What I’m Reading: Waking The Dead

A recent interest of mine – and a reoccurring theme in the events of life – has been Greek Mythology, and the larger role of myth in our lives.  I realize that initially, most people will assume that mythology has very little to do with their lives.  But I have come to realize that my life needs a good dose of a mythic element to it.  I will attempt to explain how I arrived at this realization, and why this has anything to do with a book by John Eldredge.

Last year, in anticipation of a trip to Greece and Turkey that took place this past March, I began reading a collection of classic Greek myths.  I’m sure you are at least vaguely familiar with characters such as Jason and the Argonauts, Helen of Troy, Hercules, and the adventures of Odysseus.  I enjoyed reading the full accounts of these stories and began making connections to the larger meaning of these myths in Greek culture.

I also began to understand the role of myth in any given culture.  I posted my thoughts on how understanding mythology might give more insight into the Biblical book of Job.  This connection isn’t normally made because most today misunderstand myth.  For the majority of people, a myth is a fictional story, or even an outright lie – something akin to a fib.  If I say that Job is a mythic story, most will assume that I mean to say that the story of Job never really took place.  But that is not the true meaning of classical mythology.  Myths were ancient attempts to describe what was happening in the spiritual realm, where the gods were at work.  And myths today still serve to connect us to deeper truths and help us recognize where God is still working.

Myths are, first of all, stories: stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal …  a means by which the eternal expresses itself in time.  (from Waking The Dead)

100 CharactersSo when I read another book, 100 Characters From Classical Mythology, something was tugging deeper at my soul, but I  didn’t know what it was.  I intended to write about the book, but I honestly didn’t know what I would say.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it.

Then one of those moments took place where several seemingly unrelated trails suddenly merged together down a clear path forward.  It happened, appropriately enough, while in Athens, Greece.  Maybe it was spending the day walking among temples to Zeus, theaters to Dionysus, and statues of Poseidon that served as inspiration – I am certain all of that only fueled the inspiration.  But while on that trip, I began reading a book by John Eldredge called Waking The Dead.

One of the unexpected themes to emerge from the book was that when our hearts get overwhelmed with the mundane, the familiar, and busyness, we begin to lose touch with the larger narrative that God is at work in our hearts and we have a role to play in what God is up to in the world around us.  This is why we need to keep the mythic element alive in our hearts.  From Eldredge,

You will not think clearly about your life until you think mythically.  Until you see with the eyes of your heart.

Waking The DeadI realized that my heart was getting bogged down in errands to run, bills to pay, and obligations to meet.  I was losing touch with the larger story I am a part of.  I think that is why reading about the Trojan War and Perseus and Pegasus stirred something in me.  Eldredge helped connect that stirring to the passions God has set in my heart.

Greek mythology may not do much for you, but the principle is the same.  You can view whatever stage of life you are in through the lens of the reality before you – be it sitting in front of a computer screen all day, changing diapers, or paying off school loans.  Or you can view your life with the eyes of your heart and see the larger story you are a part of.  I have determined that I need more of the mythic element in my life.

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The Seventh Commandment, Pt. 1

The Seventh Commandment reads, “You shall not commit adultery.”  The following is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of Ten Essential Words.

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We read in Genesis:

But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So Yahweh God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then Yahweh God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Several principles can be taken from this account.  First, God created the male and female species to be compatible with each other.  Observing the other creatures in the Garden, Adam was somehow incomplete without the woman: “but for Adam no suitable helper was found.”  Author Marvin Wilson writes, “Through marriage one learns the uniqueness of maleness and femaleness by the one being matched to the other.”  Second, marriage is a re-creation of the original act of creation.  Far more than a contractual agreement, marriage has in its origins a bonding together of two people – socially, sexually, spiritually, and emotionally: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  Lastly, the marriage relationship would become the most important earthly relationship in human society, even above other familial relationships: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.”  Since the Fifth Commandment already upheld the importance of family, the only reason God would call them away from their family of origin would be to engage in another relationship of the utmost spiritual significance – marriage!  We could say more about this passage, but whether it is taken to be literal or figurative, the creation story framed the significance of marriage in Israelite society.

