In one of the most well-known passages of City of God, Augustine describes the ordo amoris, or order of loves. In his characteristic style of inserting brilliant theological observation within historical description, Augustine exposes the superstructure of his theology. In the midst of classical culture, he identified the central problem of humanity not in externals as the Manichaeans nor ignorance as the Pelagians, but in the fallen human will. More than the intellect alone, Augustine understood that we are pulled—compelled—by love.
I am reading Homer. Each day, I pick up the book and think of a beautiful thing I share with all people who read Homer: time to read Homer.
Several things are needful for a contemplative life, and all of them plague me with guilt. For a quiet place, a quiet mind, and a worthy subject, all three, I am deeply thankful. Of their fragility I am sorely aware.
Matt strode up to me, wearing one earbud in his right ear while the left bud flopped around against his suit vest. “Do I look like a secret service agent?” he inquired, holding up the speaker on the cord of the earbuds to his mouth for effect. Matt asks this question every Sunday before our church service begins, and I delight in it as a constant comfort, akin to knowing that there will always be green bean casserole with fried onions at Thanksgiving dinner.
If we look back at dramatized episodes in the lives of the Greek philosophers, we see they bickered frequently. That is how they brought their ideals to the community’s attention—through stories, parables, and argumentation. In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, a prime example of argumentation, Socrates assaults the ramparts of the practice of rhetoric. Meanwhile, the rhetorician Gorgias and his disciple Polus attempt to keep up a defense of their occupation.
“How are you preparing for Christmas?” asks Mrs. Kim expectantly, holding a microphone from the church’s ancient sound equipment. Even before she reaches the question mark, the front of the sanctuary is peppered with eager little hands. Mrs. Kim begins to pick from among the children, who in various states of euphoria cannot wait to share their thoughts. “Making cookies!” squeals Lydia. “Putting up our tree!” smiles Maya. “Elf on the Shelf,” says Jack, sweeping his pre-preteen hair from his eyes and revealing a cool, but not too cool, smirk.
December is a time of year when teachers (and students) are ready for a break. We have taught for several months and, after grading exams, need to recharge. Discouragement fostered by fatigue could easily set in if not for the hope of Christmas and the anticipation of communing with family and friends.
But what about all those other times of the year when you give everything you have to teaching and it seems like little good comes from it? At those points we need someone to come alongside us and offer encouragement. That’s where Augustine of Hippo comes in.
When each of us were young, our mothers and/or caretakers instinctively amplified the musical qualities inherent within our native languages. Infants are surrounded by an entirely foreign, complex system of communication. They exist in a state of wonder and we draw on and interact with that state by engaging them with musically creative speech. We exaggerate the natural melody of our speech, and use rhythmic patterns, repetition, simple forms, and catchy tones of voice to increase their interest, comprehension, and connection.
Why do we love a ghost story at Christmas? How does the ghost story speak to the eternity in our hearts? Out on the Mira, perhaps, around a bonfire, there we expect the “witches and werewolves and Oak Island gold.” But why now, as we celebrate starlight and the birth of a baby?
“Handel is the greatest composer that ever lived . . . I would uncover my head and kneel down on his tomb.” —Beethoven quoted by Edward Schulz, "A Day with Beethoven,” The Harmonicum (1824).
I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I own and wear Christmas Pants, and I think you should too. My understanding of how to celebrate the Christmas season has changed recently, and I’ve had to rethink how I comport myself and how I manage my classroom in December. Do you own a pair of Christmas Pants?