Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Poor Deacons

From Holy Land

I am an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. That means I'm clergy with a specialty (mine being family ministry) and I don't officially itinerate (though I am appointed) or administer sacraments.

When this order of clergy was first introduced in the UMC, we were kind of thought of as the adopted child. Well loved but pitied in a small since. I heard a few times, "Oh she's just a deacon." I feel like things have changed since we've been around more and have proven our usefulness. I no longer feel like a lesser clergy person and am happy for that.

That was until I visited St. Anne's Church in Jerusalem. This was a special visit for me as it was one of the sites I had missed by being ill. A few of my friends went back with me so that I could see it and hear its acoustics. We sang hymns in harmony together in the chapel and listened to the sound echo throughout. It was really quite beautiful.

Then we went outside to look around. There is a lovely garden to the side and the pools of Bethsaida are on the other side.

Directly across from the entrance was a stone pillar with a plaque above it. You may not be able to see the words on it in the picture but it reads, "Here lies a Deacon who died in probation." Or something to that effect.

I guess I should be glad that this Deacon got a tomb of honor but why was he/she on probation?

The world may never know. All I know is that I'm not on probation and feel that I have a great ministry left to offer.

From Holy Land
Other Deacons on the trip pictured above.

Until Everyone Hears,

Monday, May 30, 2011

Poo

From Holy Land

I was very intrigued to see the city wall of Jerusalem. We don't have physical walls in the US around our cities. The closest we have gated communities on one level or possibly NORAD on a different level.

These stone walls that took forever to build were fascinating to me because of the entrances and exits on them. There were many ways in and out of the city depending on why you were leaving. If you were bringing in sheep for sacrifice, you'd use the sheep gate. If you were getting water for your family, you'd use the water gate.

But of course my favorite gate was the Dung Gate. If you needed to get rid of... you know... poo, you'd take it in and out of the dung gate. Its not sanitary to take dung out of the water gate or vice versa. Each gate had a specific purpose and it was important physically to remember to use the correct one.

How often do we use something other than for its intended purpose? Does it ever work out well? Sometimes I guess we get lucky and instead of paint for the walls we now have liquid paper for mistakes (if we still use that stuff). But for the most part we have warnings on our lawn-mowers not to use them to trim bushes because somebody tried it and while lifting the active lawn-mower up to the bush, also removed a finger or two.

When God tells us to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, are we really doing what God intended or are we trying to redefine holy? Are we resting or being just like the rest? God gave us 7 days with very specific instructions. Work, Love, Rest. Its pretty easy actually.

Maybe it would be easier if our days were labeled. 1st Work/Love day... Rest/Love day.

In any case, enjoy your day today. Whether its a vacation/love/rest day or a work/love day, either way may it be for God's glory.

Until Everyone Hears,

Friday, May 27, 2011

Culture and Camels

From Holy Land

When I was about 8 years old, there was a small circus that set up tents near my neighborhood. In their parking lot they had a baby elephant that kids could ride (for a fee of course). To me this was better than any circus I could ever go to. I didn't just get to see the elephant; I got to ride it!

So when I was told we'd have a chance to ride camels in Jerusalem I jumped at the chance. I'm not sure why this intrigued me so but it did. Its not like people still ride camels around town, especially not around a parking lot. I just wanted to experience something instead of seeing something.

Later that night a group of us wanted to go out into Jerusalem and see a part of the city that wasn't particularly old or religious. We were finally able to find a nice area where we felt like were experiencing the local culture instead of studying the ancient culture.

From Holy Land

Don't get me wrong. I came to Israel to see old, religious stuff, but I also know that there's more to a city than the old religious stuff. That stuff molds the new way things happen. It was good to see in the same day, people praying at the wailing wall dressed appropriately for their religion and then to see the same people out for dinner in the evening.

Religion isn't just about the places and history; its also about the current culture and present time. When we can find where the two meet, we can truly reach people with a beautiful message.

Until Everyone Hears,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day and Night

From Holy Land

1 LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

Psalm 88

Our hotel in Jerusalem was a short walk to the Wailing Wall. This is the site of the temple destroyed in 70 AD but this wall became a pilgrimage site for Jews shortly after as it is the closest part of the original structure to the Holy of Holies where the Divine Presence is thought to preside.

There is a men's section where the men pray and a woman's side where I went to take my petitions. Many people write down their prayers and place them in the crevices between the stones.

I came ready with prayers for my family and friends who had asked for prayer during the trip. As I touched the wall I prayed over my pieces of paper and carefully placed them in a special spot. I asked God to hear our prayers and to help us feel His presence.

