Here is a poetic encouragement to patient trust in God that has been soothing my soul since my friend Peter Hough shared it with me a few weeks ago. I can’t help but pass it on:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
The Apostle Paul at his writing desk, by Rembrandt. Image credit: jesuswalk.com
Lately I’ve begun reading commentaries on some of the Apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament as part of my research for a novel I’m writing telling the backstory of Philemon. My aim is to understand Paul better—since he’ll be an important character in the novel—and especially his attitude toward slavery, since that is one of the novel’s key themes.
The first commentary I’m reading is James D.G. Dunn’s commentary on Galatians, since it has the earliest version of Paul’s claim, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28), which seems important to Paul’s attitude toward slavery. (He makes something like this claim in other places too, e.g., 1 Corinthians 12:13, Colossians 3:11).
I’ve understood for some time that Galatians is one salvo in a theological battle over whether gentile Christians need become Jews (by performing the “works of the law” and, for males, becoming circumcised) or whether their faith in Christ is sufficient for justification before God. (Paul, of course, holds the latter position in the letter.) However, in reading Dunn’s commentary what I’ve been surprised by is whom Paul appears to be tussling with in Galatians. Continue reading →
Image credit: “Information is not Wisdom” | Big Think
The book of Proverbs tells us, “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice” (1:20). She cries out that people might heed her teachings and thereby find security and avoid disaster. But, what exactly is wisdom?
I will try to answer that question, here, from the perspective of Thomas Aquinas, one of the great teachers of the church. This is the second in a series of posts about Aquinas’s view of the virtues. If you would like to read from the beginning, last time I started the series with a discussion of the intellectual virtue of understanding.
It will be helpful to start by distinguishing clearly between the ideas of a “means” and an “end.” The “end” of an action is simply the thing that you are going for when you do something—the aim, purpose, or goal for the sake of which you act. The “means” is the thing you do in order to realize the end. The means is often simply the action itself.
Today I begin a series of posts on Thomas Aquinas’s view of the virtues. Most of my focus in this series will be on what are often called the “cardinal” virtues—wisdom (or “prudence”), justice, courage, and temperance—and the “theological” virtues—faith, hope, and love (or “charity”). However, in order for that discussion to make sense, I need to begin with the virtue of understanding.
Understanding is what Aquinas calls an “intellectual” virtue, i.e., an excellent quality of the thinking part of our minds that allows us to think or reason well in a particular sense. As Aquinas puts it, understanding allows us to grasp “self-evident principles both in speculative and in practical matters” (Summa Theologica I-II, Question 58, Article 4). This dense statement needs some unpacking. Continue reading →
If I’m perfectly honest, I want glory. I want my gifts to be reflected far and wide. I want my accomplishments to be honored by many people. I want to be known and praised for doing great things.
These desires have a natural and appropriate root. Human beings are social creatures. Part of what that means is that we want to be acknowledged by others, and being honored for good things we’ve done is an important part of that acknowledgement. If I wash the dishes, it is good and right for my family to thank and perhaps even praise me. If my friend accomplishes something extraordinary, it is good and right to celebrate the accomplishment and shine a light on it for others to see.
The trouble is, despite this honest root, my desire for glory tends to bloom in distorted ways. Continue reading →
Back in 2010 (when I should have been working on my dissertation), I wrote a three-part article on the controversy over Harry Potter in Christian circles for my children’s books blog (which is now effectively defunct, though I’ve left it online here).
My latest piece, “In Defense of Useless Knowledge,” is posted on Medium.com. Choice quote: “If we insist on measuring the value of knowledge by its practical implications alone, we risk discarding not only knowledge with less obvious practical value, but also the rich tradition of useless knowledge…” Check it out and let me know what you think.
At the beginning of last school year my daughter made a friend who has had an especially hard childhood. As the year wore on, she learned and told us more of his story. My wife, both of my daughters, and I all began to feel equal measures of compassion for him in his suffering and anger at the injustice he has experienced. Toward the end of the school year and through the summer we began to connect with him regularly as a family and to help him in various ways. As the new school year starts, this process of connecting and helping is only increasing, to the joy of us all.
Recently, he was at our house to help celebrate my daughter’s birthday. He arrived around noon, after the group had eaten breakfast. He had not eaten anything all day. We asked him what he would like to eat, and began getting out some of the copious leftovers to heat up. His response was that we didn’t “have to” do this for him. This is often his response when we try to help him with something. He says this (at least in part) because he doesn’t want to be a burden to us, which is understandable: none of us wants to be a burden. Continue reading →
I just posted an article at Medium.com, “Running the Country Like a Business.” Choice quote: “CEOs are kings. The U.S. President is not a king. Donald Trump’s present floundering is partly attributable to those facts.” Check it out, and let me know what you think.
As part of the research for my fiction project telling the backstory of Philemon in the New Testament, I recently read I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Originally published in 1934, it is a gripping novel portraying the Roman ruling class from roughly the beginning of the common era to the assassination of Caligula and accession of the emperor Claudius in 41 CE. Although it is a novel, it hews closely to the actual history of the period, as far as I could tell. It has been claimed to be one of the best novels of the 20th Century.
The story is told in the first person by the protagonist, Claudius, who was an outcast of the ruling family as a child and young man because he was born lame and stuttered. In part as a result of his consequent isolation from most of his family, he befriended books and became a scholar and a historian. The novel is cleverly cast as a portion of his autobiography written for distant future generations (us!). As an admirer of the scholarly life, I found the descriptions of Claudius’s relationships with the Roman historians Livy (a mentor to Claudius) and Pollio to be especially clever and interesting.
The novel portrays the tumultuous and often deadly jockeying for power among Rome’s first family and those connected with them in ruling the empire. Continue reading →