Summer in the City of God: Update

I mentioned earlier that my summer semester is an intensive six-week course on Augustine’s City of God.

Yes. It is intense.

My house is a mess, and I’ve been letting my daughter watch too much TV so that I can do homework. I’ve been hunching over my book so much that my pinky finger is going numb from a knot in my shoulder. My finger tips are bruised from taking reading notes.

But this book is so, so, rich. The beauty of Christ shines brightly in Augustine’s words..

I’m too tired to put together a reflection right now, but I thought you might be interested in a few quotes. Here are two powerful passages about the mediation of Christ:

“The mortality of Christ, which might be a stone of stumbling to [the unbeliever], is no longer. In one case, there is everlasting misery to be feared. In the other, there is no death to be dreaded, for death was not able to endure eternally: rather, eternal blessedness is to be loved. The immortal and miserable mediator [a demon] interposes himself in order to prevent us from passing to a blessed immortality; for that which impedes our passage, namely misery itself, persists in him. But the mortal and blessed Mediator interposed Himself so that, having passed through mortality, He might make the dead immortal by the power which he showed in His own resurrection, and bestow upon the miserable the blessedness which He Himself had never relinquished.” (Book IX, Chapter 16).

“[Jesus] is the Mediator because He is man; and by His manhood He shows us that, in order to obtain the good which is not only blessed but bliss-bestowing we need not seek other mediators by whose aid, as we might suppose, we are gradually to strive towards it. We have no such need because a God Who is blessed and bliss-bestowing has become a sharer in our humanity, and so has furnished us with all that we need to share in His divinity.” (Book IX, Chapter 16)

Augustine was a brilliant theologian, rhetorician, and writer. It’s a privilege to learn from him.

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Time-Outs: Adult-Style

The Problem

It seems that every time I sit down in a quiet moment to get some things done — homework, catching up on emails, planning a vacation, meal planning, whatever — I immediately remember all of the other things I meant to have done at different times:

Hey, I never responded to that text! Oh wait, before I dive into my work I should just add this one thing to my Amazon list. That reminds me, I needed to buy so-and-so a birthday gift and RSVP for so-and-so’s wedding. Oh! and I wanted to look at that other friend’s wedding pictures and watch that cute puppy video and that reminds me to renew my dog’s license and find out when that city compost is available and find out how to keep the fungus off of my tomatoes and look up summer recipes that use tomatoes on Pinterest, and oh wow, those are cute shoes, I wonder if I can find some like that on the DSW website and…

I don’t know about you, but that scenario usually takes place within about five minutes of sitting down with my work — even if it’s a hard copy book in my lap. Between the nearly constant needs (or just plain ol’ cuteness) of my toddler and the technology-saturated culture, my ability to pay attention to any one thing for more than five or ten minutes has been severely handicapped. This is bad for me for a lot of reasons, but particularly in this season of life where I need to do a lot of reading for my graduate program. From what I hear, I’m not alone in this.

The Solution

Taking cues from the world of toddlers and time-outs, I’ve begun forcing myself to adhere to a timer. I set the timer on my phone, so that every time I reach for my phone I’m greeted not just with the time of day but with the length of time remaining before I’ll allow myself to unlock my phone. It’s simple, but don’t underestimate how helpful it can be! I usually set the timer for at least half an hour at a time, and refuse to take breaks (unless interrupted by a living breathing person) until the timer goes off.

It’s not always a smooth transition — it’s hard to train yourself to not reach for your phone every time you think of a question that can easily be answered by a glance at your calendar or google. I usually find myself looking at my phone several times in short succession near the beginning of my timed “work” session, but the amazing thing is that as the minutes go by it gets easier and easier to ignore the technology at hand. If I can just push through those first minutes I am inevitably rewarded by a more fruitful time of work or study.

Maybe even more helpfully, I also time my breaks. I’ll work for 30min–1hr, and then set my timer for a 5min break. When the timer goes off, it breaks my concentration on whatever meaningless entertainment has sucked me in and I’m able to refocus on whatever goal I was working toward.

It sounds silly, maybe. After all, we should all have enough self control to concentrate for more than five minutes, shouldn’t we? Well, yes. But how many of us actually do? I’m working actively to combat the temptations to constant distractions. For me, the timer method is really helping. Let me know if you give it a try!

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Obvious Things

Yesterday, after I put my daughter down for her nap I sat down in my recliner to read my Bible. It’s not often, anymore, that I feel the sharp wrenching pain from my more recent losses, but just because the wounds aren’t bleeding anymore doesn’t mean that they don’t ache sometimes. I had been listening to a podcast about miscarriage earlier in the day, and while was good for me to continue pressing into my lingering pain, it left me in a melancholy state.

