Posts Tagged ‘Athens’

from Ridiculous to Sublime

September 28, 2016

A couple of nights ago, I briefly tuned into that  greatly over-hyped debate. Donald was blathering about Hillary’s emails and she was going on and on about his failure to release tax returns.

Nothing new here, just more of the same old same old blah blah.

So I ditched it, and went back to what I had been doing before, because, I thought, this is ridiculous.

Well then a day or two rolls by.

This afternoon, while listening to WDAV on the radio, my soul was stirred profoundly by the hearing of an amazing selection of music. And I found myself wondering, what is it about this music that moves me so much?

I don’t know, but I can tell you one thing. This music it is sublime.

What is sublime? you may wonder. I cannot adequately explain to you what the word sublime means, but I can show you where the meaning is clearly demonstrated if you will listen to this:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOofwWT3Edc

As the changing drama within the music builds up, pay particular attention to these     minute-time points in the video: 2:58, 4:00, 5:55 and 8:32.

I recently read something about how or why  this artistic dynamism moves us so much. In his book, A Secular Age,

  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002KFZLK2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Charles Taylor says . .

“. . . such art can serve to disclose very deep truths which in the nature of things can never be obvious . . .”

This music is, after all physical analysis is said and done, merely a pounding of wood and metal beneath the orchestrated hands of trained men. How can it be, then, that it moves me so?

To try to understand why or how, you might as well try to comprehend how or why, over two centuries ago, some men and women like you and me had a luxurious building constructed and then  walked around on its mosaic floor like they owned the place and then later a bunch of other stuff happened and things changed and it got covered up for a long time and then one day some other people came along and dug it up and said . . .

“. . .well, gollee, what do you know about that?”

“Gosh, Jeb, it’s a mystery to me.”

RomanAthens

Glass Chimera

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Bon Voyage for Joey and Maria

December 24, 2015

Joey was really in love with Maria, so it didn’t matter so much to him that she was carrying someone else’s baby. He intended to marry her anyway and raise the child as his own. Blinded by love, he was ready to do anything to protect her. Her face was always in his mind, in his dreams. Whenever they were together, he felt himself to be a true man. Whenever they were apart, he felt himself even more, a man. That meant something–something very precious, very strong, and very. . . ancient, as if they had been together since the dawn of time. In spite of all the trouble and displacement of their immediate circumstances, he felt more a man now than ever before in his life.

What is a man anyway? Someone who takes responsibilities for his own action.

But to take responsibility for someone else’s carelessness? That’s crazy, especially if it requires a lifelong commitment to some other man’s kid.

It wasn’t like he could explain why he was willing to do anything for her. She had told him the whole terrible truth about what had happened–how she had gotten pregnant unexpectedly after making some poor choices.  He had known her far longer than the guy who had inflicted this condition on her.

But it was more than a condition that had taken hold of Maria. It was a child.

Nothing about that loser mattered now anyway. It was all water under the bridge.

They had left Izmir two days ago. Now, Joey and Maria were stepping onto an overcrowded boat to depart Lesbos. Two sketchy-looking characters were up on the deck, acting like they owned the place, rudely waving their herd of misfits through while checking each one’s ticket to make sure they had paid. No freeloaders. The two goons had already turned several off the boat, provoking loud protests from those rejected travelers–protests that were shouted loudly to no avail.

Joey felt secure in one thing; he had paid dearly for their two tickets. It had cost him more than half of everything he had managed to bring with them.

As the goon waved him and Maria through, he felt great relief.

He looked at Maria’s face. She was still smiling. It had been days since he had seen her smile. Suddenly, everything was worth the trouble and the pain of whatever the hell they were getting into now, whatever new phase. As they stumbled, then walked, around the stern, and to the other side of the boat. There was an open space at the side. He gently placed his had on her back, just above her perfect derriere, and urged her with a tender guidance to rest for a moment at the railing. This was, after all, a very special moment–one they had talked about for weeks. Now they were here at last, on the boat, bound for Athens.

He looked out seaward, across the bright-on-dark horizon, at the deep blue sea. Soon they would be skimming o’er the waves. Some time tomorrow, they would arrive in Athens and find the place that Gabe had told him about. If they could get there, surely their troubles would be over, at least for awhile.

