Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Education

My mom visited Jerusalem in 1972 for a week or so and left thinking that the experience wasn't so much of a vacation as an education. This made sense to me as I prepared for our trip, but being here feels overwhelming. There's just too much to take in, and each day adds to my mind's muddle! We're taking it easy and getting sleep and eating lots of shwarma, but I think it's tough for even the ubiquitous tour bus riders to avoid the sense of heaviness over this place.

Thursday we visited Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum. As you can imagine, you can't walk through its halls as if it was another history exhibit. This sort of history feels like news I read in the paper yesterday; that's the sort of immediate relevancy that hangs on the words. A guide behind us was showing a group of Israeli soldiers through. The museum ends out in the open air with a beautiful view of the Jerusalem forest and an Israeli community beyond. Much need not be said in words: it is felt and lived every day.

Yesterday we visited Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the oldest continuing Christian church in the world (it looked like it!) On the way back we waited at least 30 minutes (we were lucky, as the wait can be more than an hour) to cross the checkpoint and pass through the concrete barrier wall. When we reached the front of the line, the Israeli guard motioned for us to stop the car 40 feet away and for the driver, our friend Bill, to walk to him with our passports. Automatic guns were trained at our windshield from the guard tower above while the guard asked Bill what he thought about Israel and what we were doing in Bethlehem. Not surprisingly, we were soon waved through, but not before I was dissuaded from so easily comparing this barrier wall with the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

As an American Christian who's been in this land for just ten days, I'm far from able to speak with any wisdom on the subject of Israeli-Palestinian relations. In fact, I'm tempted to say that it's not my business at all, and yet that doesn't feel right, either. I do know I have a lot more listening and praying to do in seeking where God is in all this.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jesus Was a Country Boy (...and a rural minister)

Since we haven't yet said it on this blog, now would be as good a time as any to mention that Colin and I decided on a seminary just before we left: we're going to Sewanee, a.k.a. The University of the South. Perhaps you've heard of it. Or perhaps you haven't, since, as we've been reminded SO many times since even considering the school, "it's in the middle of NOWHERE." Nowhere, in this case, can be found in southeast Tennessee, about 45 minutes northwest of Chattanooga, or an hour and 15 minutes from Nashville.

So what does our seminary choice have to do with the Holy Land? Let's start with our journey on Tuesday, from Jerusalem to "the Galilee" (as the locals say). Basically, I couldn't get over how rural (and removed from Jerusalem) Jesus' home turf seemed. I'd been told this by others, but it hit deeper to see it with my eyes: the place where Jesus spent most of his three years in itinerant ministry was definitely NOT the city -- not now, and to an even greater degree, not then.

Naturally (and not surprisingly), this only fueled my indignation about all the "middle of nowhere" comments we've heard about Sewanee. Jesus was a rural minister. Let me repeat. Jesus was a rural, small-town, itinerant preacher and healer. What's wrong with going to a rural place for seminary? Or -- heaven forbid -- even ending up in a rural church? Many of you know this is not a new issue or idea for me. I've written about it (and talked about it) enough, or so I thought. But all of the comments about Sewanee (and all the not-so-subtle questions about how, exactly, we came to that choice, all of which implied we had a lot of explaining to do) have me riled up about rural marginalization again. And then visiting Galilee simply stoked the fire.

I asked our travel angel and guide, Canon Bill Broughton, how many people archaeologists think lived in Nazareth at the time of Jesus. "Oh, about 400. Those that get really wild think as many as 2,000." If this was a good enough place for Jesus' "spiritual formation," I'm going to assume that Sewanee, with it's 2,300 or so, will be good enough for us. 

I love my friends who are doing great work in urban ministry. I've spent a good deal of time in urban settings, trying to do good work in ministry. Urban ministry is important, and I'm not trying to make the case that because Jesus worked in the country, we all should, too.

