It just hit me! What’s so different, so alluring, so charming about much of France. Wait for it, this is deep: it’s old!
I remember a few short years ago being in my youth in America. I wondered often why in the world anyone would want to travel to Europe and tour ancient castles, chateaus, and palaces. They’re all old, they don’t move, they probably have weeds in the cracks of the sidewalks too. I’m much too busy checking out the new ride at the amusement park, playing the golf course that just opened, and trying out that new restaurant at the mall. Why would I want to travel across an ocean to look at something that’s been there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon? It doesn’t even move, or flash, or dance or sing!
I can’t say I’ve changed all that much. I’m still pretty bored when I walk through those places. I still don’t like museums as a way to spend a day. BUT living here in the midst off all the oldness has actually made me fall in love with it. Not enough to spend hours looking at it, but enough to appreciate living amongst it.
You see, there’s really nothing old in the US. That’s part of the charm of the place, it’s a big part of why it has the status it does today, and it’s significant to why everyone under 30 we meet anywhere in the world wants to go there. The country isn’t that old, and the buildings certainly aren’t. What happens when something does get old there? It’s torn down and replaced (if possible). Our cities are all modern, and in general the country is looking ahead to progress progress progress, not history.
I see now that’s what makes the rural towns here so great. They’re not double-wides with aluminum siding, they’re not cookie-cutter homes, they’re not centered around the new-at-the-time strip mall. They are made of old old stone houses and brick barns. Walled fortresses are now towns. Simple villages where farmers meet to sell their goods. And the cities too - ever been to Paris? It’s old. Old buildings and statues and fountains and palaces and churches. It’s short. Modern is mixed in and infused, but there’s so much character in the oldness!
When the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua had them build a memorial with stones so that they could remember the occasion. The stones would stand as a reminder so that when future generations asked “what’s with the stack of big rocks?” the story could be told [Joshua 4]. In the same way, “Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying “thus far the Lord has helped us” [1 Sam 7:12]. And then Jesus comes along and says we need new wineskins, because old wineskins can’t hold new wine! And an old patch on new pants... useless! [Matt 9:16-17, Mark 2:21-22, Luke 5:36-38]. He tells those who want to follow Him, “sell everything” [Matt 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22], “do not look back” [Luke 9:62], and forget your former life.
I believe there’s room and a place in our life for both. We need memorial stones to look back and remember what God has done in our lives. I’ll bet there are really fascinating stories to go along with the old stone houses, statues, and walled cities. If I could find someone old enough to have lived through some of them (and could understand), I would love to sit on a porch with lemonade (err, cheese and stuff) and just listen. At the same time, we who are new creations in Christ are told to “put off our old self” [Eph 4:22] and look ahead to our eternity with God. And we must always be ready to at a moment’s notice drop everything and do what He has called us to.
That whole “don’t look back,” “sell your possessions and give it all away,” “let the dead bury their dead” stuff... Jesus wasn’t kidding. He meant that every time He said it. Remember what God has done and then move on, listen and follow. I guess that’s all there is to it. And yet somehow, living in two places with very different pasts and structures makes all of it seem richer and more real.