Rector’s Sabbatical Blog

Recent Learnings

My family consisting of my wife and me and two adult daughters, were all vaccinated in February as soon as vaccines were available. We were all excited to get it and we have viewed our vaccine status as a kind of imaginary shield against future disease. We were wrong.


The Eschaton

The “eschaton” (pronounced “esk’ ka ton’’) is a Greek word in the Bible referring to the end of times. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet preaching about the imminent end of time and the return of the “son of man.” He uses this word a lot. For me, in these last few days of sabbatical, it is also the end of times. The end of that daily view of the blue Aegean Sea, the end of daily swims in the sea, talking to locals, writing and reflecting about serious things. I am sad to see the time go. Most of all, I am grateful for the time.


The Evolution of Religion

I have read several books on this journey. Professor Bart Ehrman’s book, “Jesus Interrupted” was among those and it turned out to be the perfect provocateur with a background of world religions developing over 8,000 years paired with the development of Christianity over the past 2,000. I will not try to reproduce the numerous insights from a three hundred page book and it would make a fabulous group study book, let me give a few key points of Ehrman’s which, by the way, are nothing new to my seminary training nor to anyone who has taken Education For Ministry. It was a good survey book for me and reminded me of some important things.


The Purpose of Religion

Religion has developed a bad reputation in the western world. A major reason for this is that certain ideologies and political opportunists have hijacked Christian religion (in the west. Same thing happens in the east with other religions.) to maintain political dominance. As a result of this all too obvious fusion of Christian religion with a particular political and ideological position, those who don’t buy the politics simply discard Christianity and religion in general as a stooge for what they see as oppressive politics. In this note, I would like to demonstrate that what is needed is exactly the opposite of what all the “I’m spiritual but not religious” and “I’m atheist because your religion is bad” claim.


Demo kratia and Ecclesia

We fled back to the Cyclades Islands to escape the oppressive 107 degree heat of the mainland cities. The islands always have a breeze and because of the blue Aegean Sea all around, the temperatures are always moderated between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Here on the island of Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, we took a bus tour of the island where you can learn about 6,000 years of civilization. One the highest mountain on the island (1,000 meters or about 3,300 feet), you can visit the Temple of Demeter. 
Demeter was the goddess of grain and the harvest. People believed it was Demeter who made the crops grow each year, so the first loaf of bread made from the harvest each year was offered in sacrifice to her (sound familiar?). More broadly, she was the goddess of the earth, of agriculture and fertility (including human). She also presided over the justice of sacred law and the cycle of life and death. Her cult predated the Olympian Pantheon by centuries.


Church and State Revisited

I am, and many Americans are almost reflexively opposed to any conjunction of church and state. But if you think about how the modern state and modern religion got started (in 1500 BC), you will find there were lots of mutually reinforcing and important connecting points. Things such as adjudicating common civil disputes such as land boundaries, commerce, weights and measures, contracts, etc. In ancient Israel, from Moses to the second century AD, religious authorities also served as civil magistrates. To the north, in Greece, temple priests served similar roles. The system worked for centuries.


View of the Ancient Mariner

After two solid days of touring Athens with its fabulous archaeological sites, museums, churches, restaurants and shops, we made our way to Corinth. You will recall Corinth (“Korinthos” in Greek) as one of the Greek cities where the apostle Paul founded a community of believers (they would not be called “Christian” for another 30 years). Today there is a modern city of Corinth (population 37,000) located right on the water. One part of the waterfront is devoted to small scale commercial import/export and fishing, while the majority of the waterfront is dedicated to tourism with hotels, bars and restaurants. We will visit the ancient city of Archaea Korinthos (five miles inland) later today, but from our hotel room I keep staring across the water at the northern shore of the Gulf of Corinth. There is a formidable, 3,000 foot high mountain rising straight up from the water, running ten miles east and west. The water is crystal blue, the winds are light and variable. Who wouldn’t enjoy sailing in paradise?


I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I borrowed the title of this entry from Clinton-era poet-laureate, Maya Angelou’s book of poetry by the same title. It hints at knowing oppression (caging) firsthand; understanding why; and giving voice to that. In almost two weeks in a country infused with Greek Orthodox Church tradition, I have yet to find a single person who attends church even once a month on Sundays. My brief exposure to “the church” attending a couple of services underscored the fact that, at 65, I was the youngest person attending each time.

Last night I watched while the Orthodox priests took down the Greek flag from the church yard. No solemnity or reverence for the flag – why would they feel that? The act was done with the same emotional content as taking out the trash – just another chore at the church. But on this 4th of July, when we celebrate the sacrifices made by the founders of the United States, makes me look at the differences in church-state relations with a new perspective.


In Praise of Clear Language

Σύμβολον τῆς Νικαίας     or     τῆς πίστεως
The Symbol of Nicea, Symbol of Faith

One of the dozen or so books I will devour in the coming weeks is titled “Do I Make Myself Clear?”* by Sir Harold Evans, (hard-hitting British journalist who resides in the US and has held leading journalist positions with US News and World Report, The Atlantic Monthly and currently editor-at-large for The Week). I commend this book to every English-speaker who wishes to be clear in their written and vocal expressions. We have a clear warrant from scripture for this where Jesus tells us to basically say “Yes” or “No” to things and not insert a lot of words. Words are important. They can commit murder and they can lift up the brokenhearted. 

I see our American language and culture as a victim of marketing gobbledy-gook. First the marketers used words to tell lies. For example, they changed the size description of ordinary laundry detergent from “Small,” “Medium” and “Large” to words more attractive to the consumer such as “Economy,” “Value” and “Giant.” God help us. This process has continued ad nauseum with commercial products, but worse, with politics. I’m not sure who came first in this arms race to the bottom, but here is what George Orwell says in his 1946 polemic Politics and the English Language, about the use of words in politics, “Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservative to anarchist—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”


Leaving Home

I have traveled abroad dozens of times on business. When you know all the flight attendants by name on particular airline routes, you are probably flying too much. But this time was different. We went to seminary together as a family and it was a great adventure for all of us. The business travel was all just so much road warrior stuff. But this time was different.