Saturday, November 28, 2009

From the Taipei Airport

I am en route to Los Angeles after perhaps the second strangest trip of my life (Antarctica Christmas '07 is unsurpassable). I just spent a lovely week with my dear friend Tulsi and her boyfriend Chad in their home of the semester, Bangkok, Thailand. In light of my six hour layover and the blog-negligence-guilt welling up within me, I have decided to revisit this site and write about my thoughts for you (not that this pronoun has any real people attached to it).

1. Why don't more public places offer free internet? As a capitalist (don't hate), I'm totally down with making money for providing goods and services. I just like getting things, particularly invisible things like wifi, for free. All that to say: props to Panera, and to the Taipei airport for making this relatively meaningless blog post possible for someone unwilling to pay for internet access.

2. I'm sorry, but Asian pop music is horrible. I got a 4 hour taste of Thai pop yesterday on a bus and am now experiencing the Taiwanese version. In my humble and very unenlightened musical opinion, this is just not pleasant. Furthermore, I have just discovered that you cannot access Pandora (just edited that from "Panera," bread withdrawals maybe) internationally.

3. Thai food is so good. Tulsi and I took a cooking class this week and I am so excited to try some recipes out at home. Thai food is way up there on my list of favorites, just below Indian I think, and this trip certainly did not hurt. I kind of wish that La Mirada streets had food carts that sold Som Tam and fresh pineapple for pennies. Alas, we are stuck with Taco Bell to satisfy our need for cheap food. Back to the point: I learned how to make Thai food and intend to make it at home.

4. Speaking of food, I love it. It has been so fun having a kitchen this semester and being able to cook and eat pretty well (if I do say so myself). I told my parents that food may be my calling in life, and they, unsure of whether I was serious (I guess I am sometimes a little too subtle with the sarcasm, but I sort of enjoy their reactions, is that so wrong?), tried to gently persuade me otherwise. I personally think that food is a very high calling; my dream job is to be a traveling food taster. Doesn't Giada-something from the Food Network do that with Italian food? I think I could branch out to all cuisines in all countries and totally own her ratings. I just need to develop a more TV-friendly persona and get a cooler name. Ideally, though, I would find some way to do what she does without the cameras while still getting paid.

5. On a more serious note, I have been giving a lot of thought to the gospel and evangelism lately. Having confessed my capitalism in this post and my Calvinist-leanings in another, I have already lost all credibility with my peers, so I feel completely free to admit my distaste for the variety of gospel/ evangelism promoted by Shane Claiborne. There are countless other names that could be attached to the ideas I intend to criticize, but his has come to my attention over the past few weeks due to 1) my writing a paper in opposition to his ideas about the relationship between economics and morality, 2) his coming to speak at Biola, and 3) my reading an article he wrote for Esquire magazine which I found through another blog (in that order). My paper was focused on his glorification of poverty as moral and condemnation of wealth as immoral (I argued that wealth and poverty are amoral), so it does not apply here. His talk at Biola, however, confirmed what I could have guessed his evangelistic sentiments to be based upon my sometimes insightful, often (to my shame) overly-critical and uncharitable, tendency to try to categorize people. His article served to further develop this confirmation as it contains his actual presentation of the gospel.