But how 'bout this: Could we at least take our call to ALSO care for rural places and communities seriously? Could we, within the church, at least culturally respect and honor those who choose to minister in middle-of-nowhere places that need healing just as much as inner-cities? I guess my big beef is that it's cool and respectable in the church to want to serve in the inner-city. Rural places, not so much. Ok, so maybe this all just comes out of my need to be cool. But I'd also like to issue a call, a challenge, a plea: instead of seeing rural communities and churches as places no minister wants to go (especially the young ones), couldn't we EXPECT that 17-20% of our ministers will creatively and passionately serve the 17-20% of Americans who live non-metropolitan lives?

Jesus, to put it very mildly, did a lot of good work in the country before heading into Jerusalem. In a similarly mild way, I guess I'm just asking that we not forget.

[The photo above, which sort of looks like the middle of nowhere, is actually the Sea of Galilee.]

God's Potlucks in Galilee

Something akin to a miracle happens during a potluck. Perhaps that's why I've always hesitated to plan them out much. Somehow, everyone always gets fed, even if they end up eating more hummus and tortilla chips than they would've liked. (It doesn't hurt to have a mom who will order an extra pizza in a clutch, too.)

As a lover of God, food, and community, the stories of Jesus' multiplication of the loaves and fishes form a foundation for my call to ministry. So I wasn't surprised to enjoy our brief visit to Tabgha, the Church of the Multiplication, in Galilee. Tradition has it that Jesus broke this small offering of bread on the rock now enshrined under this church's altar.

This miracle (and all potlucks!) remind me that there is enough for all of us. Enough food. Money. Land. Time. Love. For all of us. And yet the world around me screams out its scarcity. Hunger in San Diego, poverty in Tijuana, landlessness and insecurity in Israel/Palestine dominate the headlines.

I lit a candle in this quiet, sacred place asking for the grace to walk this path toward a fuller sense of 153 fish-sized abundance. Who knows what really happened that day to those loaves, but I suspect that Jesus' willingness to share his small portion with many caused others to risk their meager meals as well for the feeding of the multitude. Living as if there is enough can be the opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Snapshots of Jerusalem

Last night, i decided that my journal-writing on this trip is too boring. i bore myself even as i write it. [aside: i'm sorry, but the shift key in this internet cafe is decidedly broken, so capitalization is out the window.] so i'm taking a new turn from the "then we did this, then we walked here, then we ate here" and i'm going to try to capture a few snapshot moments and images that i'd actually like to remember (as lovely as the walk from the church to the old city was...).

cats and birds: jerusalem is obviously a place of great human interest, but one of the great (and delightful) surprises of the city for me has been the presence of two unexpected creatures, nearly everywhere. i think you can guess from the heading what these are. first, on the cats: i'm accustomed to seeing feral dogs in latin america, but conspicuous feral cats are new to me. but here's what's surprising. when i hear 'feral cat,' i think, 'gross.' or maybe even 'scary.' when i see all these cats -- many of which are incredibly beautiful and not feral-looking at all -- i think, 'cool!' and subsequently enjoy watching the kittens and cats appear in unexpected places, including the porch outside our guest room. as for the birds... this is one of our favorite, favorite things about our time in jerusalem so far. there are singing birds in cages throughout the city: at shops, at restaurants, on the sidewalk next to street vendors... it adds beauty and music to the most mundane and chaotic places, and it seems they've been placed there for that reason alone. i had birds for a few years as a child, but i'd forgotten how lovely a canary can be. i guess the parakeets we had must have overshadowed the canary, which is a shame.

taize at st. george's cathedral: sitting for an evening taize service last night and listening to the prayers for peace, i had a tiny glimpse of what it might be like to pray for peace with a greater sense of urgency and immediacy. usually my prayers for peace feel general and vague -- but when the words 'in this city, jerusalem' are added, it's easy to brush upon the tangible need for real peace, and the stakes involved in the prayer.

