Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Officially a Wordpress-er now!

I have recently successfully transferred my blog to Please see the following link from here forward... Thanks!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

{thoughts from the fourth}/{here's for you, syria}

I have thought about this before -- how something intrinsically neutral can speak of incredible beauty or elicit pure horror, simply depending on context.

I'll begin this way: one of my favorite photographs from the time I spent in South Africa is a close-up of a barbed-wire fence. The foreground of the image is sharp and crisp, and in it the dry, caked rust of the wire testifies to the endurance of many seasons. Sunlight brightens one half of the wire, bringing out warm earthy tones of brown and red, while clouds on the move above bathe the other half in deep shade. In the distance, the horizon is a blurred line, a brushy yellow grassland meeting a clear blue sky. There was barbed-wire fencing in several places on the farm where I stayed, weaving patterns across the earth and stories of generations of those who worked the land of South Africa. To me it represented a beautiful thing.

Back in the States I made the photo my desktop image, and one day it struck me that someone besides myself -- a Holocaust survivor, I particularly had in mind -- could experience my treasured image in a radically different way. Through that new set of eyes, barbed wire would not speak of a rich, enduring history, but perhaps of imprisonment, confinement; a twisted history.

That something intrinsically neutral could take on such strikingly polar connotations is perhaps both a cruel and beautiful irony; and we can't avoid it. It simply comes with the reality that all humanity calls this place home and shares the same resources.

So far this has nothing to do with the 4th of July -- or Syria. Promise I'm getting there, though. I see Independence Day as a bittersweet holiday; I'm profoundly grateful for the freedom and safety that I and so many others experience in the U.S., but it's difficult to celebrate wholeheartedly since so many of our neighbors around the world have yet to experience liberty and security themselves. This is not to suggest that America is somehow invincible, or inherently immune to danger or instability (certainly not), but it was poignant for me, this 4th of July, to ponder the fact that while Americans sat back to enjoy a good show the evening of the 4th, thousands of others around the world went through one more evening living in caution or fear, in war zones or under oppressive regimes. As I watched my neighborhood's holiday show, beholding bursts of shimmering mirages and hearing nearby POPs and distant BOOMs, I observed the younger children in the crowd, who, prompted by the fireworks above, burst into their own fits of giggles and glee, and raced across the lake's beach to follow the colors branching out above (or perhaps to put some distance between themselves and the launch site!). It was beautiful, all of it.

But bittersweet, too.

I thought of children the same age in Syria, for whom a similar sound -- the same explosive POP or BOOM that elicited laughter and delight from the children in front of me -- would send them running to take shelter or crouching in a corner. It could even have happened at precisely the same moment, and none of us would have known. Maybe it did, and still none of us know. The irony of it. Like barbed wire all over again.

So here's for you, Syria: a prayer that one day soon the neutral would prompt wonder and not terror, and that one day your quick steps would be a dance of joy and not fear. That freedom and security would be yours as well, and we can celebrate together.

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! 
{Amos 5:24}

Thursday, July 4, 2013

slow business

It's summertime in the south. After four years of college in the Northeast, I am still trying to re-acclimate myself to the excessive amounts of heat and humidity that the Carolinas generously offer. Admittedly, I've  become quite the New Englander, preferring its weather and climate, but as a lover of the outdoors I can't help but immerse myself in what is available to me in this particular place and time, humidity and all. 

I spent part of a recent afternoon picking wild blackberries along a relatively untraveled path in the woods. I was careful as could be, but inevitably finished the task with a few swelling bumps and minor scratches on my hands from the thorns on the blackberry vines. I am not complaining, though: as I surveyed each new patch of berry territory, I thought to myself, I am thankful that blackberry picking is slow business. In a day and age in which so many of us are able to whiz to the supermarket and fill our carts with almost any food product (never mind whether it's in season or grown anywhere near us at all!) at our mind's every beck and call, how refreshing it is to deliberately set aside time to free ourselves up to be slowed down. 

The concept of a sense of connection to one's food -- knowing the square of ground from which it sprang, taking part in the process of harvesting it -- is a concept as old as time, yet it can disappear stunningly (and unnervingly) quickly as societies plunge head-long into development and industry. It is not that these pursuits are inherently bad -- certainly not -- but as we witness our own culture continuing to embrace a whirlwind of instant gratification, convenience, and the exhilarating sense that everything is (or can be) at our fingertips, my challenge to all of us, myself included, is to think deeply about the richness afforded in activities that require us to move more slowly, to value effort and work, to appreciate the idea of scarcity of resources and luxuries. Picking blackberries is just one example; I look forward, this summer, to discovering new ways to go about 'slow business.' 