After surveying that long-expected horizon for a few moments, he looked again at Maria’s face. The smile had morphed into what seemed a painful expression. But there was still a smile, somehow, beneath the pain. That’s what he loved about her. Now he couldn’t resist the urge, and there was no need to anyway. He bent down and laid a a long, wet kiss on her lips; she responded in a way that made him long for a place of their own. But this intimacy could only go on for so long here in this place, on this boat amongst all these straggly people, and then. . .

Then he looked out to the Aegean again, and his mind began to, in spite of itself, jump to the next phase–whatever that might be. He was hoping there would be room for them at the inn.

Smoke

The Ascent of Man

February 22, 2015

In the beginning

of his life, the man is born into this world. He is born and raised as a child.

Over years of time, the boy becomes a man. Finding himself in the midst of mankind, he looks around at the world and the people in it, and he  wonders what it is all about.

The man tries to make his way in the world, striving to find his place in it, but the attempt is not easy, nor is it simple.

One day, he sees the mountain. MtnCity

He is drawn to the mountain. He begins ascending it. After climbing to the top, he pauses to consider the city below, from whence he has just come. AcropEdgWal2

That’s interesting.

But there’s more to getting perspective than just climbing a mountain. Because he lives in the 21st century, the man is afforded even better opportunities to get a lofty view of the world. And so he ascends even further. AirAlps10

After the man comes down, and his head is no longer in the clouds, he finds himself once again in the midst of the world, struggling to attain mastery over the elemental forces of nature, and contending among the diverse populations of mankind for his very own place of fulfillment and destiny.  QuirnalSculp

After a while, he pauses to  gather his thoughts. Writing them down for his children, for posterity, for whatever rhyme or reason, he attains a certain satisfaction in having experienced life. Reflecting upon his experience, he writes. RomeWrite

Life is good: life. But he knows there is something meaningful behind it all, some lofty purpose, but it is beyond his field of vision. He he cannot see it, and so he cannot readily identify it.  He is not quite sure what is up there. ColmRestor

Nevertheless, the man continues. He rises from his reflection, and trudges on, moving through the opinions of mankind, and among the great monuments and feats of men and women upon the face of the earth, and the revelation of God among the men and women of the wide world.

For many and many a year, he sojourns along the path that is laid before him, for many risings and descendings, many decades, and yeah I say unto thee even, vicariously, through many historical epochs of mankind, and upwards into the mountain peaks of experience and downwards into the valleys to drink from cool, babbling brooks of refreshment, and then quieting himself to discover still, quiet pools of reflection.

It is good.

Then one day, he finds himself at an unprecedented place. A place he has never been before, nor will ever be again, a place from which there is no egress.

The man opens wide his eyes and looks fearfully, studying with wonder whatever it is that is in front of him. There, between the two constructs of experience and reflection, there directly across his forward path, he sees the obelisk of his destiny. He looks up; he squints, trying to figure it out.

There, at the top of the monument–there is nothing there.

No, wait. There is something there. What is it? ColCross

At the top of his obelisk of destiny, there it is: the way of all flesh. But beyond the way of all flesh, he could see only open sky.

And so he entered into it. But that was no end; it was the beginning.

 

Glass half-Full

Back to the future of Religion

February 21, 2015

Human history is full of walls. Everywhere people have gone upon the earth, they have built walls. Walls can keep good stuff in and bad stuff out, or the other way around.

For instance, consider this wall, which we encountered in Rome when we were there a few weeks ago:

VaticanWallC

Beyond this wall lies the body of Western Civilization. . .

if you consider the history of the Christian Church as a primary trunk of Western Civilization.

Not everybody does of course. Some folk are not believers, but rather thinkers, like the early, pre-Christian Greeks. . . Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. etc. . . Descartes, Locke, Marx . . .etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_philosophy

Many people in Western Civilization understand the difference between thinking and believing this way: they are mutually exclusive, two different animals. You either spend your life thinking, or you spend your life believing what is taught to you.

This is not true; it’s a false dichotomy.

I myself am living example of this. I am a Christian believer, and yet I do like to think analytically about everything, including faith itself.

This I have concluded: Faith is what you find at the end Thought.

In other words, when you’ve exhausted your brain in trying to figure life out, then you start believing in something besides thinking itself.

In my youth, I considered the Catholic Church, in which I was raised. And I decided it was for the birds.

I took a look at Philosophy, and decided I couldn’t not understand enough of it to make sense of the real world.

I studied the Law of Moses, and learned that I could not live by it.

Recently, I studied a little bit about Mohammed, because, well, you know. . . he and his followers are all the rage. Mohammed was a very smart guy, probably even a genius, but he was obviously a man, like me and you. His visions and ultimate indoctrinations were human, not divine. The outcome was True Religion by Intimidation.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, laid down his life rather than settle for merely human solutions to our predicament. Now there’s a man I could follow, even though he went to the cross and suffered death. He was pure goodness, and I could follow him through death’s door, all the way to eternal life.

Of course that’s what Peter, his right-hand man, said about Jesus: I will follow you.

Then he went on to stumble through life, like me or you or any other human being. I look forward to interviewing him in heaven. I can relate to his resolution to follow Christ, even though he screwed up on more than one occasion.

A lot of things were done, in subsequent Christian history, in Peter’s name. There’s the Chair of St.Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church

Which leads me back to Walls phenoma. . .people building walls. Consider the one pictured above, in the great city of Rome. This wall was built by the Catholics to protect the museum part of St.Peter’s Basilica (in the Vatican.) Pretty impressive wall too, don’t you think. I was quite moved by its immensity; that’s why I snapped the photo. It seemed so . . . medieval.

On the other side of it, as I later learned, is the Vatican Museum, which is why I say therein lies the body of Western Civilization . . .

In a metaphorical kind of way, and even then only if you’re a person inclined to place value on religious traditions and institutions.

Like Tevya, you know. . .Tradition! tradition. Tradition.

Well guess what. Life goes on. That day in Rome, after the big brown wall image was safely in the iPhone, Pat and I resumed our walking tour of the city. It was a beautiful experience.

But just so you’ll know what a backward thinker I am, here’s a different photo that I had snapped about a week earlier, in Athens:

ConstXIPal

This is a statue of Constantine XI Palaiologos. He was the last emperor of the Byzantine empire.

He was killed by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1453. He died defending Constantinople, the epicenter of Orthodox Christianity during that period of history. The empire that he ruled, the Byzantine, had been trying to build a Wall, of sorts, a wall of Christian religion and dominion that would withstand the onslaught of Muslim Ottomans, but Byzantium could not withstand the Ottomans. So now the place is called Istanbul.

But such is the fate of Western Civilization’s aspirations for world dominion. Orthodox Christendom and the Byzantine empire that defended it could not stand against the onslaught of Islam in 1453.

Later however, the Ottoman empire suffered its own demise, in 1924, after Western Civilization imposed a new victory over the Ottoman Caliphate in the aftermath of World War I.

Alas, nowadays we Civilized persons of the West face a new Islamic Pretender. This one, arising in ancient Syrian lands, is claiming to recover the lapsed Caliphate mantle which had been worn for a few centuries by the Turks, even though the arrogant ISIS brutes do not acknowledge the Ottoman legacy as a legitimate Caliphate.

Consequently, we survivors of Western Civilization are now building a new network of Walls: digital walls, firewalls, psychological walls, spiritual and moral walls, to arrest the shock and awe of “violent extremists.”

Ultimately, we will have to erect some military walls, both defensive and offensive, before it is all over with, the end of the world or whatever.

Or just the end of Western Civilization. Then where will the body lie?

Whatever happens, our opposition to the jayvee-team fascists of the Khilafah will not end as Constantine XI’s last stand ended in 1453; nor is it likely to be enshrined within the walls of  the Vatican Museum.

 

Smoke

Ritual and Renewal in Christendom

February 14, 2015

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and my wife was too. That was a long time ago.

During the 35 years of our marriage, we’ve been intimately connected to a group of Protestant Christian believers. Our group spends a lot of time reading the Bible and discussing the revelation, poetry, prophecy and history that is documented therein.

Our literate emphasis on the Bible, the printed Word of God, has not always been the main thrust of the Christian religion. Widespread reading of the Scriptures only came to the forefront in Christian life during the Protestant Reformation, which was led in the 1500’s by Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other outspoken reformers.

There’s a historical reason why the Reformation, and the Renaissance before it, happened when it did.

About a hundred years before Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention and development of the printing press had begun forging new paths of communication. This new printing technology would greatly proliferate literacy, and the use of the printed word, for centuries to come. The expanded use of printed Scriptures fundamentally changed the Christian religion; it was similar, in a way, to the way digital media has profoundly altered communication during our times.

But before that 16th-century revolution in literate religion came (enabling Christians to sit around discussing the Bible), there was the centuries-old Practice of Religion, and a major part of that religion was Ritual.

Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is plainly told, for all to see and read, in the four Gospels of the printed Word. We take this for granted in the 21st century, as we did in the last century when I was growing up.

My Catholic childhood practice of religion was absolutely defined by the Mass, which is a ritual that had originated in the events of Christ’s sacrifice, but was later morphed during 1900 years of time into a prescribed, elaborate ceremony. The original purpose of the Mass was to tell the story of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, in Jerusalem. But as that Mass came down through the ages, the cognitive element (understanding what actually happened at Calvary) was draped (rather mysteriously in my young consciousness) in ceremonial robes, and spoken in a language–Latin–that I did not understand. And so the Mass became, for me and for millions of others, something else. It became a Ritual.

In my young soul, this produced reverence, and a kind of faith–not a faith of understanding, but of. . .ritual, and yes, belief.

I’m not rejecting ritual altogether. I believe it is a profound component of human community, and can be a pathway toward faithful worship. But my turning, in early adulthood, to (what is called Protestantism) the Scriptures, instead of the Catholic (or HighChurch) ceremonial practice, has been quite productive, and beneficial in how I have lived life.

When Pat and I visited Greece and Italy a few of weeks ago, I was enlightened about all this. It was a kind of epiphany.

In Athens, we saw:

OrthxBrite

I snapped the image in a Greek Orthodox church.

A week later in Rome, we saw:

GoldAltar

This image is from a Roman Catholic church.

These two pix cannot portray the meaning, nor the reverential profundity, of worship as it regularly is offered in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Old World, and still today through the whole world. But they are a visual indicator of the cultural legacy, and the experiential intensity, that accompanies ceremonies in both major strains of Christendom. (Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic parted ways during the 11th century A.D.)

I will cast no judgement about the formal traditions of my Christian brothers and sisters whose faith is framed in the Old way of worship. I suppose what they are doing may reflect more perfectly what we will all be doing in heaven someday.

These reverential musings, which were recently initiated for me in Athens and Rome, have marvelously, perhaps Providentially, landed on this screen just now, for you to see. Now I will bring this ceremonial sojourn to a visual cadence with . . . one more picture I snapped; it expresses my feeling about our colorful Christian faith, which is visible to those who watch attentively, in the midst of a tragic, and dreary, world.

PiazNovnaColr

Glass half-Full

Boston is from Athens; New York is from Rome

February 8, 2015

Having just returned from a week in Athens and a week in Rome, I have to say this: There’s a lot of old stuff there.

It is obvious to me that, as Americans, we live in a New World. Our infrastructure and buildings are decades, or a mere century or two, old.

Europeans live in an Old World. Buildings and roads there  are centuries, even thousands of years, old.

And yet, within that Old World, there is a noticeable “old” and “new” between Athens and Rome. There was a time–around 100 bc–when Rome was the new kid on the block. Greece’s culture and structure, stretching back into antiquity three or four centuries before Rome’s, was nascent and contemplative.

GrkColGlyf

In a mysterious kind of way, the dawn of Western civilization in Greek culture was delicate, as compared to Rome’s bigger-is-better bluster and in-your-face bravado.

BroknColm

Think of it this way:  Boston is from Athens; New York is from Rome.

Or think of it another way: Ancient Greece is like old Virginia; ancient Rome is like Chicago, Houston, L.A.

Or yet another way: The Greeks were Adams, Franklin, Jefferson; The Romans were Carnegie, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan.

As Athens is the birthplace of democracy, Boston is the birthplace of American politics. World-changing ideas there caught a continental foothold that, once established, went on to inspire representative governments around the world.

The Roman Empire eventually degenerated into a dictatorship, but the Republic upon which Rome was established had its philosophical roots in the earlier Greek democracy.

When the Romans came along in history, a few centuries after the Greek golden age (450-400 bc),  they did everything bigger and better. Emperor Hadrian of Rome (117-138 ad) strode into Athens and fell in love with the place. But for him it was a diamond in the rough, not glitzy enough, and it needed to be bigger, on the scale of Empire, instead of City-state. He rebuilt the ancient Greek temples more impressively, in expanded proportions. His take-charge hegemony extended the city of Athens in a big way, by means of Roman high-tech engineering. Massive Roman engineering projects ensured that citizens could get around on new, sturdily-built highways. Hadrian’s update was like as if, bringing L.A. and Houston to colonial Boston.