And then I read Proverbs 23:18:

“Surely there is a future,
and your hope will not be cut off.”

It was so obvious that it startled me. I needed the reminder.

First: There is a future. Today is not the only day. Yesterday was yesterday, and tomorrow will be tomorrow. Today might be sad, but tomorrow is coming. This is not a maybe. It is sure. It will come.

Second: Your hope will not be cut off. I hope in Christ, and that hope is not going anywhere. He is steadfast, and faithful. He will not stop giving you good things — the best things. He was there yesterday, he is there today, he will be there tomorrow and the next day, and the next, into infinity.

I really needed to hear these simple truths. Maybe you need this reminder too. Sometimes, you just need to hear the obvious.

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On Being Useful

Yesterday was the first class of my summer semester. My professor was telling us about the paper due at the end of the course, and said something that I think was profound. I can’t quote him, but he essentially said: “Write about something that you’re pretty sure you know. Write the obvious. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone, and if you write what you don’t know, what use is that? What you write will only be useful to anyone if you write what you know.” He added, jokingly serious, “and if you’re brilliant, what’s obvious may just change all of academia.”

I remember turning in my senior seminar paper in undergrad with such pride. I felt like I had grown so much as I wrote it, and for the first time I felt like grad school was attainable: I knew big words, and I knew how to use them. Surely, if you know big words and how to use them, you know what you’re talking about when you use them. Right?

Ha. No.

It’s been years since I’ve written a paper of the same quality that I wrote in undergrad. Even here in grad school I have yet to find the opportunity to put the time and effort into a paper that my senior seminar paper received. In some ways, that paper is still the pinnacle of my academic “career.” But eight years out of college and half-way through a master’s program, I find myself not wanting to use big words that will gain the respect of people who know less about the few things that I know. And I don’t care about learning the lingo that makes people think that I’m a funny and smart blogger. Instead, I find myself worrying more about being useful. I don’t want to write things that make me popular, I want to write things that last — that are good, true, and beautiful. After a living in Ecclesiastes for the last year, seeing how utterly meaningless things can be, I want what I write to be rooted and grounded in what is good for building up. Not just vapor that is gone with the wind.

Yesterday was the first class of my summer semester. My professor was telling us about the paper due at the end of the course, and said something that I think was profound. I can’t quote him, but he essentially said: “Write about something that you’re pretty sure you know. Write the obvious. What’s obvious to you may not be obvious to everyone, and if you write what you don’t know, what use is that? What you write will only be useful to anyone if you write what you know.” He added, jokingly serious, “and if you’re brilliant, what’s obvious may just change all of academia.

It was a good reminder. Skills are wonderful. Academic rigor is wonderful. Making a living is wonderful. But if the skills, the rigor are not in the service of real useful work, then what’s the point?

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5 Favorites

Some people are great at favorites. You ask them what their favorite book or season or food is and they can rattle off their top five like they keep a running list in their back pocket. I am not one of those people. I do have things I like, but I have a really hard time picking favorites because there are just so many ways to evaluate things. For example, when judging movies I may have a favorite of a certain genre, but how on earth can I compare it to my favorite of a different genre? Or I may have a certain favorite movie from the 90s, but how can I compare it to a movie made in 2015? It feels impossible.

So if you’re looking for ordered and ranked lists, you’re in the wrong place.

But today I thought I would share with you a list of some podcasts that I listen to fairly regularly:

  • Cultivated: A podcast about faith and work. This one is probably my actual favorite, but they haven’t had new episodes since February. I’m not sure why, but I hope they come back soon!
  • This American Life. I don’t listen to this one as much as I used to, but it remains a favorite. The hosts take about an hour to tell stories, or one story. The stories have some common theme that holds them together (a favorite of this type: Ep. 510 Fiasco!), or sometimes they’ll take a topic and take the full hour to explain it (a favorite of this type: The Giant Pool of Money).
  • Mortification of Spin. Carl Trueman (professor), Aimee Byrd (author), and Todd Pruitt (pastor), all Presbyterians I think, host this short podcast. They talk about various things related to faith and the church.
  • Pass the Mic and Truth’s Table. Podcasts created and hosted by black Christian men and women. It’s helpful to hear things from people who are different than I am. Being mostly aligned theologically while having some big cultural and experiential differences means that I can learn and benefit a lot from hearing their perspective.
  • Signposts with Russel Moore. Russel Moore is a wise man.
  • Science Friday. I almost never listen to this one, actually. But every time I do I wonder why I don’t listen more often. No matter how uninteresting the topic sounds, it’s always fascinating in real life. When I was commuting, it was always on during my drive home. I would always think about changing the station, only to end up sitting in my drive-way at home to finish listening.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

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