I will direct you to what I think is an excellent refutation of Shane's article, but I will briefly share my own thoughts here as well. Shane, as with others like him, is certainly well-intentioned. He cares deeply for the plight of the poor, so much so that he dwells among them and takes on their burdens as his own. I sincerely applaud him for the fact that he lives out what he believes and is doing good work in aiding the needy. My primary problem with him is his overemphasis on attending to physical needs at the expense of sharing the gospel to the end of saving souls. I believe that Scripture is very clear that we ought not simply throw words at starving people while disregarding their suffering ("be warm and well fed"), but this does not mean that the message of the gospel is impotent unless accompanied by food or shelter. Passages such as those found in Matthew 25 and the book of James speak to the hearer of the Word who must be a doer also, but do not imply that the message of the gospel can be hindered by the believer's failure to act. The gospel is life to those who hear it and believe, so while some momentary sustenance may make it easier to swallow, living water is the only necessity to people who are not mere bodies. I have heard countless times that "people don't care what you know (the Truth) until they know that you care (about their bodies)." I have never heard it said outright, however, that people who don't care that the living God came as a man to shed His blood in order to save them from the damnation they deserve on account of their sins are wrong, even if someone lamely forgot to include a care package with the message. Again, the responsibility to care for physical needs may lie with Christians with means, but this does not excuse messages such as Shane's which encourage Christians to first care for physical needs in hopes that someone might consequently care about the gospel, as if it were a dispensable appendage. I was appalled when I was speaking with one of Tulsi's fellow exchange students the other night about his passion for missions: I, perhaps rudely, asked him very pointedly about his thoughts regarding the importance of including the gospel message in efforts to help people out of poverty. His response was initially impressive, as he said that caring for physical and spiritual needs are the two rails on a train track and both are necessary to effective ministry; unfortunately, in my opinion (because he cares what I think?), he went on to say that it is important to share the gospel and make converts because, otherwise, you might pull people out of poverty and they will get rich and exploit poor people. Essentially, help people out of poverty and make them Christian because this will help the anti-poverty cause. What about working against poverty for the cause of the gospel? I added, again, perhaps rudely, "and they won't spend an eternity in hell."

This is becoming longer and heavier and meaner-sounding than I intended, so I will briefly share my more positive thoughts on the issue. The gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Word of God is so central, so foundational, so essential (need I go on?) that it is surely capable of standing on its own as a supremely valuable message. Again, don't mistake me for saying that Christians are not obligated to help those in physical need. I am merely asserting that the gospel itself, Christ Himself, is all that those in need really need. Thinking economically (not in the sense that the unnamed aforementioned was thinking economically), I think it is reasonable to value people's eternal destinies (big benefit) over their temporal states (small benefit). I am fully aware that such a statement is not in vogue among Christian young people, but I am at a loss for how to argue (and why I must argue) that an eternity with God is better than another day on earth in preparation for an eternity in hell. What has happened to the Christian belief in the afterlife, a literal heaven and hell? I see and hear so little of it nowadays. Yet as I think about and share these convictions, I am painfully aware of my failure to live up to what I believe to be an essential part of the Christian life by sharing the gospel. My prayer is that I might see people as they really are: eternally significant creatures made in the image of God, and lost apart from Christ. This means more love (and that only by the power of God in me): toward fellow saints with whom I share my feeble faith in the Savior, and toward the lost who, when seen with spiritual eyes, need nothing apart from Jesus Christ.

6. I watched The Time Traveler's Wife on the plane from Bangkok to Taipei. I was expecting The Notebook Part Two and was pleasantly surprised to find out that this one was not, in fact, written by Nicholas Sparks. Needless to say, I was prepared for the worst and, while it was certainly not great, I was satisfied with my decision to forego The Ugly Truth. But the point I want to make here has little to do with the movie apart from the activity of time travel. Much like Henry, I am a time traveler. Impossible, you say? Well, I am leaving Taipei in one hour and will arrive in LA three-and-a-half hours ago. I get to relive 16 hours of Saturday November 28th (11 of which will be spent in the sky, don't even get me started on flying). Also, I was eating Thanksgiving dinner (celebrating an American holiday in a French restaurant in Thailand) before you woke up on Thanksgiving, and was looking at ancient Buddhist temples on Friday afternoon as you were finishing your turkey. Why do I still think time changes are so fascinating? I have a feeling they will seem far less exciting in class on Monday when I am severely jet-lagged.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ephesians 1:3-14

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
"In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
-Ephesians 1:3-14

After about five previous attempts to begin with something profound, I will settle for a simple admission of my inability to fully grasp and articulate the profundity of this text and move on. What an incredible declaration of the blessedness of the believer by the apostle Paul! There is much to say about this passage, and much of it is beyond my skill in articulation, so I will simply share a few thoughts here.

