Friday, January 21, 2011


I went to the gym this morning. Got my workout in -- managed to run three miles without walking, which is a goal reached this latest time around. (One of the surest marks that I'm not thirty anymore is that every time I take a break from my exercise regimen, whatever physical gains I have made go right out the window. So I'm back to building up my endurance.) In the locker room I ran into an acquaintance and we talked just a bit about things that matter -- work and Alpha and the kingdom of God and evangelism and such. People were coming and going, casual conversations about food and recipes and current events and ideas flew around the building. People lifted weights, sweated individually and together. What a great place.

On the way out I chuckled to myself. All this was made possible by a twenty-something year old man from Macedonia who decided to conquer the world more than 2,300 years ago.

Did you know that? The only reason we have gym class or gyms in our communities for working out is because Alexander the Great conquered the world. Alexander and his armies went eastward from Greece bringing not only the sword, but also Greek language and culture. Primarily the cultural piece was bound up in two community institutions that Alexander left behind in every city he conquered. The first was the theater, where people could see plays and be entertained, thus being inundated with Greek ideas. Note: Be very aware of what you accept for entertainment, as ALL entertainment contains philosophy in the same way Snow White's apple contained poison. What you accept for entertainment determines what philosophy you subscribe to.

By the way, your philosophy probably owes a great deal to Alexander as well. Do you believe that the human being has an immortal soul that lives on after death? Thank Alexander. He didn't come up with the idea, but without Alexander you would never have adopted this Greek metaphysical idea.

The second thing Alexander left behind him was the gymnasium, which in Alexander's vision was not just a workout center but also a place for conversation about ideas and ethics and philosophy. So you'd go wrestle or run track or hurl the discus or the javelin, then you'd go sit on the sidelines and talk about Epicurus for a while, debating with your buddies what it takes to make an excellent life. Not so different from the guy I overheard in the locker room trying to foist his yogurt-honey-and-cinnamon diet on his friend because it detoxifies the body.

These three legacies -- Greek language, the Greek theater, and the gymnasium -- effectively left a legacy of Greek culture that deeply shaped the eastern Mediterranean for hundreds of years. Alexander is one of the primary reasons -- if not THE primary reason -- we are so enamored of Greek culture in our own world.

Yet most of us simply drift through our lives, never knowing that most of our ideas, much of our daily routine, is indebted to an ambitious young man -- Alexander -- who had a vision for spreading Greek culture throughout the world, who conquered everything from Greece to India, and then wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, and died when he was thirty-three. We live in our world as we do today because we stand on the shoulders of Alexander and others like him.

Now the question you have to ask is, was Alexander right, and do you really want to believe what he told you is true? And is it even possible to begin to question those pieces of your culture that are so deeply ingrained that you just assume that they are true?

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