Well, here we are: I've decided to re-enter the world of blogging again! Originally, I created my blog as a way to share my experiences studying abroad in Israel in 2012 with friends and family in the States. At that time, I entitled it A Walk in the Holy Land. The title I've recently adopted (subject to change again? Time will tell) is Dreaming by Day, a thought inspired by Lawrence of Arabia's worthwhile quote,

... Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible... 

I don't intend for this line of thought to define my entire blog in a nutshell (it would be a shame if titles were that restrictive!). But, the idea of making something possible, bringing something to reality -- realizing, in the truest sense of the word -- is one that I am happy to host as an overarching idea. Realizing -- making real -- what? Anything from dreams to change the world to the simple recognition of everyday beauty, I suppose. And words -- the words of a blog are just one example -- are a powerful way to begin to craft (or simply share) reality.

Shortly I'll upload a post that appeared originally on a friend's blog as a guest post (thanks, Emily!) to kick things off. In step with the season, its own inspiration involved blackberries. What better way to step back into blogging adventures?! Coming soon...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

There are always two sides... or more

It's my last full week in Israel. Surprisingly, though it will still be so hard, in the last few weeks I've felt an unexpected peace about leaving. It can only come from God, I think. I don't know how I could create this peace myself.

This past weekend, I had my last field study of the semester -- my 'Historical and Social Settings of Israel' class traveled to the Galilee and the Golan Heights to conclude our study of the modern state's history. It was the best trip possible to finish off the semester, I think -- we spent some time at look-out areas along borders with Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, and had discussions about Israel's relationships with the neighboring nations. We visited some of the earliest Jewish settlements in Israel (typically, socialist communities called kibbutzim), learning about each of their histories. We toured the prison in Acre (Acco) in which the British imprisoned dissident Jews and Arabs alike during the years of British mandate before Israel became a state. Along the way, we were able to hear from some local Israelis (including the woman who gave President Bush a tour of the country a number of years ago!), which was really rewarding. 

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, this semester has assured me, as I suspected, that the political situation is so deeply complex -- so complex that it's reductionist to pick or support any "one" side, because it seems that two sides -- two only -- don't actually exist. There are more. There are so many different voices within the Israeli and Palestinian populations -- too many and too different to add up to two distinct sides. But it helps as a framework for sorting all of it out, I guess. When we look at the histories as a whole of both groups -- the Israelis and the Palestinians -- I'm sympathetic to both sides, and I'm angry at both sides; realistically, I don't see how one could not be. 

The events surrounding Memorial Day & Independence Day here (celebrated last week) only reminded me of how difficult it is to figure out how to relate to each "side." Last week, as Independence Day drew near, I went out in the evening with some friends. We heard music even before we arrived at the Old City gates -- a concert was underway in anticipation of Independence Day, and we stayed and watched for a while. During performances, a group of young Israeli kids, all decked out in blue and white, began dancing and playfully invited those of us watching to join in their celebration. Even to join in their dancing would be a political statement; nevertheless, we joined in -- not to make a point of our political beliefs, but simply to celebrate with the people around us. It was so much fun. 

Fast forward a day: I visited an Arab Muslim woman on the Mount of Olives; Elham is the teacher whose classroom I've volunteered in this semester in my work at Princess Basma, a school for disabled children. When we arrived at her house, my JUC peer and I sat down to an afternoon meal with Elham and her husband, and we began asking about their home, their family, etc. As it turns out, most of their family members (less immediate, but members all the same, especially here in the Middle East where extended family ties are traditionally closer) are refugees in Jordan. While much of Israel's population anticipated celebrating Independence Day, this was my friend's reality (there's a reason that what Israel calls the "War of Independence," Palestine calls the "Naqba" -- 'Destruction')... My heart wanted to mourn with my Muslim friend and celebrate with the Jews who'd finally found a homeland at the same time. Possible? Somehow, I think yes... 

There's so much more to say concerning this topic, but for now I've got to do some studying... Finals week here in Jerusalem! 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The nation next door

On Sunday we returned from four days in the country of Jordan for my Physical Settings of the Bible class. I don't even know how to begin sharing about our time in the nation next door! I absolutely loved it. Jordan -- more fully, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan -- has a different feel from Israel in a lot of ways. The geography and topography are similar, but at the same time the land felt a little more open, a little more rugged... As a whole, the place seems a little less developed, a little less put-together (except for the booming capital city of Amman!), and just has a different personality.

