Posts Tagged ‘Acts of the Apostles’

Turning the World upside qomu in Athens

January 27, 2015

I am 63 years old now.

But a long time ago, when I was 27, my life changed in a big way.

I had made a mess of things, having tasted too freely of the pleasures of this world. My own lusts and weaknesses were dragging me down into a terrible moshpit of overstimulated sensuous confusion.

When I finally hit bottom, I turned to Jesus and he dragged me up out of all that depravity. He set my feet upon a rock,

AeropRoc

and gave me a new start in life.

After a while, a year or so, of getting straightened by God and his ways and means committee, I got some definite direction. Many good things happened during those days. I met Pat, who became my life-mate, and has been so for 35 years, as of yesterday, January 26, 2015.

We gravitated to a small town in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, USA; there we joined a little New Testament church and linked up with some other like-minded Christians, many of whom were, like me, refugees from the rat-race world of 1979.

Our little flock was led, New Testament style, by a pastor, Tom.

Tom had read the Scriptures quite a bit, a lot more than I had, and he was teaching us about the message of the gospel proclaimed therein.

We had a little community of believers–all of us young, in our 20s and 30s mostly–and we were determined to do things right to live in Christian community, doing it “by the book.”

The “book” being the Bible.

It was a great life. Still is, but there have been some changes.

Tom taught us quite a bit from a New Testament book called the Acts. In the Bible, Acts is the first book after the four gospels.

We learned a lot. Pat and I like to think we had a lot going for us, raising our three children in a little Christian bubble of the Holy Spirit’s (and our) construction.

Tom was heavy into the book of Acts. Acts of the Apostles.

A very important part of that great narrative in Acts is this:

The eleven men (of the original “twelve apostles”) who walked this earth alongside Jesus stayed in Judea after Jesus’ death by crucifixion, resurrection, and  ascension into heaven. Then the Lord brought forth, from the Pharisee sect of the Jews, a really zealous preacher who spent most of his life traveling in the eastern Mediterranean, delivering the message of Jesus to his fellow Jews, but also to Greeks and Asians and anyone else who would listen.

I must say that, over those first twenty or so years of living in tight Christian community and implementing the gospel as preached by our pastor Tom, then Ben and others, I got a little tired of hearing about Paul all the time.

Paul this, and Paul that. What about the main main, Yeshua haMeschiach, Jesus?

But this is no simple question to answer, although the gospel itself is simple–it had to be, so that all men and women could comprehend it and receive it.

This is what frustrates intelligent people so much about the gospel–that it is so dam simple.

The gospel had to be simple so that it could be accessible to all men and women. The message is: Jesus was crucified by men for our sin (he had no sin of his own) so that we could believe in his resurrection and be rejoined with God.

Now it just so happens that today, as I write this, Pat and I are in Athens, a great city of the world. What a city! Such a city.

I love the place.

And because of what we saw and heard yesterday from Jimmy, who led us through a tour around the Aereopagus and the Acropolis, I have gained a new appreciation for old brother Paul, who traveled through here about 1,950 years ago.

Because, as Jimmy put it, Paul stood at the Aereopagus, the place where seekers gathered on a hillside in Athens, and told all those wise folks that the “unknown” God whose identity and work so were so elusive to them–this unknown God– had indeed been revealed to us through the eternal life of Jesus, the Christ, Messiah.

And, as Jimmy put it, Paul sought to convert these Greeks (who worshipped a multiplicity of gods) into Christians. Good luck with that, Paul!

Here’s the rock from the top of which Paul probably addressed the Athenian seekers:

AereopPlaq

Quite a task that was, that Paul took unto himself.

And so I learned yesterday that Paul wasn’t such a stodgy old religious guy. Rather, he was spiritual revolutionary, trying to turn the religious world upside down. And because of his  trailblazing work, and the work of many others who have followed  him through history, the gospel of Jesus has trickled through history and time to me, an American wandering through the city of Athens in the year 2015. Pretty revolutionary stuff. Paul did indeed “turn the world upside down.”

I hope you can relate. Thanks for stopping by.

