Today (June 19) we continued our study and tour of Greece by traveling to a few of the Greek Isles near Athens. Here, nestled into the rugged terrain that marks so much of Greece, we found ancient communities scratching out a subsistence living catering to tourists and visitors who come to see, study and experience the past hoping to capture a taste of the ancient life that seemed so good. There is little to captivate the intellectual imagination, but the enormous beauty itself is stunning and captivating. Plato once said that “beauty if the only spiritual essence we love instinctively by our nature.” He went on to note the way in which beauty should be used to awaken in us a longing for the transcendent good (beauty, goodness, truth).
After we cleaned up tonight and settled down before going to bed, we could hear the clamoring downtown at the Parliament building. Nothing was discernible other than hearing a mass of humanity gathered to protest austerity and its growing effect on their lifestyle and economy. As I sit here in the hotel lobby composing this entry, it is hard to believe that an economy of a country of only 11 million could threaten the EU, not to mention its ripple effect on the entire world economy. But here we are.
Of course, today also included continued reflection on Paul, the book of Acts and the great expansion of the early church. Paul’s exchange with the Athenians in Acts 17 is so compelling. Through the years I have been captivated by the way Paul engaged highly educated and smart people who thought differently than he did. Here’s what strikes me.
Paul begins by showing enormous respect as well as understanding for ideas and cultural patterns very different from his own (v. 22). His goal isn’t simply to understand other cultures. His larger objective is to communicate effectively. Years ago when I taught philosophy of religion and historical theology, I enjoyed using an article entitled, “How Culture Conditions Our View of Scripture.” The author had worked overseas, and, at the time of his article, he was back in the United States teaching undergraduate students. He shared what he had learned from his experience. When he worked with Chinese immigrants to the Philippines their question was, “Is Christianity the best way to live my life?” When he worked with the Hmong mountain people from Laos their question was, “Is your God more powerful than our gods?” And when he turned to his western-minded students at an American college, their overriding question was, “Is it true?”
Paul’s capacity to know, understand and communicate effectively with the thoughts and questions of the Athenians is one of the greatest examples of cross-cultural communication I’ve ever found. He sets out to help them understand God (v. 23), he gives one of the most succinct descriptions of the nature of God while suggesting one way we can learn from our encounters with other philosophies of life (vv. 24-26), he argues that God set in our human spirit a longing for Him (v. 27), and he quotes from an Athenian source suggesting their own literature already acknowledges the reality he is communicating (v. 28). Finally, in what can only be thought of as the most honest rendering of a response to any message, chapter 17 concludes with the acknowledgment that some sneered, some had more questions, and some came to belief (vv. 32-34).
Of course, the great concerns rocking Greece today are focused on the constitution and the economy. Sitting here in the birthplace of democracy and realizing the vexing questions that now dog the Greek nation, I am struck yet again by the responsibility every age has to make a credible and concerted contribution of its own. In the most widely read English-speaking daily, the International Herald Tribune, Nicos C. Alivizatos, professor of constitutional law at the University of Athens, comments on the current constitutional crisis and his growing concern that the politicians will not be able to rise above their own self-interest to serve the greater good of the country. My, how history repeats itself. Tomorrow we travel to Corinth and enjoy an opportunity to think about life and love at the site of one of Paul’s greatest contributions to the life and literature of the early church and Holy Scripture.
Blessings and good night,
Gayle D. Beebe