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    One of my favorite walks these days is to get on the Katy Trail—that abandoned train line that runs for 3.5 miles up from the center of Dallas—and meditate on the morning’s scripture readings. Back in New York, there was a rock outcropping in Central Park that drew me to the same end. As the sky turns from black to grey to blue-pink to dull yellow (all those shades of color for which I wish I knew the names!), one’s heart turns from self-absorption to wonder, from many concerns to thanks to praise.

    The birds beat me to it—the praise, I mean. Every morn they are out there greeting the newness and glorifying the one who makes it, the “re-creation of the new day.”
    No matter how early I get out there, others are ahead of me. But there was one day, Saturday, December 31, when I found myself completely alone. I walked at least a mile, and saw no one. It was dark still, maybe 6 o’clock.
    “Where is everybody?” The mind turns over the possibilities, as the heart probes its secret dreads. Could it be that God has taken away all the others, and that I have been left alone?
    Rapture theology is bogus, of course. N. T. Wright has demonstrated that being caught into the air in order to greet the Lord when he returns means that our Lord will not have to enter our city alone: his people will come out to greet him, and bring him in. So we need to hold 1 Thessalonians together with the final chapters of Revelation: that heaven comes down to earth, in the end, and that there is a marriage of the two. 
    We don’t escape the world, ever. The world gets transformed by God, as his will gets done on earth as in heaven.
    So the theology is bogus, but this theologian’s heart knew its worry. Of a certainty, no one (else) is on the Katy Trail this early morning because everyone else, now sleeping in, will be up until midnight, bringing in the new year. Yes, but the heart still needs its assurances. “You won’t forget me, will you? You won’t go off without me? I can come and stay with you, right? Or, you’ll come back and stay here, right?”
    The heart wants to know if it’s true: He will come again to judge the quick and the dead. And his kingdom will perdure without end.
    Just then, as if in answer, as I turned back to home, I saw someone else on the trail.
Out & about. This Sunday, February 5, is my final class session on “Strange but True Things about God.” The topic this week is prayer. What sense can it make to be talking to the creator? Harry Potter cannot talk to J. K. Rowling! And more, what sense is there in making requests to the author of all things? And so forth. The class is in room 119 of the education building at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. It runs from 10:20 to 11:05.
    Recordings of previous class sessions are eventually posted on this page: https://incarnation.org/class-recordings/
    On Sunday, February 12, I will be at Church of the Holy Cross, 4052 Herschel Ave., Dallas. I will speak about “Losing Susan” at 9:30, and preach at 10:30.

Cicero on Friendship

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Here I was, sixty years old, and I had never read Cicero’s “On Friendship.” I mentioned this lack to my children and they expressed surprise; it was a text they had each read in college. So, rather than just reading the thing alone, I got some of my friends to agree to read this text and then we would all meet for dinner to discuss it. Which we did.
    We had found it beautiful. Cicero describes friendship as the one good thing in life that no one would willingly do without. “Many disdain riches, because they are content with little and take delight in meagre fare and plain dress; political honours, too, for which some have a burning desire. . . . Likewise other things, which seem to some to be worthy of admiration, are by many thought to be of no value at all. But concerning friendship, all, to a man, think the same thing: those who have devoted themselves to public life; those who find their joy in science and philosophy; those who manage their own business free from public cares; and, finally, those who are wholly given up to sensual pleasures—all believe that without friendship life is no life at all.”
    Cicero says that even a vicious, angry person wants someone else to tell about those things that stir up those passions in him. And even if someone were to “ascend alone into heaven and behold clearly the structure of the universe and the beauty of the stars, there would be no pleasure for him in the awe-inspiring sight.” There would be pleasure, indeed he would be filled with delight at what he saw, if and only if he had a friend, “someone to whom he could describe what he had seen.”
    “Without friendship life is no life at all.” But what is friendship? Here our conversation lifted itself up from Cicero and started being about ourselves. We talked about different experiences with friends, about friendships that had broken off, about the difficulties of having friends and being married (or having friends and not being married). There were copies of Cicero’s little dialogue all around the table, a discussion of friendship from the time of ancient Rome; and there were friends all around the table, themselves discussing friendship in our world today.
    I have no neat conclusions. But I have one certainty. And it is that there is nothing more important to human life than friendship. And I have one clue to that friendship. On the night before he died, Jesus told his disciples that they were no longer his servants or students or followers. They were, instead, his friends.
Out & about.
 This week my Sunday class, “Strange but True Things about God,” will be on evil. If God is the creative source of everything that is, and if indeed God is the cause of my free actions, it would seem we must say that God is the cause and source of evil in the world. I will argue against that conclusion and try to show how evil, although a mystery, is not something that God could be the cause of. You’re welcome to join me at 10:20 a.m. in Room 119 of the education building at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas.
    My talk from last week, on freedom and grace, is here:https://www.amazon.com/clouddrive/share/GOZs8sjp9n4hXrKjVkj9cXh6NqIDJD9K2QSEqDXhool?_encoding=UTF8&mgh=1&ref_=cd_ph_share_link_copy

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The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: