Answers

fa9b0ebc349855a9a24993414570521bFor one of my last assignments of high school, I was commissioned to write a short story based on a work of literature this year. I chose to base my work of fiction on the theme and premise of St. Augustine’s Confessions (my favorite Christian treatise, by the way!)

Answers: by Rebecca W.

He hurried down the street, swerving this way and that to weave through the evening crowd along the sidewalks. A glance at his phone told him the time, and just as he raised his eyes to the church tower, the church bells tolled, their rings echoing deeply throughout the city. When he heard them he did stop, and pushed his cold-chafed hands into his pockets. The steeple rose above the building tops, it stood out, an old red brick cathedral in the metropolis. The sight of it held him and with a tightness in his chest and throat he stood, staring up at it through the bare branches of the trees, over the cold surfaces of these buildings.

His phone vibrated, shattering his focus. He held up the device and saw that he had received a text message from his mother, his gentle mother, waiting at home for his return. She doesn’t need to always wait, he thought, almost bitterly.

“Augustus, I look forward to hearing about the first day of the semester. I’ll be waiting up. J

He replaced the phone in his pocket and started walking again, pressing against the frigid winds weaving like ghouls throughout this grey city. In all honesty, he began to believe he had chosen the wrong college plan. The wrong focus. The classes…they served to affix his mind with the philosophical questions, ponderings, and insights he had known and wrestled with forever, it seemed. His enthusiasm for investing time and energy in reading the meditations of classical ages…his enthusiasm seemed leaden within him, encrusted by icy indifference. And that feeling dismantled everything about his future, his present, and his past. Augustus’s stride quickened and at last, after an empty hour of pushing past people and ignoring the cold biting his face, he turned onto his street. The apartment he and his mother shared was at the opposite end, but he hurried, his drained mind hardly comprehending the space of time.

“I’m home, mom,” he called, slinging his coat on the rack as he slid the door chain in place. His mother suddenly appeared at the end of the hall in the kitchen doorway, surrounded by the golden glow from within that room.

“Augustus! How was it? How did you like your classes?”

He shrugged and slipped past her to set his backpack down on the window seat.

“Fine,” he said briskly.

She gave a small laugh but then as she watched him her smile became a slight frown. “Just fine?”

“I mean, not much happens on the first day,” Augustus sank into the chair to pull off his leather boots.

“Which class do you like best?” his mom prodded.

“Oh…astronomy, I guess.”

“What about the philosophy one…the Philosophy in Literature class that you signed up for?”

“Fine,” Augustus repeated, even more tersely. He pulled his backpack into his lap and unzipped it, shuffling around for his homework assignment notebook.

His mom sat down across from him, watching him with a thoughtful purse at her mouth. Her eyes, gray-green like his, gazed at him with a steadiness he suddenly found discomfiting.

He felt driven to answer her look, offer at least some explanation for his attitude of disinterest. “Things have changed, I guess. None of it clicks for me. I want to understand too many things, and I just can’t find a way to…relax. I don’t know…” he bit his lip and studied a pen he’d pulled out of the bag. “Maybe I just lost interest.”

His mother sat down at the table, resting her hands on the table. She leaned a bit towards him, and watched how his shoulder slackened, his head bent with weariness.

“Augustus, you were…so ready to begin last year. So full of enthusiasm to jump in, start studying, start working towards your goals…”

“It’s not the teachers, or the classes, or anything. It’s me. Just me.” He sighed, rubbing his jaw slowly. “Maybe it’s time I go a different direction. None of it feels…right…anymore.”

His mother sat back, biting her lip.

“Everything feels so indefinite. What we learn about. What we read. The professors don’t help. I want answers, but I can’t find any. No matter how much I try.”

“Answers to…” his mother prompted.

“Answers to why. How. I mean, it’s just so pointless. Why do I need to study what the Apostles wrote, what the saints of Byzantium wrote, the speculations of Greek philosophers? Maybe I’d be better off concentrating on one of the sciences. Biology. Physics. Those make more sense. I just…got so tired of it all today. I feel like I took the wrong turn in my education.”

As he spoke he sensed the rise of frantic dismay that had chased him on his way home. It caught up now, and he pushed back from the table, stepped out onto the apartment’s balcony, where he could hear the sirens and city sounds reverberating throughout the night. The stars were invisible against the glow of the metropolis. For one swaying, empty moment Augustus longed to see them. He didn’t care how many number of ancient writers, poets, and bards had written of the stars. At the moment, they were out of reach but real. The dizzying thought occurred to him that answers were the same as stars. Desirable answers that never appeared in the reading assignments or in the library books he’d borrowed for research. What did he need answers for? He knew his mother had wanted to ask, but didn’t, out of consideration. He folded his arms, causing his jacket to tighten along his shoulders, warming him in the chill.

Why did he want answers? Why did the disappoint strike him so hard when he lost a train of truth? Why did he open nearly every door available except for one? That one door…it stayed closed. It was the leather-bound book his mother had given to him at age 13. It was the book he ignored. Why didn’t he want to look for answers there? Maybe he feared the truth that existed, for real, within those pages. Like the stars, hidden from his view by the city lights. Always hidden and wanted. But never sought out. He still lived in the city. He still studied the answerless books.

freedom OF religion or freedom FROM religion? That is the question.

Followers, I’d appreciate your thoughts! This is a small essay I wrote for school!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (The First Amendment of the Constitution)

            Many modern Americans desire to paraphrase this amendment and claim that this amendment completely separates the church from the state, in order to support their belief that religion should be completely annihilated from society and government. Unfortunately for them, the first amendment states that Congress cannot establish a religion, but it was not written with the intent of pushing the church out the door. This amendment was written by our Founding Fathers with their forefathers in mind—the people such as Pilgrims who crossed the sea and settled at Plymouth in order to escape the oppression of King James, who established his own church of England to the exclusion of those who practiced their own set of Christian beliefs. His establishment of religion infringed on the personal rights of other believers who did not agree exactly with the king’s theology, thus forcing them to flee their homes in England and settle in the new world.

However, the meaning of this amendment has been warped by those who seek to eradicate the Church altogether.

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The Fork in the Road

Like any high schooler in the college-selecting process, I faced a variety of options to choose from. My passions in different areas increased my confusion and uncertainty. Art universities offering a wide selection of specialized courses in animation, 2D and 3D design, illustration, and a number of other creative degrees that attracted me. I began to fixate on this idea of attending art school, as I do seek to pursue my artistic bent. However, during my sophomore year of high-school, a semester at a classical academy introduced me to a mesmerizing plane of academics. Classical education. I became entranced by the subjects of philosophy and literature taught with the classical approach, and enjoyed applying the methods of logic, thinking, and rhetoric, integral subjects to this form of learning, to my studies of history, literature, and everything else. I found myself eager to explore the tremendous depths of these subjects that students can only find purposefully, at a specialized school or with classical curriculum at home. I realized that my love for the visual arts now had competition in my avid learner’s heart. Around this time I turned my focus from a liberal arts college in Purcellville, Virginia to elsewhere. At a college convention I met several ambassadors of University of Dallas, a private Catholic institution in Irving, Texas. I recall that my interest in UD mounted the more I learned about it. They offered a Rome program during Sophomore year, an intensive “Core” curriculum that focused on the Classical foundation of learning—requiring all freshmen and sophomores to take a list of courses ranging from Literary Tradition to Philosophy to Astronomy. All of these subjects form the basis for a more concentrated major during the two years as upperclassmen. I relished the prospects offered at University of Dallas. It fit me perfectly. And yet, a small nagging voice persisted to whisper in the back of my head, “Wait! What about Art school? What about an exclusive art education?” That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t obtain an art education at UD. They rank as having one of the top traditional art programs in the nation, which I planned to participate in should I choose UD.

