Monthly Archives: August 2014

Today would be a good day to be in Athens

Athens view

I’m still pondering how to think and talk about all that is going on in the world, and I guess for some people hearing about conflicts and wars and humanitarian crises leads to a desire to stay home where it is safe and comfortable. The world can seem like a scary place. But I truly believe that one of the best ways of us to begin to care about situations and people from other cultures is to get out there – travel, learn, and engage. When we do, we recognise that what unites us as fellow human being is far greater than what divides us, and that each person and each culture is precious and can in some way challenge, inspire and change us.

Acropolis
The Acropolis, Athens

So … where to for this Monday’s travel post? Well, I’m teaching an introduction to (Koine) Greek class on Monday mornings this term, which I am really enjoying, but rather than just talk about Greek nouns today, I’m thinking how good it would be if I could take my class to Athens for the day and we could soak up not only the language, but some of the history and culture.

Erechtheion

Another reason I’d love to spend the day in Athens is that I have only ever spent one day there. Athens for me was a whirlwind 18 hour layover with my mother, who I had promised in the weeks leading up to our trip would need to “keep up” as I had big plans to see as much as I possibly could in our very limited time there! (The reality of my poor planning leading to our middle of the night arrival meant that our first experience of Athens was trying to sleep on the floor in a corner of the airport chapel … but that’s another story.)

Ancient and modern

What did I love about Athens?

The combination of a modern, bustling, noisy, (dirty), city and ancient historical ruins.

Ruins amidst city

The fact that you are just casually walking down a street that has been there for thousands of years and has been travelled by philosophers and statesmen, slaves and emperors … and of course tourists.

Panathenaic way sign

Eating lunch overlooking the scattered ruins of the ancient Agora.

Temple

Watching the ordinary, every day business of life happening in a place with such influential history.

Army
Young soldiers on the Parthenon steps

The haunting beauty of the abandoned Olympic stadia, both ancient and modern.

Modern Olympic stadium
1896 Olympic stadium
Olympus ruins
Ruins of the ancient Olympic site

The simple beauty of two thousand year old columns.

Stoa of Atalos
The Stoa of Attalos

The spectacular beauty of the city stretching out from the ruins to the coast.

Acropolis view

What did I learn from Athens?

It is good to appreciate how much we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us. For example, while some of my American friends may occasionally talk as though they invented democracy :), that is just one of the many ideas and practices we have to thank the ancient Greeks, amongst others, for.

Greek Parliament
Greek Parliament, Syntagma Square

The Parthenon, one of the world’s most famous buildings, represents the contributions to our understandings of and appreciation for architecture.

Parthenon

Many great thinkers of their day shared their ideas in the market places and forums of this city.

Agora ruins

One of the highlights for me was standing where the Apostle Paul stood to share with some Athenians the good news about Jesus for the first time.

Areopagus
Me on the Areopagus (Mars Hill)

As I slowly read the words of his sermon recorded on this plaque, I was challenged anew by his example in sharing his faith both passionately and respectfully.

Areopagus sign
The Greek text of Paul’s sermon to the Athenians

And as we entered the small and ancient Church of the Holy Apostles in the Agora, I was reminded of the way faith in Jesus has brought hope, purpose and passion to the lives of so many over so long. As a Christian, I am part of a family that is not only global, but transcends time. It humbles me to recognise that I am just one among so many, and yet I’m also proud to be part of something so historically transformative.

CHurch of the holy apostles outside

That was a lesson that had already been brought home to me back in that airport chapel I mentioned earlier. In the wee hours of the morning, a lady came in looking for someone to pray for her. We hardly had any language in common, and yet for a few minutes that morning I was able to be for her what so many others have in different times and places been for me – a sister in faith, sharing her burden just for a moment.

Church of the holy apostles inside
Inside the ancient Church of the Holy Apostles, Athens Agora

 

 

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So many words. Who is really listening?

Listening - FDR Memorial

There has been so much going on in the world over the last few weeks. Gaza. Israel. Ukraine. MH 17. Iraq. Syria. Nigeria. Nauru. I’ve found myself in the paradoxical position of feeling lost for words … and yet wanting to say so much.

But when I scroll through my facebook or twitter feeds I see link after link to articles and opinion pieces and blog posts. So much virtual ink being spilled. So many words. So many people speaking.

It makes me wonder.

Who is listening?

Certainly not the people commenting on many of the opinion pieces or blog posts I have read. Mostly they seem to be talking past each other, in a hurry to accuse each other of being on the wrong side, or of saying or thinking the wrong thing.

So many strong opinions. So many assumptions that one comment made implies a whole host of other opinions and positions. So many implications that there are only two sides to an issue and one is completely right and the other completely wrong. So many black and white pronouncements. So many accusations.

Yes, I have informed opinions about what is going on in Gaza. Yes, I have strong feelings about what is happening to the Christians in Iraq and how it is (or isn’t) being portrayed in the mainstream media. Yes, I have thoughts about the shooting down of MH 17 and how our country has responded to it. Yes, I have passions about how the Australian government is talking about and treating refugees arriving by boat. Yes, I am still concerned about the missing kidnapped girls in Nigeria and violence against women everywhere. Yes, I could go on.

I could write post after post about each of those situations. I have tried to educate myself about each of them. I have some experience with the issues involved in some of them. I hope I bring a thoughtful, theological perspective to bear on them.

But before I say another word about them, I have two questions. One is for you and the other is for me.

First, to you. Would you listen? Would you really listen to me? Or would you use what I said to judge me and pigeonhole me and decide whether I am on “your side” of an issue or not? Would I simply confirm what you already think, or lead you to dismiss my thought processes because you have already decided you disagree with my conclusion? Is there any chance that something I say could change how you think about these situations? Because if there isn’t, you cannot hear me.

Second, to me. Have I really listened? Before I speak, have I taken every opportunity to really hear those who are directly affected by the situations the rest of us are opining about? Because I fear that what I see too often is people like me, people in comfortable, wealthy, educated, privileged positions, pontificating about situations in which real people are suffering. How many of them have I listened to? I mean really listened to. How many of them have I greeted by name, sat down with, and genuinely sought to hear?

I was wondering the other day how different the internet would be if there was a rule that you could only write a blog post or an opinion piece about a situation in the world if you were actually on a first name basis with a real person living in that situation and had listened to what they have to say. No doubt that’s an idealistic, unworkable idea, but it’s one that challenges me and keeps me asking questions rather than making statements.

The apostle James spoke these words of wisdom nearly two thousand years ago.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

What would it look like for us to listen, really listen, to these words in the way we respond to the crises around our world? Do you think perhaps it could somehow make a difference?