Thursday, June 17, 2010

Old Stones

One of the best times in our times with Anna and Isaac is in the evening debriefing what we saw and experienced that day. On Tuesday we visited both the Pont du Gard and Nimes, where the great Roman coliseum is. As we scrambled up and down the steep stone steps and seats, I caught Isaac just sitting on the highest ledge and looking. “These stones are really old aren’t they?” he asked.

The beauty of Nimes is that the coliseum is so well preserved and left open. The coliseum in Rome is both in bad shape and restricted to guided walkways. In Nimes, we could wander anywhere we wanted to go, and imagine gladiator battles, flooded sea battles, and the viscious fighting with animals and or Christians.

Old stones do that. They take you back out of your time and force you to wonder. How did they get here? What was the construction process like? What were these parts for? How did people come and go? And, by extension, you are forced to look out over the now bustling city of Nimes and ask, what did this look like in 50 BC? Or 100 AD?

Ever since coming to France for the first time in 1990, I’ve been entranced with old stones: doors, walls, arches, flagstone paths, fountains, etc. I am weary of the impermanence of the stones in my culture in the United States, especially in the places I’ve lived, where old is 50 years old, or 125 years old. How many strip malls have you seen built, opened and shuttered within a few years? How many “new” homes have aged before our eyes due to building materials that do not handle the weather or heavy use? How many new asphalt parking lots have you seen age, crack and sprout with weeds?

I don’t worship stones, but I am impressed with endurance. I am impressed with things that last and remain in a throw-away culture. By extension I look at the church I serve and the Christian faith in the west. It seems from my perspective that we are endlessly chasing after new building materials and new styles of worship and organization, only to see them flake, chip and fade. We live in a church culture that values (worships?) the newest and latest, yet we are deeply hungry for something that outlasts us and can carry us. I don’t think we can go back to monasteries and abbeys, as beautiful as they are, but we can return to Word and Sacrament, the basics of Jesus and the stories in Acts. Those are the old stones I need to surround myself with these days.


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