What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?
That is the question Dr. Soneson asked us for an exam early on in my philosophy classes. The question is supposedly asked by Tertulian. It is a cryptic way of asking what does Philosophy (Athens) have do to with Theology (Jerusalem). But it can also ask about the relationship between eastern and western thought, between monotheism and polytheism. However you want to look at it, it's my text for this coming Sunday: Acts 17:16-34. It's that great story of Paul waiting alone in Athens after fleeing Thessalonica and then Beorea on south to Athens. He wanders and looks around at this center of the Greek world. Athens was never part of Paul's plan. He aimed west for Rome, not the intellectual hot-house of Athens.
What happens when you find yourself somewhere you never planned on being and do not enjoy? I have had so many conversations with people over the last weeks on this theme: I did not plan on this, not at this time of my life. The "places" ranged from unemployment to divorce, from addiction to huge financial losses. What do you do when you find yourself plunked in some place that was never part of your plan: moan and groan? complain and resent? go interior and get depressed? get drunk or high? resign and acquiesce? chafe and get depressed?
I've seen all those responses and participated in some of them. Paul's methodology is profound: he goes out and sees Athens and gets to know it. He accepts it as his new, adopted community and speaks to it, complimenting it and engaging it. He wrings spiritual insights out of what on the surface seems like pure paganism. He quotes their literature (like singing our culture's songs). I think we are always, as believers, called on to genuinely try to understand the culture around us (Athens) and bring it into dialogue with the community of faith (Jerusalem).