Used to Be

DSC_0479I am almost tired of hearing the phrase “this used to be a very important city.”

As we climb to the top of the Tel (high mound) at Megiddo we hear it. “Once this was a great city!”

Archaeologists date the start of the city to 3000 years before Christ, which means that at least 1000 years before Abraham and Sarah this was a dominant metropolis.

Twenty three times the city was razed to the ground by conquering armies and then rebuilt.

Similar stories exist for the once strategic cities of Beer Sheva and Hazor. Powerful and important cities for centuries. And now, as one member of the tour quipped, a pile of rocks.

Not quite the same for Jericho, the oldest city on earth. Archaeologists have found remains indicating the city has been inhabited for 11,000 years (no typo!) and rebuilt at least 20 times. And we can still buy souvenirs at the Temptation Restaurant as we look high up the mountain at the monastery marking the Mount of Temptation.

Climbing those ancient tels led me to reflect on all the gnashing of teeth about the prospect of change that has accompanied the last 20–30 years in the life of our church.

DSC_0471So much energy and resources expended upon the question of whether we can deal with what, in reality, are actually modifications to our normal practice.

Although the amount of archaeological and historical fact can sometimes overwhelm I left the sites with a greater sense of humility. It is hard to maintain an enduring sense of anxiety about the stuff I usually fuss about when standing in a place that was a major power for millennium and continually had to adapt if not rebuild.

[Tweet “We must be humbled by the empires that are no longer.”]I also wonder about the current manifestation of the empire under which we live. Each empire seems to regard themselves as the pinnacle of civilization – and ours is no different. Surely we must be humbled by the simple recitation of empires, self-designated as invincible and the height of human achievement, that are no longer.


  1. One difference in my concern about the survival of today’s “civilisation” is our expanded ability to destroy it. Long ago, it was a big deal to destroy a city; today, a few bombs and it’s rubble. Then it was possible to rebuild using many of the stones that had fallen, now the broken concrete, metal, glass and other debris become garbage to be disposed of.
    We now have the ability to destroy our earth, not just slowly through climate change, but also fast with nuclear, chemical or biological warfare. Not only with the development of tools of warfare, but other tools, like expanded communications, can also wreak global havoc in short order. The potential consequences of our actions seem bigger, and yet we don’t seem that much wiser.

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