Friday, June 7, 2013

Walking in Athens

by Ryan

So... how was May? For the average school teacher, it's probably the busiest time of the year. All those evenings of Shannon watching Cruncher while I stay late for this-and-that reason have left precious little time for blogging. And thus — our excuse.

Cruncher finished kindergarten on Wednesday. Even in my position, I am overwhelmed with how much he's learned this year. What an amazing difference nine months make! I hope that every parent feels as optimistic about their child's future as I do now. Now, if he could prepare his own meals...

_ _ _

I joined a gym.

No, really. Stop laughing — it's true!

After my doctor told me that I was 35 pounds overweight, and thinking about the history of heart attacks in my family, I finally decided to get in shape. Going to the gym is at once inspiring and intimidating. I routinely see a man who has obviously lost a great deal of weight; his dedication really rubs off on me. When I feel winded, I often look over at him, and think "if he can do it, so can I!" Then, there's the lady who is about my wife's weight, but can bench twice what I can... inspiring and intimidating!

Unfortunately, the gym isn't all treasure. Three TVs are playing all hours of the day, and while one is tuned to the Weather Channel (really?) and the other ESPN, there is a third that's a real mixed bag. I was "fortunate" enough to catch Entertainment Tonight one evening, and it seemed like every glance toward that TV revealed yet another woman wearing something that only her husband should see in the confines of their bedroom. Then there was the story about the former star reviving her career with a movie where she is a stripper...

Sometimes a trip to the gym feels like a walk in Athens. In Acts 17, Paul is doing just that, or is so implied. He is appalled by the idols that surround him, yet he opens his speech in the Aero'pagus with:
"Men of Athens, wherever I look I find you scrupulously religious." (Acts 17:22)
I love the language of the Knox Bible here; the New American Bible instead renders the end of the verse "very religious." Yet "scrupulous" shows an excessive attention to detail; an intense devotion to a thing or person. Indeed the attention to physical fitness I witness at the gym is good within itself, but to become scrupulous about one's body can lead to a disordered devotion, or even idolatry not dissimilar to what Paul was privy to in Athens.

We can also fall prey to false devotion when we misuse something; our bodies in relation to our sexuality is a perfect example. Neither the male or female body are bad in themselves, but when they become nothing more than a source of physical pleasure or visual amusement, they also become a sort of idol. We take away the healthy partnerships and meaningful intimacy that should exist in these bonds, and instead make people into commodities to be obtained.

Study for Paul Preaching in Athens, Raphael, 1515
Man in the middle: "Umm, Paul, may I pick your brain for a minute?"

If Paul walked today through the Athens of our souls, what would our idols be? Would he see devotion to God at the center of our lives, or would he see in His place idols that distract our devotion? Would it be rampant sexuality, or a religious devotion to a sports team? Maybe a scrupulous attention to physical fitness? I wonder if Paul would still find, as he did in Athens, a small shrine "to an unknown God" (Acts 17:23), a God that cries out for our devotion. Yet, would we continue to shuffle by on the way to our more familiar idols, or might we tarry a moment longer, close to the source of all goodness? In matters relating to devotion to God or to the treadmill, one must start small. Most of all, one must start in the first place — let the first place be now.

"Let us begin again, for up until now we have done nothing." 
-St. Francis of Assisi

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