Paul is writing this epistle to the Ephesian church (mostly Gentile if I'm not mistaken) from prison. While we are not a part of his originally intended audience, I think it is safe to say that the apostle's words here apply to all believers.

How often do we place blame upon God for not working things out the way we think He ought to? We accuse Him, perhaps implicitly, of failing to bless us as we expected Him to. "God, if You love me, how can you allow this pain, this financial struggle, this death of a loved one, this undeserved ailment, this spiritual dryness, this purposelessness..." An inspired Paul responds by declaring that God "has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places..." Before moving on to the blessings enumerated thereafter, I would like to briefly dwell on this incredible statement of God's goodness toward us. We might initially think it absurd to think that we have received every spiritual blessing; we certainly hold that we have received some, but every one? As Paul goes on to list the blessings we have already obtained as Christians, our true beatitude becomes more apparent, especially as we consider our undeservingness, and the fact that even more blessings are guaranteed to await us. Paul provides the suffering saint (much more, the comfortable saint) with much-needed perspective in order to inspire an attitude that more accurately reflects the true state of things, namely, an attitude of worship.

"He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." I must here confess my more Calvinistic tendencies, but I will save a further explanation for a later post. Without getting too controversial, I think this beautifully expresses the immensity of God's grace toward us. We have verses like Romans 5:8 that depict Christ's great and gracious love in that He gave Himself up for undeserving sinners, but that is taken to a new level here where Paul explains that God chose us before we or anything else even existed. To what end were we chosen? We were chosen that we might be holy and blameless before God. To be declared holy and blameless is one thing, but to be so before God, the God of the Bible, is infinitely more. Isaiah's vision of God in the sixth chapter of his book gives a great image of what I intend here. The seraphim declare the holiness of the Lord, and Isaiah despairs of his life for having seen such holiness. Shall we not do the same before Him? Yet we too have been atoned for with a burning coal in the person of Jesus Christ, and we have thus, like Isaiah, been considered holy and blameless, even in the presence of Holiness Himself. For this we were chosen by our gracious God, even before His work of creation.

Paul continues his enumeration of our blessings in Christ by saying that God "predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will," further illuminating the completely unmerited grace we have received from the hand of a loving God. Why did God decide to adopt us? Because it is His will. That is like the infamous "because I said so" we all suffered from our parents in childhood, but the lack of explanation here merely shows that no explanation is possible with regard to the grace of God. His hand is unmoved in His embrace of His adopted children. Not only were we chosen to be holy and blameless (and who isn't painfully aware of how un-holy and blameworthy they are?), but we were predestined for adoption as sons of God through the Son of God in love. The reader cannot help but note the highlighting of holiness and love at this point, recognizing God's bestowal of His own attributes upon His children by His grace. In case we forgot what we are doing with this list of our blessings, Paul reminds us: "to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved." We do not ponder the gifts we receive in order to congratulate ourselves on obtaining them, but in order to praise the grace of the Giver.

Is there more to be had in Christ? No Christian can skim over the redemption he or she has through the shed blood of Christ, and Paul certainly takes care to note this pivotal Christian doctrine of the atonement. Again, I will save a rant about the post-modern de-emphasizing of the atonement for another post. We were redeemed through Christ's blood, and our trespasses were forgiven; our list expands to include the negation of evils along with the goods, so that we do not merely receive blessings with our curses, but a wiping away of all record of anything meriting punishment. This redemption and forgiveness likewise find their source in God's grace, for which Paul now uses terms like "riches" and "lavished," perhaps in conjunction with his recent declaration of our adoption into the family of a King, or his coming words about the inheritance we have received and will receive.

Furthermore, God, "in all wisdom and insight," makes known to us the mystery of His will: "to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth." What Christian has not offered fervent prayers to God requesting a revelation of His will? Yet here it is, in plain words (ok, not entirely plain): God's will is that all things be united in Christ. While this doesn't help much with my career choice, it does serve to remind me of the blessed truth that my career choice is not terribly important in comparison with God's ultimate purpose. Whenever the "fullness of time" comes, I expect that many of my present concerns will prove to have been frivolous in light of God's will, which will undoubtedly come to pass. God's Word unveils the mystery of His will and tells us that God intends for all things to be united in Christ, and this purpose cannot be thwarted - this is the revelation of the will of God.

On top of all that has been mentioned so far, we have also received an inheritance. Why? In case the pattern has escaped my reader, it is because God predestined our obtaining it in accordance with His will, unmoved by anything greater, unmotivated by any merit of ours. What is our proper response to this undeserved inheritance? To hope in Christ, and thus glorify Him. When our blessedness is recognized as in this passage, it is evident that we ought to hope in Christ; not only should we hope in Him, He is our only hope.

This inheritance is "already-and-not-yet," as Paul says that we have obtained it, then goes on to say that we have a deposit guaranteeing that we are to receive it in the future. When we "heard the word of truth, the gospel of [our] salvation, and believed in Him, [we] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it." This is a wonderful summary of the believer's conversion, wherein we all heard the truth of the gospel, believed in Jesus, and were sealed with the Holy Spirit. One result of this "sealing" is that we are thereby assured of our inheritance; not only does God grant us this undeserved blessing, He confirms that He will give it to us.

As Paul has emphasized a number of times in this short introduction to his letter to the Ephesians, he also reiterates at the close of this passage: all these blessings are "to the praise of His glory." I went through these verses in sort of a systematic manner, but there is really so much more to be said about Paul's Ephesian prologue. I simply intend to highlight the rich blessings which God has bestowed on us for no other reason besides His glorious grace, and to encourage a proper response to this unmerited favor: gratitude and obedience. Exhortations to thanksgiving can be found throughout Paul's writings, and the way he structures many of his letters points us to acknowledge God's greatness and His great gifts and to respond with gratitude in action. "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 cor 5:14-15). Although "obedience" holds a negative connotation for most, the obedience which is our debt to the Lord is no burden, but rather a joy as we desire to do the will of the One who gives us life.

This magnificent passage has become one of my favorite portions of Scripture, so I decided to memorize it. I am almost finished committing it to memory, and I already appreciate having these verses in mind as I can refer to the truths found therein without even needing to read or have a Bible handy. I highly recommend memorizing this passage, and also reading the entire book of Ephesians, as the whole really informs and enriches this part of it. Keep this list of blessings in mind and bless the Lord.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Europe Summer 2009

Here is the quick version of my trip (do you really want to know every detail anyways?). Check it out and see what sounds especially interesting. If you would like to know more, just ask me! I left a lot out, I'm sure, but this gives a general idea of what I've been doing for the past five weeks.

May 28-29 Travel
Long plane flight from LA to Athens, arrived around 3am

May 30- Athens
Bus tour around Athens- not a terribly nice city, besides the historical stuff.
Mars Hill- location of Paul's sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17
Acropolis- highest point in the old city, site of the Parthenon (super ancient and huge temple to Athena) and other sweet old buildings
Agora- marketplace of ancient Athens, birthplace of philosophy
Archaeological museum (not sure if I got the name right)- museum with lots of sweet old stuff in it including the "mask of Agamemnon"
St. George's chapel- on top of the highest point in modern Athens, tiny chapel, great view

May 31- Athens/ Delphi
Ossias Lucas monastery- beautiful Byzantine-era Greek Orthodox monastery, serene setting, magnificent mosaics (my favorite!)
Delphi- site of the ancient Greek oracle, center of high paganism, beautiful place with sort of an evil history
Metro ride- got some delicious coffee, metro station had ancient ruins in it (sort of unusual)

