I lived on a communal farm in Israel the summer of 1978. It was my first extended visit to another country. From May through August, I lived among a group of people who spoke Hebrew not English, and for fifteen weeks, I didn’t speak with a single person who believed in God. It was my first immersion in a completely agnostic culture.
With one week left in that summer, I took a bus to Jerusalem, checked into a youth hostel on the Via Delarosa, and made a beeline for the Temple Mount.
After passing security, I headed for the Dome of the Rock. Just before reaching it, an elderly couple made hand-motions to me, asking me to take their picture in front of the mosque.
The gray-haired man had a guitar strung from his neck, and the woman held a massive book with bold, gold, embossed letters: Santa Biblia. I figured they were Christians, and probably Spanish, so I pointed to the man’s guitar and hollered the only Spanish song I knew: “Alabare?”
The man roared back, “Alabare!” and began an energetic strumming; his wife conjured a tambourine out of thin air; and the three of us began an enthusiastic singing. Maybe even a bit of dancing. On the same spot that “David danced before the Lord with all his might.”
Five minutes into our spontaneous worship, security forces escorted us off the Temple Mount.
Embracing the Differences
After our eviction, the elderly couple and I spent the afternoon together. We visited holy sites, pulled out Bibles, and pointed to verses related to that location. My Spanish vocabulary grew to include gracias, Aleluya (easy), Sí Señor, and (more importantly) Si Señora!
There I was a young, single, American, protestant boy, treasuring the community of an elderly, married, Spanish, Roman Catholic couple, as though we were long-lost friends. Which in a sense, we were. With no common history, little common vocabulary, we bonded as soul-mates.
I value meeting believers from various backgrounds. As I experience their different traditions, I see imbalances in my own. I think God birthed that love in me one sunny day in Jerusalem, when we three new-found-best-friends were forcefully driven off the very same temple grounds that Jesus had cleansed.
Embracing the Eras
C. S. Lewis proposes another kind of community: connecting with believers from different ages. He claimed that each Christian era offers insight into the imbalances of other eras. It is easy to see their mistakes, but looking through their eyes, we can begin to see our own. He said,
[Someone] who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; [those who have] lived in many times are in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the publications of their own age.
Lewis claimed that Augustine (400’s) would find great friendship with Thomas Aquinas (1200’s), John Bunyan (1600’s), and with–he hoped–himself (1900’s), precisely because they saw the same things about Christ.
He also thought they would befriend each other with challenges to beliefs unconsciously imposed on each of them by their own uniquely unspiritual culture.
How can you and I befriend previous Christians? By reading their thoughts. It is amazing how our inner life can be nourished when studying the deep thinking of Christians from another century. But I have to warn you: Reading their books is more challenging than reading the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.
But the new connections are also considerably more rewarding. We become their friends, with our eyes on their beliefs, and their eyes on our beliefs too. But one more warning: Befriending believers from previous ages will challenge modern ideas.
These insights will make us weep with this psalmist, who wrote his thoughts 2500 years ago:
O God, the nations have come into your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. (Ps. 79:1)
You will find out we’ve all been kicked off the Temple Mount.
P.S If you small group wants to study together a book written by a new-found-friend from the past, here are a few of my favorites: