Sunrise in Giglio Veroli

Sunrise in Giglio Veroli

Friday, December 31, 2010

Adoption in the Greco-Roman Culture

Family is the metaphor that I am playing with this season, and adoption seems to be Paul’s way that all of us enter into God’s Family. Adoption is a spiritual metaphor that is quite unique to Paul in the Bible. It is only mentioned a handful of times, but it has a a huge part to play in Paul’s understanding of who we are in Jesus, and what we receive through relationship with him.

To begin with I am going to affirm that family is the most dominant metaphor for Paul in his letters. We will explore this at a different time, but for the time being, hear the words of Robert Banks, “The comparison of the Christian community with a family must be regarded as the most significant metaphorical usage of all... More than any other image utilized by Paul it reveals the essence of is thinking about community.”

The challenge of understanding Paul in this metaphor is that he is a mish-mash of a variety of cultures. He was Jewish, a Hebrew of Hebrews, he was Hellenist (he was Greek in his culture), and he was a Roman Citizen. Adoption had a different meaning in each culture, so we will explore what it looked like in each culture and then seek to make a few educated guesses about which one he might have been leaning towards.

What we know right off though, is that his understanding of adoption will be different than our own understanding of it. This is a common danger when we read the bible, we read our own experience with different words and metaphors. We are surprised later to learn that Paul meant something very different when he used that metaphor. This is certainly true with adoption.

Today I am going to explore adoption in the Greco-Roman tradition. That has been so fun to do in Italy because these days I get to live in the heart of Roman culture. I wake up and see the sun rise over an old Roman town, and the little village I am living in is a “suburb” of a classic old Roman town, Veroli. Yesterday we spent the day in the epicenter of Roman culture, Roma itself. One can’t help but breathe in Roman culture here, it is all around (It is all around us in America as well, but more disguised). The Greek culture is present, but you have to travel to find it (we will be visiting a Greek city next week).

Greek understanding of anything is a challenge because Greece was a whole host of different little city-states (imagine describing an American understanding of sales tax). As well it spanned a long period of time and most of the info we have around adoption is from 400 years before Paul wrote. Here is a broad picture though. Adoption tended to be used in the case of older men without sons who would adopt younger men to care for them in in their later years and to give them a proper burial. It was most often used within families to keep estates within the family. One method of adoption even happened after death.

Adoption came with a series of responsibilities that often included marrying a daughter of the adopted parent. It was not an absolute legal action in that the adopted son could keep relationship with his birth family. It came with the reward of name and inheritance, but it is clear in Greek culture that adopted sons were not offered the same rights as birth sons.

This changes in Roman culture. There is a much clearer understanding of adoption in Roman culture, with the expected changes over a the long period of Roman dominance. Adoption was a oft-used and treasured practice in Rome as a safeguard against the demise of a family. The father(paterfamilias) in a family was the spiritual center of a family. family was the main spiritual building block in the Roman Pantheon of thousands of God. We saw this demonstrated as we toured the Roman Forum. right near where Julius Ceasar was burned is the temple of Vesta and the home of the Vestal Virgins (Celibate Women who were appointed for 30 years to tend the flame to the God of Vesta). The temple was shaped like a big Roman house to celebrate this truth.

A family without a male offspring would essentially end, along with the name and the spiritual cult of that family. In adoption a Pater Familias (Father, Head of Household) would take a young man, often related in some way, who was not the only son of another family, as a son, caretaker, and successor. It was an absolute transaction as the son was considered a true son of the adopted father from then on, with all the same rights and privileges of a biological son. He was no longer considered a part of his birth family. He was responsible for the care and burial of the father, as well as the role as paterfamilias of the new family. the benefits were the status of the new family and the inheritance he received on the death of the father.