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image from the internet

As the summer before my Senior year opened, I decided to sign up for a 2D and 3D design and animation camp at the Art Institute of Dallas. My heart fluttered nervously whenever I thought of experiencing a taste of an art student’s life. In depth anatomy and design courses. High tech drawing equipment and digital tablets. I tempted myself with this shining dream. Of course, none of this is to undermine the delight of creativity, traditional and digital. Anyone with a passion for art possesses such a dream, to delve into this fervency to create, design, and dazzle others with mind-blowing visuals. I believe that all artists would love the chance to explore and develop their artistic skills at such a school. The courses at these universities can be invaluable, doubtlessly, to someone desiring to improve their abilities. Yet, I experienced a dilemma, as I still remembered the bliss of walking around the vibrant campus of University of Dallas, meeting people who enthusiastically pursued their faith and education. When I joined the other kids at the Art Institute’s camp, I found myself facing an entirely different atmosphere. Most of the kids here came from secular public school, lived secular, godless lives, and although they too shared a passion for the arts, I found it difficult to relate to them on a spiritual and intellectual level as their interests diverged from mine dramatically. Discouraged, I spent my first day hoping it would get better, that I would enjoy myself more at this idealized art camp. Yet, as the week progressed during my stay at the camp, I noticed that the teens at my camp bodily represented the mindset of liberal social media sites such as Tumblr. Their attitudes created a barrier between themselves and anyone who might possibly not share their same interests, worldview, or lifestyle. Their unwelcoming demeanors estranged me and I could hardly feel safe or comfortable when the camp leaders expressed viewpoints of homosexual lifestyles and other issues that diametrically oppose my Biblical standards. All in all, by the time Friday arrived, I was more than ready to leave the Art Institute with my parents. With a mixture of disappointment and relief I realized that I did not belong at the Art Institute or anywhere else like it.

Campus (Braniff Memorial Tower and Mall), University of Dallas
University of Dallas Mall and Braniff Tower (not my image)

The lure of an exclusively art-focused schedule during my university years has not failed to entice me with its promising tastefulness. Although the Core Curriculum at University of Dallas integrated a medley of subjects that I’d discovered a growing passion for within myself, Art school assumed the forefront focus in my mind as I idealized possibly attending a university like Savannah College of Art and Design, or Parsons Art and Design in NYC. These schools, as well as CalArts in San Francisco, are known for their top-notch courses and degrees, from which emerge many respected animators, visual developers, character designers, and story-boarders who are now working for corporations such as Disney and Pixar. As someone prone to idealism, I began to envision the promise of such schools. Until I visited the Art Institute of Dallas, another highly respected visual arts academy, did I obtain a clearer picture of the dark side of these campuses. However, any budding artist will desire courses like 2D and 3D design, anatomy, character design, visual development, and more. I nursed my dissatisfaction with my own situation and my parents’ expressed suspicions of such colleges. But they pointed out that SCAD and CalArts hardly provide a well-rounded education as does University of Dallas. They do not develop every part of the mind—the only side of my brain that would be served would be the right side—while the left side of the brain would languish in neglect. As aggravating as it was, I found myself agreeing with them. Why? University of Dallas pushes students to their limits, as they have campaigned, as I have seen by simply sitting in on the classes. Not only does this school challenge you in your area of study, but it also compels you to study hard in other areas, such as mathematics, the sciences, theology, history, philosophy, economics, and history. Sure, at a place like CalArts you are receiving a degree for extremely specialized courses throughout your four year tenure, but what beyond that? You are not exploring the great works, you are not discussing Plato’s The Cave, nor delving into the Rhetoric of the Bible. In fact, I’m pretty sure that St. Augustine’s Confessions would never arise in any discussion at one of those secular art universities.