It is the framing of this command prohibiting adultery in the context of the creation story that moves it past the issue of simple property law to the protection of a sacred institution.  In fact, the sacredness of this institution can be found in its mirroring of the giving of the Law.  Again, Marvin Wilson, who explores the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, writes, “The rabbis regarded the Jewish marriage service as reflecting the main features of God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai.  The covenant ceremony of marriage was seen as a replica or reenactment of what happened at Sinai.  It was designed to be a reminder of that basic covenant obligation which binds God to his people.”  If the giving of the Ten Commandments was central to the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites, marriage was a constant reflection of the centrality of that relationship.

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For further discussion on the topic of this commandment in its original context, see Do The Ten Commandments Marginalize Women?

Dallas Willard, 1935-2013

Wow, two of my biggest influences as authors have passed away in the last month.  I recently gave my thoughts on the passing of Brennan Manning, and now today, Dallas Willard has passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 77.  Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, but his books were known for their theological approach to spiritual growth.  Willard was characterized as being on a “quiet quest to subvert nominal Christianity.”

UnknownWillard’s classic work may have been The Spirit of the Disciplines, which examines the role of the disciplines in spiritual transformation.  The Divine Conspiracy is another book for which he is well-known.  I will forever associate this book with a personal retreat I took.  It was during that retreat that I wrestled with the question of how to integrated the kingdom of God with everyday living.  The Divine Conspiracy both prompted those questions and served as a guidebook through my retreat.  I just recently enjoyed flipping through it again and discussing it with my brother when he asked for a Dallas Willard book I would recommend.

51pZJhHm6pL._SL500_AA300_One of the first topics I wrote about here was on Willard’s book The Great Omission.  Willard did not hesitate to challenge the church where he saw gaps in theology.  He wanted the believer to always experience more in their relationship with God.  The other book I have read by Willard is Hearing God.

Willard’s spiritual, yet intellectual approach to faith will be missed!

Journey (in)Site: Istanbul

Back in March I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother.  This is the last leg of the journey.  I have enjoyed sharing thoughts and images from a wonderful trip!  For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry and read my thoughts on AthensCorinth, Ephesus, and Cappadocia.

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The drive back to Kayseri was much more revealing in the daylight.  The snow-capped Mount Erciyes was in clear view and served as a nice backdrop to our departure to Istanbul.  It was during the flight that we realized we were flying into the airport on the Asian side of the city, which is farther out than the airport on the European side.  For a couple liras we took an hour bus ride to Taksim Square, and then a taxi to our hotel.  Our hotel was located close to the historic Sultanahmet district and many of the main sites in Istanbul.  So after settling in our room we set off orienting ourselves to the city.  Hiking through the desolate landscape of Cappadocia was quite the contrast to hiking the urban streets of one of the largest cities in the world, yet there are many similarities as well.

Spice MarketWe had arrived in Istanbul early enough to have most of our afternoon and evening to explore the city.  We strolled through the Spice Market and the surrounding Egyptian Market.  We soon learned that Istanbul is like one giant Target store: If you found the right aisle, or in this case several city blocks, you could find anything you were in need of.  We wandered through the clothing district, the spice market, electronics, hardware supplies on several city blocks, food courts, the jewelry district, and even art and music supplies.  If you found one music store, you would surely find several others down the same block.  It was fascinating to just wander.

Blue MosqueBy evening, we found some of the primary sites of Istanbul.  The Blue Mosque was built in 1609, meaning it was relatively new as far as the architecture of the city goes.  It is an impressive structure.  It is located at the site of the great Hippodrome that hosted most of the sporting events in Constantinople for over a thousand years.  The area is now a park, but is still home to two or three of the monuments that would have been part of the stadium.  Facing the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia, the primary church of the Byzantine Empire.  We located the Basilica Cistern nearby and managed to get in just before closing.  The cistern served as one of Constantinople’s main water supplies and has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water.

MosaicThe next day we returned to the Hagia Sophia, as it was closed the previous evening.  It is an incredible space filled with Christian mosaics and Islamic calligraphy.  It is odd to see both side by side, but because it served as a church for the Byzantines and then was converted to a mosque when the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, it is now a museum where both histories reside together.  Unfortunately, Turkish courts have just ruled that it could be converted back into a mosque, bringing into question the fate of much of the Christian artwork.  After a boat ride on the Bosphorus, we made our way up to the Galata Tower, which is a great place to take in the entire panorama of the city and watch the sunset.  We ended up back near the fish market on the shore of the Bosphorus, where we enjoyed a wonderful grilled fish sandwich while taking in the evening boat traffic and listening to the evening call to prayer.  It was one of those perfect simple moments that cannot be scripted.Istanbul

