Category Archives: Education

Letter 43: A Prayer for Election Day

Almighty God-

We acknowledge that you alone are sovereign, that all power and authority are yours.  You have established governments here on earth to better order our public lives by upholding justice.

You have blessed us with the opportunity to choose our governors.  Guide us to choose wisely, seeking to do justice, not just to ourselves, but also to others.  May we consider our neighbors, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and those yet unborn.

Help us to see past the claims, to discern the truth about our circumstances and those who would see to lead us.  May we not be swayed by honeyed lips and silver tongues, speaking words we want to hear.

For our land struggles, the abundant riches You have given us.  Too often, we yearn for a King, a man on horseback to lead us, to solve our problems, to make us great.  We forsake You.

We pray, too, for those would will govern us.  Endow them with wisdom and courage to do justly, and to love mercy.  May they be humble, knowing the limits of their power.  May they seek to unite, for the public good.

Finally, we pray for each other, that we would see our fellow citizens as our fellows, and men and women made in your image, and dearly loved by you.  May we work together for the shalom of our city an our world, until such time as You come again and claim the kingdoms of the earth for thine own, that peace would reign in our streets, and want shall be no more.

Amen.

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Letter 38: Ripped from Today’s Headlines?

Last week I decided to start listening to an audio recording of St. Augustine’s The City of God.  I had read excerpts in college, and an abridged version while in law school.  Augustine was prompted to write The City of God by the sack of Rome by Alaric the Goth in AD 410.  He reflects on society, Roman history, the nature of Man, government, and of course the Christian’s true home.

I haven’t made it very far, but I was seized by the applicability of his comments on the Roman people.  He could have written those words today.  How easily we wish to be cosseted and amused.

I was also appreciative of a traditional liberal education, where I was able to read such things.  In our rush to a more job-focused, or culturally driven education, we often forget the value of ancient wisdom that has no direct benefit one’s chance of getting a job.  We seem to have forgotten that one of the original purposes of higher education was teaching us how to live.

“But the worshippers and admirers of these gods delight in imitating their scandalous iniquities, and are nowise concerned that the republic be less depraved and licentious. Only let it remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us? This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden. Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him. Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit,[1] dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement. If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to.”

St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Book 2, Chapter 20

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Letter 36: For G, On Her Graduating High School

G-

Congratulations on graduating high school!  Your Auntie and I are very proud of you.  I hope that you are excited about the next chapter in your life.  We are.  As you enjoy this transition moment, permit me to offer some avuncular advice.  Some of it is advice I wish someone had given me when I stood where you are now.

You are about to embark upon a great adventure, and in a great city to boot.  This is a tremendous opportunity, and I would encourage you to take advantage of it.  Much as when you were a young child, this is a season of exploration, an opportunity to learn more about the world around you.  Take it in.  Relish the sights, and sounds and smells.

Try also to take advantage of the attractions of the city.  It’s not as easy to do as you would think.  Your studies will take up much of your time.  But do go out to see a show or a museum.  Sample some of the different foods on offer.  I’m sure your auntie will be more than happy to help.  And she knows the city.

But for all the new horizons to explore, do not be in a rush.  Take some time to reflect on what you are experiencing.  This is a time to ask questions.  The truth is, while you have been primed to master answers, you will do better to master questions, for those will in time yield the right answers.  Possessing answers without knowing the questions will only confuse you into believing that you know, when you don’t.

This is also a time for making mistakes. Don’t be afraid of them.  You are going to make them despite every effort to avoid them.  That said, don’t do anything knowingly stupid.

You will be meeting people from all over, with very different experiences from you.  Get to know some of these people.  Ask them questions.  I suspect that if you ask most college graduates, what they will remember fondly are the late nights spent talking with other students about the questions great and small.  Does Man have free will?  Was the Designated Hitter a good idea, or should pitchers bat?  Who makes the best pizza?  Long after you forget most of the things you’ve learned in class, you will remember those conversations.

It’s a shame really, that education has become about preparing you for work.  That is important, of course, but college is a really lousy way of accomplishing this.  You will learn most of what you need to do your job on the job.  Forty years ago, most jobs still only required a high school diploma, and many men and women achieved successful careers without one.

Education comes from the Latin root, e ducare, which means “to lead out of,” as in to lead an injured person out of harm’s way.  As applied, the phrase can be understood in two ways.  First, it is the process by which we are led out of ignorance.  This is really a lifelong endeavor, so it becomes important to understand how to learn, and how to apply what you’ve learned.

The other understanding is where I want to focus.  Education can also be the process of drawing out something within you.  I could be the statue that resides in the block of marble, or the book or painting that first hatches in the mind of the artist.  Seen in this way, education becomes the process of becoming more fully a person.  A good educator is able to see that “person” and will work to bring her out.  In time, we hopefully come to recognize ourselves and strive to become more consciously ourselves.

With that in mind, take the time to take classes in subjects that interest you or might help you become more yourself.  You have an opportunity to consult with experts that you may not have again.  Learn something about art, or music, philosophy or religion.  Or maybe it’s the social sciences that pique your interest, where you learn to better understand people.  Don’t try to channel all of your energies into one narrow range of topics.  Look to fill yourself out in knowledge and understanding.

I hope you will choose to share with us at least a glimpse of what you will be seeing and experiencing.  I took up writing when I went off to college, sharing with family and friends what I was doing, some of what I was learning, and some of what I was thinking.  I especially treasure the letters I received back from my grandparents, and the silly post-cards my father sent me.  I’ve saved all of them.  Now that my grandparents are dead, those letters are a piece of them that lives on.

But I have probably detained you long enough.  This is your day to celebrate, and these are just the prolix ponderings of your sentimental uncle who loves you and wishes you well.  Congratulations again on a job well done.  May you continue to blossom and flourish in this next chapter of your life.

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