The Tree in the River

Herbs tend to attract a certain kind of people, mainly, women (moms, wives, grandmas etc..) or very “new age” people whose main focus is connecting with the Earth and living in harmony with everything. But there is a group of people who I believe would be fascinated by herbs- tea drinkers. I am not referring to casual tea drinkers, I’m talking about serious “true tea” drinkers. “Gong fu cha” (literally, making tea with skill) geeks who are at such a different level than the conventional tea drinker that they cannot be compared. These people brew their tea much differently than you would expect here in the USA. The gaiwan (cup with a lid that holds only about 3-5oz of liquid) is the brewing vessel of choice, they have a “tea pet”, tea bags are nowhere to be found in their homes and don’t you dare ask if they would like…

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Currently (and always) in the United States people are concerned about justice. Regardless of where you stand in any particular topic, the appeal to authority everyone points to is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This is beneficial because there is at least an objective document to that we agree to have some form of authority over us. Does the objective document determine a Just regime?

The founding of a group is the most important act for them; whether it’s a religion, country, gang, or pop band. That is because the ideals establish at the founding defines what is important to that group. If something comes later down the line that threatens to stray from the founding ideals, it is received with a level of suspicion regardless if that change is good or bad. In modernity we have forgotten, or never knew, the importance of founding. 

For example, gun control; advocates who want extreme reform in the United States many times point to other countries and their laws to show how others have handled the issue. This can only go so far because it does not consider the founding of other countries. To say that an Asian or European regime does xyz with guns is irrelevant unless that county also was founded on similar principles and ideologies. If they were not, then there is not direct relation to the issue; the 2nd amendment is woven in the fabric of this current regime whether one likes it or not. 

I recently went to Japan with my wife and was greatly impressed with the people and culture there. It was extremely clean, the infrastructure was beyond efficient, and the people were kind and respectful. That immediately brought up the question of ‘what can we do that they are doing to make us the same way’ for certain things (especially their public transportation!) that I felt they did better. However, the problem with this is that we can’t just take what we see today in another regimes’ laws and turn around and implement the same anywhere else. That country got to where it is today through its own shaping through history and its own founding. There is a complete difference in culture for generations upon generations, not simple recent implementation of laws. Japan got to where it is today from thousands of years of Shinto beliefs, Buddhist influences, and a cultural identity that is foreign to us but unique to them. They have different values and ideas of the individual and the community and how they correspond to each other. They have their own governmental system and history that pre dates the United States.  To simply visit Japan today and turn around and say our problems will be fixed if we had their laws is a gross over simplification of reality. That is not to say that laws shouldn’t be implemented or repealed simply because culture builds over generations; it’s simply saying that it is never that simple. 

So then the particular issue of gun control (or any other issue) needs to be seen in the light of the ‘whole’ of regimes and how they are founded, and why they are the way they are. 

So then what does it mean to understand the founding of a civilization in light of all civilization, and how to we get to the Just Regime where all is right? To get to there I want to go I want to first take a step back to look at the ‘whole’ of God and man, since if we want to know about founding and beginnings, where better to begin than the Beginning. 

First, let’s look at the founding of the first city, and the account that surrounds it. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. After the fall of man and garden banishment Cain kills Abel for selfish reasons. Cain then goes on to found the first city, dedicating it to his son, Enoch (meaning ‘dedication’). So then, the act of building the first city, a place where people come together to live with one another in community, was founded by someone who murdered his brother. The ideals set forth in a place where people would come together in the hope of a just and fair society, was birthed through the miscarriage of justice. Man in the original pre-fall creation was called to build communities; post-fall that mandate is accomplished by irony. 

Even the greatest city of all, Rome, has its own founding legend of fratricide being its origin. Brother killing brother to go on to build a mighty community. The regimes of man will always be founded ironically with injustice. This goes for the United States as well. A new country based on ideals and principles of freedom, ideals to be praised in themselves, and yet they were also realized in wickedness. And so, all regimes of man will be from there on out. It is man’s continuous fall forever from grace, the curse that enters the city. 


I will add that in the United States I do not believe the answer is to throw out the ideals from the founding, but rather to truly live up to them with integrity. Acknowledge what was and is wicked and cut that out. 

Is the search for a just city a new search? Why have we yet to attain it? In about the 6th century another person identified man’s tendency for a seemingly futile search for justice in the cities of man. Augustine of Hippo saw what man accomplishes in life, summing up all of man’s venture as building the ‘city of man’. In his work titled ‘The City of God,’ Augustine traces the lineage of both the cities of man and what he calls the City of God; essentially recounting the history of man and the history of God working through man. In book 14, chapter 28 of this work he takes a step back from the tracing of both lineages and summarizes the whole endeavor as he discusses the nature of the two cities- the earthly and the heavenly. 

