Monthly Archives: August 2012

true reformation

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Could it be that when Christ says about His Church that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” He does so because there will be many times that it seems like the gates of hell are prevailing, or nearly so? Perhaps we should see the history of Christ’s Church to be somewhat like the history of Israel, with many ups and downs, and often more difficult times than others, and most often the problems will be with lack of faith and pursuing false gods than from outside attacks. If this is so, and it seems at least likely, then what should our response be to “the church” when we see or experience the downturns? It may do us well to consider the prophets in Israel, how they spoke the word of God, and how they chastised and often wept, but also how they did not abandon Israel because they loved Israel and they could not go against God’s chosen people even if the people had turned from God. And some even paid for their commitment to Israel with their lives.

If this is true, then it may shine a light into what we call the Protestant Reformation. There have been many reformations, and many reformers throughout the entire history of the Church. Reformation is an ongoing aspect of Christian sanctification, both personally and corporately. It seems that Christians are always falling away and coming back, in a kind of constant flux—and it seems that’s God’s design, something we should expect. If this is true, then perhaps we should see the Protestant Reformation as a kind of necessary prophetic judgement on the Church—something difficult but welcome to those who have eyes to see. But then what do we do with the fact that soon the reformers turned away from the Church entirely, calling her the whore of Babylon and the pope the Antichrist? Strong language is the purview of prophets, but abandoning the beloved is not.

And what should those of us do who have grown up within this abandonment; accepting the mantle of prophets when, in fact, we may not have been called to be prophets in that way or to that degree; living into the “protestation” when we should be submissive; and even elevating disunity as a sign of faith? Perhaps the next step for us “Protestants”, if we are to be truly reformed, is to take up the second step and come back to the Church. That may be what will finally make the Protestant Reformation truly a reformation.

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the walls of Jericho

it seems we’ve been

memorializing the dead for months

transcending the world of blood

like birds above the sea

some ascended in the illness of age

some in the pagan flames

of grief and treachery

and we spoke softly


our palms held flat

predicting nothing

presenting nothing

holding the vanity of our existence

like candles waiting to be lit

at the banquet feast

it seems we’ve been

crossing the river for years

like flung stones skipping

believing in stopping

just above the surface

shadows forever below

topsides forever dry

forgetting the far bank

(that beckons like doves returning with branches)

mere stones gleaming like diamonds

our eyes turned inward

our thoughts


it seems we’ve been saying

these things since the beginning

like statues on Pacific islands

like Indus valley ruins

like snakes winding on garden trees

“Erect for yourself monuments,

for there is nobility in darkness!”

and so we cover ourselves in silk

fearing love is an enemy

singing songs to the walls

of Jericho

(April 1999)

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An Explanation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in 11 minutes

The following is a great explanation on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist by Fr. Robert Barron:

Fr. Barron refers to the favorite scriptural passage that Catholics (and anyone who believes in the Real Presence) use to argue for the Real Presence in the Eucharist—The Gospel of St. John, chapter 6, verses 22 through 70 (NKJV):

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone—however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks—when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”

But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.

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rule in hell or obey in heaven?

A common Catholic criticism of Protestantism and its legacy is that ever since the reformers opened the flood gates of their “rebellion” there has been an unstoppable and uncontrollable multiplication of claims to the truth, followed by ever increasing splits and disunity. The Protestant counter-criticism says Catholics cannot think for themselves and merely follow the Roman Church and its Pope like dumb sheep. The late Richard John Neuhaus, in his book Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth, says this about the reason to trust Christ and the Church he founded:

We obey because we trust the words of Christ to his apostles and to their successors who are the bishops in union with the bishop of Rome. We obey because the ministry of the Magisterium is the ministry of unity, and unity is part of the truth that Christ wills for his Church. The alternative to obedience is to turn the conversation into a cacophony of Christians making it up as they go along. Obedience does not come easily for there is in all of us the rebellious spirit of John Milton’s Satan, who would rather rule in hell than obey in heaven. If we will not have obedience, if we will not abide the self-discipline that is involved in sentire cum ecclesia,† then we would be well advised to make our acquaintance with the innumerable denominations and sects, or start one of our own.