Glass Chimera

at The Cradle of Western Civilization

January 26, 2015

Back in the 1960’s days of my youth I began what eventually became a lifetime study of history and literature. While studying classic English literature in college (LSU) I sometimes wondered why the great writers of British literature had such a fascination, almost obsession with, ancient Greek literature.

Yesterday I began to understand why.

When you actually go to a place like Athens and walk around for a day, your definition of literacy changes. You see how far back our quest for knowledge goes. You notice  how different that quest was then, even though it now seems to be somehow the same pursuit.

While ambling on foundations (literally) of Western civilization established in Athenian ground 2500 years ago, you get an unfamiliar sense of time-travel, especially if you’re an American like me. I grew up in a national identity that was only hundreds of years old instead of, you know, thousands of years old.

This sense of getting deep insight into the origins of constructive thought is probably similar to what the classic English writers–Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, Keats, Shelley, etc. etc.–felt when they came here.

It is a sense of this Culture thing that’s going on in the annals of mankind–it goes back a long, long way!

What I want to do here is present to you three examples of this experience that I had yesterday.

1.

Pat and I  stumbled upon (with a little help from a map) an ancient theatre, thousands of years old, where actual people who lived during that time came to see and hear actual plays being acted, like we would go to plays or movies today.

It was in this place:

TheatrDion2

In this very place, in this grandiose structure, playwrights of ancient Athens were amused as they watched ancient Athenian actors acting out on stage the dramas that they–the playwrights– had written.

When I dabbled in classic literature, back in the day, in college, I read selections from very old plays or poems written by long-dead Greek guys like Aeschylus, Euripides, or Homer. When I was reading, on printed pages, their old dramas and stories–like Oedipus Rex or The Odyssey or whatever–the reading experience was rather shallow.

To see the place where those ancient Greek stories were recited or acted out–there’s just something about it that propels the awareness of human story-telling into a new reality, a new appreciation for history that I never understood before.

Doesn’t that resemble a theater of auditorium in which you have been seated, having been perhaps assisted by an usher?

So that you see and hear some old story acted or sung about.

The urge to watch drama–plays or musicals of whatever fashion–goes back a long way! It’s nothing new.

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the ancient (even older than these Greeks) Hebrew poet Ecclesiastes noted.

What I am seeing is that, while the content of the narrative may change with time and fashion, the fundamental means of dramatic story-telling has changed not so much.

2.

This is true not only of literature, but also of military conquest and politics.

Pat snapped this picture of the antiquated structure called Hadrian’s Arch. You see me standing there beneath the architecture.

HadrArchCare

What’s funny about this is, on one side of the arch the citizens of Athens had inscribed (only barely visible) this statement:

“This is Athens, the city of Theseus.”

A few centuries later, the Romans came through and took over Athens. The Romans conquered the Greeks, or subjugated them, or threw their weight around in such a way that they wanted to demonstrate to the Athenians that  they–the Romans, new kids on the block of civilization– were now in charge of things around here and so now we pre-Italianos would be running the show and things would be different around here and you better know who’s calling the shots, if you know what I mean. And so, to make their point in an impressively architectural way, the Romans inscribed on the other side of the arch a new statement:

“This is the city of Hadrian, not Theseus”

I thought that was quite funny when Pat read it to me in the guide book.

3.

Here’s a time-travel appointment with one more  event that had happened in Athens, almost two thousand years ago. We were at a stony hilltop called Aereopagus.

AeropRoc

Yesterday I was standing here, looking at the marbly rocks of geological and historical time; the stones were worn smooth by millions of human feet that had trod there since the tree of knowledge was first encountered. Here, Greeks of long ago would gather to talk about the meaning of life, and probably drink coffee or wine, while discovering among themselves great thoughts of philosophy, history, politics, sports and bullshit and war and whatnot.

One day a zealous proponent of a new movement called Christianity came to town. He had come on a boat from Israel.

Paul had wandered in Athens for a day or two, and had heard about the serious pursuits of knowledge and nascent Western civilization that were taking place up on Aereopagus. So he went up there to listen, and to deliver a message to those sages. Here is (as recorded in a book, Acts of the Apostles) the beginning of what he told them:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man . . .”

But that was only another new beginning, even though it was in the middle of everything.

More to come. News at 11.

Glass Chimera