What Proximity Is Worth

This post contains excerpts from a piece in mereorthocoxy.com.

Being a blogger and writer on the Internet, there are many amazing people from all over the world who I “know” and have occasional online exchanges with. On rare occasions I get to meet them in person at things like the Q Conference, and it’s a delight for which I am very grateful.

But more and more I see that the relationships that matter most are the ones right in front of me: My wife, church, neighbors, co-workers, the members of the life group I lead, the college students I teach or mentor. These are the people who inhabit my incarnational reality, who show up in my daily and weekly rhythms, who know me in an integrated way. These are the people I grow with. If any of the ideas I gleaned from Q are to develop into good-advancing action, it will be in collaboration with these people.

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Trusting God Instead of Self

In my book, Why Trust Jesus?, I refer to Augustine’s journey and wrestle with trust, but as I have been taking a course this semester at the University of Dallas with Dr. William Frank, I decided to come back and revisit that theme of trust. I still agree with what I wrote in my book, Why Trust Jesus? but I wanted share another one of my short papers that I wrote for this class. I will eventually submit a couple more papers on this Conversant blog about Augustine.  If you have read the Confessions multiple times or are brand new in studying Augustine, please write your comments and let me know what you have observed in the text.

In Book VIII of Confessions, Augustine recollects the experience of internal turmoil, indecisiveness, self -knowledge, and temptation of old memories and habits. Augustine encounters Lady Continence, urging him to trust God. Throughout this eighth book, we see multiple pictures and stories, each in its unique way, reinforcing one of this book’s main themes of trusting God rather than self. As Continence speaks, trust seems to be such a simple act, but complex emotions including fear, lust and pride are at stake. Continence challenges, Augustine, "Why do you stand on yourself, and thus stand not at all? Cast yourself on him. Have no fear. He will not draw back and let you fall. Cast yourself trustfully on him: he will receive you and he will heal you.”[1] Trusting God, specifically through Jesus Christ, was included in the final passage that brought a peaceful light streaming into Augustine’s soul. “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in strife, and envying; but put you on the Lord Jesus Chris, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence.”[2]

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The Metaphysical Nature of Sin in Augustine’s Pear Theft and Theater

In Book two, of the Confessions, Augustine recollected the evening in which, late one night, he and his buddies stole pears from his neighbor’s vineyard. At first reading, this does not seem like too big of a deal. Obviously, most ethical theories understand that stealing is wrong, but do not most boys steal at some point in their lives? Why would stealing fulfill Augustine’s deep description of depth of foul lust and carnality in the opening in this book: “I wish to bring back to mind my past foulness and the carnal corruptions of my soul.”[1] Augustine wrote, “For in my youth, I burned to get my fill of hellish things. I dared to run wild in different ways of love.”[2] Burning to get his fill of hellish things, does not seem to describe a few young teenagers stealing pears from a neighbor’s orchid and feeding them to pigs.   But Augustine’s aim is not merely autobiographical, to tell stories of his hell raising pear theft, but to allow the reader to see the metaphysical nature of sin.  Carl Vaught reminds the reader, “The pear-stealing episode is not simply Augustine’s story, but also our own.”[3]
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