Increasingly, I find Neuhaus’ argument compelling. What for so long seemed to me like the spirit of integrity appears now more and more like the spirit of rebellion. But it is so ingrained, so deeply loved, so much a part of the water we drink and air we breathe, that this rebellious spirit looks not only normative, but even honorable. I find that frightening, but not surprising. Perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps I am merely projecting my own issues—I know some of that must be true—but I have been thinking about these things for more than twenty-seven years (since my days on the college group ministry team at a large Baptist church) that I don’t believe I am being reactionary.

I was trained to have a strong allergic reaction to words like “successors”, “bishops” and “Rome.” I was not trained to react against “Magisterium” because I’d never heard that word until recent years. Implied in all this, and what I now see more clearly, is the strong Protestant allergy to the word “obedience.” Protestantism is founded on disobedience (and so is the American spirit). Protestants will say, however, that they have merely changed their obedience from the church to the Bible, from man to God, from blindness to truth. I wish that were true, but I believe it is the popular myth animating Protestantism. I fear, and what perhaps seems clear to me now, is that Protestantism is the tangible, historical expression of “John Milton’s Satan, who would rather rule in hell than obey in heaven.” This is a very provocative thing to say, and of course any Protestant would disagree with that charge (I would have not long ago). But the disunity produced and maintained by Protestantism is a grave testimony of a turning away from Christ—at least in some significant and undeniable way. But Protestantism also provides a handy method of denial: just point your finger at everyone else, everyone not part of your denomination, or even your little local band of “believers,” and say it is they who have turned from Christ, not us.

In one way or another we all “think with the church,” or “a” church anyway, and none of us are as independent as we want to believe. We cannot help but think with a given set of ideas. I am not a Catholic, not yet anyway, but I have lived most of my life as a Protestant, and I know that Protestants are as bound and confined by traditions, presuppositions, confessions, hermeneutical methodologies, and mythologies, as anyone else. Can it be that the issue is not whether one “thinks with the church” but rather which church? If so, then which church?

Can it be that Protestantism, even in light of much that can be said to be good, and even in light of the many good Christians that populate its commonwealth, is essentially the wholesale embracing of the first century Corinthian church and its worldview—a worldview promoting factions and disunity? Remember, Paul is not calling the Corinthians apostate and declaring them non-Christian (though he comes close), rather Paul says, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul loves the Corinthians, and therefore he calls them back to unity. Is it time for Protestants to be called back to unity? to obey in heaven?

But I wonder, when Paul asked the Corinthians, “Has Christ been divided?” How many said, “It’s not my fault,” and blamed the others?

† to think with the Church

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a cultured person’s book list

The following post I originally published in 2007 on another blog. I think it is worth posting again.

I entered the University or Oregon’s film studies department (Dept. of Telecommunication and Film) in 1984. During that period I took classes from Prof. William Cadbury who, in my opinion, was a GREAT teacher and one of my favorite professors of all time. In one of his classes he handed out a booklist that I have kept with me all these years. I have re-typed it below (any misspellings are my own). There was also a classical music list, but I have not included it.

The list was created by Prof. Cadbury and his wife, the poet Maxine Scates, for her niece Tracy (hence Tracy’s Booklist), who was entering UCLA as a freshman. The list first appeared in 1980 and was then updated. This is the 2nd edition. I suppose you could say this is a book list for anyone who want’s to combine being well read and culturally intelligent. It’s not a “classical” reading list, but has a healthy dose of modern and relatively modern books.

