Our cruise of the Mediterranean made a port of call in Antalya, Turkey. According to the destination guide, the thing to do here is to make excursions to the nearby archaeological ruins of Aspendos and Perge. We grouped together with 4 other people that we had met on the cruise and hired a taxi for the day. The tour buses from the ship would go to many of the same places as us, but we would be about 30 minutes ahead of them. We arrived at Aspendos, ruins from the 6th century that promised, among an assortment of ruins, the finest preserved example in the world of a Roman amphitheater. We saw the amphitheater first. In my opinion, it was more interesting and in much better condition than the much more famous Roman amphitheater in Rome, known as the Coliseum.
Jackie and I went by ourselves down a path to see the ruins of a basilica, an aqueduct, and a small village. We were the first people of the day to make the hike and we found the site to ourselves. In the basilica, we looked out of a window, or perhaps it was an unintended hole in the wall, at the amazing view of the Turkish countryside. Then, Jackie remained seated in the window/hole while I went a little way back up the path to take pictures of her. After Jackie joined me on the path, we started hiking back towards the amphitheater. The buses from the cruise had arrived and we crossed paths with a couple that we knew from the ship, Jeff and Jennifer from Sydney, Australia. We knew them from having dinner with them on the ship and from a tour in Ephesus where 15 of us had shared a mini-bus. Jeff was a Japanese-Australian whom I'm guessing was in his 70"s. He liked to tell people that he was from a small town called Syd-a-ney. As we came face-to-face with Jeff on the narrow path, he on his way from the amphitheater towards the ruined basilica, and us returning from it, Jeff asked without slowing from his slow but steady pace, "What's up ahead?" Before I could begin to compose a response, Jeff answered his own question, "More bricks?, yeah there's more bricks back there too." (pointing with his chin back at the amphitheater) As Jeff proceeded on down the path seemingly unfazed by the prospect of seeing more bricks, Jennifer stopped to try to explain her husband. "He says that everywhere we go. He even said that when we were at the Coliseum in Rome."
Was Jeff quirky or wise? I should have told him to look beyond the bricks. That basilica in Aspendos was just bricks, and not even bricks that were still stacked properly to make a building. There were no furnishings, no art, not even a floor or ceiling;, just bricks. The building had been in ruins for some 1400 years and yet there was something to "see" if you looked "beyond the bricks". Even modern buildings or well preserved older buildings are nothing more than brick, steel, and glass, and masterpieces of art are nothing more than paint and canvas. Seeing beyond the materials means understanding the purpose or motivation and the intended user or audience. Why was that basilica built? Who used it? Why was it abandoned? Sometimes the keys to understanding the bricks in front of you is to see what is no longer there: to imagine that basilica with furnishings, art, a ceiling and a floor, and a congregation. You are physically there; put yourself there in time as well as space to see "beyond the bricks"
A couple weeks later, Jackie and I were in Rome touring the Coliseum. The Coliseum is a bucket list site for many people, but as I looked at it, I remembered that Jennifer had said that even in Rome, Jeff had said that everything was just bricks. I told Jackie, "Pick up some of that dirt or a pebble and put it in your pocket." Jackie responded, "What? No!" saying "no" in that way teenagers have of making it sound like a two-syllable word, and meaning not just "no" but "no, you're being stupid". I explained to her that it was special dirt because the weather was causing the bricks to slowly erode and fall apart. That's not ordinary dirt, it's tiny pieces of the Coliseum. I got another two-syllable "no". I guess I am stupid; they're just bricks.
A Day in The Way - Rio
The approach from the air into Rio is spectacular. This is probably why nearly every return from commercial during the 2016 Olympics featured a sweeping aerial descent through Rio’s hills into the arena or venue. For this reason, the secular and quite politically correct coverage of the games began every segment with a spectacular flattering view of giant Jesus. Of course, I’m referring to the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is famous as a party city. It has famous beaches of song: Ipanema and Copacabana, and incredible natural beauty including Sugarloaf and Corcovado, but it’s most famous site is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and a very non-secular giant statue of Jesus Christ. Rio has both a high crime rate and a high number of devoutly faithful Christians. Giant Jesus watches over them all. Amazingly, the statue seems to be visible from everywhere.
