Thursday, May 28, 2015
My trip to Europe with my son.
For the last couple of weeks I was in Europe with my 13 year old son. It is a tradition in our family that we take our kids to Europe when they turn 13 to get an idea of what the bigger world is all about. Last week was Southern Europe. Two years ago I took my oldest son to Northern Europe. They get to see the good, the bad and the ugly and it hopefully helps them learn a little bit about humanity and their faith. I hope the experience lasts with them their whole lives and helps them make good decisions down the road.
So last week we went to Italy, France, Greece and Switzerland. And we saw a lot . . .
* We drove over 1200 miles.
* We realized that Southern Europe does not believe in road signs. This caused great internal stress to me.
* We experienced a toothless homeless woman rejecting the food we gave her.
* We felt the kindness from a group of Italian older men in a band called "Temple of Sluts" as they helped us find the train station we were looking for. Odd.
* My son was particularly perplexed by watching a man drop to his knees in front of a religious relic and then just 5 minutes later yell at a beggar.
* We had a very intellectually stimulating dinner with a very close-talking British couple who were definitely anti-socialist.
* We were approached by hundreds of Indian men wanting to sell us "Selfie Sticks" ("I give you good price.")
It was a great trip that showed us the best and the worst in people (and sometimes a mixture of both).
There was one thing that stood out to me in these travels. We saw a lot of history - the Colosseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens - we saw the Shroud of Turin and the works of Botticelli and Michelangelo and Brunescelli. Some of these works were in churches like St. Peters in Rome or Il Duomo in Milan or Florence. What was weird was how these churches were museums - not places for believers to come together and worship.
In fact, I had planned on visiting Il Duomo in Milan on one Sunday morning at 11am. Just finding a schedule of Sunday Mass online took over 30 minutes. The website has everything about maps, schedules for tours and souvenirs for the museum, but to actually find when you worshiped was next to impossible. But I found it and we got there at 11am.
How weird it was.
You got to sit in the pew but there were thousands of tourists who strolled all around the cordoned area where church happens. This was not a church, it was a spectacle.
Shortly after 11am with about a dozen other people who came to worship in a cathedral that covers acres, a young lady came to us and said that mass was moved to 12:30pm. Worship was moved but the tours went right on schedule. How sad. We saw this everywhere. These magnificent cathedrals are museums in more ways than one. Tourists stroll in to view the artwork, hear the music and muse over how a few strange people still take time to approach a God that seems just as frozen in time as the stained-glass windows surrounding us.
It was Christianity entombed.
It is the standard course of entropy for churches. Churches start out as centers of action - believers trying to bring Jesus to a world that needs it. Then they imperceptibly move to self-centered clubs that preserve the culture of its attendees. The most important thing becomes how to preserve the likes of those on the inside. What I saw in Europe is the next stage - I saw what the church looks like when it finally dies. It becomes embalmed so that tourists can ponder the once vibrant idea of a God that is relevant.
Action - comfort - history (alive - dying - dead).
God help us to keep our church's obedient to God's calling.