The premise of the list is as follows:

“People are rarely told an opinion of the actual bibliography of fictions (mostly novels, a few stories), of which a cultured person in modern America is master. The following is an opinion of that bibliography. It suggests: don’t waste your time reading lesser books when you read; always have at least one book that you’re in the middle of, and usually have it be one of these. The list is divided into translations and English language originals; it is presented in full awareness of the presumption in doing so, and in the hope that the utility will override the presumption.” [from Prof. Cadbury’s introduction]

Naturally, this is a very personal list. The non-fiction section is also skewed towards the arts, which is okay by me (a critical topic for our contemporary, visually-based culture). And for myself this list represents the considered opinion of an older and wiser person who, after engaging for many years both intellectually and emotionally with college students, felt the neccessity to impart some idea of what it means to be a cultured person—not in totality, but at least a slice of that ideal.

Tracy’s Booklist: 2nd Edition


Balzac, Honoré de: Eugénie Grandet; Old Goriot; Lost Illusions
Borges, Jorge Luis: Labyrinths
Borowski, Tadeusz: This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Camus, Albert: The Stranger; The Plague
Cervantes, Miguel: Don Quixote
Chekhov, Anton: The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories
Colette: My Mother’s House; Sido
Condé, Maryse: Segu
Cortazar, Julio: Blow-Up
Döblin, Alfred: Berlin Alexanderplatz
Dostoyevsky, F.: The Brothers Karamozov; Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; Notes from Underground
Eco, Umberto: The Name of the Rose
Flaubert, Gustave: Madame Bovary
Garcia Marquez, G.: 100 Years of Solitude
Kafka, Franz: The Trial; The Castle; “Metamorphosis”; “In the Penal Colony”
Levi, Primo: If Not Now, When?; The Periodic Table
Lustig, Arnost: Night and Hope; The Unloved
Mahfouz, Naguib: The Thief and the Dogs; Miramar
Malraux, André: Man’s Fate
Mann, Thomas: Death in Venice; The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
Murasaki, Lady: The Tale of Genji
Nabakov, Vladimir: Pale Fire
Narayan, R. K.: The Financial Expert; The Man-Eater of Malgudi
Pavese, Cesare: The Moon and the Bonfire
Proust, Marcel: Remembrance of Things Past
Rulfo, Juan: Pedro Paramo
Schwartz-Bart, André: The Last of the Just
Sembene, Ousmane: God’s Bits of Wood
Stendhal: The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma
Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace; Anna Karenina