I came into Rio by boat. When approaching some cities by boat, you see nothing. Not so with Rio. The approach by sea is on par with the approach by air used repetitively by the Olympic coverage. A nice thing about being on a cruise ship full of partiers, is the quiet and lack of crowds in the early morning. I drank my coffee as the sun came up, and I enjoyed an unobstructed view as the ship slipped quietly past Sugarloaf. I had booked us on a shore excursion to the top of Corcovado where the Christ the Redeemer statue resides, but I could already see it from the deck of the ship. It was distant and small, and I wasn’t sure it was the statue at this point, but I would find throughout the day that it was indeed, and that it could be seen from just about anywhere in the area.
Sometimes there’s no reason to pay for a shore excursion because I can explore on my own. The amount of walking that will be necessary is usually the deciding factor. There’s no way that I could have gotten to the top of Corcovado on my own with less walking or for less money than by taking the shore excursion. We boarded a bus just steps from the gangplank of the ship. Our guide introduced herself. Her name was Mary. I felt obliged to point out to my daughter that it was Mary taking us to see Jesus, not Mina, or Maria, or Miriam as you might expect in a Portuguese speaking country, but Mary. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t catering to her English-speaking group. The proof was right there on her name tag; it said “Mary”.
A bus took us to the base of Corcovado. I don’t know if we took the shortest route, but we seemed to have gotten a great city tour of Rio’s highlights. From the base of the mountain we took a rickety 100-year-old train most of the way to the top. From later research, I learned that a train had been on this mountain since the 1880’s but that the current system had been modernized in the 1980’s. On this particular day, I didn’t have Wikipedia in my pocket, so it was a 100-year-old rickety train dragging us up the hill at break-neck speeds of up to what seemed like maybe 13 miles per hour. It wasn’t the speed really, it was wondering what breaking system was in place should the forward propulsion suddenly give out. I didn’t want to hurl back down the mountain at perhaps 213 miles per hour. Did I mention: it was steep. And Jesus was way up there. Well, I lived to tell the rest of the tale, but the journey to see Jesus didn’t end at the end of the tracks. The journey also involved an elevator ride for which I had similar reservations as I had had with the train, and several stairs which are an even less desirable way for me to elevate myself than rickety vehicles.
I have to say: giant Jesus, and anyone who makes the trek up the hill to see him, have an amazing view. Throughout the crowd of people at the top, cameras are pointed in both directions, and not just because of selfies. It’s hard to know if you’re walking through somebody’s shot. Are they taking a selfie with the statue, or are they taking a selfie with the view? I don’t believe anybody uses the forward-facing picture function anymore. It’s still tough to know what people are photographing, because the view is amazing in all directions.
The statue is made primarily of reinforced concrete. Up close, it looks a lot like the sidewalk does up close. The statue is not special. Its location is. And I don’t exactly mean on the top of Corcovado which can be reached by boat, then bus, then train, then elevator, and then stairs. There are a lot of faithful people in Rio who see that sign every day. I wonder if they are inspired at all to remain “on the path” with Jesus looking over their shoulder all day no matter where they go. Likewise, atheists and criminals in Rio also have Jesus looking over their shoulders all day and all night (the statue has lights). They can’t be happy about that.
LIFE IS A PATH… NOT A BUCKET
Philippians 3:17-20 “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
Paul is telling the Philippians to follow him because he is following Christ. Paul is on the right path and he wants to show others The Way. People who put worldly things above following God are condemned. A travel “bucket list” may list places that we travel through “On the Path”, but the reasons for visiting are probably different. The Way Anchor path travels through places to draw nearer to God through discovery, inspiration, and illustration. Checking something off a list implies an accomplishment, and a “been there done that approach” to selecting your next destination. In the end, it’s not an accounting of the places that you’ve been, it’s whether or not you were on the path that took you to the right destination. Jesus is The Way.
BREAK BREAD & SHARE WINE (OFTEN)
Acts 2:46 “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to their numbers day by day those who were being saved.”
Jesus used bread and wine to give us his body and blood. Through bread and wine, the disciples brought others to Christ. Through this bread and wine, we remain in The Way with Jesus. The phrase “breaking bread” is universally understood to equate with sharing and hospitality. The same could be said for pouring wine for another. Way Anchor is about sharing. Sharing a meal, sharing wine, sharing travel experiences, and sharing the path. Jesus is The Way.
THEY WILL KNOW THAT WE ARE CHRISTIANS
John 13:34-35 (Jesus to the disciples) “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
A group traveling together with a common passion for the place that they are exploring, and having such a good time doing so, draws the attention of others. We are ambassadors of our Christian faith. Our presence together alone is enough to evangelize, because they will know that we are Christians by our love, as well as by both our laughter and our seriousness.
