This post was originally written in and scheduled for November, but never got published.
I have been talking about “Walking the Streets of Athens” in a number of places. This idea applies to anyone wanting to make a difference in other people’s lives. You need to walk their streets, understand their culture, understand their needs, and figure out whether you have something to offer that would make a positive contribution to their lives, and what that would be.
For example, if you are serious about dealing with “the problems in the middle east” in the most effective way possible, and are prepared to give your life to the cause, the first step is to become one of them, in the sense of walking among them, immersing yourself in their culture, to experience and understand it. You need to understand the reasons for their culture, the benefits of their culture, the source of their culture… If you cannot recognise the good, be careful, because you run the risk of doing more harm than good. You run the risk of being the typical colonialist. Rather support the people that are prepared to go the distance.
This idea seems like common sense, but time and again I see people not heeding it. By all means, criticise elements that need criticism, point out the problems. Have discussions. Inspire other people to become more involved. To revisit the topic that I’ve been beating to death and back to life again many times over, Dawkins’ The God Delusion: the good contribution this book makes, is to make people more aware of the important issues. It provides those that lacked self-confidence with a naturalistic worldview with more confidence and faith in their lack of belief in the supernatural. It also inspires action. Unfortunately, I disagree with the kind of action it all too often inspires. /me bites my tongue to avoid criticising the bad yet again.
Anyway, the “Walking the Streets of Athens” idea was presented in a “sermon” (ugh, find another word?) presented by Erwin McManus at Stellenbosch Gemeente on 11 June 2007. While Stellenbosch Gemeente is mostly Afrikaans, Erwin is a visitor from far away (Los Angeles). His “sermons” are in English. The “Walking the Streets of Athens” sermon was given in the morning, titled Street Walker. (If you are interested, you can find an mp3 of the sermon by following that link then clicking on the image on the right that says “Luister”.)
The first time I used the Street Walker idea on my blog, was in my How To Convert An Atheist post. I wrote that series of three posts while embracing the “secular humanist” label, effectively considering myself an atheist at the time. That means that series was written while pondering “How To Convert Myself“. (Quite surprising how well that actually worked… :-P) The key idea behind the series was “You need to learn to think, like an atheist does”. It was intending to educate Christians, rather than to convert atheists.
In the “Street Walker” sermon Erwin also mentions a person he invited to attend his congregation, who only realised it was a “church” after three weeks. (This was the inspiration for the You Have Been Tricked post.) And then he took his first steps into following Jesus…
This being a sermon delivered at a church full of people that speak Christianese, it should come as no surprise that Erwin speaks Christianese in this sermon.
If you’re an atheist, you likely don’t understand Christianese, and you likely have a very specific set of connotations attached to the idea of “giving your life to Jesus”, and the alarm bells will likely ring in your head when you read this post or listen to the sermon. And you will be wrong. Most likely. Chances are, you’ve been brainwashed by fundamentalists, brainwashed into thinking that all Christians are fundamentalists, brainwashed into thinking that “Christianity” is about rejecting science and obsessing about the afterlife, brainwashed into thinking that following Jesus means what they want you to think it means. So be careful. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions when you listen to a language you don’t understand. (I should drop my silly brainwashing rhetoric. Rather, the point is this: consider the early Christian movement, even before it was called “Christianity”, especially before it got wedded to government and became a state-sponsored authoritarian religion. There is a lot of baggage from the last few hundred years which I/we assert is hiding the original meaning. We’re trying to get back at that meaning.)
I’d love to attend his church and see how he runs things. I will have to look it up if I’m ever in the area. (I heard Erwin’s congregation also includes Buddhists and Atheists. Sweet! I want to go check out his language…)
Erwin’s evening sermon was about Beauty. The legendary snippet that I will always remember, where he talks about eating meat (I’ll not spoil any of it yet), starts at 6:10 (mins:secs) into the mp3, and continues to about 9:50. After that, he talks some more about how meat cuts are selected, before he talks about coffee. If you don’t want to hear any Christianese, you can stop listening at 11:45. Before 6:10 and after 11:45 contains Christianese. While you can read my transcript of the “eating meat” part below (from 6:10 to 9:50), a transcript really cannot do Erwin McManus any justice.
Is it possible to train yourself to be blind to beauty? And only enjoy the ugliness or the common? Now I love meat. (Anybody love meat?) I love red meat. I love pretty much anything that moves on four legs. And whenever I want vegetables, I just eat chicken. And in LA, people are vegetarians, and they’re very… they look down on people like me who are carnivores. And I tell them, the reason I am a carnivore and not a vegetarian, is because of ethical reasons. Cause I don’t believe you should eat anything that cannot run for its life. And fruit and vegetables don’t have a fair (?) escape, they’re just hanging there trapped in the ground hoping that no-one sees them, and (snip, dunno) I’m far too compassionate for that. It’s not my fault that cows are under-motivated to escape, and that chickens are not that bright.
But I’m also from a country called El Salvador, so whenever we ate our meat we’d always burn it. We’d have it well done, which seems like it would be the best way to do it is well done, because well done is better than poorly done, and so I would always have my meat well done, because for me, carbon was a food group, and… and I remember when I was fifteen, and we’d moved to the United States, and I was living in Miami Florida, and I found, my parents found this great restaurant, it had the best meat, and steak, and ribs, and… So I got a job there, so I could eat there, and I went ahead and begged for employment, and they gave me a job even though I was under-age and I couldn’t wait because I could eat all the meat I wanted, for free.
And my first steak, I ordered it… well done. And they came back from the kitchen and said, “The chef said no.” What do you mean, the chef said no?! “He said he would not cook it well done.” Tell him it’s my steak, I want it well done! And they went back, and they came back, and they said, “The chef said… no!” It’s my free steak, I want it, well… done…! And then the chef came out, and he was from Cuba, and he was very animated, and he said “I want to see the man that wants to ruin my meat!” Now I just want my steak well done. And he said, “No! You never cook a steak well done, you cook it medium rare, at most!” No… I don’t want medium rare, I don’t want a bloody steak, can the blood… s’everywhere, it goes into the mashed potatoes, I… I don’t want it medium rare! I want my steak well done!
And he made me a deal. He said, “I’ll cook it for you medium rare. You take one bite, and if you don’t like it, I’ll burn a steak for you.” And I thought, two steaks! That’ll work. So I said sure, and he cooked me a steak, and it was medium rare, and it came out, and it looked so terrible. It was all bloody and… undercooked, and… there was nowhere I could identify charcoal burns, and it just seemed so wrong, but, he was there, and he waited, so I cut into that steak, and I didn’t want the fact that it sliced like butter to deceive me, and… then I… I put it into my mouth. It began melting. My steak began to sing. And, I met God… that day… My life was changed forever, and after that, it was prime rib, give me it so rare, it still has the memory of being a cow. I want my meat rare! I love sashimi, you just bring me rare meat, and it’s just wonderful!