The difference in demographics from Israel (here, a majority Muslim population and very minimal Jewish population) allowed me to see Arab culture in a more relaxed environment; in Israel, the sense of tension is perpetual, even if under the surface, but here, there was a deeper sense of uniformity, and the people were more comfortable and more open. This has its benefits and drawbacks, of course -- we've gotten used to casual advances upon and even mild harassment of women by the men in Israel; it's a norm of society here, however displeasing, and in Jordan I think I can say it was even worse. As a plus, however, we got a lot of joy out of watching the Jordanian children -- and sometimes even adults and friendly families -- who couldn't get enough of smiling and waving at us as our bus passed by...

Here's a little photo album of sorts that, hopefully, will provide a snapshot of our time in the Kingdom of Jordan...

This was the first stop of our trip -- it's a site called Tell Deir Alla (the biblical town of Succoth -- see Genesis 33:17). In ancient times, an international east-west route connecting both sides of the Rift Valley passed right along Succoth. Beyond the hill and the trees, you can see to the other side of the Rift Valley -- that's Israel! Usually, the "other" side of the Rift Valley for us is Jordan, so this was a first. 

This is at the top of Tell Deir Alla, where some excavation has been done. The most interesting find at this site to me was a text on plaster from around the 8th century B.C. that mentioned Balaam, the prophet in the Bible (Numbers 22-24) who was hired to come curse Israel but could only bless Israel. Interesting! We don't know exactly which people group lived there, or why they had a text concerning Balaam on their walls, and unfortunately, the text we have is badly fragmented (my class and I actually got to see part of the original in a museum in the city of Amman), but I was so impressed that anyone could make sense of the little pieces that had been salvaged. 

Here's a snapshot of a market along the streets of a small town... I mostly wanted to post this to marvel at the beautifully decorated trucks that we saw all over the country! Take a look at the green one on the right side of the photo. I don't know why they're like this, but it's a fun little touch...  

This photo is from a site called Gedara -- what's interesting to notice here (among many things!) is the difference in colors of the pillars. The lighter ones in front are more typical of pillars that the Romans constructed when they began to plant themselves in this land, but the ones in back -- a darker color -- are unique to the northern regions because they're made of basalt, the local building stone formed from volcanic overflow. In Israel, I've become more thrilled about different rock types than I ever imagined! 

This is the same site -- Gedara -- and from here, on top of the hill, one can see (looking northwest) the Sea of Galilee! The far side disappears into the haze and behind the hills, but wow, what a view... 

A little friend that we met at Ramoth-gilead, a site farther south -- well, not really a friend. I'm not so fond of scorpions as it is, but I was thankful that we came across a black one -- there are little white ones here that can kill a person in 8 seconds (well, so the rumor goes; a few hours is probably more realistic. Don't worry, Mum). To be honest, I've been nervous about encountering a little white one all semester, but God surprised me with a reassurance that I didn't expect -- later, on the bus that trip, I was having an unrelated discussion with some peers about the character of Satan in the New Testament, and we finally located a verse that someone was thinking of in Luke 10. I began reading, from the middle of the chapter: "He [Jesus] replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you...'" My friends knew that I'd been nervous about encountering these unpleasant little creatures, and we all had a good laugh... I admit, I sometimes think little connections like that are cheesy or coincidental, but honestly, this was such a blessing! 

We spent our first night in Jordan's capital city of Amman -- a busy, busy place! This city in particular is a good reminder that the present appearance of things is not always the best indication of the historical personality or role, and I've learned that this is so important to keep in mind in this land. The city only started developing like this since the 1940's -- historically, it's been nowhere near this central or bustling. One would never guess.  

The next day in Amman: these are the remains of the temple of Hercules at "the Citadel," the old fortress area of the city (which used to be called Rabbah when it was the capital of the Ammonites). As my professor often says, when the Romans came they left heavy footsteps in the land -- footsteps like this! Incredible. 

In case you ever wondered what the oldest human statue looks like... I guess this is him. 
This is at Jordan's national archaeology museum in Amman, which is small but packed with absolutely incredible stuff. The caption reads: "The earliest statue done by man. Found at Jericho. Pre-pottery Neolithic period." WOW. There was a similar statue nearby from around the same time but with two heads... If you have an explanation, I'd be glad to hear it! I'm baffled.  

... This is when I'm thankful to be living when and where I'm living -- actually, the practice is still used in some less developed countries around the world. Wow. 