Achebe, Chinua: Things Fall Apart
Amis, Kingsley: Lucky Jim
Arnow, Harriet: The Dollmaker
Austen, Jane: Mansfield Park; Emma; Pride and Prejudice; Persuasion
Baldwin, James: Go Tell It On the Mountain; Another Country; Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone
Brontë, Charlotte: Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily: Wuthering Heights
Brooks, Gwendolyn: Maud Martha
Carroll, Lewis: Alice in Wonderland
Cather, Willa: My Anatonia; A Lost Lady
Chandler, Raymond: The Big Sleep; The Long Goodbye
Cherryh, C. J.: “The Chanyr Saga”; the “Cyteen” books
Chopin, Kate: “The Storm” and other stories
Cisneros, Sandra: The House on Mango Street
Conrad, Joseph: Lord Jim; Heart of Darkness; Nostromo
Daley, Grace: Enormous Changes at the Last Moment
Darganyemba, Tsiti: Nervous Conditions
Dickens, Charles: Bleak House; Great Expectations; Hard Times
Eliot, George: Middlemarch
Ellison, Ralph: The Invisible Man
Emecheta, Buchi: In the Ditch
Erdrich, Louise: Love Medicine
Faulkner, William: The Sound and the Fury; Absalom, Absalom
Fielding, Joseph: Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Great Gatsby
Ford, Ford Madox: Parade’s End
Forster, E. M.: A Passage to India; Howards End
Fowles, John: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Glasgow, Ellen: Barren Earth
Golding, William: Lord of the Flies
Gordimer, Nadin: Burgher’s Daughter; Occasion for Loving; July’s People
Green, Graham: The Heart of the Matter; Brighton Rock
Hagedorn, Jessica: Dogeaters
Hammett, Dashiel: The Thin Man
Hardy, Thomas: Tess of the D’Urbervilles; Jude the Obscure
Hawthorne, Nathaniel: The Scarlet Letter
Head, Bessie: When Rain Clouds Gather
Heller, Joseph: Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest: The Sun Also Rises
Hogan, Linda: Mean Spirit
Hurston, Zora Neale: Their Eyes Were Watching God
James, Henry: The Ambassadors; The Golden Bowl
Jen, Gish: Typical American
Jones, Gayl: Corregidora
Joyce, James: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses; Dubliners
Karbo, Karen: The Diamond Lane
Karmel, Ilona: An Estate of Memory
Kincaid, Jamaica: Annie John
Kingston, Maxine Hong: China Men
Kogawa, Joy: Obasan
Lawrence, D. H.: Sons and Lovers; Women in Love
Lessing, Doris: The Marriage Between Zone 3, 4, and 5; The Golden Notebook; Shikasta
Lesueur, Meridel: Ripening
Loge, David: Small World
Mansfield, Katharine: Collected Stories
Marshall, Paule: Brown Girl, Brown Stones; Praise Song for the Widow
McCuller, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Melville, Herman: Moby Dick
Meredith, George: The Egoist
Milne, A. A.: Winnie-the-Pooh; The House at Pooh Corner
Momada, N. Scott: House Made of Dawn
Morrison, Toni: Beloved; Sula
O’Brien, Tim: The Things They Carried
O’Connor, Flannery: Wise Blood; The Violent Bear It Away
Olson, Tillie: Tell Me A Riddle
Orwell, George: 1984
Paton, Alan: Cry the Beloved Country
Petry, Ann: The Street
Porter, Katharine Anne: Collected Stories; Ship of Fools
Pratchett, Terry: Moving Pictures
Pynchon, Thomas: Gravity’s Rainbow; V
Rhys, Jean: After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie
Roth, Phillip: Portnoy’s Complaint
Saki (H. H. Munro): The Short Stories of Saki
Salinger, J. D.: The Catcher in the Rye; Nine Stories
Schwartz, Lynne Sharon: Disturbances in the Field; Leaving Brooklyn
Scott, Sir Walter: Rob Roy; The Heart of Midlothian
Silko, Leslie Marmon: Ceremony
Singer, Isaac Bashevis: The Family Moskat; The Magic of Lublin
Stein, Gertrude: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; The Lives
Swift, Jonathan: Gullivers Travels
Tan, Amy: Joy Luck Club
Thackeray, William M.: Vanity Fair
Thomas, D. M.: The White Hotel
Tolkien, J. R. R.: Lord of the Rings
Toomer, Jean: Cane
Trollope, Anthony: Barchester Towers; Phineas Finn
Tutuola, Amos: The Palm-Wine Drinkard
Twain, Mark: Huckleberry Finn
Updike, John: Rabbit Run
Wachtel, Chuck: Joe the Engineer
Walker, Alice: The Color Purple; Meridian; The Short Life of Grange Copeland
Waugh, Evelyn: Vile Bodies; Brideshead Revisited
Welty, Eudora: Collected Stories
West, Nathaneal: The Day of the Locust; Miss Lonelyhearts
White, T. H.: The Sword in the Stone
Wodehouse, P. G.: Blandings Castle
Wolfe, Thomas: Look Homeward Angel
Woolf, Virginia: Mrs. Dalloway; To the Lighthouse; The Waves; Orlando
Wright, Richard: Native Son
Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth; The Age of Innocence


