Showing items filed under “January 2017”

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:

Sight Limits

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“I love the fog,” a friend was saying on a recent morning. He said it reminds us of how little we can really see—until God lifts us up to himself.
    Some researchers are now saying that our non-visual senses (touch, smell, hearing, tasting) have withered on account of the prevalence of artificial light. If you were a retailer of meat or vegetables in a city, say, 200 years ago, you would be at a wholesale market every day long before dawn, obtaining your goods to sell later that day. There was no artificial light to help you (candles would have been far to expensive, and not a lot of good anyway). You would touch and smell the goods on offer and be able, through those other senses, to pick out which products were the best quality.
    We are almost never in the dark anymore, so we don’t know how to use the non-visual senses.
    The Bible carries on an extended polemic against trusting in our sight. Vision is what leads people to turn away from God to the idols. So it starts in Genesis: God creates light on the first day, but he doesn’t create sun and moon until the fourth day. And even then, the text refrains from calling them by those names, “sun” and “moon,” perhaps on account of the pagans worshiping sun and moon as gods. Rather, Genesis demotes them further, not only down to the fourth day, but also calling them merely “the greater light” and “the lesser light.” The message for the careful reader is clear: these “lights” are not divine and are not the most trustworthy things.
    When Samuel is looking over the sons of Jesse, trying to discern which one God wants to be king, Samuel is impressed by their looks. But God tells him that he, God, does not see as man sees; he does not look on the outward appearance, but on what is interior.
    So—clinching the point, in my view—when God reveals himself to the latter prophets, he does so by his Word. “The Word of the Lord came to me,” a prophet may say: it is a word that comes, and thus precisely something that must be listened to.
    Of course, there are visions, such as the famous one of Isaiah 6 from which we get the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy”). God still uses vision to reach us. And we are promised that, someday, the blessed will see him face to face. May we be in their number! And in the meantime, may we learn the lesson of the fog.
    Out & about. “Strange but True Things about God” is my current class at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. This week’s topic is freedom, namely, how God causes our free actions without thereby making them any less free. The class meets at 10:20 a.m. on Sundays in the education building, room 119, through February 5. 
    You may listen to last week’s class here.
    On Tuesday, January 24, I will be speaking at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo, N.Y., on Losing Susan. The event begins at 7 p.m. More info here. 

    And speaking of Losing Susan, the paperback edition is to be released next month.


The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."