Athens, our final leg of this incredible adventure. We assumed the kids might be antsy to be home by this point, so we made two choices a) to stay in Athens rather than fill all our time with travel to Corinth and Sparta and b) to stay in a nice hotel in case we’d need to bribe the kids with a nice pool. Both great choices, looking back and of course, 2 days in Athens was barely enough.
We got in quite late and after a gentle argument with a pushy airport cabbie, checked in and then headed out at 10pm to find some quick supper – we were thinking a Gyro, but stumbled across the world’s finest Indian food right next to our hotel. Holy smokes, that meal still haunts me.
The next day: Plaka district and a fun Tapas restaurant with an impatient waiter. He brought a huge platter of 24 dishes. We had to choose 16: 4 meat, 4 salad, 4 veggie and 4 other dishes. Which did we want? Whoa – let’s see – did you say 4 meat? And they each have to be different? Ok, so we need to choose 16 out of 24, make sure we don’t order 5 meats or 3 salads… make sure we order something all 5 will enjoy…. We must have taken too long to decide because the waiter interrupted our order very bemused, “You’re too late. The food is cold now” and off he went, carrying the food away with him. Hmmm. What next? Does he come back with food or is it “one and done” and we try again somewhere else? Fortunately we were familiar with the angry waiter syndrome from a previous country, so took it in stride. He came back a few minutes later with hot dishes and we feasted on delicious greek food while a street busker played, I’m not kidding, 3/4 of every song on a saxophone, refusing to finish, then coming by the tables for a tip. Literally, we listened to 3/4 of “Careless Whisper” and 3/4 of “Dancing in the Dark” but I refuse to tip a musician who holds me hostage for the final 1/4 of “Careless Whisper.” Later in the evening, very late, we stumbled across an older couple of guys, one on nylon guitar and one on bazouki, singing classic greek duets. Those guys got a donation – they were delightful!
Time to explore the Plaka!
Plaka is a very old market district, called the “Agora” in the Bible. Paul reasoned with philosophers a few minutes away at Mars Hill. Near the entrance, someone had set up a “confessional” where people could write hopes, fears, regrets. A few folks wrote goofy things, but much of it was very sobering. Here are some samples:
And somehow, I was struck by the commonality of human longing. Human beings, the world over, want an enriched, meaningful life. They want happiness and relationship and a connection to the divine. This was more impactful because it was in the shadow of the very place where Paul told the “men of Athens” where their hopes and fears could be realized in Acts 17.
Parthenon the next day. Like most iconic exhibits, it is utterly magnificent in scope and impact.
I mean seriously, how did these ancients do this? Every building is utterly immense and carefully crafted. The Parthenon doesn’t have a straight angle anywhere – the whole thing is slightly jabberwocky and curved, because the Athenians knew that it would look straight and perfect if it is in fact curved. Wait, what? How does that work? I don’t know, but they did and wow, is it impactful to slowly ascend to the very top of the hill and admire it. Meanwhile, the views on the way weren’t bad either.
If you go back to that amphitheater pic, you’ll see a guy in a white shirt way down on the stage – he was milling around with another guy – I think they were set designers prepping for an upcoming performance. They were chatting and we could hear them comfortably from the very top. These greeks were geniuses.
I guess what it makes me think of is this: So many people today reject the resurrection of Jesus as a myth that ancient people believed. They think because we’re post industrial revolution, technological people we’re much smarter than ancient people who were driven by myth and superstition. So in this thinking, we’ve “outgrown” the belief in the resurrection and we know better.
The Greeks and Romans were technologically sophisticated and some of the deepest thinkers in all of history. These folks can build the Parthenon and an amphitheater that carries the human voice to the very last row.
And they did it without wifi.
But we have wifi and we stupidly think we’re smarter than them. Socrates, anyone? Plato?
Hundreds of years before Jesus, Plato said this about what would happen if a perfect man ever came along, “The just man, then, as we have pictured him, will be scourged, tortured, and imprisoned, his eyes will be put out, and after enduring every humiliation he will be crucified.” He didn’t say this as a prophecy, he just knew human nature and that we wouldn’t know what to do with such a person and would have to kill him. We think we’re evolved, but the truth is we’d kill him today too.