Baritz, Loren: Backfire
Baxandall, Michael: Painting and Experience in 15th Century Italy
Beardsley, Monroe: Aesthetics
Berger, John: The Success and Failure of Picasso
Bernstein, Leonard: The Unanswered Question
Campbell, Joseph: The Mythic Image
Chomsky, Noam: Language and Mind; Turning the Tide
Des Pres, Terrence: The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps; Writing Into the World
Eriksen, Erik H.: Childhood and Society
Freire, Paulo: Pedagogy of the Oppressed
Frye, Northrop: Anatomy of Criticism
Gombrich, E. H.: Art and Illusion
Hacker, Andrew: Two Nations: Black and White, Separate and Unequal
Harding, Vincent: There is a River
Hauser, Arnold: The Social History of Art
Herbert,, Robert L.: Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society
Hollander, Anne: Seeing Through Clothes
Hyde, Lewis: The Gift
Jencks, Charles: Postmodernism
Johnson, Paul: The Birth of the Modern
Kegan, John: The Face of Battle; The Price of Admiralty
Kozol, Jonathan: Illiterate America; Savage Inequalities; Rachel and Her Children
Levi, Primo: Survival at Auschwitz
Monod, Jacques: Chance and Necessity
Neisser, Ulrich: Cognition and Reality
Robert, J. M.: The Pelican History of the World
Schama, Simon: Citizens
Schell, Jonathan: The Fate of the Earth
Sheehan, Neal: A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam
Spiegelman, Art: Maus; Maus II
Weismann, Donald L.: The Visual Arts as Human Experience
Williams, Juan: Eyes on the Prize
Zinn, Howard: People’s History of the United States

I’ve been thinking of adding to this list myself. There are at least a few books I would consider. Suggestions are welcome.


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Prayer before a Crucifix

Saint Thomas before a Crucifix

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
with burning soul,
pray and beseech You
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Your five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Your prophet, said of You, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones.”

[Traditional Catholic prayer.]

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Will a Classical Education Get Your Child a Job?

[This article first appeared on the Classical Conversations blog.]

If there is a question that just begs for both a “yes” and a “no” answer it is this question: Will a classical education get your child a job?”

We homeschooling parents worry about the future of our children. We want them to be successful and get married and make a difference. We imagine them with flourishing lives buoyed by a Christ-centered, classically formed educational foundation. And then we stare into the high school years and think maybe now is a good time to switch back to something more predictable, more familiar, more status quo. We want to make sure they get into a good college so they get a good job. Right? Regardless of the increasingly exorbitant cost of college and the increasingly dubious value of a college degree we still see that treadmill as the ticket to the golden fleece. But college or no college, what value does a classical education offer for the young man or woman looking for employment?

We have all heard that a classical education will help our children think better. We know that thinking well is a good thing. But truth be told, we may not fully trust that sentiment enough. Perhaps it is because we are Americans, and therefore place a high value on doing over thinking, and perhaps because we tend to believe thinking is cheap. Compared to the so-called practicality of our society’s belief in a causal relationship between education and job-getting, the seven liberal arts seem fanciful. Describing the first three (or trivium) of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, leave most people nonplussed. The last four (or quadrivium) of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy seem a bit more practical, at least two of them do━arithmetic and geometry. But is that all? Isn’t that rather narrow? We look at that list and don’t see computer science, economics, architecture, marketing, chemistry, biology, English lit, international relations, or even basket weaving. So we get nervous.

But let’s be honest in what questions we are asking, and honest in our answers. If we are truly asking whether a classical education will get our children jobs, then the answer is no. So let’s ask another question: Will a non-classical education get our children jobs? Again, the answer is no. No education automatically guarantees anyone a job. Getting a job is a much more complex process based on what one knows, what skills one can demonstrate, how readily one can adapt to changing situations, and who one knows━plus God’s providence. (Truly, it’s all God’s providence.) We often assume, as a given, that the typical method of education (non-classical, secular, state-run) is designed to guarantee the graduate a job. We have this belief that one specializes in a particularly narrow field of study that corresponds to a specific job, and we believe that job is just sitting there waiting for the student to graduate. By implication, we think a classical education must, therefore, be a risk. This is a false assumption. Reality (and a little sanity) tells us otherwise.