In the search for justice in the city, Augustine recognizes the founding as important for establishing its nature. The heavenly city is one that he sees as being founded by Jesus. Though, the citizenship of this city is not found on earth. Its citizens have two passports essentially; one being their earthly citizenship wherever they find themselves on the globe, the other being not of this world. Citizens of the heavenly city are universally united regardless of where their earthly city may be, they are the true cosmopolitan. 

On founding’s, here are some of Augustine’s reflections on both the earthly city and heavenly city:

“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self…The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord…The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”

Those are the universal characteristics of both cities. Augustine’s thinking shows he also understands that the founding of the city is the most important act. In all earthly cities, regimes are founded when one brother kills the other for the benefit of self, setting that as the standard; in the Heavenly city the True Brother lays down His life for the benefit of all, giving a completely other standard. 

Regardless of which side of a wall you are on, you can begin to have a second citizenship to a better City. A City that you can meet some of it’s citizens now around the world living in every city of man. One in which the Founder has laid down His life only to take it up again. 

In the heavenly city is where true justice was found. It’s Founder was the Just, and the Justifier. We can come to the gates of the city we were not worthy to enter because the founder is Our Brother. 

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the City which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God… All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them…For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come”

All our longings for the city filled with justice are our longings for our heavenly city. We should strive to bring justice to cities of man, while recognizing our longings are for a more true city. Which city are you a citizen of? The city that lives for self, even to the contempt of God, or the city that lives for God and for neighbor, even to the contempt of self?


I believe hermeneutics is probably the most important subject someone should learn, even more so for those who believe the Bible is the word of God. This is because it’s the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation- and it can be applied to writings in any age. So whether you are getting into classical literature, political theory, or biblical interpretation, hermeneutics is the basis for understanding how you understand a text.

We learn from hermeneutics one of the steps to take in getting a better understanding of a writing is finding out as much information about the author as possible, including  the time and place they lived in. This helps us gain insight into word usage as the time as well as the political climate. A good example of why we need to know times being written is the word tweet. Before Twitter became what it is today, the word tweet meant something entirely different than what it would mean to someone hearing it today. Understanding what Twitter is and the usage of it in the culture helps someone understand what is being said. 

This volume is subtitled ‘A guide for the books you’ve always wanted to read.’ It’s a fitting title. If you are someone that has always been interested in getting around to reading ‘great works’ of literature but you don’t know where to start, this is an amazing resource. 

It is essentially a one volume book that discusses authors rather than books. That is great because you will find that authors are many times writers of more than one impactful work. I appreciate that it keeps it brief; it is intended to be an introduction and it succeeds in just that. Each portion spans 2 or three pages, normally with beautiful images, and it ends with suggestions for further reading. It has been one of the books that I take off the shelf often for a quick look for some background information.

Arguably the best part of the book are the essays in the beginning. ‘The Importance of The Classics’ essay really resonated with me in that it talks about how it is not enough to know about the works, but we need to truly know the works themselves. To be able to recall and replay them in your mind, to think through them, to process them in everyday life. 

The classics are timeless so they will always be timely. If you think that things written in antiquity have no relevance to today, then you especially need to read them. Again, not just about them, but knowing them well. 

 This book brings the background of the classical authors in brief, yet valuable ways. Obviously there are resources that may more insight, yet this book captures the introduction level perfectly, as intended. I simply wish there was a kindle version of it as too, so that I could access the information away from my bookshelf. 

I turned, then, to that shade who seemed to be
the most intent to speak, and I began,
moved by an overwhelming urge, to say

“O well-created soul who, in the rays
of endless life, enjoy that sweetness which,
till truly tasted, never can be known,

how happy it would make me if you were
so gracious as to tell me who you are
and of your fate.” Gladly, with smiling eyes,

she said: “The love in us no more rejects
a just request than does the love in Him
Who wills His court to be like Love Himself.

I was a virgin sister in the world;
if you search deep into your memory,
you will remember me- though now I am

more beautiful by far- I am Piccarda.
You see me here among these other blest,
blest, all of us, within the slowest sphere.

Our own desires that are stirred alone
in the desires of the Holy Ghost
rejoice conforming to His ordering.

Our station which appears so lowly here
has been assigned because we failed our vows
to some degree and gave less than we pledged.”

I said: “Your faces shine so wondrously
with something undescribably divine,
transforming them beyond the memory,

and so I was not quick remembering;
but now with what your words have just revealed,
I find it easy to recall your face.

But tell me: all you souls so happy here,
do you yearn for a higher post in Heaven,
to see more, to become more loved by Him?”

She gently smiled, as did the other shades;
then came her words so full of happiness,
she seemed to glow with the first fire of love:

“Brother, the virtue of our heavenly love,
tempers our will and makes us want no more
than what we have- we thirst for this alone.

