“What did you do on your summer vacation”?
In a bygone era, that question was a predictable “pop quiz” for the first day of school. Designed to get the cobwebs out of the students’ cursive grips, it challenged kids to put 10 weeks into 300 words.
Today is “back to school” day, for me; my 2018/Q3 schedule has begun. Sessions for The Master’s Program begin – for me – tomorrow, in Atlanta, and will keep me flying/running until the mid-December holiday shutdown. What did I do on my “summer vacation?”
My holiday spanned 30 days – from July 19 to August 18 – with four of those days spent at home base, handling appointments and ministry infrastructure enhancements that were important. The other 26 days were a virtual whirlwind: 17,422 flying miles across nine time zones.
If I was allergic to marble, I would be in intensive care today: extended stays in Washington, DC, Rome, Naples, Sicily, Venice and Vienna put us in the crosshairs of history. Everywhere we went, there were monuments to visit, buildings to enter, and exploits to rehash.
Cultures produce radically different remnants. In Rome – and much of the rest of the Italian sites – the sites and buildings date back 2000 years. Emperors were conquerors, and they had no inherent budgetary limits for “public works” projects. They ensured their immortality (or so they imagined) by building edifices to themselves or to the pantheon of deities whose blessings they sought or claimed in their ventures. Modern archeology cannot fully grasp the “how” of those construction projects: with seized treasures and defeated slaves, the sky was the limit on what could be erected to honor human leaders who were destined to experience the same end-of-life reality that was common to all.
Venice moved the calendar forward about 1000 years. By then, victory came from commerce rather than from conquest. Fortunes were acquired through transactions and distributions instead of trauma and defeats. Turning low-lying islands into a thriving city-state – with canals being the corridors of commercial activity – made the city a destination of note. The impact of the Renaissance played out on the 118 islands that comprise the city; the linkage of the Doges (the political heads of the independent region) to the Cathedral of Saint Mark that was conveniently located next door to the Doges Palace. Again, edifices were evidence of human accomplishment. Magnificent marble says so much…
The defacto capital of the Holy Roman Empire was Vienna. Often named “the most livable city in the world,” it’s home to 1.8 million people and architectural treasures that seem timeless. Home to the Habsburg royal dynasty for hundreds of years, the influence of the city continued into the modern era. It was woven into Hitler’s tapestry for his Third Reich, and suffered bombings by the Allies that destroyed 12,000 buildings during the Great War. Today, there is no evidence of that devastation; the city’s columns and corridors seem timeless, though lifeless…
We’ve got our own rock piles: Washington is more recent, but just as grand. Stonecutters in the states took their lead from their predecessors on another continent, but had the same motivation: capture legacies for perpetuity…
A month of marble; now, I’m back to months of ministry. What did I do during my summer vacation?
Peter’s name came up – a lot – at the Vatican, the palace of the popes. Here’s Peter’s wisdom: “The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…” (2 Peter 3:7-12)
Buildings are great; people are greater. Marble has value; mankind is more valuable. Massive amounts of time and money went into creating inanimate structures… that will, one day soon, be destroyed. Investments into Eternity are wise… but have little to do with brick and mortar. Jesus didn’t come to inspire construction; he came to redeem humanity.
He’s not wanting anyone to perish. That’s what matters most to him; it should matter most to us. He’s left us with the task of populating heaven; that’s our Prime Directive.
What did you do on your summer vacation?