Gain the World but Lose my Soul?

I have realized that too often lately I turn the radio to a major hit station like i93 or iheart radio, or on Spotify my first choice is to listen to songs that please me in the now. Artists such as Lana Del Ray, Sam Smith, Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, and numbers of others, all fill my head with their catchy beats and well-written lyrics that capture a mood, emotion, or sentiment. The artist in me responds to the soul in these songs which makes it to the top charts. I have begun to tend towards the view that “Christian” music, movies, and fiction is inferior to the success, glamor, and power of pop culture media. What I am missing is the promise that dwells at the very core of what I label as Christian–the potential striving of a musician, an artist, a writer, who strives to bring light to the world. My generalization, haughty and rather patronizing of the church, I must admit, is one of the most damaging mindsets existent today. Even as I strive to seek the Lord, I am pulled towards the world and its wondrous beauty, its profound talent. Why?

I could give you the cliche, basic answer that Christians who have grown up in the church could give you: “the world wants to pull us in”. And as cliche as that sounds, it’s true. Yeah, you reading this might just chuckle and roll your eyes because I am trying to sound like such a philosopher, mechanically repeating an exhausted caveat of the Church. I am saying it because it is true for those who wish to seek God. DC talk defines the walk with Christ as “the narrow path which you [Christ] have carved”. Why do Christians strive to reach out via music, film, and fiction, making their own genre (Christian film, music, and especially the Amish-dominated Christian fiction)? Because we are called. Why would we want to just sit back and stay safe within the walls of our churches? Why would we want to be merely content with a musical follower of Christ who sings his original songs on the church stage, instead of using a recording studio and extensive radio network to expose his God-inspired songs?

Why would we want to simply blog and pass around books written by a literary Christian? Why not go ahead and strive to publish at a major publishing house?

When I ignore or scoff at Christian media I am in a sense turning to the world as my source of entertainment, fulfillment, and sensory thrills. I am essentially stepping away a wonderful passion and potential that rests in artists who want to honor God with their talents. Why should I have to settle for the talent of pop culture royalty? Sure, they sound good. They look good. They make good stuff. But that shouldn’t be a reason to settle for them, and let them dominate America. Because even that which creates the most delightful feelings in us does not automatically make the catchy song of “La La La” or “Stay the Night” right.

What I’m trying to say is, the Church, the Bride of Christ, has a mission. So often I have almost subconsciously decided that this mission is either unsuccessful, unimpressive, or simply unattractive. That is not to say that I see a complete lacking in Christian Media. I greatly admire the music of TobyMac, DC Talk, Newsboys, Natalie Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and many others. But sometimes, I just want to listen to i93, let my adrenaline get pumping to a catchy song. And this isn’t wrong, but I question my priorities. If I really mean what I say about the Church reaching out to the world, daring to stand up to the giant of Pop Culture, Ivy League scholars, and the Left Wing, we definitely have something–I mean someONE–going for us. God blessed Hollywood actors with their ability to capture emotion, perform on the silver screens. He gave singers such as Demi Lovato and Ed Sheeran their beautiful voices. HE is in control. So why can’t we look to Him (why can’t I look to him??) and realize that He is behind who we are and what we do. In fact, what we do comes from who we are. And when we are in Him, what we do can be better than anything imagined. It can change hearts. It can give hope. It can stir the embers of the truest love–that love which Christ had for us, when He hung on the cross.

I will probably follow this up later on, but for now . . . here you are. dff4cbac1a1c1ff3638f29eead9d9b7e

“A restless heart”

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For Philosophy in school I wrote this paper about St. Augustine. He is probably one of the most inspirational figures in history to me, and I only just began to discover him this year–reading his Confessions and researching his life and conversion thoroughly. He, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien and a few others stand as passionate believers who used their understanding and intellect to further explore the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy reading about St. Augustine. I drew close to God while writing this paper, because of the power of St. Augustine’s testimony.

God’s Philosopher

“Thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.” The profound sincerity with which St. Augustine of Hippo wrote these words continues to touch the hearts of modern readers. Even across the centuries since his time, his writings have the ability to “docere, movere, et delectare”—to teach, to move, to delight. His remarkable faith and testimony empower his talents and intellect, propelling them beyond the scope of his own century and era, and into the annals of Western Civilization. St. Augustine used the arts of Rhetoric, Logic, and Philosophy to strengthen his dissertations, his texts marked by eloquence, but laced by potent revelation of Christ and His wondrous nature. One ought to pay heed while reading a work of St. Augustine’s, whether it be his soul-searching Confessions or The City of God, or any of his other numerous expositions which explore the connections between eloquence and Truth. Indeed, throughout St. Augustine’s writings one can behold his struggle to embrace and understand the meaning of Truth, as it applies Biblically to the earthly life every human must pass through, while in pursuit of “The City of God”. He manages to capture in his Confessions, the raw vulnerability of the human soul, which yearns to understand and find the Truth, yet simultaneously clings to self-sufficient independence. St. Augustine ought to be viewed as a man who can testify for the very prevalent struggle between self and surrender to Christ, who defines the Darkness in this world as the absence of light, and an as encouraging theologian who brings clarity and a wealth of wisdom to the Summa Theologica.

Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou was with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee.” Born in 354 A.D., in Hippo, a Roman Province on the North-Eastern coast of Africa, Augustine was the son of Roman pagan Patricius and devout Christian, Monica. He belonged to an upper-class Roman family, which permitted him to pursue a higher education—he initially began at a school in Madaurus, in the province of Numidia. Later he journeyed to Carthage, to study at a more intense level as a Rhetorician. He aspired to become a respected teacher in Rhetoric, and engaged himself in teaching and pursuing intellectual excellence. His eagerness to attain wisdom led him to desire an understanding of deeply spiritual matters, and he became frustrated when the Biblical faith his mother endeavored to instill in him as a youth, did not seem to satisfy him. Thus, he turned aside from the Church in order to seek his own lifestyle, from which he expected at least some measure of pleasing fulfillment. Moreover, he preferred to pursue his own desires and plans, once praying “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” Yet, as hard as he might attempt to bring fulfillment and meaning into his life, he could not uproot a strange frustration with the emptiness he persistently experienced. Augustine spent a considerable amount of his young-adult life exploring religious groups, which he hoped would answer his numerous questions. In the years before Western Rome fell to barbarian invasions, this “Eternal City” was overrun by an assortment of groups which attempted to unite intellect with spirituality, oftentimes straying from the Canonical Scriptures of the Bible, which were highly impactful in those early years of the Christian Church. Augustine of Hippo turned his back on God, who he later understood would prod him and draw him close to the only Truth in heaven and on earth.

Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness.” The Manicheans, a cult which twisted and warped Biblical truths, drew in St. Augustine, who found himself increasingly desperate for an explanation of eternity, and of the Divine presence which he felt, but did not understand. He knew of God, but did not know His power to heal, to illuminate the darkness and desolation of a human heart bound by pride and stubbornness. His Confessions reveal this struggle, and his exasperation when a respected and “wise” leader in the Manichean group disappointed him, and failed to explain away Augustine’s bewilderment. As he continued to lose himself in sexual immorality, illegitimate relations with numerous women, and in falling prey to his fleshly desires and ambitions, Augustine sought answers elsewhere. He looked to the stars, rather than to the One who created those celestial lights. Astronomy temporarily appeared like a promising source of scientific logic, to reason away the confusion of his tangled soul. His emptiness would not leave, however. At last, he wandered into the halls of a widely-known teacher and Christian, whose doctrines impressed Augustine and stirred his heart, reminding him of his desire for fulfillment. He began to read about the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert, whose turbulent journey to salvation struck Augustine. He began to study the scriptures, gleaning from them answers, slowly unsheathing breathtaking comfort and revelation. Resistance against God’s gentle summons flared continually in Augustine, and he hesitated even as he felt drawn towards the Peace one can only find in Christ. His conversion can best be told in his own words:

“In the direction towards which I had turned my face and was quivering in fear of going, I could see the austere beauty of continence, serene and indeed joyous but not evilly, honourably soliciting me to come to her and not linger, stretching forth loving hands to receive and embrace me, hands full of multitudes of good examples. With her I saw such hosts of young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and of every age, gray widows and women grown old in virginity, and in them all Continence herself, not barren but the fruitful mother of children, her joys, by you, Lord, her Spouse. And she smiled upon me and her smile gave courage as if she were saying: “Can you not do what these men have done, what these women have done? Or could men or women have done such in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand upon yourself and so not stand at all? Cast yourself upon him and be not afraid. He will not draw away and let you fall. Cast yourself without fear. He will receive you and heal you.” (Book VIII: Birthpangs of Conversion, the Confessions)

 

            Thus, he “cast himself” towards the Lord, surrendering at last. His conversion undeniably connects to the human tendency of fear and pride, which in turn causes hesitation. Yet, reading of his conversion offers hope and encouragement, inspiration to perceive in the value of understanding, and the importance of humility when bowing before the Creator of Mankind, and giving up the spirit and mind to Him. For Augustine, this “giving up” meant uniting human intelligence with spiritual wisdom—the wisdom to seek humility over self-sufficiency. This wisdom requires acknowledging the mystery of God, his Infallible Power which cannot always be explained. Augustine must have experienced profound relief, as his words so aptly express: “Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace”. Now at least he turned over his life to God, and this meant dying to self. It meant yielding his lusts and (often immoral) pleasures, in order to live according to the Word of God; he yearned for virtue insofar as it fully honored God, and glorified Him. He explored these beautiful revelations of Christ, and the Truth solely found in Christ, in his Confessions and subsequent works. His writings articulate the beauty of a human soul encountering the Magnificent Veritas, the ultimate meaning, the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Lord who created all things. Today, St. Augustine is recognized as a church father whose thoughts have resounded throughout the centuries, echoing in the hearts of those early Christians in the early days of Western Civilization. And even now in the 21st century, men and women breathe in the philosophy borne by Scripture’s revelation and value, as they would inhale oxygen in the air—both are crucial to life. Yet while one is crucial to the physical wellbeing, the other, Scripture, preserves a soul for eternity. He paints so vividly the human struggle, the collision of the will, and the Will of God, the reality of God’s mystery, the infallible perfection of His majesty.

St. Augustine of Hippo ought to be read repeatedly, a father of the faith, one founder of theology’s definitions and explanation. At the same time, he acknowledges that God is in all things, in God all things exist, and God exists outside of human understanding or rational. This may directly address a prevalent demand among even Christians, who have not yet reconciled themselves to complete belief and surrender to the Lord. One would do well to delve into Augustine’s writings, using them as an interpretation of what it means to pursue God, to live in surrender to Him, for outside of God there is nothing but emptiness. A study of St. Augustine’s early life illustrates this aimless wandering and susceptibility to harmful creeds which could eventually lead to darkness. And even minutes before he laid down his life before the Lord, he was struggling against embracing the peace of God.

“For I said mentally, Lo, let it be done now, let it be done now. And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not. Yet fell I not back to my old condition, but took up my position hard by, and drew breath. And I tried again, and wanted but very little of reaching it, and somewhat less, and then all but touched and grasped it; and yet came not at it, nor touched, nor grasped it, hesitating to die unto death, and to live unto life; and the worse, whereto I had been habituated, prevailed more with me than the better, which I had not tried.” (Book VIII: The Confessions)

Hearing such words of emotion and visualizing this grasping for the presence of God, readers across the centuries understand, and experience the impact of St. Augustine’s revelation, a compelling encounter with truth and the beauty of a soul coming into Christ’s Kingdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unite

As a companion to my previous post, this excerpt from Book IV of St. Augustine’s Confessions. According to Augustine, writers should not only render beauty with eloquence, but they should express the wisdom that is founded upon the Truth of the scriptures. It is imperative to “unite eloquence with wisdom”, for without the Wisdom of God your eloquence could lead astray others, thus resulting in faltering ethic and thriving delusion. As children of God we are called to bless others with our abilities and gifts. Writers may be able to express a phrase or idea that flows and lingers in the reader’s mind. I encourage you to read Augustine’s insights below, for if you are a writer then you will understand the purpose as Sons and Daughters of Christ to reflect His glory and Truth.

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CHAP. 6.–THE SACRED WRITERS UNITE ELOQUENCE WITH WISDOM. {St. Augustine}

9. Here, perhaps, some one inquires whether the authors whose divinely-inspired writings constitute the canon, which carries with it a most wholesome authority, are to be considered wise only, or eloquent as well. A question which to me, and to those who think with me, is very easily settled. For where I understand these writers, it seems to me not only that nothing can be wiser, but also that nothing can be more eloquent. And I venture to affirm that all who truly understand what these writers say, perceive at the same time that it could not have been properly said in any other way. For as there is a kind of eloquence that is more becoming in youth, and a kind that is more becoming in old age, and nothing can be called eloquence if it be not suitable to the person of the speaker, so there is a kind of eloquence that is becoming in men who justly claim the highest authority, and who are evidently inspired of God. With this eloquence they spoke; no other would have been suitable for them; and this itself would be unsuitable in any other, for it is in keeping with their character, while it mounts as far above that of others (not from empty inflation, but from solid merit) as it seems to fall below them. Where, however, I do not understand these writers, though their eloquence is then less apparent, I have no doubt but that it is of the same kind as that I do understand. The very obscurity, too, of these divine and wholesome words was a necessary element in eloquence of a kind that was designed to profit our understandings, not only by the discovery of truth, but also by the exercise of their powers.

10. I could, however, if I had time, show those men who cry up their own form of language as superior to that of our authors (not because of its majesty, but because of its inflation), that all those powers and beauties of eloquence which they make their boast, are to be found in the sacred writings which God in His goodness has provided to mould our characters, and to guide us from this world of wickedness to the blessed world above. But it is not the qualities which these writers have in common with the heathen orators and poets that give me such unspeakable delight in their eloquence; I am more struck with admiration at the way in which, by an eloquence peculiarly their own, they so use this eloquence of ours that it is not conspicuous either by its presence or its absence: for it did not become them either to condemn it or to make an ostentatious display of it; and if they had shunned it, they would have done the former; if they had made it prominent. they might have appeared to be doing the latter. And in those passages where the learned do note its presence, the matters spoken of are such, that the words in which they are put seem not so much to be sought out by the speaker as spontaneously to suggest themselves; as if wisdom were walking out of its house,–that is, the breast of the wise man, and eloquence, like an inseparable attendant, followed it without being called for.