This is Gerasa, later named Jerash -- there's a reason it was nicknamed the "city of a thousand columns"! This place was simply huge and had enough sights to fill an entire day. It was a Decapolis city in the early A.D. years -- i.e. one of ten Greco-Roman cities that dominated the area south and east of the Sea of Galilee. Not all of the sites we visited in Jordan were sites of biblical events, but they're still of enormous cultural significance. 

You never know what you'll come across in Jordan (or Israel, for that matter) -- here, at the Roman theatre in Jerash, we stumbled upon some Arab men performing with drums and bagpipes! One of my JUC peers, a percussionist, jumped in to join in the performance; you can probably tell which one he is. ;) 

A traffic jam, Jordanian style! This we did not expect to come across while traveling through the countryside! (the town was having some sort of fun get-together, complete with an inflatable Spiderman slide. Awesome.) This alone might explain why our bus drivers are our heroes by the end of each field study -- in my entire time here, we've never hit a single thing. They have maneuvering skills that I could never even hope to attain!

A glimpse out the bus window as we were traveling along... Most of the young kids got a thrill out of waving and grinning at us as we passed by (and also chasing after us to wave us on our way -- don't miss the little one in front!). We figured that several of the areas we managed to squeeze through didn't often see buses of visitors, which might shed a bit of light on their excitement! 

Walking to Petra in Jordan! This one is not a biblical site, though the people who lived here -- the Nabateans -- were not unknown to the people of the Bible, as they played a crucial role in the trade routes in the Arabian desert. The rock here -- sandstone -- is just incredible. 

The famous shot of Petra, the "rose-red city half as old as Time"... I think I heard myself gasp in amazement before my mind realized how amazed I was! 

"The Treasury" at Petra -- this was Indiana Jones' destination (though we weren't allowed to go inside to check out any treasure!). The structures at Petra were carved right into the cliff face -- absolutely amazing. Facades like this one actually functioned as tombs -- honoring ancestors had a definite importance in Nabatean culture.

A smiling friend at Petra! We got plenty of offers to ride these guys, often for more money than we cared to spend... 

An incredible view at Petra -- we were thankful to have arrived early in the morning, before the clouds broke and the sun came beating down... At the end of the path just left of the center, you might be able to make out a tiny dot of a person standing at the edge of the cliff -- at 6'7", that's the tallest member of this semester's JUC class... And if Steve looks that small, you know it's a big place! 

Amazing rock. In about the center of the photo you can see a small enclave -- a window-like area. Several of these dotted the cliff faces at Petra -- little homes for the gods and goddesses, so to speak. 

From the inside of one of the tomb areas in Petra. Massive, massive, massive. 

A furry friend at Petra. In addition to the camels, we were bombarded with offers to ride these guys, too, but we opted to hike instead. And hike we did -- by the end of our six hours of tramping around Petra, we were totally exhausted.  

A little boy waiting to advertise the postcards in his hands -- all around Petra, the natives had little tents set up with trinkets and souvenirs to sell to the tourists, and the kids were in the sales business, too. 

Okay, last picture of Petra, I promise! Another rock-hewn structure -- this one's called the Monastery. Who knows why -- it was also a tomb, I was told. 

A stark contrast to the environment of Petra! This is a black iris, Jordan's lovely national flower. It's a bit rare, and we were pleased when our professor stopped the bus on a lonely road so we could hop out and snap some photos. 

This is a fun one! Called the 'Madaba Map' (only part of it is shown in the photo), it's a 6th century A.D. mosaic map of the land of the Middle East. The oval section in the center of the photo depicts Jerusalem -- the straight line running through long-ways represents the 'Cardo,' the main north-south road of all Greco-Roman cities, and around it you can see white pillars with dark spaces in between. Halfway down the Cardo, looking a little upside-down to us with a yellow dome, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre! Wow. The mosaic makes up part of the floor of what is now St. George's Greek Orthodox Church. 

And finally, the last stop of the last field study of our Physical Settings of the Bible course: the traditional location of Mount Nebo. In the last chapter of Deuteronomy (34), Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God speaks to him. My professor had told us that on a clear day, you can see all the way across the Rift Valley to the towers on the Mount of Olives (there are three tall and distinct ones), the hill on the east side of Jerusalem. I'd hoped for a clear day in order to see across the vast river valley, and was initially disappointed that there was such a heavy haze that hot afternoon. As it turned out, however, it made for the best lesson: when the Israelites approached the land from this direction, whether they had a clear day or not, they couldn't see what was before them -- that is, the land and their future, tied together. They had no idea what was in store -- only that their God was leading them into an unknown land and was going to care for them. Their future was -- our future is -- a haze from which God beckons. My lesson of the day, then -- and a good lesson to end the course with -- was, in the words of my professor, to whom I am grateful for many lessons: walk into the haze. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Steps of the Franciscans