Plato also said, “We are like prisoners chained in a deep cave lit only by dim torches, so that we exist in darkness watching shadows on the wall. We are imprisoned in deep untruth. What we need is someone to free us from our chains, to lead us out of the dark and into the day.”
Wait, isn’t that exactly the condition Jesus rescues us from? We were trapped in darkness, no way out on our own and Jesus didn’t just shine a light, Jesus IS the light and he leads us out of darkness.
This summer the American flag has been hoisted half mast for longer than any time I can remember. So many acts of terror, so many shootings. Our politics have descended lower than ever before, which I didn’t think was possible, bringing out the worst in human nature, pitting brothers and sisters against each other. And we think we’re smarter? We think we’re further along?
I say it again. Hogwash.
And not for nothing, but speaking of the resurrection….dead people haven’t really changed since the beginning of history. Dead people stay dead. Ancient people knew this, so when Jesus rose from the dead and his followers claimed they’d seen it, ancient people were just as skeptical as we are today. St Paul encountered this all the time when he was preaching. “Paul, your great learning has driven you insane!” said Festus in Act 26, when he heard Paul talk about this.
So anyway, visiting the Plaka and Parthenon really impacted me – people really haven’t changed much over the years. The tools and tech are different, but the longing and human condition is the same, the need for forgiveness and hope is the same and seeing the confessional display really brought this home for me.
Which brings me to one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting on the entire trip: Mars Hill.
Yep. It is just a rock, but it is the location of one of the most significant sermons ever preached. It is a sermon that has deeply informed Discovery’s posture to the community. It is the apostle Paul, reasoning with non believing skeptics, using their songs and poets as touch points. They’re a hot mess to be sure – debating ideas but not committing to one, hedging their bets in a helter skelter of idols. But Paul doesn’t expect skeptics to live like believers, he doesn’t condemn their behavior or thinking, he complements it.
A brief paraphrase: “People of Athens, I see that you are very spiritually hungry for you even have an idol to ‘The Unknown God.’ I know who that God is and I’d like to tell you by using the words of your own artists. When you reach out to this God, you’ll find him because actually he is not far from any of us….”
Makes me tear up just to consider it. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a “people of Athens” and rather than condemn my stupid way of thinking, some very kind and patient followers of Jesus affirmed my hunger and showed me the God I’d always hoped for. Many people I very dearly love today are “people of Athens.” Heaven help the church that ever forgets that people of Athens are our neighbors and family. And God help the public Christians who point so much heat at people who don’t follow Jesus, expecting them to live like they do. No, Paul presents a better way, a gospel way. His sermon is what “love your neighbor as yourself” looks like.
Here is Paul’s actual sermon posted at the bottom of Mars Hill:
Yeah, its in greek, but we were in Greece. What do you want from me?
Well, the kids were good sports about sitting through my little lecture on this and the sun was beating down, so we scrambled down the hill and looked for some fun. We found it in the form of fish massage. Better to see it than me explain it:
Fish exfoliation. Pay money and have fish nibble your dead flesh. Weird, but sure, why not. The kids enjoyed it so maybe I’ll try it one day. Kaylee has a Beta Fish in her room, his name is George Charles, (G Chuck for short.) I may stick my big toe in his aquarium later and see if he’ll oblige me.
Athens was another 2 day sprint stop and it was our final stop. On the last morning, we climbed the stairs to the rooftop for breakfast, overlooking the Temple of Zeus and the Parthenon:
When you are traveling, most hotel rooms are generally the same. You get out of a white sheet bed, shower and then head out for breakfast. We’ve done that for soccer tournaments, road trips and business trips. This was just like that, except that we walked up to the rooftop restaurant and ate a local greek feast with the Parthenon looming in the background, reminding us that we were on an extraordinary experience that was like nothing we’d ever done before. I don’t know if we’ll have such an opportunity again. Travel, sure. But travel like this? Our kids were the perfect age and Lisa and I reflected that we’d been given a gift of grace. It was a trip we didn’t deserve. A trip we could never plan or pay for on our own. And now, we were filled with hundreds of memories and experiences, literally dozens of hours of just laughter. So many bonding family memories, so much cultural interaction. Our world had been massively expanded by this trip. We were ready to come home, but that deep sense of gratitude for what we’d been given never faded and as of the writing of this blog, it is still very much in our family. Thank you.