After a few minutes I was asked to step aside by one of the janitors. He was cleaning the area and pulling all of the prayers out of the crevices and placing them into what looked like a waste basket. I had heard that they collect prayers and give them to priests to pray over. Upon further look, I did see that there was a separate bin for prayers and trash but they both looked the same at first glance.

I guess I hoped that my prayers would stay closer to the Holy of Holies for just a bit longer. I had hoped that priest would come by and hand pick my prayers out of the wall himself and pray over them while wearing full regalia and any other holy accessories.

I almost gave up.

But I thought of the many times when I thought my prayers were unanswered only to find them answered later in a most spectacular way. So I went back to the wall and prayed again. This time I added a blessing for all the petitions that had been swept away, that had been forgotten too soon, or had been left with a feeling of hopelessness. It was then that I felt God moving.

I'm not sure what happened, but I know that God is still answering those prayers and I continue both day and night to praise Him and ask for help.

From Holy Land


Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Dead Sea

healing
From Holy Land

 Being Grateful Amidst Illness

The Dead Sea reminded me more of an American tourist trap than anything else. I don't mean that in a negative sense. It was quite beautiful but was set up like a Florida resort.

The Dead Sea has so much salt content that you can float easily without any effort and the salt is also the reason for the name as nothing can live in such a salty environment. The shore and bottom of the Dead Sea, however, is a bunch of mud that presumes to have minerals with healing properties and will leave your skin soft and smooth.

So I slapped that mud all over my body. I felt like I'd gotten a full body facial once I'd rinsed it off, but I didn't feel healed.

In fact that night I had another episode of illness and had to call the on call doctor to the hotel. I missed a day of site-seeing the next day. Before I left for the trip I was worried that something like this would happen. With my health problems this year, there was a good possibility that I'd have a flare up.

But I couldn't let that stop me from having a good time. My doctor had cleared me and there was equal possibility that nothing could have happened. Of course I'm still mourning that day that I lost from my trip of a lifetime but I realize that I had so many wonderful experiences apart from that day.

There are always missed opportunities in our lives, but if we focus on what we missed we'll never cherish what we have. God gave me a great trip even if it was shorter than everyone else's. Be grateful for what you do have and make the most of those moments otherwise you'll be missing even more opportunities than before.

Until Everyone Hears,

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hidden Treasure

From Holy Land

I was excited to see the caves at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls where found. The site of the oldest copies of the Bible has always fascinated me. These scrolls were lost for many years (some were from 300 BC and were found in 1946) but were preserved due to the climate of the area.

What I didn't know was that there were other scrolls found that told the story of the people who lived there. This was a group of men who lived monk-like lifestyles in order to be as pure as possible. The Essenes, as they were known, conducted daily ritual cleansing, many hours of prayer and silence, and lots of time copying scripture onto scrolls.

Many scholars think that this was the type of community that John the Baptist went to in the wilderness. It does seem to fit with the few clues we have about him in the Bible. Regardless I can't imagine this lifestyle. I admire their discipline and envy their tenacity but I wonder why they felt that this type of lifestyle was the best way to live.

Perhaps if they'd had an encounter with Jesus they would know the freedom I feel or perhaps they do feel a freedom in their lifestyle that I just don't understand. In either case, I felt an affinity for the Essenes due to their devotion that I hope I can implement in my own way.

Until Everyone Hears,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dear 7 lb 6 oz Baby Jesus

From Holy Land

Bethlehem is one of those surprises. I never realized how close it was to Jerusalem. Its just a few miles south of Jerusalem but not in Israel. Its in the West Bank.

Scholars say that Jesus was most likely born in a sort of cave. Apparently this wasn't so unusual as there were many caves in the landscape that would give shelter to people and animals. The Church of the Nativity lies on one of these caves that pilgrims think was the site of Jesus' birth.

The church is actually shared by three churches: Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic. Just before I went down to the part of the cave where I could touch the stone where Jesus was born, I was able to light a candle. What does one pray for when at the site of Jesus' birth? It was truly a Ricky Bobby moment as I felt like I was praying to the "Sweet Baby Jesus".

Now that I've had babies of my own, I think of the baby Jesus in new ways. I understand the holiness of a newborn but also the innocence that will soon be lost before I turn around. So as I lit my candle I didn't focus on the baby Jesus. I focused on Christmas. Standing there I was reminded of the happiness of Christmas and prayed for that feeling to be remembered all year.

As I went down the steps to the birth site, there were some pilgrims from Germany singing Silent Night. It was beautiful and since we were in a cave you can imagine that the acoustics were amazing. Later we went down to a different cave on the Roman Catholic side that was thought to be the place where Joseph had his dream warning the holy family to flee to Egypt. In this are there was a Brazilian mass going on. We went into a different part of the cave to a chapel and had our own USA Methodist worship moment.