Begin Anew

bbded326e408fd0f26cce1054a5acf1bIt may amuse you to know that up until now I have not been a very avid blogger, finding myself often procrastinating when it comes to posting on my sundry, brief blogs (which are mostly all obliterated, now). I never felt really compelled to share my writing and thoughts and wonderings. I tend to feel a bit more open with my art, though I am insecure about that as well. You might know what I mean.

You might understand when I say that I follow bunches of other people in the blogging sphere and never dare to really social-network myself. But now I feel a bit bolder,  more adventurous than days of yore . . . “those dear old days gone by”. It is 2014. ‘Tis closer than ever to my graduation, and then the advance upon the University, or college. Where God will lead me, I have no idea. It used to seem a great deal clearer when I was about thirteen. Suddenly, as high-school draws nearer to a close, my mind scatters in all directions, tugging me to and fro. While I once considered it a settled matter that I would pursue something strictly literary, my mind now embraces the possibilities of studying Studio Art, illustration, history, psychology . . . and oh, the list runs on through journalism and numbers of avenues which branch off of Art. I am nonplussed!4ef282e67e60af779c8504c4c68a6cab

Wherefore do these thoughts come? Wherefore just now, with the future looming high and strange before me? While it is exciting to consider what I might do someday, career-wise, It’s really frightening.

And that comes to the thing I’d like to discuss: Fear. Fear has been with me for a long time now. It has been with all of us, I think. It is that little Gollum-esque creature, that whispers at us from the shadows, amusing itself at our expense whenever we worry and tremble over the unknown. Maybe the Unknown isn’t so bad after all. Maybe it holds tribulations and joys we can’t even imagine right now. If you’re just a young person like me, just on the brink of adulthood, of moving away from home and Mom and Dad, then maybe you’ll hear me when I say . . . it’s coming on so-o-o fast. Too fast. And throttling along with the oncoming future is Fear itself. But as Mr. Franklin Roosevelt so wisely said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear stems from darkness, and darkness is the absence of Light. Light is Goodness, and Goodness is Christ.

That thought can be comforting in itself. I remind myself of my Lord’s abiding presence in my life and in the lives of those around me. Yet, sometimes it is severely difficult to believe and to understand. Understand what, you ask? Well, understanding is an incredibly broad word. af616848dd7b401c43bee23233f0abaeUnderstanding could be equated with explaining. “How do you explain that? Explain why, or how, please!” Humans yearn for understanding. We all have a question to ask. Thus we seek wisdom. Wisdom is empty without Truth. For “one can gain the world but lose the soul”. Honestly, we can’t know everything. We can’t understand and explain Divine Providence, or miracles. We can’t explain the power of Love, or Mercy, or Forgiveness usually, in plainspoken words. We can’t ever glimpse the future and its kaleidoscope of meaning for our lives on earth. Corrie Ten Boom, the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, speaks comforting and hopeful words on Life’s unknowns:

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

I know there is a God. It has taken me a while to come to that knowledge, but it is not empty, hollow knowledge which uplifts me even when I doubt and question (which I have been doing considerably, these last few years). It is harder to lean on Him and trust His understanding, not your own, when you are frustrated by His mystery and majestic power, which no human can ever fully understand. It is terribly, terribly frustrating. You ask a trusted, respected somebody in your life, grinding your teeth over the fact that “you just don’t get God, how He loves, how He has everything in control.” And this “wise” friend who you know reads the Bible and is much farther along than you under your cloud of doubt, tells you that “some things about God can’t be explained”.

What does all of this have to do with “Beginning Anew”, as in the title of this post? I challenge myself, and You, to begin anew this year, this January 2014. Strive to grow in your Knowledge of Him, learn to trust when faith seems overrated or unsatisfactory. In the long run, do you think that believing in Someone who has created the Universe (His Creation surrounds us) far exceeds the mere human surrender to mortality, to material focuses? I challenge you to stop fearing, and start trusting in the Father who sent His Son for you. You might not understand how great His love for us is, how majestic in nature and power He is, but isn’t it more uplifting to believe in a Loving Creator than Nothing at all? Across the centuries His artistry manifests itself, recorded and remembered, however much Fallen Man would like to forget. Begin Anew, and open your Bible that you usually shunt to the back of your shelf, behind your favorite novel or series. Read the works of the great theologians, who like you and I sought to understand the Divine wonders of the Creator, and came to inspiring and compelling conclusions which lead us further along Heavenward, into the Kingdom of God.