June 1- Cruise ship/ Mykonos
Boarded the Aquamarine cruise ship at the Piraeus port
Mykonos- not a very exciting stop, but very pretty and a nice place to chill in the evening

June 2- Ephesus/ Patmos
Ephesus- incredible ruins, really got a sense of what the ancient city was like, enormous stadium, lots of well preserved buildings, read Acts 18 where Paul would have been, site of a very significant early church (recipient of a Pauline letter and a letter in Revelation, ministered with Paul for over a year, one of the first churches in Asia Minor I think)
Patmos- place of John's exile in the first century and where he received the Revelation of the Apocalypse, cave where tradition holds John had his vision, read the beginning of the book of Revelation in there which was amazing, awesome monastery dedicated to St. John and built like a fortress

June 3- Rhodes
Castle- medieval castle that was never penetrated, walked all along the castle walls, palace reconstructed by Mussolini
Beach- beautiful sunny day, beautiful Adriatic, much-needed tan

June 4- Crete/ Santorini
Crete- heard it was great, but we had the option to sleep in so I did
Santorini- really beautiful island, not much historical significance, but gorgeous

June 5- Corinth/ Mycenae
Disembarked at Piraeus
Corinth- more cool ruins
Mycenae- Agamemnon's citadel (king that led the Achaians in the Trojan War, see Iliad or Aeschylus' tragedies), Agamemnon's tomb (our guide was born in it during WWII bombing when his village was hiding in there... he was born in Agamemnon's tomb)
Boarded a ferry to Italy

June 6- Pompei
Disembarked at Bari, Italy
Pompei- incredibly well-preserved ruins, good enough condition that you can sort of imagine what it might have been like to live in that ancient culture, wonderful site worth seeing
Overnight outside Naples

June 7- Florence
Six-hour bus ride to Florence, arrived late afternoon
Walked around the city, group dinner

June 8- Florence
Duomo- incredibly beautiful cathedral in Florence
Beatrice's church, Dante's house, etc.- I think that was this day
Some Medici and Michelangelo stuff that I can picture but can't recall the names
Baptistery- Byzantine-era, where Dante was baptized
Climbed to the top of the Duomo- great view of the city and the sweet painted ceiling of the dome

June 9- Florence
Pitti Palace- last home of the Medici family, lots of great art
Accademia- home of Michelangelo's David, what a hottie
Piazzale Michelangelo- big hill with a monastery on top of it with a great view of the city and a pretty sunset

June 10- Florence
Uffizi Gallery- one of the foremost art galleries in the world for a reason
Santa Croce- pretty church where lots of famous people are buried (Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, etc.)

June 11- Rome
End of Torrey Europe trip, said goodbye to everyone leaving that morning
Train to Rome
All the free stuff- Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps (bird pooped on my head), miscellaneous gorgeous churches

June 12- Rome
Vatican museum- my first time there, amazing collection of art, Raphael Rooms including his School of Athens, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel
St. Peter's Basilica- enormous and beautiful, Michelangelo's Pieta

June 13- Rome
Roman forum and Colosseum
Lateran Cathedral- sticks out in my mind mainly because of the gay pride parade we saw outside of it

June 14-July 4- Mussolente
Train from Rome to Bassano del Grappa
Stayed at Malga Rossa in Mussolente with family for the remainder of the trip, but also took day trips and one two-night trip:
-Asiago- home of Asiago cheese, yummmmmm
-Rimini- horrible beach town, don't ever go there
-Ravenna- a great addition to the Torrey Europe trip, Dante's tomb, capital of the Italian portion of the Byzantine Empire, beautiful churches
-Bologna- unfortunately didn't see much of great interest, but nice city, talked to the leftists who had just won the regional election and got a communist flag
-Trento- site of the counter-reformation Council of Trent
-Montegrappa- big WWI battlefield and memorial
-Vicenza, Asolo, Marostica, Bassano del Grappa, Padova...
-We went hiking one day in the mountains about two hours away (Dolomites?); it's easy to just think of Italy in terms of its historical value, but there is so much natural beauty in that country it's really incredible
-Venice- lots of pretty churches, generally a very beautiful city, our third time there though so didn't do much tourist-y stuff