Check this out, the ancient Greek theatre of Dionysius, which was begun in Athens about 500 bc on the south slope of Acropolis:

ThetrDiony1

Jimmi, our guide in Athens, mentioned the tragicomedy plays (Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides) and other events that were performed in this first major theater, during Greece’s golden age of 450-400 bc. These dramatic and sport events came  long before the Romans got there. The Greeks did get a little wild with their pagan Dionysian celebrations.

One person in our walking-tour asked Jimmi if gladiators had fought at the Theatre of Dionysius. Jimmi said there had been sporting events performed there that involved fighting, but not spectacles of death. The fight-to-the-death scenario was a Roman thing, he said. That’s Jimmi the Athenian guide’s version anyway.

The death-dealing gladiatorial contest is thought to have come later, in the Colosseo at Rome.

In the Rome-dominated city of Athens of 161 a.d., Herodus Atticus (Greek developer with a Roman name) re-defined the whole architectural concept of  theatre on a grand scale, with three times the capacity of the old one. His new showpiece, just a few hundred meters away from the old theater, was erected according to the new, grandiose template of Rome’s emerging status as a world power:

AcropVwTheatre

After walking around in those two cities for half a month, I came away thinking of the difference between them like this:

~Greek wrestlers, Roman gladiators.

~A sportly Burt Lancaster, overpowered by Stalone’s Rocky.

When we traveled away from Athens, our next stop was Rome. A day or two after arriving in that megalopolis, we went to the Colosseum. While standing inside that mega-stadium, Pat and I were listening to the iPhone audio,   Rick Steves was filling our ears with history about the gladiatorial contests inside that structure. Thousands of Roman citizens watched in the stands as one fierce fighter would overcome another. The fans would pass judgement with thumbs-up or thumbs down. It was a bloody death spectacle that appeased some blood sport inside the Roman power structure.

ColosmN

And it seemed to me:

Athens: Olympics. Rome: American football.

Athens: College basketball. Rome: Professional basketball

Athens: James Bond. Rome: Jack Bower

Athens: Lawrence of Arabia. Rome: Schwarzenegger’s Terminator

Athens: the Old North Church and Paul Revere.

Rome: the Empire State Building and Godzilla

Athens: Chevrolet. Rome: Hummer

Athens: San Francisco. Rome: Los Angeles

You get the idea.

Smoke

Road to a Grecian Turn

January 30, 2015

With apology to John Keats, a new poem for 2015:

 

Oh, You unbridled bride of Entitlement,

Can you still afford to pay the Rent?

You, love-child of Austerity and Free-spending,

Is your ambrosia Never-ending?

Paid debts are sweet, but those unpaid are sweeter

says your new Syriza leader,

’cause we’ve got to get the people working,

so in Unemployment they’ll not be lurking.

Ah, happy, happy days that cannot end,

as long as EU-lovers still do send

debt forgiveness, and credits new

so you’ll never bid EU adieu.

UmbrelSyntagm

Who are these coming to the Sacrifice?

a little help from Euro friends would sure be nice.

The Germans, the French, will surely come

and Play the Games until they’re done!

MarblStrt2

Oh Athenic State, on marbled path of Austerity

Can you reach that elusive peak of Victory?

Winged Athens, her goddess wings now torn away–

Has she lost her head in heat of the fray?

PleatedFigur

Oh, for ever may you live, and Greece be fair!

as long as EU pals still care.

Austerity puts Prosperity on the go–

That’s all you really need to know!

Glass Chimera

AcrpRokFlag

A World in Harmony, or Not

January 29, 2015

AcropVwTheatre

This morning I am watching the sky over Athens, Greece, as a new day brightens this fascinating city.

Yesterday, Pat and I toured the Acropolis, a mountaintop collection of ancient Greek temples. Greeks of 2500 years ago believed in a multiplicity of gods who were contending with each other for power.

I woke up thinking about their pantheon of many gods, and how different that belief is from my Christian faith in One God.

Believing in one God means the world is in divine harmony, because God made the world the way it is supposed to be. This belief enables me to reconcile the obvious contradictions of good and evil in this world.

The pagan religion, it seems to me, does not enable a believer to adequately find true harmony in this world, because all the “gods” or forces of nature or spiritual forces, are contending with each other. Therefore there is no ultimate reconciliation of good vs. evil.

Is the universe in harmony with itself, or not?

So this morning I am considering this idea of harmony, or not-harmony. Is the world humming along in a harmony that was coded into it by a Creator? Or is it just a bunch of god-wannabe forces working against each other?