Perhaps you can relate to my experience. When I finished my formal schooling I worked several entry-level jobs at very low pay that were somewhat related to my area of study. And yet, from the moment I first walked through the door of each of my employers I discovered I really didn’t know much and had to be trained from the ground up. After a few years I found I no longer worked in anything I could call “my field” or area of study. My formal education did little in terms of preparing me for the specific tasks required in the many jobs I’ve had since graduation, and eventually my education ceased to be specifically relevant at all. This is a common experience. But is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, I would argue that a good liberal arts education (of which I got a little), and ideally a classical education, is the best foundation one can have for “getting a job” and, more importantly, forging a career.

What is a job? Let’s assume that everyone might say a job is a way to earn money so one can pay bills and buy basic necessities. And let’s assume that some will say that a job is a way to fulfill one’s desires or gifts or talents. And let’s assume that even some might say a job is a way to stay out of trouble. But let’s cut to the chase and declare that a job is first (and finally) a means of serving and worshiping God. If this sounds somewhat vague it is, but only because to serve and worship God can include a lot of activities. A short list of those activities would include, but not limited to, the following:

  • Providing for the needs of self, family, and others
  • Meeting obligations, such as paying bills and keeping promises
  • Benefiting others by serving them, improving their lives, and helping them flourish
  • Creating community by living consistently according to patterns of right action
  • Communicating truth by acting in accordance with Christ’s example
  • Loving others by doing all the above (while knowing that any job is contingent on God’s providence and subject to taking up our cross every day)

We must never think of “work” as a thing by itself, but as a part of living and thus being human. Education is not for merely getting a job. Education is for glorifying God, and so is work. At this point it should be stated what we desire for our children, and why we choose a Christian, classical education, is not that they will grow up and get a job, but that they will grow up into adults who love God, and live into that love through responsible and irrepressibly good actions that show God’s love for the world. Much of the time this love will take the form of work or labor. For a Christian, then, a “mere” job is not the goal. Rather, we should seek to train up our children for their vocation.

What is a vocation? The word comes from the Latin vocātiō, which has several interesting, intertwining meanings. It can mean a summons, an invitation, a bidding, and a calling. All of these can imply the idea of following the voice that calls to us, drawing us down a path towards a journey. Perhaps that voice is God’s. We are used to attaching these kinds of meanings to religious vocations like pastoring or mission work. But a vocation can be running a landscaping business, or creating computer programs, or teaching children, or building houses, or being a nurse. A vocation can be just about anything, but a vocation is deeper than a job. On the surface the two might look similar for a while. However, beneath the surface we discover a key difference: One “gets” a job, but one “gets got” by a vocation. A vocation enters one’s soul and changes a person. Our labors, in the end, are not about what we get, rather they are about what we become. A Christian, classical education prepares the student to hear the call of vocation and be ready for where it may lead.

So what about a classical education? Will it “pay off?” The answer is yes. The two most valuable skills that a person can have in pursuing a vocation is the willingness to work hard and the ability to think well. One cannot become classically educated without hard work. Good thinking is the result of pursuing virtue, of training the mind in the pursuit of the truth. The person who can think well knows how to learn, how to educate himself, how to figure out the world around him. The good thinker also understands what it means to be human and can see the image of God in others. Specific job-related skills are important, but jobs constantly change, demands shift, technology gets updated or replaced. One must be able to grasp new ideas, take hold of new demands, and fashion workable solutions. One of the ironies of a classical education is that the student studies the past in order to be better prepared for the future. A Christian classical education prepares the student for the present as well, for it is in the present that we love our neighbor.

Finally, what about specialization? What about the child who wants to grow up and become a doctor or lawyer or software engineer? The same principles apply for these vocations as well. The doctor, lawyer, and engineer must be able to think well, be able to self-educate, and serve God by loving others. The proper path to these professions includes the preparation for specialization. The student needs a solid foundation on which to then focus within their field. Much of that focusing will come later at the required training or post-graduate college level. What will carry the student through those years will be the years previously spent learning to work hard and learning to think well. A Christian, classical education is the best kind of preparation for any vocation.

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