It seems like this Roman picture of adoption seems to be the one that Paul is working with. It would have been a common occurrence in Paul’s culture and community, as well as the culture and community of people he wrote to. We notice here that he only uses adoption imagery in his letters to mostly Roman churches (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians). It was much in the news at the time Paul was writing as adoption was practiced by the line of Caesars during that time. From 27BC-68AD the line of Caesars proceeded only by virtue of adoption (Julius Caesar adopted Octavian who adopted Tiberius, who adopted Caligula. His uncle Claudius then adopted Nero.

We get to see in Nero’s Adoption how absolute the Roman understanding of Adoption was. Nero went on to Marry Octavia, the daughter of Claudius. The laws had to be bent to allow him to do this as it was a brother marrying a sister, even though not by blood.

As we delve into Paul’s use of the adoption metaphor, we will get to explore how much this understanding of Adoptions plays into his understanding.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Reflection- Joseph the adoptive father

Greetings from Italy. We had a wonderful journey to Rome last week. Getting back was a bit exciting as a big snow storm hit the country. and with all the trains and busses out, we ended up spending an extra night there. Back here the snow is still around, the weather is cold, and our hot water and heat are gone- we are having an authentic Italian journey.

One of the primary metaphors I am exploring during this time is that of adoption. Because of the season and the timing of this sabbatical- I want to begin a discussion about adoption talking about Joseph. Not the son of Jacob, but the one who gets oft overlooked in the story and the artwork of Jesus.

The Christmas story is most often about Jesus and Mary, with a few shepherds and wise men thrown in... Very rarely, if ever, does the spotlight shine on Joseph. This week we walked through the most extensive religous art collection in the world at the Vatican Museum. There were numerous scenes of Mary and the baby. Sometimes Joseph was there, but often in the background, or the shadows, never in front.

I have decided that Joseph is really like an offensive lineman- only noticed when they make a mistake. Even though games are won and lost on the line, the glory always goes to the backs. Joseph is a lineman. He labors away under the radar, always working hard, always doing the right thing, and at the end of the play it is Mary and Jesus standing in the endzone doing the touchdown dance.

Lets look at the quiet yet powerful role that Joseph plays. We are introduced to Joseph in Matthew 1:16 as the son of Jacob and the husband of Mary. We hear in vs. 17 that he is engaged to Mary, and we find out that she is now pregnant. We are told that the child is of the Holy Spirit, but Joseph doesn’t know that, yet. He has been humiliated, his beloved fiance in scandal, and look what he does... Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
He does not take the right he would have to see her discraced... he goes the high road- you got to like this man.

But right after he has decided to do the right and merciful thing, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream. That is right a dream. This will happen 4 more times that Joseph is visited in a dream, and each time he obeys. That angel directs him to marry Mary and name the child Jesus (He saves) for he will save his people from their sins. So Joseph does what the angel commands...

Luke tells us that a group of Shepherds receive a visit from more angels, and they come to see Jesus. When they arrive they find Jesus in a manger, just as the angels said, and they also see Mary and Joseph. While tradition and art may overlook this good man, the gospel writers don’t.

He then takes care of Mary when she has to give birth in a stable- not the place that any expectant mother imagines having her baby. He makes the best of the situation and they end up using a feed trough as a cradle. Then, after the Magi visit, Joseph is visited again, and he protects his bride, his adopted son and leaves all he knows to go and make a life in Egypt. Joseph does what a good father does.

The in Mt. 2:19 Joseph is visited again in a dream (you got to think he was a bit scared to go to sleep for awhile) and this angel says it is time to return- So he does. The angel comes the 4th time directing him to the area of Galilee. Get this, for the 4th time, Joseph does exactly what the angel directs him, with no thought of his own career or needs. Joseph does what good fathers do, he sacrifices. We don’t notice Joseph, because like a good left tackle, he is doing his job keeping his child safe.