I never felt as if I'd experienced the first Christmas nor am I convinced that this is where Jesus was born, but seeing the world come together over the "sweet baby Jesus" reminds me that a baby does change everything - even changing the world.

Until Everyone Hears,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The International Social Media Site

From Holy Land

Yesterday's blog told the story of my discovery of the famous Jesus Christ Superstar tree. It was an exciting time and the fun didn't end there.

Toward the end of the tour of Beit Shean, I walked through the theater. What better way to display my knowledge of Jesus Christ Superstar songs than in the theater. One of the cohorts on the trip, who works in music ministry, actually encouraged me to sing. So with feeling and emotion that would make any Oscar winner jealous, I belted out "I don't know how to love him" for a few of my friends and four strangers sitting in the audience. Apparently I was amazing because they applauded when I was done (one even stood up).

I let a few others take the spotlight while I checked out the rest of the theater. In the back were exits called vomitoriums. Vomitoriums were engineered into Roman amphitheaters as a means of rapidly emptying the crowds down prescribed exits that channeled people out quickly and efficiently. The technique is employed in modern theaters and sports stadia today.

Who can't resist seeing a vomitorium?

As I was admiring the vomitorium, the four guys who were wowed by my performance gathered on stage and started yelling at me. It kind of looked like they wanted me to take there picture but they weren't speaking English, French or Spanglish so I had no idea if that was the case.

Then one of the guys said, "Facebook!" and I knew I was correct. I took their picture and now am true to my word. The photo will immortalize them in the international social media site that spans many cultures and languages.

I guess if Jesus didn't bring people together, perhaps Facebook can. And therefore help us spread God's love in new ways.

Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's the Buzz?

From Holy Land

After seeing several ruins of old cities, it got kinda old seeing old stuff. On our way out of Galilee to Jerusalem we stopped at Beit Shean. There we saw the ruins of an old (12th Century BC) Roman and Egyptian city. As was the case at all the other ruins we'd seen, there were bath houses, a main road, living quarters, and a theater. It was big. It told a story. I wasn't interested.

There was one minor reference to this town in the Bible. 1 Sam 31 where the Philistines took the heads of Saul and his sons and placed them on the wall of this town. So I did get the Biblical image of a decapitated King's head rotting for everyone to see. Not necessarily a Holy place if you ask me.

I didn't complain and tried to make the best of it when God gave me the opportunity. I kept noticing everyone looking and pointing to the top of a hill where a tree fragment was. Out of curiosity I asked, "What's up with the tree skeleton?" That's when I was told that Jesus Christ Superstar (the cheesy 1973 movie) was filmed there.

Suddenly Beit Shean became a new world to me. I remembered that tree and once more remembered every line from every song in that movie. Those songs taught me the gospel in ways that my church never did. Who would have thought that the site that tied my past and my faith together would be a former movie set?

So for the rest of the journey through these ruins, I sang to myself (and sometimes out loud) the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. I danced down the main road, twirled through the bathhouse, and ran up the steps to the naked tree that I now hold a special place in my heart for.

And I wondered, just as Andrew Lloyd Webber did, "if you'd come today you would have faced the whole nation, Israel in 4 bc had no mass communication" and yet the message made it to today. Only the most powerful of messages can withstand that test of time.

May you hear the message clearly and spread it grandly.

Until Everyone Hears,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Jordan River

From Holy Land

Ah the beautiful Jordan River! Well... not so much. As soon as we walked down to the river and I put a toe in, I was ready to leave. It kind of reminded me of the creek in between my childhood house and my cousins' apartment complex. Except probably dirtier and noisier. The Chattahoochee is 100 times prettier and cleaner.

It was a bit of an instant let down. I couldn't believe that there were people just a bit upstream immersing themselves in this water.

As was the custom on the trip, we stopped to read scripture and the Bishop said a few words. This time instead of giving a short devotional, He began the liturgy of the Baptismal Renewal. We were encouraged to remember our Baptism and be thankful. We went in pairs down to the water and made the sign of the cross on a friend's forehead as we asked them to remember.

During the service we recited the Apostle's creed together and I had an unexpected Holy Moment. One of those where my heart was strangely warmed. I suddenly realized that because of Jesus and John getting wet so long ago in this very river, we were professing a faith through a Baptismal creed that so many others share in. I know that the Apostle's Creed was not recited at Jesus' Baptism, but I felt like the millions who recited it at other Baptisms to follow, including mine, were united to Jesus and me in that one moment.

I DID REMEMBER. And I was THANKFUL.

Suddenly the Jordan River didn't seem like such a horrible place. We'd made a memory there. A very special memory that I'll cherish for a long time.