On Thursday, we took the train out to the old city walls, sometimes known as the Theodosian Walls.  Built in the 5th Century, they protected Constantinople for a thousand years.  Large sections of the wall still remain.  We took it easy the rest of the day as we had been going non-stop for most of the trip.  So the remainder of the day was spend walking the city, enjoying coffee, and perusing the markets.  The last day turned cold and rainy, so we stuck to indoor activities.  We went to the Grand Bazaar, which wasn’t quite as grand, having walked through many markets already.  Then we took in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, home to numerous artifacts from Turkey’s long history.  Still raining, we spent the evening in a coffee shop processing all we had taken in over the course of the trip.  The next day we would be heading home.

Like Cappadocia, Istanbul isn’t filled with New Testament history but it does play a key role in Christian history.   Here are some thoughts on Istanbul/Constantinople:

Insight #1Constantinople preserved a wealth of Christian history, while elsewhere it was crumbling.  When the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to what would become Constantinople, one could argue that he extended the Roman Empire by an additional thousand years.  While one can also argue whether it was a good thing for Christianity to be subsequently aligned with the new Roman Empire in Constantinople, much of its history was shaped and preserved as Constantinople flourished.  Meanwhile, the city of Rome fell into decline and the Western Empire would come to an end in 476.  Over the next several hundred years, Constantinople became an immovable object against the surging tide of Islam.  Historians have pointed out that were it not for the strength of Constantinople strategically located between Europe and Asia, Islam could have become the dominant force throughout Europe.

Hagia SophiaInsight #2Faith is not housed in buildings.  As impressive as the Hagia Sophia was, it was not the dwelling place of God and faith.  Seeing the Hagia Sophia (and many churches throughout the Middle East as well) converted into a mosque, then a museum, and now potentially a mosque again, it is a reminder that God does not live in structures we build.  As I mentioned in my Athens post, Paul would point out that, “God does not live in your magnificent temples.”  Buildings can be impressive and communicate much about God, but God resides among people.  The modern church can learn from this as well.

Insight #3Disagree with ideas and beliefs, but don’t destroy history.  While structures do not contain faith, something is lost when structures are destroyed over faith.  It was a common theme to hear throughout the trip: An impressive piece of history was lost when one group destroyed it during a conflict.  Christians tore down temples, pagans destroyed churches, churches were converted to mosques and then back again, libraries were burned – there are so many stories like these.  From a historical perspective it hardly seems worth destroying so much history.  Argue, disagree, fight if you must, but leave art, books, structures, and monuments alone!  There is so much to be learned from these things.

Thanks for following along.  Even if very few read it all in its entirety, I enjoyed reliving it!

Journey (in)Site: Cappadocia

It’s been a busy week, but I want to continue processing my trip and share some stories from each place.  Back in March I was able to travel to Greece and Turkey with my brother.  For a preview of the trip, read the A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey entry and read my thoughts on AthensCorinth, and Ephesus.

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Our time in Ephesus was followed by a travel day.  Trains, planes, and automobiles!  We took the train back to Izmir, where we caught a flight to Istanbul, then a connecting flight to Kayseri in central Turkey.  By the time we got to Kayseri it was dark, which was disappointing because we knew the landscape was supposed to be spectacular.  Indeed, we didn’t even realize until our return that Kayseri sits at the base of one of the largest mountains in Turkey!  A car picked us up from the airport and took us to the town of Göreme.  When we finally arrived in Göreme we could begin to make out the strange formations Cappadocia is known for.

The landscape in Cappadocia has been strangely shaped by volcanic activity from times past, along with erosion over time from water.  The rock in the area is almost chalk-like – easy to chip away and carve.  The result is an area with deep ravines surrounded by tall cone-shaped rock structures, sometimes called fairy chimneys.  People have carved dwellings in these formations for thousands of years.Cappadocia

In keeping with that tradition, in the town of Göreme visitors can stay in hotels carved right out of the rock formations.  It’s one of those things you have to do to at least say you did it: stay in a cave hotel in Cappadocia.  Our room was spacious and comfortable with a modern bathroom.  Yet all the décor, save two chairs and a table, were carved right out of the rock.  It wasn’t until breakfast the next morning that we were fully able to take in the other-worldly landscape at which we had arrived.  The snow flurries in the air only made it that much more enchanted.