Notice though, while Joseph is clearly not the biological father of Jesus, he is his father. When Jesus begins his ministry, Luke introduces him as such,” Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, (Luke 3.25 ) Jesus is from the line of David- that is from Joseph. He is of the tree of Jesse, that is Joseph. The reason Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the city of David, is that Joseph had to go to his own town. Jesus is not from the seed of Joseph, but Joseph treats him as his own son, the neighbors treat his as his son, and the authorities would treat him as a son. Joseph is the picture of a loving adoptive parent.

While we don’t see lots about adoption in the Gospels (we will see much more of it in Paul), we do see adoption in action through Joseph. So this season, as you celebrate with your family, raise a glass of nog to Joseph, and may we all seek to live out a life of humble, quiet obedience and sacrifice that he models.

Ciao and Buon Natale to all and to all a good night...


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Famiglia is everything

One of the things that Leo said as we ate our lunch (Il Pranzo) was that "Family is everything." Much of the discussion reflected that very truth. We spoke about family being there when it was needed, we talked about his new granddaughter, his kids, his parents. There were numerous examples of his cousins being there when there was a need. Family sticks together, they are there for you when others might not be, they wont let you down.

What is true about Italian families is even more true about God's family. That is the idea that I am hoping to explore this season on this blog. That is the idea behind the name family musings. Not necessarily a musing about my nuclear family here in Italy (but I expect there will be some of that), but about my family of the beloved of God.

The great truth that I hope to delve into is this powerful image in the Bible that we are adopted into God's family by the Holy Spirit where we have God as our father and Jesus as our brother. This "familyship" comes with incredible blessings. We not only immediately receive the benefits of a father and an elder brother, we get siblings, a name, a heritage, an inheritance, a mission, and the list goes on. This is a truth that seems to not be realized in many of our churches and lives.

Family sticks together. Family will always be there for you when others might let you down. While this is sometimes true of our human families, it is true of God's family always, at least when it comes to the father and the elder brother. It is supposed to be true of the siblings. Wouldn't you want to be part of church that believed this, and lived it out.

One of the ways that we represent this truth is through the old saying "Blood is thicker than water." In my more literal, pre-metaphorical childhood I used to think this a no-brainer, but a little gross. In the Christian world we might even say that the blood of Jesus is thicker than all.
For this season, I will begin to delve into this great truth that in the end- "Family is everything." Until next time,

Ciao brothers and sisters...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Early Mornings in Italy

28 hours of travel from door to door and we arrived here at night. The house is beautiful- it was just cleaned, there was a fire in the fireplace, and the dogs were cute as could be (Blackie, Samantha, and Leia) After a long 2 days of travel, we were pretty spent, but not so tired as to not enjoy a pan of homemade lasagne, a bottle of homemade wine, a salad of fresh arugala, and some friend eggplant. We all went to bed full and ready for the rest of the adventure.

Yesterday we unpacked and took a look around. The house is on a large olive orchard on a sloped hill. One of our jobs is to walk the inside dog in the am and pm. When we do we are automatically joined by the other 2 outside dogs. We are a parade.

The brother of the husband where we are staying showed up yesterday and took us around town. We got the lay of the land, and then they invited us to Pranzo (big lunch). It was a lot of incredible food, with amazing olives, cheeses, bread, and yummy gnocchi. That was enough to put us all into nap mode for the rest of the day.

Jet lag for me is not so much about being tired, but about being wide awake during the night. Even with a late night playing Nertz (fav. family game) and an ambien, I was still wide awake at 4 in the morning. So I came down and was soon joined by Zoe. We were able to finish much of her School work by 6:30am. During this morning I discovered 2 new things that I am a fan of.

1- the old school expresso maker
and 2- The sun coming up
(pix above)

The Light is out and I can begin to start work on the joyful Italian truth of the sweetness of doing nothing.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

3 weeks away

3 weeks away on Monday- we are getting even more focused on getting the tasks crossed off for our trip. Job and Home life seem like a never-ending to do list-

the good news is that in 23 days we arrive in Rome to start our 3 month adventure. Much of our life there is not yet planned, but we are very excited to get it all started- till then- there are tasks to check off-