It wasn’t so much this:
It was more of this:
It wasn’t so much this:
It was more of this:
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.
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:
This week’s Question That Haunts comes from Judy:
I grew up in the church, though I don’t go any more. I’ve always wondered, of all times and all places, why Jesus? Why first century Palestine? I mean, if God was going to incarnate himself in just one human beings of all the billions of human beings who’ve lived, why a first century peasant carpenter. I remember Sunday school teachers giving us some answers for this when I was a kid, but I always found them unsatisfying. Do Christians believe there was something uniquely special about that time and place?
Thanks, Judy, for this question, just in time for Christmas.
It’s interesting that the comments from the original post immediately went to the question of incarnation. But that’s not really Judy’s question. (It is, however, the question of the latest #progGOD Challenge, Why an Incarnation?) Judy’s question is theological, but it’s not a question about why there’s an incarnation, it’s a question of why God preferred that time and place for the all-important incarnation of himself. Here’s my take.
These are not the waning days of the American Empire, as some of my neo-monastic, Hauerwasian Mafia friends like to tout them. They’re not because — now read this closely — the United States is not an empire.
I know, it’s all the rage right now among progressive Christians to say that we are an empire. But we’re not. An empire has, by definition, an emperor. As frustrated as you may be by the malicious buffoonery of the Bush-Cheney oligarchy, they do not represent an emperor. Exhibit A: They won’t be in office as of January 20. In fact, it looks as though they will have virtually no power in the governance of the United States as of that date (unlike, for instance, Vladimir Putin, who set himself up as prime minister of Russia after constitutional term limits ended his presidency).
I was a classics major in college (geez, I hate it when people tell me that what they majored in during college makes them an expert in that topic), and I lived in Rome. I know how and why the Roman Empire fell, and it did, indeed, have a lot to do with office of emperor and the abuses inherent thereto.
We, on the other hand, are about to elect a new president. And with an Obama presidency (barring some unforeseen tragedy), there will be thoroughgoing housecleaning in Washington. This is what never happened in Rome. Julius Caesar, who overcame the other two members of the Triumvirate, ruled Rome pretty well. His adopted heir, Augustus (nee Gaius Octavius) was arguably the greatest ruler of that empire. And from there it was pretty much downhill (with notable exceptions). Why? Graft. Immorality. And the “divine right of kings.”
These are the very things that, centuries later, the social contract theory of John Locke overcame, and that the American Republic reacted against. Now, it can surely be argued about whether the U.S. is really a representative democracy or a republic, etc. But the U.S. can simply not be considered an empire in the governance sense of the word.
But I know that many of the aforementioned neo-monastic Hauerwasians are concerned less with the US government and more about the imperial nature of the US economy. I agree with them insofar as free market capitalism, no longer curbed by Calvinism, has no moral impediment to unmitigated greed. Capitalism worked when the “Protestant work ethic” was its engine, but it works less well when it’s primarily driven by speculation and greed. This is surely a problem that we’ve got to face.
But free-market capitalism run amok is not an American problem. It’s a global problem. Iceland’s banks are frozen because a few investors gambled more than the entire country even has. Maybe the US invented capitalism on a massive scale, but the bird has flown the coop. Globalization has made these attacks on the US economy in particular moot.
We are in the waning days, but not of the American empire, because there is no such thing. We’re in the waning days of a particular economic model. Thank God we’ve got a better form of government than an Empire to sort this mess out.