Just looking around in the world as it presently exists, it seems more like the latter.

Being a musician, I began to consider musical harmony. Think about the perfection that Mozart manifested in his symphonies and sonatas. Lots of harmony and perfect precision there. It’s nice to listen to, and very impressive. But I prefer the dynamic, existential dissonance of Beethoven’s music. Why is that?

Is there something about the dis-harmony, or dissonance, that is more appropriate, or more true, than appreciating a harmony that doesn’t really exist?

But let me go back a little further in musical time that Mozart and Beethoven.

Harmony and dissonance in music go back further than those two geniuses.

A half a century or so before them were Bach and Vivaldi.

Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi were able to appropriate old modes and melodies that had been floating around since ancient (Greek, Indo-European, etc) times, and weave them into intricately constructed masterpieces of musical construction.

Bach was a pioneer in this; he was a genius. He experimented with the ancient Greek modes, blending them with tuneful elements of his own Germanic heritage to produce new inventions of musical expression that had never been heard, or even dreamed of, before. In fact, a series of his compositions are called “inventions.” They are carefully constructed, in almost the same sense that the later sound-generating machines of Edison, Bell, or Marconi came to be known, in the late 1800s, as “inventions.”

While Bach was the master inventor of the new (what we call baroque) music, Antonio Vivaldi was, during that same period, the grand master of musical passion. His universally popular “Four Seasons” (my all-time favorite) violin concertos express a level of instrumental virtuosity that surpass, by their emotional intensity, Bach’s work, which is more cerebral or scientific.

Of course Bach had his emotions going hard-at-it too, but in a very different–what we might call a “German”–way. While Vivaldi was. . . from Venice.  And. . . well, you know how Italians are, very expressive. (This all goes back, metaphorically, to the Greeks and Romans.)

Bach and Vivaldi were analogous to the Bill Gates and  Steve Jobs of their age.

Just as Bach had propelled the world into totally new forms of music in the 1700s, Bill Gates, working in the late 1900s, wove computer software into a whole new world of innovative technology.

Just as Vivaldi had propelled the violin, oboe and other instruments into unprecedented explorations of emotional catharsis, so did Steve Jobs, by his unpredictable innovations make computers “sing.”

While Bach was carefully constructing, on his keyboards, inventions of technical music wonder, Vivaldi was making the world ring, and sing, with creative passion.

There were others, of course, of that age: Telemann, Corelli, Pachelbel. Many great musicians during the baroque.

Then along came a prodigy: Mozart. He cranked out one masterpiece after another, and made it seem as simple as breathing. In Amadeus, music found its highest possible level of precise perfection.

Even so, listening to a meticulously perfect Mozart symphony or sonata does not pack the dynamic crescendo that would soon arrive under the masterful musical poetry of Ludwig von Beethoven.

What Bach did with the keyboard was raw creative genius, honed into exquisite constructions of sound. It is similar to what Gates did with software.

What Vivaldi did with instruments–violin, oboe–was pure passionate profundity, similar to what Jobs did with (what used to be called the computer) Apple.

Now, how did I, watching the day dawn in Athens,  arrive at all this rumination about Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Gates and Jobs?

I don’t know. How irresponsible of me.

I began this inharmonic quest about two hours ago with intentions that were totally different from what this essay has become. While watching a new day brighten the sky over Athens, I had an idea about the difference between paganism–belief in multiple gods or forces of nature that are contending with each other–and Christianity, which eventually dominated Greek (and European) culture. Having toured the Acropolis yesterday, I was considering all the huge architectural structures that the ancients had constructed here in Athens.

Those Greeks, and later the Romans, of ancient times seem to have been highly motivated with memorializing their devotion to a pantheon of many gods, mostly Athena and Zeus. They did so by building very large structures of architectural precision and grandiosity. I’m quite amazed, but there’s something missing here.

Then a Hebrew teacher named Paul came to Athens. He saw all their temples and memorials devoted to the gods, and promptly proclaimed to them otherwise:

This pantheon, or multiplicity, of forces you are  worshipping– I have to break it to ya– are not

truly gods. Rather, those entities are merely elemental forces in nature, and all of them subservient in power to One God:

YWHW, who sent his son to show us how to live and die.

What an innovator that Paul was. What followed is history, as Christian Europe would attest for the next 1900 years or so.

However, methinks some consequence, yet hanging in the world, shall bitterly begin with this year’s contentions.

Glass Chimera

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