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University of Dallas Church of the Incarnation (not my image)

So, I reached the verdict. As difficult as it proved to surrender my desire to attend SCAD, or CalArts, or a similar school, discussions with my parents and my summer camp experience led me to a final conclusion. I would not be abandoning my artistic ambitions. No, I would instead pursue them in the safter, Christian environment at University of Dallas, an institution that promotes a love of learning, an appreciation of the past masterpieces while integrated with the Catholic intellectual tradition that so intrigued me during my semester at Founders Classical Academy. I relinquished my idealistic image of what art school would be like and adopted a more realistic mindset. Once I finished the foundations of my education that University of Dallas would supply, I would delve in deeper in the areas that remained in need of development. Perhaps even graduate school at one of those art universities would become an option. But in the meantime, I determined to surround myself with like-minded people who would challenge me to mature in my mind and soul, not merely in the right side of my brain.

Subtlety

There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin 

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene

Only then I am human
Only then I am clean 

“Take me to Church”

by Hozier

(Grammy’s selected Song of 2014)

It’s catchy, clever, and provocative. Today, secular music has managed to capture the full attention of the world, utilizing the power in this easily-accessed medium to send messages laced in an appealing rhythm and talented singers. “It’s true—most of the time, secular music is a lot catchier than a lot of Christian songs,” my studio art teacher observed. Her words have stuck in my head through the years and at this point, as a young adult with more freedom to choose the media I consume, I find myself agreeing to an extent with her statement. As a girl raised in a Christian household, I’ve been raised surrounded by Biblical values and truths which I firmly believe in. Yet, I and many other young Christians are familiar with the songs broadcasted on secular radio stations—songs sung by secular stars—songs that echo the mindset of a godless, caving culture. A considerable amount of the music I listen to comprises of songs which I find romantic, relatable, and of course, catchy. But even these positive attributes fail to negate the reality of modern music’s dark underbelly. Top chart songs contain subliminal meanings which promote blatant promiscuity, amorality, materialism. It might not be obvious, but if a listener is careful and listens closely, a deeper malice towards virtue penetrates the soul of contemporary music.

Satan utilizes one of the mediums which touches the hearts and infiltrates the minds of the younger generations. What we simply shrug off as a song really engenders subconscious messages which infiltrate into daily thoughts. These thoughts easily influence attitudes and behavior. For example, a recent billboard chart top hit, “Take Me to Church” by Irish tenor, Hozier, was nominated at the Grammy’s for 2014 Song of the Year.

The song is hauntingly beautiful with subtle verses and a soulful chorus. Admittedly, when I first heard it, I thought, “Wow, this is a powerful song. It’s almost hymn-like.” It’s Elton John mixed with an old Southern Spiritual from the American Civil War.

 

So said Dr. Taylor Marshall, a professor in Philosophy at University of Dallas. But his opinion changed when he listened to the lyrics:

 

What’s amazing about his song is that it’s about as offensive as anything produced by Marilyn Manson, Judas Priest, or Slayer yet hardly anyone recognizes it! It takes rich Catholic sacramental language but re-signifies the imagery as a sexual encounter. And that’s the so-called “genius” of this song.

The music industry is now much smarter than it was in the days of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Slayer. Your daughter is not likely to love Marilyn Manson and erect an idol to Satan in her bedroom. Your son will not likely consecrate his baby to Lucifer and baptize him in goat’s blood.

Overt Satanism is out of style. However, young people are likely to exchange their Christian faith for sexual license. The stats show that young people will likely exchange the sacramental life and liturgy for the liturgy of sexual experimentation.

And that’s exactly why this song has become an American anthem. The devil doesn’t needs a league of heavy metal Satanists. He’d almost prefer to have people mocking the Christian sacraments and images.

If God isn’t real – “If the Heavens ever did speak” – then the only goods to be enjoyed in this life are the pleasures of food and sex. That’s all there is left for humans to experience transcendence. Hozier gets it and he sings for us a catchy hymn.

 

Dr. Marshall points out how modern society dresses up anti-Biblical messages and ideas and promotes them via the media—music, film, literature, art, and the internet. It’s “just a song”? No—songs like “Take Me to Church” make it to the Grammy’s to become the Song of 2014, and this is a clear statement about the direction in which our culture is hurtling.