If we desired to be higher up,
then our desires would not be in accord
with His will Who assigns us to this sphere;

think carefully what love is and you’ll see
such discord has no place within these rounds,
since to be here is to exist in Love.

Indeed, the essence of this blessed state
is to dwell here within His holy will,
so that there is no will but one with His;

the order of our rank from height to height,
throughout this realm is pleasing to the realm,
as to that King Who wills us to His will.

In His will is our peace- it is the sea
in which all things are drawn that it itself
creates or which the work of Nature makes.”

Then it was clear to me that every where
of Heaven is Paradise, though there the light
of Grace Supreme does not shine equally.

In The Divine Comedy, Canto III of Paradiso, Dante has an encounter with Piccarda in the level of heaven which vow breakers dwell. Dante asks Piccarda if people in lower levels of Heaven desire to be in higher levels. Dante hears the best answer in the entire comedy.

Dante’s question brings to mind biblical teaching about contentment and complacency. When the Bible deals with contentment the context is usually suffering or some form of lack. In Philippians Paul learns the secret of contentment in both harsh and good conditions through Jesus. He says “For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” Also, Hebrews 13:5 says to keep your lives free from the love of money and to be content with what you have. Biblically, contentment is accepting the material good that you have as from God.

Dante and Piccarda awakened the question; am I to feel ‘contentment’ with my level of knowledge about God and my relationship with Him? She says ‘’if we desired to be higher up, then our desires would not be in accord with His will who assigns us to this sphere…” She articulated what I could not; being content means being satisfied in God to the effect that you are at peace. “In His will is our peace” became all the more true because the context of the conversation that preceded it.

Being in His will brings peace; His will is to know Him more. This helps with discouragement in my walk with God. When I think I should be feeling a certain way emotionally, and I feel a struggle with complacency, I look to see if I am in His will, and peace comes with that. Piccarda says “He tempers our will and makes us want no more than what we have.”

Lifting his mouth from his horrendous meal,
this sinner first wiped off his messy lips
In the hair remaining on the chewed-up skull

Then spoke: “You want me to renew a grief
So desperate that just the thought of it,
Much less the telling, grips my heart with pain;

But if my words can be the seed to bear
The fruit of infamy for this betrayer,
Who feeds my hunger, then I shall speak– in tears.

I do not know your name, nor do I know
How you have come down here, but Florentine
You surely seem to be, to hear you speak.

First you should know I was Count Ugolino
And my neighbor here, Ruggieri the Archbishop;
Now I’ll tell you why I’m so unneighborly.

That I, trusting in him, was put in prison
Through his evil machinations, where I died,
This much I surely do not have to tell you.

What you could have not know, however, is
The inhuman circumstance of my death.
Now listen, then decide if he has wronged me!

Through a narrow slit of window high in that mew
(Which is called the tower of hunger, after me,
And I’ll not be the last to know that place)

I had watched moon after moon after moon go by,
When finally I dreamed the evil dream
Which ripped away the veil that hid my future.

I dreamed of this one here as lord and huntsman,
Pursuing the wolf and the wolf cubs up the mountain
(Which blocks the sight of Luca from the Pisans)

With skinny bitches, well trained and obedient;
He had out front as leaders of the pack
Gualandi with Sismondi and Lanfanchi.

A short run, and the father with his sons
Seemed to grow tired, and then I thought I saw
Long fangs sunk deep into their sides, ripped open.

When I awoke before the light of dawn,
I heard my children sobbing in their sleep
(You see they, too, were there), asking for bread.

If there thought of what my heart was telling me
Does not fill you with grief, how cruel you are!
If you are not weeping now- do you ever weep?

And then they awoke. It was around the time
They usually brought our food to us. But now
Each one of us was full of dread from dreaming;

Then from below I heard them driving nails
Into the dreadful tower’s door; with that,
I stared in silence at my flesh and blood.

I did not weep, I turned to stone inside;
They wept, and my little Anseluccio spoke:
‘What is it, father? Why do you look that way?’

For them I held my tears back, saying nothing,
All of that day, and then all of that night,
Until another sun shone on the world.

A meager ray of sunlight found its way
To the misery of our cell, and I could see
Myself reflected four times in their faces;

I bit my hands in anguish. And my children,
Who thought that hunger made me bite my hands,
Were quick to draw up closer to me, saying:

‘O, father, you would make us suffer less,
If you would feed on us: you were the one
Who gave us this sad flesh; you take it from us!’

I calmed myself to make them less unhappy.
That day we sat in silence, and the next day.
O pitiless earth! You should have swallowed us!

The fourth day came, and it was on that day
My Gaddo fell prostrate before my feet,
Crying: ‘Why don’t you help me? Why, my father?’