It’s Holy Week in Jerusalem! For the Western Church, that is (the Eastern Church celebrates one week after the Western Church this year). Accordingly, I thought I should probably post my Palm Sunday update before Easter Sunday arrives... :]    

Palm Sunday was a delightfully busy day; I was able to celebrate at two morning services – Catholic and Anglican – and by taking part in the procession down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, an annual event that commemorates Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. The combination of the three kept me -- and a number of my JUC peers! -- on my feet from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening, and here I’ll provide a glimpse of just one…

Three friends and I awoke in time to arrive at the Catholic Palm Sunday service at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- a note on the Holy Sepulchre, before I go any further: it’s perhaps the most magnificent church in the Old City in terms of history and general grandeur; originally built in Constantine’s time, it’s seen several stages of destruction and repair. It’s a particularly encouraging symbol of a step in the direction of Church unity: here, Eastern and Western Christians share the space for services and worship (wow!). Back to Palm Sunday, though: my friends and I weren't the first to arrive -- as we made our way to the outskirts of the crowd gathered by the Franciscan chapel, hushed voices and shifting feet marked the atmosphere of anticipation. The Franciscan chapel is next to the traditional place of the burial tomb of Jesus Christ, which is actually inside the walls of the church. A towering monument marks the location, and above it is a massive domed ceiling with a window at the top that allows sunlight to stream in from above. Here's a look at it:

Within ten minutes, the Franciscan priests filed out and the service began. The richness of liturgy and incense filled the church and sent echoes bouncing off the massive stone walls surrounding us. The priests, robed in red and white and bearing palm branches, began to process around the tomb of Christ, with those holding staffs and flickering candles leading the way. The deep voice of the organ joined in, and the crowd parted to let the line of priests through. When they had passed, a woman hurried over to our side and shared a bunch of olive branches (quite plentiful in this land!) with a man on my side. He took some and passed the rest around – and so I acquired my own little sprig of olive. The congregants had begun to follow in the steps of the Franciscans, and my friends and I joined in. At each Hosanna! (‘Save now!’ – the expression that the people used to usher Jesus into Jerusalem those many years ago), each palm and olive branch was waved high in the air, remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

As we processed around the tomb, I realized that while I was swimming in a mass of strangers and foreign languages, the sense of unity in the place was incredible. I looked around and found that I could see -- albeit only partially -- into the souls of people I didn’t know; the radiance on the Franciscan priest’s face, the anticipation of the expression of the man beside me, and the smile of the silent woman across from me each revealed such deep authenticity that they didn't seem so much like strangers at all.

As we continued around the monument, the faithful drumbeats of the priests’ staffs on the old stone floor as they walked echoed in the church and in my mind, and I thought about the richness that the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity have preserved. It’s incredible to think about the years and years of accumulated practice, rehearsed hundreds of thousands of times, and again played out here, one more time. Part of the beauty that I find in such tradition is its holistic nature – that is, how fully it incorporates both physical and spiritual aspects of our humanity. Here, we worshipped with our eyes, taking in the sight of palm branches held high above the crowd and the faint morning light through the window high above; we worshipped with our ears, listening to the liturgy and the organ and faithful beat of the priests’ staffs; we worshipped with our sense of smell, the incense reminding us of our prayers and praises rising to heaven; and with our lips, if we knew the Latin or Italian (several of us did not, but we could join in with the Hosannas, or even in the liturgy if we happened to glimpse a copy of the text held by a neighbor beside us!); and with our fingers, as we waved our own palm and olive branches; and with our feet, as we walked together, remembering the procession of people who accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem. 

The rest of Holy Week here has been something of a blur, involving a number of other services and events in anticipation of Passover and Easter, a lot of research as those once-distant deadlines are beginning to draw near, and not quite enough sleep! It's worth it, for sure -- we all figure we can catch up on sleep later. (: For now, though, I wish each of you a meaningful Good Friday and a rich & joyous Passover! More photos from Palm Sunday below...

Above: Palm Sunday morning at Christ Church, the Anglican church just a few minutes' walk from JUC. They make good neighbors!

Above: Palm Sunday procession down the Mount of Olives toward the Old City of Jerusalem. On the right just over half-way up the photo are the walls of the Old City, and to the left of them, the modern road weaving its way around. 

Above: Remembering.