'betting on the future:" yesterday (Sunday), Colin and i were privileged to have lunch at Canon Bill Broughton's house with the theologian Harvey Cox and the dean of Trinity College from Toronto. i asked these wise men if they don't get tired of youthful idealism, working with college students and seminarians all the time. prof. Cox said in response, 'i really don't. you watch these young people set off on careers, and get married, and have children -- they're betting on the future! and watching them bet on the future makes it hard to stay pessimistic." The dean from Trinity had a similar response. I'd never thought of myself as a person who would definitively 'bet on the future' (many of you know i can be more than a little nostalgic) but i realized that this is what we do as we continue to move forward with our very (young) lives. by acting at all, we act in faith and hope that the world really isn't going to hell. we can be more or less hope-filled as we do it (and i think our faith calls us to more hope), but we seem to be betting on the future even when we don't feel full of fire and optimism.

Ashkelon: we stood in front of the oldest arched gate-way ever discovered (created by the canaanites, circa 2,000 BCE). take that, romans! it was, for lack of a better descriptor, really cool. i also had my first encounter with the Mediterranean, which was a lovely as all the picture books indicated.

pastoral landscapes: on our way in to and from Ashkelon, we got to see the hills and landscapes of israel. it was much more lush and fertile than i'd imagined, with more trees and a greater variety of crops (wheat, beans, peach trees, strawberries) than expected. it's one thing to know that the desert doesn't really start until you go over the ridge in East Jerusalem (the mount of olives), and another to see it. i'd always imagined desert, desert, and more desert in the holy land. with jerusalem shining upon a hill in the middle of the desert. it's nice to see with my own eyes the reason this land might have been called that of 'milk and honey.'

i think that's enough for now. shalom to all.

Layers and Layers and Layers and...

Standing atop a 4,000-year old Canaanite wall we can see across the resort's tennis courts to the glistening periwinkle Mediterranean. Our friend Bill Broughton, priest and archeologist, has participated in the dig of the ancient Canaanite/Philistine/Israelite/Babylonian/Assyrian/Hellenistic/Seleucid/Hasmonean/Herodian/Roman/Byzantine/Muslim/Crusader/Malmuk ruins of Ashkelon, and he led us above the oldest standing archway in the world to this chronogically-confusing view.

Back in Jerusalem, we have thus far failed to escape the frequent conversations about the current political climate, and it's easy to feel drained at the end of each day. These aren't like American partisan conversations about health care or even immigration because of the exhaustively-layered religious and historical dimensions. Keeping an open mind and suspending judgment becomes harder and harder. I suppose the introductory film at the Citadel has it right when it graciously summed up the significance of three major religions identifying the city as a holy place as a "flattering and dangerous situation."

Religions are sacred tabernacles of stories woven through the centuries from collective experiences and aspirations of the divine. Our liturgies institutionalize these memories, and they can provide a backstop of faith when reason fails us, as it seems to do here often. Indeed, a Taize service at St. George's Cathedral buoyed my spirit yesterday. Religion divides and unites and lifts and destroys: layers of birth and devastation and rebirth down through time as we know it.

From the internet cafe we'll walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial -- and resurrection. May God humble and forgive us all for our cruelty to and ignorance of each other. And may we find hope, however unlikely, among devastation; and faith to rebuild after each fall.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Prime Property

It takes a certain chutzpah to choose this valley for your burial: according to the prophet Joel, final judgment will unfold in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. So you'd be first in line. Given the number of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cemeteries covering the area, it appears there will be a fair bit of jostling for position!

Ezekiel states that only the Messiah will open the now-sealed golden gate (along the wall to the right of the golden Dome of the Rock in the picture to the right, and in detail below).

I've found apocalyptic literature and movies intriguing (and is it just me or is our society increasingly fascinated with thoughts of the End Times?), but when embodied so literally and matter-of-factly in this holy city, it's also somewhat spooky. Perhaps what has most impressed itself upon me in our first day in Jerusalem are the stakes involved for the most devoted adherents to the world's Abrahamic religions. It's amazing to realize -- and see -- that the location of the Dome of the Rock, Islam's third most sacred site, sits squarely on top of Judaism's second temple site, where the Holiest of Holies resided for centuries. The layers of humanity's yearning for and understanding of the divine run deep.