I learned a lot and had a lovely time, but it's nice being home now. I'm putting pictures on facebook. Like I said, let me know if you want to know anything more about the trip. Hope everyone is enjoying summer!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Athens, Greek Isles, Turkey

I spent Thursday morning and early afternoon finishing up preparations for my trip, then headed for LAX for a 7:40 pm flight. After a long journey spanning ten time zones, our group of almost-50 arrived in Athens at 2 am and went straight to bed at our hotel. We woke up after what amounted to a long nap and began our tour of Athens. Our tour guide, Costas, showed us the interesting parts of the city from our tour bus, most of which are ancient. The modern city of Athens is, to be honest, not pretty or interesting on its own, so the fantastic historical and cultural value of the ancient city is a necessary redeeming quality, of which there is no shortage.

After our preliminary bus tour, we arrived at the acropolis, the highest point in ancient Athens and the center of its culture. We walked up the pathway toward the peak and stopped at Mars Hill, the site of Paul’s discourse to the Athenians as recorded in Acts 17. We read the sermon while standing under the Greek sun on that very spot, overlooking the birthplace of Western philosophy and overshadowed by a pagan temple. We continued climbing up toward the temple to Athena at the peak of the hill, the magnificent Parthenon. The architecture is incredible and the view from the top is spectacular. Some of us descended to walk around the agora, the ancient marketplace where philosophical discussion began. I relaxed at the pool on top of our hotel in the afternoon in view of the acropolis and reading the excellent book I have since finished, My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. In the evening, after our dinner, a small group of us climbed to the highest point in modern Athens where the chapel of St. George is located. We arrived just in time to spend five minutes inside the chapel which is rarely open, and spent the rest of the time just sitting and enjoying the view.

Sunday morning, we set out for Delphi by bus. On the way, we stopped at the Ossias Lucas monastery, one of the most beautiful things we have seen thus far. The setting is beautiful and peaceful, and the architecture and adornment of the building is spectacular. We left this Byzantine masterpiece and came to Delphi, the site of the ancient oracle and heart of high paganism. The ruins there are well preserved, and one can get a sense of the events that took place there millennia ago by the way in which the place is arranged. The beautiful setting of the oracle contrasts with the great evil that she perpetuated by her utterances; hers was a religion of “tolerance,” such that all beliefs were tolerated except those which claimed to be the truth. This trip in part demonstrates the contrast between Delphi and philosophy by juxtaposing the relativistic and tolerant with the absolute and true. Later that evening, some of us rode the metro to get coffee in a city square. I was shocked to see the area filled with people, young and old, at around 10 pm. Our coffee was delicious and it was a beautiful night, and the abundance of people just hanging out in the square made it feel very festive. We even got to see more ruin from the ancient city inside the metro station, which was certainly unique.

Our cruise of the Greek islands began with our embarkation early Monday morning. We traveled immediately to the island of Mykonos, where we landed in the early evening and stayed for about four hours. What it lacks in historical value it makes up for in beauty, and we had a good time relaxing there.

On Tuesday morning, we landed in Kusadasi, Turkey and took a bus to ancient Ephesus. Those were probably the best ruins I have ever seen. It was an incredible experience to walk the intact streets and see the sites of ancient commerce and worship and study. We stopped in the enormous amphitheater and listened to a member of our group sing beautifully, then read the portion of Acts dealing with Paul’s visit to that city, as well as his exhortation to put on the armor of God at the close of his letter to the Ephesians. Unfortunately, our visit to Ephesus was a quick one, and we re-boarded the ship to sail to Patmos. On the island of John’s exile, we visited the cave where tradition holds that he received the Revelation and read the opening of the Book of Revelation. After that, we visited the monastery named for St. John, another beautiful and serene place of worship and devotion to the Lord.

All day Wednesday was spent at the island of Rhodes. We spent the morning in the impenetrably fortified castle, where we toured the palace (reconstructed by Mussolini) and walked along the city walls. In the afternoon, we got the chance to hang out on the beach and relax.

Thursday morning was an optional excursion on Crete to see a Minoan site, but I opted out in favor of much-needed sleep. In the afternoon, we arrived at Santorini. We climbed to the town located at the top of the cliff and walked around and took in the beauty of the island. Some of us got a drink and sat at a little café and looked out at the sea. Santorini is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life.

This morning we arrived back at the mainland and disembarked. We took a bus from the Piraeus port to Corinth, another great Acts site. An erotic temple of Aphrodite stands on a hill above the city, indicative of the behavioral issues Paul had to address in that city in which he spent 18 months. The Bema seat of judgment before which Paul was exonerated is there. We read Acts 18, then moved on to Mycenae. The Mycenaean civilization dates back to about 1,500 BC, making those ruins the oldest I have seen this trip (having skipped Crete). We saw the citadel and tomb of Agamemnon, both of which were magnificent and mind-boggling to behold. Our guide grew up in this city and had some great stories about discovering tombs and other ruins in his childhood, and his later excavations as an archaeologist. We ate at Costas’ brother’s restaurant and then headed to the port to board our ferry.

I am now sitting on a ferry in the Ionian Sea between card games. This trip has been and is so wonderful! If you are interested in some connection with our experiences these past few days, go read the parts of Acts that correspond with where we have been, along with some of Revelation.

**I wrote this two nights ago on the ferry ride to Italy, and am now sitting in Florence. Hopefully I will post a further update soon (sorry about the limited internet access).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Procrastination and Processing

I have quite a lot on my mind at the moment, none of which has anything to do with packing.

The lectures of yesterday and today were all very interesting and, I think, will provide a lot of helpful context to enrich our tour of Greece and Italy. Yesterday, Dr. Greg Peters spoke about Dante's need for Bernard of Clairvaux who, if you have read Dante's Paradise you know, is Dante's final guide to see God. Bernard, the actual person, was a monk in about the eleventh century who wrote the little book, On Loving God. He asserts four degrees of loving God which I found to be of interest, but will refrain from commenting extensively on. The first and lowest level of loving God is loving Him because of what He can do for you; second is loving God because He, in Dr. Peters' words, "takes care of your junk"; the third, and surprisingly not the highest, level of loving God is loving Him for His own sake; fourth and finally one loves God by loving oneself for God's sake. In this last and highest category, you see yourself as God sees you and thus perfectly know your place before Him, and therefore love Him as you should. The highest degree of loving God is a sort of mystical experience, and one cannot achieve it by natural efforts, but must wholly depend upon God to give that highest of loves by His grace.

Today, I listened to Dr. J.P. Moreland talk about Aristotle's theory of substance. Of particular interest to me was his brief discussion of this philosophy on an issue I am very passionate about: abortion. Aristotle sought to answer the pre-Socratic problem of change (how do we justify the unity of a thing that changes, i.e. how is something that changes from an acorn to an oak tree the same thing?). To answer this question, Aristotle came up with a definition of substance as an individuated essence that underlies change; in other words, a thing's essence (a collection of attributes without which a thing would cease to be that thing, i.e. humanness) is fundamental to that thing, and change is not a process of becoming, but of maturing. Take, for example, the acorn, which does not become an oak tree, but has the same essence both as a tiny acorn and a massive oak tree, only at different stages of maturation. This maturing process is simply the actualization of potentials (the acorn contains all the yet-unactualized potential for largeness, leafiness, etc., but only through change/maturing will those potentialities actualize). The implications of this philosophy on the abortion issue should be clear and horrifying.

On a somewhat lighter note, I turned 20 yesterday and no, I don't feel any different. However, just looking at that number on the line above is a little intimidating. Sometimes, I would like to think I am quite grown up, but in reality, I still feel so small. I don't really have anything profound to say about this, just a little sentimental moment.

I have been listening to U2 almost non-stop lately, so I'm learning their With or Without You on guitar. As I think I mentioned in my last post, my mom, sister and I are planning some sets for our resident musical act at the Malga Rossa restaurant in Mussalente, Italy in the second part of my trip. We're scrambling for covers to throw in with my mom's original songs, so any suggestions would be appreciated!

Maybe I should get packing now...

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I thought I would give some idea of what exactly my trip will look like before I leave a few days from now. It will be divided into two parts, one with school and one with my family.

Part one of my trip is through the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, and is worth four units of credit. There is required reading for the trip, as well as some lecture and discussion sessions taking place this Monday through Wednesday. The subject of the trip is "Dante and his classical roots," and this theme is reflected both in the academic and travel portions. We were assigned to read five books by Dante prior to our departure: the Divine Comedy (consisting of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), Vita Nuova, and Monarchia. Upon our return, we will need to choose from a list of secondary sources (such as C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, etc.) an equivalent of 500 pages of text about Dante and his works to finish by the end of the summer. Some professors will be both giving lectures and joining us on the trip, including three Torrey Honors professors and Dr. J.P. Moreland.

Besides the obvious academic quality of the trip and the days leading up to it, we will be visiting some incredible sites closely connected with Dante and his classical roots. On Thursday, we will fly out of Los Angeles and arrive the next day in Athens. We will spend a couple of days touring around the city that was so foundational to Western thought, as well as a site of Paul's early ministry to the Gentiles as recorded in Acts 17. We will then go down to the Piraeus (as did Socrates in the opening to Plato's Republic) and board a cruise ship that will take us on a 4-day cruise of the Greek Isles with a stop in Ephesus, Turkey. These places hold so much significance historically, literarily, philosophically, and religiously. I have never been to Greece before, so I am particularly excited about seeing this wonderfully cultural and beautiful country.

Our cruise will end back in Athens, from which we will then take an overnight ferry to Italy. This part is a new addition to the itinerary, so I am not completely clear on it, but my understanding is that we will land in the vicinity of Naples and take a day-trip to Pompeii. I visited that region with my family a few years ago and I am absolutely thrilled to be going again. Pompeii is one of the most magnificent sites one can see; the ash of Mount Vesuvius has preserved the city as it was millennia ago such that you can see the grooves in the streets from chariot wheels and the frescoes on the walls of people's homes. We will take a bus from there to Florence, a beautiful city, rich with history and art and intrigue. Dante's home prior to his exile, for which he had very mixed feelings, will be our final destination for the Torrey trip on June 11th.

My family will meet me in the Venice area on the 14th of June, where we will be until the 4th of July when we will depart for Los Angeles. This 3-week period will be relatively flexible. We are staying in a hotel that is connected to a restaurant with which we have some connection through a friend/ business associate of my dad's. All I know as of now is that we will be working with him at the restaurant and that my mom, sister and I will be playing music there some nights. Besides that, we will likely take some small trips around the area and just hang out and enjoy immersion in the culture. We have been to this area 3 or 4 times and it is not a major tourist destination, so the familiarity and normality of this Venetian suburb, along with our being there to work, will perhaps allow for a good experience of "La Bella Vita" as Italians.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Welcome to my brand new (and long overdue) blog! I will use this first post to briefly introduce my initial intentions for this site.

It has been my intention to start a blog for quite some time now, and I have finally received sufficient motivation to do so by a friend's beginning one of her own as well as an upcoming trip. In light of the latter reason, this will start out as a travel blog where I can share about my European excursions in the coming weeks. My trip begins May 28th, and I will be returning on the 4th of July, so keep an eye out for posts about Greek and Italian adventures!

When I return from my half-summer abroad, I will continue posting, although perhaps in a different vein according to the slightly less exciting lifestyle of suburban southern California.