There he died. Just as you see me here,
I saw the other three fall one by one,
As the fifth day and sixth day passed. And I,

By then gone blind, groped over their dead bodies.
Though they were dead, two days I called their names.
Then hunger proved more powerful than grief.”

One of the benefits of literature is it’s ability to create images and forms in the hearts and minds of people. I wanted to share this excerpt simply because the first time I heard it read to me I was stunned.

This exert is from Dante’s Divine Comedy, a three part work depicting a tour through hell, purgatory, and heaven. This is from Inferno Canto XXXIII when Dante is near the end of his downward journey towards the bottom of hell where everything is frozen (yes, frozen) over. There he meets Count Ugolino. Quite graphically, the character finds Count Ugolino with most of his body frozen in ice except his head, which was free to move so that he can eternally chew the head of another person. The above is the accounting of his story.

The image cast in my imagination was more powerful than anything Dante could have written. “Then hunger proved more powerful than grief.” His choice to simply leave the account there showed me how words can be used not only to describe, but can instead leave implications that are more powerful than words.

It’s a good reminder that the various use and non-use of words are very powerful. I’ll explore more of Dante’s work as time moves on, however I wanted to share a personal, favorite, memorable moment. I hope more people come to literature with the expectation of enjoyment, satisfaction, and surprise.

Here’s something to consider when coming to the classics: words have meaning to them. That may seem simple enough to understand that it should bear no repeating, but it is something that needs to be discussed. The idea that words communicate meaning is an assumption (as this writing would be meaningless otherwise), what should not be assumed is that everyone is using the same definitions.

In the preface to his work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis uses the example of the word ‘gentleman’ to show how a word with a specific meaning can be ‘‪spiritualized‬’ and made to mean entirely something else.

“The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?” They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.”

Think of any hot topic, buzz word, or volatile term being used by your surrounding community. How often is the same word used by opposing sides in an attempt to prove their own point? In my personal experience I have found that simply asking someone to define what they mean allows me to not only better understand what they are communicating, but more often than not I find everyone means something different when using the same word. Overcoming the barriers of ideological presuppositions given to words can prove to be very difficult.

With the classics there is an added barrier of time and language between the writer, the original audience, the translator (unless you are reading in the original language), and you, the reader. Our words change meaning, our words have different definitions. Once this is understood we can approach the classics with questions such as what does virtue and justice mean to the Socrates and Aristotle. We then won’t be surprised if it may not be what we thought it would mean. Once that hurdle is overcome then we can begin to dialogue with the authors and enter into their world.

The Information Age is unlike any other time in history. The sharing of ideas can be achieved instantaneously across the globe in a rapidly ever-changing marketplace of opinion. Is there still a reason we should look at those who came before us to examine their wisdom and knowledge? After all, does not modern technological achievements prove the present is the pinnacle of progress in all areas? Yes, there is still reason to look to the past. We must guard against our ‘chronological snobbery’, a term coined by C.S. Lewis for giving priority to newer ideas simply on the merit they are new all the while dismissing older ideas simply because they are old. Chronological snobbery carries an assumption that mankind is always progressing, always moving ‘forward’ in all areas of life; therefore those who came before have nothing new to say that we have not already used and processed for today’s benefit, they are ‘out of date’. Referring to older ideas in his autobiography ‘Surprised by Joy’, Lewis states:

“You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.” (Lewis, pg 207,208).

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

Along with choronological snobbery, intellectual elitism is another danger to raise awareness on. In her essay ‘The Necessity of the Classics’, Louise Cowan touches on the need to bring the classics back from an elite group of ‘experts’ into the hands and understanding of everyone. In addressing this ivory tower approach to classics she states:

“In this way, all the genuine classics, all poetry, is being “killed.” By detaching themselves from the texts and yet mastering their every detail, by avoiding assertions, generalizations, and affirmations, by scorning anyone who dares to speak of one of these works without himself being an expert—and, more recently, by purporting to find in these works exclusions, stereotypes, and subterranean messages of dominance— scholars have turned the classics into philological and semiotic quarry. The classics are thus hunted down by specialists who can kill from a great distance by a single shot—kill, that is, by negating their intrinsic meaning, quibbling about esoteric details, rendering it impossible for anyone but fellow specialists to read the texts in question. These masterpieces are thus off-limits for the general reader. And certainly the ordinary college student cannot even obtain the license to hunt”. (Cowan, pg 10)

Cowan and Lewis recognize the importance of weighing and evaluating ideas themselves; removing the prejudices of the age of the ideas and the perception that critiquing and enjoying is only reserved for a select few.

As we journey into the restoration of our love for literature by making the classics accessible, let us not fall into being reverse-chronological snobs, and let us be confident that this is accessible for all.