without those bars I was a dead man because I dared to stare down the King.

I also understood why the Bible used this animal as an image of awe-inspiring power and terrifying beauty.

When I Cried for A Baby I Didn't Know

I can still remember the night I laid my head on my wife’s stomach. It had only been a few weeks since we confirmed our pregnancy. Noah had not yet formed the hands I love to hold. His piercing blue eyes were not open yet. The mouth he uses to yell “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” at the top of his lungs was not yet fully developed. And I loved him.

My heart began to break as I thought of all the young mothers who felt helpless and hopeless believing that abortion was their only answer. I thought of all the blue, green, and browns eyes that would never sparkle, or the little hands that would never hold their mommy’s.

I almost wept.

Zimbabwe Doesn't Weep for Lions

With the fifth undercover video of Planned Parenthood released words continue to fail me. I was heartbroken (though not surprised) when the Senate vote to defund Planned Parenthood fell a few short. Around this same time the controversy over Cecil the Lion blew up. The man who hunted the lion has had to hire a security firm. PETA is calling for him to be hanged

Then I read this article from a Zimbabwe national. He has lived in the United States for the last five years while working on a Ph.D. in bioscience at Wake Forest. For him, the killing of a lion was a source of relief. He grew up in a world that lived in constant fear of a lion attack. His own uncle barely escaped a close encounter with a leg wound. Another young boy he knew was mauled to death in the night. He could not sympathize with a late night talk show host who cried over Cecil. “Maybe he confused him with Simba,” Mr. Nzou asks. Not to be accused of indifference towards animals, Nzou says:

Don’t misunderstand me: For Zimbabweans, wild animals have near-mystical significance. We belong to clans, and each clan claims an animal totem as its mythological ancestor. Mine is Nzou, elephant, and by tradition, I can’t eat elephant meat; it would be akin to eating a relative’s flesh. But our respect for these animals has never kept us from hunting them or allowing them to be hunted. (I’m familiar with dangerous animals; I lost my right leg to a snakebite when I was 11.)

In other words, Nzou has come from a world where animals are valued and treated with an ancient, sacred respect. Yet, they understand that human life is more sacred and valuable than that of any big game. Even Cecil. If we too lived in a world where lions could eat our children, rather than the one in which we currently live - where we excitedly press our young ones faces against the glass of lion’s pens at local zoos - then we too would dance in the street at their death.

Where Nzou wrestles with our cultural gaps, I couldn’t help but notice the gut wrenching irony of it all: we weep over lions and celebrate holocaust.

A Kingdom Toppled by A Baby

In the book of Revelation John tells an ancient tale. An enigmatic woman is introduced in 12:1 as “a great sign in heaven". She is described as “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” John also says “She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth” (12:2). A dragon appears and, likewise, is “a sign…in heaven”. He “stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it” (12:4). This ancient story speaks of a great, evil dragon seeking to destroy God and his people.

John immediately tells this ancient story again. This time the drums of war began to beat in heaven with “Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back” (Rev 12:7). The dragon was defeated and cast out of heaven. Lest there be any confusion, John identifies the dragon as “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9). Seeing he had been removed from his position in heaven and condemned to earth, “he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child” (12:13). 

What is so fascinating about Revelation is that it is overflowing with imagery and allusions. The description of the woman in 12:1 is reminiscent of Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9 describing all Israel. Hosea 11:1 calls the nation of Israel God’s son. Matthew will quote this same chapter in 2:15 in reference to Jesus. This image of the woman also creates connection to particular women through the Bible who have given birth to promised sons: Sarah, Hannah, Mary. Even these women are echoes and allusions to the first women, Eve. In the midst of the curse God speaks of “the seed of the woman”. This seed will be attacked by the serpent. And the serpent will find his head crushed by the seed, destroyed forever.  Paul, with all of these connections, themes, allusions, and echoes in mind, says in Galatians 4:4, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of a woman…"

It is no surprise, then, that we see Satan pursuing this woman and attempting to destroy her son. God’s people have seen this story play out many times in history. Already crushed under the weight of slavery, Pharaoh orders “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22). Centuries later another fearful King goes on a murderous rampage killing “all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matthew 2:16). The dragon, it seems, has a particular hatred for babies, especially sons. That’s because he knows that all it will take to destroy him forever is the birth of a little boy.

The roaring lion, that murderous serpent, is also called the “god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4). And he has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers”. Those who do not know the one who binds up dragons and declaws lions suffer from the worst sort of Stockholm Syndrome. In protesting the death of lions and celebrating the sale of unborn organs, they believe they are doing the greatest good. But they do no see that they are advancing the kingdom of darkness, ushering in the reign of death. After the events of Revelation 12 we’re told that the serpent calls up two other terrifying beasts. He gives them all kinds of dark power and authority to rage against God and his people. And that is exactly what they do.

Until a lamb conquers lions. 

Until a baby tramples kings.

Pulling Back the Veil

So, what do these beasts and dragons have to do with Cecil and Planned Parenthood?