As the title of the book by Robert H. Bork so aptly puts it, you could say that America is “slouching towards Gomorrah”. The patterns can be seen everywhere. Rampant promiscuity, invading the mindsets of younger children, blatant homosexuality, devaluing of human life as exemplified by euthanasia and abortion. The materialistic attitude of millions of Americans reflects in our extravagant, reckless lifestyles. Egocentricity becomes the norm, and the 21st century generation embraces the idea of self-love. Some would call it “progress”, but really, it seems that we merely regress towards the days of Nero and Caligula, when orgies and amorality raged the streets of the “Eternal City”. Music hugely impacts the outlook of each coming generation. With the recent trends in blatant sexual experimentation, the arts as an expression of the human soul reveal the deeper darkness that draws us farther and farther away from Christ.

4a4acb431a1a0b60f6331268b25241af            Dr. Marshall’s insights on this particularly popular song, and a simple analysis of modern culture, both provide a sharper view of this disease infecting the nation, the entire world. When songs like “Take Me to Church” twist the sacrosanct Eucharistic, Biblical words and references into a song idolizing sexuality and promiscuity, obviously the slouching has begun. But Satan cleverly wields his deception. He infects us with his poison as we enjoy a top-notch song a talented singer. He contaminates our thoughts when we enjoy a movie with a scene or two that would’ve made a younger, naïve self, blush. His trick? Subtlety.

Here is a link to Dr. Marshall’s article concerning “Take Me to Church” by Hozier: http://taylormarshall.com/2014/12/take-church-lyrics-meaning-christian-analysis-critique.html

Back in

Whenever I sit down to write a new blog post (usually at night when *magical* surges of inspiration happen) . . . I sort of freeze up (those magical waves of creativity obviously don’t help much). Maybe it’s the subconscious awareness that so many people could potentially see what I write, and then I get all introverted, even though I can’t see those people, and I huddle into my shell. I guess this will have to change, especially since next year I will be submitting papers to my professors, which essentially means breaking down my barriers of keep-everything-to-myself!

Some exciting little things that rouse my geekier side are currently underway:

Sims 4 comes out next month. Right after school begins. Dang.

It is “Lewis and Clark month” on Tumblr, which brings joy to me daily when I see people post about some of my favorite historical guys.

SCHOOL BEGINS. Yes, I AM excited. SO SO EXCITED. Why? SENIOR YEAR IS WHY.

And then there are the BIG things.

College begins next year!

Final SAT test this October

University of Dallas Odyssey Day happens in October as well

Jaw surgery. no. no. no . . .

Preparing transcript and reading list for college

Applying and getting accepted to my favorite college

FINALLY entering some writing contests.

If I manage to get into University of Dallas, I would hopefully get the opportunity to spend a semester of my sophomore year in Rome! Rome! As someone obsessed with ancient history, anything classical, the “dead” languages (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, etc.), getting to visit Roma Aeterna is the ultimate desire on my lifetime bucket list. It would make me so happy. The campus in Rome looks exquisite, breath-taking, with this haunting sense that I would be existing where the men and women of old lived and breathed. There would be St. Peter’s Cathedral, there would be visits to Greece, to Venice, Assissi, Florence–to quote from the UD website, “all the wonders of the Renaissance.” And in addition to Italy and Greece, I will be able to travel to other countries in Europe (The UK, of course, and France, AND Germany . . .) Now I must share some Pinterest pictures of this potential destination in my future! XD

L'Opera Garnier
L’Opera Garnier
Greece
Greece
The Tyrol
The Tyrol

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Florence
Florence
Paris
Paris
Venice
Venice
the Forum Romanum
the Forum Romanum
coast of Italy
coast of Italy
Library in Prague
Library in Prague
The Alps
The Alps
Verona
Verona

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Rome
Rome
Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Mt. Vesuvius
Mt. Vesuvius
Rome
Rome