Cave PaintingsOur first stop was the Göreme Open Air Museum.  The museum is a small area of these chimney formations with numerous  churches and monasteries dating back to 1100 AD. Many of these structures have multiple levels connected by stairs or tunnels carved through the rock.  Because they are protected from the elements, many of the churches are still beautifully painted with images from the Bible.  It was easy to see how these paintings were used as a way of communicating the important narratives of the New Testament.

The entire museum area is surrounded by Göreme National Park and upon leaving the museum, we realized the entire park is, in essence, a giant museum.  I had read that it was relatively easy to set off hiking in a given direction and as long as you could keep the town of Göreme in sight from the higher vantage points, you would not get lost.  So we set out to test that theory!  Amidst snow flurries, we spent the day hiking, climbing up to openings in the rock, exploring cave houses and churches, and belly crawling through small tunnels, unknown as to where they might lead.  My brother described the area as a giant playground for adults!  Every so often, we would see a hiker or two off in the distance, but other than that we had the place to ourselves.  Later in the afternoon we climbed to the top of a ridge to locate the town off in the distance.  Not wanting to backtrack, we followed the ridgeline, hoping to find a safe place to descend down to the valley floor and make our way toward town.  It took longer than anticipated, but we finally located a way back down, found the main road, and headed back into Göreme.Goreme

The town of Göreme itself reminds me of a ski resort town.  Hotels encircle a main strip full of restaurants, shops, and a river running straight through town.  We were cold and exhausted and found the perfect coffee shop in the middle of town to warm up in and process the day.  Later we went looking for a place to eat.  Warning: do not stop to look at menus unless you are ready for the full sales pitch, or are very quick about it!  We did get quite the sales pitch at one place and the meal was wonderful – lamb cooked in clay pots, bread with assorted dipping sauces, and Turkish baklava.  We ate like kings!  My brother and I agreed that it was perhaps one of the better days of our lives.

Goreme National ParkThe next day we considered a couple side trips/activities, but decided on more of the same: this time hiking the Rose Valley trail through the park.  We began by running across a cave church structure, complete with a dining hall, dovecotes, a wine press, and a bee farm to harvest honey.  For lunch we climbed up to a platform that used to be a dwelling of some type and overlooked the ravine below.  When we were about spent at day’s end, we ran across a couple other hikers who told us of a large church just up the trail that was worth the climb.  We found the opening in the rock face and climbed up to a second level to find ourselves in a sanctuary as large as a decent-sized church building today.  Again, none of this is visible from the outside.  It was a nice way to end our hike.  We ended up in an adjacent village and found someone happy to drive us back to Göreme for some gas money.

What a truly magical place!

Here are some of my thoughts as they relate to the Cappadocia region:

Insight #1Cappadocia isn’t mentioned often in the Bible, but it is mentioned.  In Acts 2, Cappadocia was listed as one of the places/languages people were able to hear being spoken when the Spirit fell on the believers in Jerusalem.  Later, the beginning of 1 Peter is addressed to Christian exiles scattered throughout what is now Turkey, with Cappadocia being listed among the regions.  These few references tell us that it was home to a Jewish population and subsequently a Christian population as well.  Paul traveled to the south of Cappadocia in order to focus on the prominent cities of Asia Minor, such as Ephesus.  But little doubt the message eventually spread north and east to Cappadocia.

Insight #2Although it didn’t play a prominent role in the New Testament, Cappadocia would help shape the church for the next several hundred years.  We know the message spread to Cappadocia because several figures in the early church came from Cappadocia, including Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa.  These leaders were instrumental in shaping the monastic movement in Christianity.  Monasticism was active in the region for the next thousand years.  Examples of cave monasteries abound in the region.

Cave EntranceInsight #3Cave living.  Having explored the area for a couple days, I am convinced that cave living would have been pretty comfortable for that time.  Like I mentioned above, it was flurrying the first day we hiked through the park.  But once in the caves, we could take our winter wear off and be fine – not to mention that we didn’t even have a fire going.  The carved out dwellings would have stayed cool in the summer and moderate in the winter.  There were places to raise bees for honey, wine presses, dovecotes, and stables for horses.  Most importantly, they were easily defended and safe from the elements, with passageways that could be sealed off if trouble arose.  There are many accounts of enemy armies being unable to even locate these cave cities because the residents would simply disappear into the hills or underground.

The last stop is Istanbul!