WALK IN THE LIGHT
1 John 1:6-7 “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Traveling to a Christian site (pilgrimage) doesn’t make you a Christian. Many cathedrals feel more like museums than churches. Traveling to non-religious sites or even pagan temples doesn’t make you a non-Christian. It is our purpose that makes us Christian. Sometimes we travel to take a break from routine; we go on vacation. The goal is to download the negative from our lives, and then hopefully, upload some positive. Stay in the Light, stay on the Path.
SITE-SEEING VS. SIGHT-SEEING
2 Corinthians 5:7 “for we walk by faith not by sight.
Every site that is detailed on this website can be “seen” … right here…. on your computer. Through modern media, every site around the world can be “seen” and researched. This is what we refer to as “just bricks”. Sight is only one of our senses. By visiting a place ourselves, we engage all of our senses. We touch a place where perhaps Jesus touched. We taste local foods. We smell local smells (odors or aromas, depending on the location). We talk and listen to locals, guides, and each other. And of course, we see (sometimes from different angles). But even if we lack some of these senses, it’s not about just seeing some bricks and checking a site of our list, it’s about experiencing a place, and enjoying life “on the path”.
WE LEARN A LOT OF OFF THE WALL STUFF
John 6:43-45 “Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, “And they will all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me--“
The Bible is the Word of God given to us by God so that we may learn and know Him. Today, you can read The Bible. You can listen to It being read on tape, CD, TV, computer or live. You can see It acted out on TV, movies, internet, or live. And there are entire bookstores full of works to help you interpret and dissect The Bible. However, if you were illiterate and lived a thousand years ago, your options were much more limited. There was the local minister, and there was art, which was mostly found on the walls of the cathedral. The paintings, mosaics, sculptures, and stained glass that you see in churches around the world were created in large part as teaching tools. Some art is so beautiful that it can actually distract the viewer from its message. St Chapelle’s in Paris has so much stained glass that on a sunny day, it’s like being inside a kaleidoscope. However, if you took the time to look at every panel of glass (it’s a lot), you could learn the stories of nearly the entire Bible. Way Anchor travelers learn a lot of stuff that’s “Off the Wall”.
BELIEVING IS SEEING
Luke 18;41-43 (Jesus and a blind man near Jericho) Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”
Every site comes with a back story. Almost every site comes with controversy. Every story has detractors who question the authenticity of location, or relics, or miracles, or historical corroboration, or even the spiritual value and intent. No evidence exists that will make a non-believer believe. But that is not the purpose of seeing a place, it’s just looking at bricks. Most relics are inauthentic, many locations are misplaced, and some stories of saints and miracles are not true. But if we accept the back story, draw inspiration from our experience, and grow in faith, we will “see” what is important. We “see” because of our faith. We don’t have faith because of evidence that we see.
Luke 8:9-10 “And when his disciples asked Him what this parable meant, he said, “To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”
Jesus spoke in parables so that those who didn’t know God could understand. In order to communicate with others, we need to know about them and the things that they understand. As travelers, everything we learn about other cultures helps us relate to all people. This includes learning about history as well as current events, language, food, customs, and even other religions. You can’t relay an idea to someone using a parable that only you understand.
SHOW ME A SIGN
John 20: 30 “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which are not written in this book (The Bible); but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.
Signs of faith in Jesus are everywhere. People wear jewelry, t-shirts with messages, and even tattoos that show their faith. People put symbols of Christ in their yards and on their front doors. They put fish emblems, crosses, and bumper stickers on their cars, or even hang rosaries from their rear-view mirrors. Some non-religious businesses such as restaurants, auto shops, or retail locations will display a verse of the day or have a plaque on the wall that shows their Christian faith, even though this may alienate some customers. Church crosses are beacons to entire areas of the city, sometimes being visible from places where such displays are not permitted (i.e. a giant cross on top of a church across the street from a public school). In many small towns across America and Europe, the oldest and largest building in the town is the church building. There is no power or magic in any of these objects, but the Way Anchor traveler knows that when they see one of these, that at some point, someone was inspired by God to hang that sign, erect that cross, build that church, or slap that bumper sticker on their car. It’s the back story that inspires rather than the object itself.
BEYOND JUST BRICKS
Acts 17: 24-25 (Paul in Athens) “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
God is everywhere, but He is no more present or less present in a brick that is used to build a cathedral than in a brick used to build a house. We are awed by architecture, art, and the grandeur of nature, but we are inspired by the spirit of God that created these things.