More than a timeline of future events, Revelation describes for us the nature of our current world. From the day of Jesus’ ascension until his second coming, this book paints a picture of the spiritual reality behind human events. When I hear about Planned Parenthood profiting on the sale of body parts from aborted children I picture the ancient dragon standing in front of that woman trying to devour her child. When there is rioting in the streets over a killed lion, while PETA calls for a man’s execution and talk show hosts weep, I picture that first beast called up by the dragon and given authority to call evil good and good evil.

It also tells me that unless the true king comes - that dragon binding, lion-taming king - to deliver our neighbors from the domain of darkness and transfer them to his kingdom (Colossians 1:13), then there is little we can do to open their eyes. I know that Satan holds a particular hatred for infants and the unborn because his kingdom was toppled by a baby in a manger. 

It tells me that one day everything sad will become untrue. 

Until that day we conquer evil “by the blood of the lamb and the word of his testimony” (Rev 12:11). We see the abortion industry torn down brick by brick as we pray. We will overcome the baby-eating serpent as we love and serve those young mothers in crisis. We conquer the accuser as we open our homes, our checking accounts, our churches, and our lives to those preyed upon by Planned Parenthood.

The day I stared down a lion I knew I was a dead man. 

Except the lion was caged.

He was powerful, intimidating, and terrifyingly beautiful. The lion could rage all he liked and he would remain caged.

The serpent can rage all he likes, but his time is still short.

Blogging the Confessions: Pleasure

Confessions 1.xvii(27) - 1.xx(31)

Augustine, in Confessions, could never be accused of making little of his sin. The entire work is filled with confessions, hence the title. However, he does also acknowledge the influence of the pagan myths upon his young mind and life. In 1.xviii(28) he writes, "when one considers the men proposed to me as models for my imitation, it is no wonder that in this way I was swept along by vanities and travelled right away from you, my God" (Chadwick, ed. 20). I do see that this is consistent with the Biblical witness. We are fully culpable, or blameworthy, for the sins committed by our own hands and we are certainly not victims, even the youngest of children. Sin comes, as James 1:14-15 informs us, when our own sinful desires "lure and entice" us. He then states clearly, "then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin". The "vanities" proposed to Augustine as a means to educate him in the things of Latin and other disciplines had proved to me a means of stirring up his own desires which then gave birth to sin.

Near the end of Book 1 he makes a statement that gets to the heart of the nature of sin: "My sin consisted in this, that I sought pleasure, sublimity and truth not in God, but in his creatures, myself and other created beings" (22-23). Just one sentence later he states that God is his "source of sweet delight" (23). I believe that this is the heart of sin and holiness. Sin is not the presence of pleasure but it is the misplacement of pleasure. Pleasure in good things in the proper way is the generous gift of God. Physical pleasure in marriage, for example, creates unity and intimacy and, further, ought to underscore the joy in conception and child-rearing. We must be wary of thinking that views the created order and its pleasures as vices. Many evangelicals (as well as Roman Catholics and E. Orthodox) are guilty of this mindset. The Biblical witness maintains that the created order was made very good. The concept of physical as evil and spiritual as good comes from the Gnostic heresy of the 1st and 2nd centuries. The very issue, I believe, the apostle John was combating in 1 John.

So, Where comes sin? my own sinful nature and desires stirring itself up. Where comes holiness? In loving, appraising, worship and seeing God as the source of all pleasure and the means through which we experience physical pleasures in this life, in their proper measure and means.

End of Book 1.

Blogging the Confessions: Education

Confessions 1.xiii(22) - 1.xvi(26)

I found this section of book one in Augustine's confessions to be particularly interesting. He speaks of the education that he received as a young boy. Looking back he realizes that he was taught the myths and stories of the Greeks and Romans as a means of teaching him to read and write. However, he explains that his main concern as a boy was not the development of a skill set but a fascination with the tales. But now, he laments his fascination, "Obviously I much prefer to forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all that stuff than to write and read" (Chadwick, ed. 16). Augustine sees the immense value of an education but expresses a distaste for the means.

The reason he loves the message but decries the means is "the words actually encourage the more confident committing of a disgraceful action. I bring no charge against the words which are like exquisite and precious vessels, but the wine of error is poured into them for us by drunken teachers. If we failed to drink, we were caned and could not appeal to any sober judge" (19). The words themselves are a wonderful testimony to the power and wonder of language. Unfortunately, the words contain a poison to the soul and conscience that weaken resolve and make immorality appear appropriate. To make matters worse, he was unable to plead to any court an excused absence from these studies. His only end is the cane.

The reason I found this section to be so intriguing is that it causes educators to be discerning in the means of their pedagogy. Certainly, this discernment has led to the rise of Christian schools. Uncritical dissemination of information through any means can lead to an unwise life - educated though they may be. Teaching the appreciation of literature through unnecessarily immoral works without the grid of a sound theological system will only fill the minds of students with folly. This provides my new position as a Pastor of Education with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. I am not only teaching people the content of Scripture. I am teaching them to think biblically, understanding the world through a sound theological grid and that, in turn, will give them a foundation for understanding and assimilating the skills they use everyday.

The knowledge of God's Word is the greatest achievement and highest calling of any student, teacher, pastor and parishioner.

Blogging the Confessions: Boyhood

Confessions Book 1.viii(13) - 1.xiii(20)

During his boyhood Augustine was like most other children. His interest lay in games, not in school. Unfortunately, for a boy with Augustine's interests, the educators of his day were given license to use whatever means necessary to maintain order and focus. This usually meant corporal punishment. Near the close of this section he discerns "the root of this aversion must simply have been sin and the vanity of life" (Chadwick, ed. 15). Though the days of his youth were spent in (as we would see it) relative innocence, Augustine knows that the real problem is his own sinfulness and "the vanity of life". He hated study and loved entertainment because he was moved by his sinful passions.

In 2 Timothy 2 and 3 Paul describes the nature of godlessness. He includes, in his list, many things that we would accept without question as acts of godlessness. Yet, he also includes many things that are characteristic of young children; they are disobedient, without self-control, lovers of pleasure. Sin manifests itself even in the youngest of children. Augustine was no different. His sin was great.

As yesterday, today I think of the infant Jesus. In his infancy and his boyhood, he committed no sin. Much of the precocious things of children that go without punishment are sin. Yet, Jesus was free of guilt in even the behaviors of "normal" children. Augustine's experience is our experience and his need of a savior is our need. Considered a saint, though he is, his path to sainthood is the very well-trod path that I and others walk today. It is the path paved with the blood of Christ. That same path which carries us to the cross, through the empty tomb and down the sweet, easy road to glory.

Religion and Republic

Confessions Book 1.viii(13) - 1.xiii(20)

During his boyhood Augustine was like most other children. His interest lay in games, not in school. Unfortunately, for a boy with Augustine's interests, the educators of his day were given license to use whatever means necessary to maintain order and focus. This usually meant corporal punishment. Near the close of this section he discerns "the root of this aversion must simply have been sin and the vanity of life" (Chadwick, ed. 15). Though the days of his youth were spent in (as we would see it) relative innocence, Augustine knows that the real problem is his own sinfulness and "the vanity of life". He hated study and loved entertainment because he was moved by his sinful passions.

In 2 Timothy 2 and 3 Paul describes the nature of godlessness. He includes, in his list, many things that we would accept without question as acts of godlessness. Yet, he also includes many things that are characteristic of young children; they are disobedient, without self-control, lovers of pleasure. Sin manifests itself even in the youngest of children. Augustine was no different. His sin was great.

As yesterday, today I think of the infant Jesus. In his infancy and his boyhood, he committed no sin. Much of the precocious things of children that go without punishment are sin. Yet, Jesus was free of guilt in even the behaviors of "normal" children. Augustine's experience is our experience and his need of a savior is our need. Considered a saint, though he is, his path to sainthood is the very well-trod path that I and others walk today. It is the path paved with the blood of Christ. That same path which carries us to the cross, through the empty tomb and down the sweet, easy road to glory.

Blogging the Confessions: Original Sin

Confessions - 1.vii.(12)

Augustine continues the opening of his Confessions by reminiscing about his infancy. He states in 1.vii.(12), "this period of my life [infancy], Lord, I do not remember having lived, but I have believed what others have told me and have assumed how I behaved from observing other infants" (Chadwick, ed. 10). Augustine spent some time in his life observing the behavior of infants. He sees the power of sin present even in these little ones. Quoting Job 14:4-5 and Ps 50:7 he is not ashamed to preach, teach and believe the sinfulness of humanity from conception. Original sin, as it's known, is the doctrine that teaches that all mankind fell into sin in Adam. Therefore, every one of his progeny are conceived, born and live in the depths of depravity. Augustine sees the jealousy in an infants eyes having to share his mother's breast.

And, though Augustine does not remember his own days of infancy, he knows that the Lord does. At first the break from speaking of children to speaking about the Lord may cause confusion. But, Augustine knows what he is doing. He does not remember the wickedness of his infancy, but the Lord does. Augustine did not see the evil in his heart, but the Lord did. Rhetorically, he asks the Lord, "How many of our days and days of our fathers have passed during your Today, and have derived from it the measure and condition of their existence?" (8). Difficult, though it may seem, to see the sin of a newborn over the joy of a new life, yet it is present; and our condition has not escaped the eyes of God.

These next thoughts are my own, but I find great comfort in reflecting upon the incarnation of Jesus. He did not descend from the clouds as the ascended. He entered the virgin womb of Mary, grew in her womb as any one of us, was born and grew - yet, was without sin. He was full of holiness in his conception, his birth, his infancy, his childhood and each day to the cross. He has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. In his adulthood, he can identify with our temptations and sufferings and, even more, he can identify with us in our infancy. We truly do have a great high priest who knows our weaknesses and intercedes on our behalf. Our God is a God who sees, but he is also a God who knows.