It wasn’t so much this:
It was more of this:
We’re in Assisi, home of St. Francis. Today Courtney and I hiked up the mountain outside of town to Francis’s hermitage. Built into the side of the mountain, it’s an amazing complex of cells and chapels and doorways I could barely squeeze through. I’m guessing that Francis was a small man — most Umbrians are.
Like Mother Teresa, Francis was recognized as a very special and holy person during his own lifetime. Only two years after his death, he was canonized, and the basilica in his honor was started in Assisi. That basilica, which we also visited today, is breathtaking, with frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue, and others. In the crypt below the lower basilica, Francis is buried in a simple stone sarcophagus. Fronted by a small chapel, about a dozen pilgrims sat today in the presence of the saints tomb. Several openly wept.
There’s more myth than fact about Francis’s life. Some scholars think that he didn’t actually write the “Canticle to the Sun,” and all agree that he didn’t compose the “Prayer of St. Francis.” Nevertheless, the life — and myth — of St. Francis still moves people to tears. Nikos Kazantzankis addresses this wonderfully in the prologue to his historical novel, Saint Francis:
I first walked into Ibiz leather shop in 1989 as a college student, and I walked out with the nicest belt I’d ever owned. I walked back in yesterday, took the belt off my waist, and handed it to the daughter of the man who’d sold it to me years before. Her parents opened the shop on an alley in the ancient city in 1972. They still work there, as does she, these many years later. She cleaned my belt, punched another hole in it (alas!), and we talked about the many and various items that I’ve bought from her over the years.
It’s a bit cliché to talk about the slower pace of life in the Mediterranean countries, especially in Italy, but it’s also accurate, and apt. All is not bright in this country — they’re on their 50-something government since WWII, the government is rife with corruption and in-fighting, and the weakness of the Italian economy may be the thing that brings down the Euro.
A lot has also been made about the recent report that Italy is losing population. It’s one of the few countries in the world that is getting smaller. It won’t be able to compete in the global economy, some fear, without a higher birthrate and more, more, more.
Yesterday morning, Courtney and I arrived in Rome for our honeymoon. By my count, this is my 13th trip to caput mundi. I first came to Rome in 1989 as a senior in college, and the trip changed my life. I came because my beloved professor, Edward Bradley, nearly shouted at me, “Dammit, man, you must come to Rome with me. We’ll walk in the footsteps of the saints!” (Read about it here (PDF).)
I’ve come back many times since. A couple times with Edward, a couple times with friends, a couple times leading tours, and now with my beloved Courtney. Yesterday, we wandered. We saw the Forum, we drank Campari, we saw the Campo dei Fiori, we drank cappuccino, we saw the Piazza di Spagna, we drank Limoncello. We also drank wine and Cynar and Prosecco. You get the picture.
Sometimes you hear people who’ve been to Italy complain that Rome is the least favorite of the cities they visited. It’s too dirty, they complain, and too noisy. Florence is more their speed, where everyone speaks English, and all the restaurant menus are, too. Well, they can have Florence. I’ll take urbs sacra. Last night we went, on a recommendation from our dear friend Annie of scooteroma, to a small hosteria tucked in a back alley off the Via del Corso. The waiters spoke little English, the owner spoke none. The menu was only in Italian. And it was, quite possible, the best carbonara I’ve ever tasted.
What will we do today? See more churches, eat more amazing food, drink some more as well.
That’s what my article is about in tomorrow’s Travel section of the StarTribune. Well, about that and the rest of our trip to the dude ranch in August. Plus, the always awesome photos Courtney Perry.
Yesterday, I was hosted for a day at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I learned some lingo, For instance, in SBC circles, the school is referred to either as “Southern Seminary,” “Southern,” or “The Southern Baptist Seminary.” Specifically, I was invited by the faculty of the International Center for Youth Ministry at Boyce College, and its director, Dave Adams.
As one might imagine, I had some trepidation going into this conversation, particularly having read the less-than-affirming blogs of the school’s president, Al Mohler, regarding Brian and Emergent.
However, I must say that rarely have I been received so hospitably, humbly, and generously. Dave, the rest of the Boyce faculty and Ph.D. students, and the school’s dean, Jimmy Scroggins, were everything that you’d want Christian brothers to be. (No, there were no sisters present.)
We talked non-stop from the 11am till 4pm. We found points of agreement and points of difference. For them, it was significant that I personally affirmed the historic, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ — in fact, when asked point-blank whether I could affirm it, my response was something like, “Not only do I affirm it, I consider it the pivot point in the entire history of the cosmos.”
But, we differed when it came to decisional evangelism, inerrancy, and the exclusivity of propitiation in understanding the atonement. I made it clear that I didn’t necessarily reject any of these positions, but that I consider none of them sufficient. We had a good little conversation about the Trinity, and I was able to explicate my ecclesiology a bit, explaining how it grows from my understanding of the perichorectic Trinity.
It was difficult at times parsing out whether I was speaking for myself or speaking for Emergent, but I guess that goes with the job. A good challenge came from Prof. Randy Smith at the end of the day: he said that if Emergent is primarily about theological tweaking, then he’s not interested, but if it’s about missional Christianity, then he’s very interested.
Before I went to the airport, I was taken into the president’s office, to meet Al. Actually, we walked through his ante-office and into his “real” office, where he was preparing for his daily radio program and a later appearance on Anderson Cooper 360 – he was weighing in on the no-church-on-Christmas controversy. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. It was somewhat awkward for me, as I imagine it was for him, too.
Who knows where all this will lead? I don’t, but I know that conversations such as this are only good.
In May, 2014, I will be leading a tour of Rome. I’m calling the tour, From Pagans to Christians – The Art, Architecture, and Proto-Theology of the Earliest Christians. My co-leader will be Professor Edward Bradley, my intellectual mentor and a professor of classics at Dartmouth College for over 40 years.
Here is an early draft of my description of the trip:
Two years ago, my Fuller Seminary D.Min. cohort made mincemeat of a motley collection of bums from the Claremont School of Theology, taking the Seminary Cornhole Championship. Now Tripp Fuller and his team from CST has challenged us to a rematch, which will commence on a gorgeous rooftop in Malibu, California on Tuesday night. Being that cornhole is the ultimate spectator sport, and that you’ll get to see me throw bags with Barry Taylor, you should think about attending. $15 gets you entrance and beer, and to be in the audience for a taping of Homebrewed Christianity. There are only 50 tickets available. Hope to see you there.
Loyal readers will remember an incident from two years ago. I was speaking at Fuller Seminary — an academic institution, it should be noted. In my remarks, I spoke honestly about my view of Pentecostal theology, and how I do not think that it’s the best theology out there. [Video here.] An African-American woman in the crowd stood up and, at the end of a lengthy comment (that was more of a lecture), she called me a “borderline racist.”
Here’s her statement, as transcribed by me (you can see her comment at about 1:31:00 of the video):