May God have a plan for this land and its people -- one that transcends our jostling for physical square feet.

Crashing into Jerusalem

On Wednesday, April 13th, we landed in Tel Aviv after one of the more memorable flights I've ever taken. I just realized the title may make it sound like we crashed. Sorry. We didn't (the crashing comes later). Our cheap EasyJet flight mostly consisted of Orthodox Jews returning to school from their Passover break, spent in England. The most notable thing about flying with the Orthodox group was the number of small children and babies -- there were at least 35 infants under 2, maybe more. This meant all the things you'd expect, but also that at one point the flight attendants requested over the loudspeaker that passengers "please not use the seat-back pockets for dirty nappies." And indeed, I'd seen it done.

We were lucky to be greeted on the ground by the Rev. Bill Broughton, an octogenarian Episcopal priest with more energy than Colin and I combined who has lived in Jerusalem for the last 28 years. We'd connected with him through his time at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego, his church in the states. After just a few meetings in Coronado, he'd been gracious enough to stay in touch -- and then offered to pick us up and show us around for a few days.

We squeezed into what Fr. Bill calls 'chitti chitti bang bang II,' his almost reliable little car, and set off for Jerusalem. But then, heading into the city, we missed our turn. It was an important one, we came to find out. And so we began what felt like a real-life Star Tours ride at Disneyland. Each way we turned seemed to bring an unexpected dead-end, and each shortcut back toward the city never panned out. At one point, we changed lanes on the freeway for a left exit, only to have the freeway abruptly end in gravel. We stalled out on a hill into a Palestinian village, and eventually made it up -- only to find that the road ended not too far in. Finally, in what seemed like our best bet, we drove through the town of Bethany (also Palestinian) -- the town where Jesus healed Lazarus. A few miles in, we hit the Wall. Not the metaphorical wall. You know. The Wall. And not a check point in sight. So we asked for some advice, turned around again, and, a few hours after our journey began, safely made it to our guesthouse at the Lutheran World Federation atop the Mount of Olives.

So that's what I meant by crashing into Jerusalem. As chaotic as it was, it actually proved an apt introduction to the landscape in and around Jerusalem in more ways than one. There was quite a contrast between the ultra-modern airport in Tel Aviv and the potholed streets of Bethany, where young men wandered past boarded up buildings and shops with fresh lamb hanging in the window. It reminded me of the San Diego-Tijuana border region, with its sudden change of scenery, language, and infrastructure. We'd traveled thousands of miles and felt rather close to the human realities of home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Resting in London

"I love that if the ranger sees you picking blackberries in this park, she won't be angry -- she'll join in," Laurel's friend Eliza mused as she led us through the wooded, blossoming quiet last evening in London's East End. "We found enough last week to make a quart of jam." And I just thought this was an overgrown cemetery.

A mass grave for WWII bombing victims on our left awaits patiently for spring tulips and daffodils to adorn its sides. Eliza shares that she'll cook with the wild garlic and herbs found on these 33 peaceful acres. She suspects local volunteers plant many of the perennials and edibles, while others catalog the tombstones, some aimlessly careening from the ground with age.

On this English layover day in transit from San Diego to Jerusalem, I find this heaving, resigned blanket of graves surprisingly uplifting. Death sowing life is always a heartening Easter-themed reminder, of course. But these aren't just pretty flowers -- this is a wildly productive community garden! Its fertility is startling.

I'm also comforted by the respect and care afforded this final resting place for so many for so long; while my faith offers hope for life beyond this fragile place and time, it's nice to know that those who come after, even strangers, may care enough to tease out something about me from a cemetery's timeless anonymity.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Welcome to our online home away from home!

Laurel and I look forward to keeping you all up to date on our travels from Jerusalem to Dublin over the next few months. We fly out on Monday, April 12.

These last few days will be busy ones!