Until Everyone Hears,

Monday, May 16, 2011

Olives: A Pressing Matter

From Holy Land

I knew that olives were a Mediterranean staple but didn't really know too much about them until my recent trip. Olives cannot be used or eaten after picking. They are too bitter and must be pickled or treated somehow. If they aren't used for food, then they used an olive press as shown above. There would be different pressings for different things. The Virgin Oil would usually be first, then Extra Virgin, then the paste of the remains would be used for lamp oil or soap.

Its hard to believe that they would go to so much trouble so long ago for a fruit that you can't eat off the tree. This is why the olive oil was such a valuable commodity used for anointing kings. It is also why the oil lasting for 8 days at Hanukkah was such a miracle.

There were many olive trees along the country side of Israel. They were beautiful. It kind of reminded me of the pecan groves in South Georgia.

From Holy Land

I wonder what in my life today is worth the trouble that is put into getting olive oil. Is there anything in my life worth that much time and work? I can think of a few things. Even though there's nothing I can grow in my back yard, my family is worth the effort. My calling is worth the time. I'm blessed to have seen the fruit of my labor in those areas and I know that even though it can be heavy and pressing work - I'd do it again in a second.

Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pray On!

From Holy Land

A tallit (Hebrew: טַלִּית‎‎) is a Jewish prayer shawl worn for morning prayer. There is no specific commandment that one be worn but it is discussed in a few verses that one is to use the fringes of one's outer covering as a means to concentrate on prayer.

While I was at the gift shop on one of our tours, I was approached by a sales woman who showed me how to use a prayer shawl. Although it looks kind of odd, it was comforting to do something physically in preparation for prayer. My prayer life is usually free-form talking to God or a list making form of prayer. This practice helped me to realize that prayer isn't just about our words. Its about our actions as well. We need to listen and respond to prayer just as much as we need to utter the words.

She almost sold me on the shawl. At times I kind of wish I had one, just to mix up my prayer life a bit. Of course I bought a Shofar at that same store and have yet to blow it each morning.

When I was ill last year the women at the church I grew up in made me a prayer shawl of a different form. They gave me a circular afghan that they prayed over in order for me to heal. I never really thought about using it other than as a reminder that I was prayed for. But now that I'm home from my trip and lamenting my missed purchase, I think I'll start using it as a prayer shawl.

Who knows? Perhaps the knots and edges of this garment, will help in the healing of someone else.

Until Everyone Hears,

Yoda

From Holy Land

I always thought that Yoda was a cute and creepy little muppet. Then I grew up and listened to his pithy sayings. He'd make a great person to follow on Twitter. His one liners make for great inspiration "Do or do not. There is no try."

You just can't argue with logic like Yoda's. The guide on our trip, Jimmy, reminded us a lot of Yoda. He spoke great English but since it wasn't his first language at times his sentences came out very Yoda like, "Come. Let us go. We see much more."

Jimmy knew everything and everybody. At one point we thought he was part of the Christian Holy Land mafia (which never got refuted and could still be in fact true). Jimmy knew parts of the country that weren't on the regular tour. When it came time to visit the rock where the church where the sermon on the mount was preached (Mt. of Beatitudes), Jimmy showed us the traditional site. We got to see a beautiful garden and relics from various popes who had been to the site.

But after the traditional tour, Jimmy took us down a side path that wound down the mountain. We stopped under this tree and read the Beatitudes. There wasn't anything that showed Jesus had been there or that the church site was more authentic but it was easier for us to picture. When we were able to sit near a tree and listen to Jesus' words, they just felt right.

I wondered if Jesus' disciples felt like he was a Yoda. A bit different from the rest of the world but very wise. To them perhaps "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." has just as much ring to it as, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Jimmy was the best guide we could have had. He pointed out things all along the way and would even stop the bus to let us take pictures of shepherds. On one of our last days, he pointed out the front of the bus and said, "Do you see that group of trees over there?" We replied, "Yes Jimmy!" His answer: "So do I."

He had a sense of humor too.

Until Everyone Hears,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We Are The World Moments

From Holy Land

As I said before, the Holy Land is filled with places where there was a rock where something important probably happened so someone decided to build a church on it. This kind of makes it hard to imagine what things would have been like when that event might actually have happened on said rock.

Galilee and Jerusalem are both filled at each time of year with people on religious pilgrimage to take in the places of the Bible. The above chapel was no exception. It is said that the rock at the altar was the place where Jesus called out to his disciples in a post-resurrection appearance and then later on asked Peter three times if he loved him. (obviously the water line had moved before they built the church)

As interesting as it was to see the chapel it was much more exciting to go outside and picture the disciples having breakfast on the beach. There are some other large rocks outside the chapel where people place their prayers. Kind of like a Christian wailing wall.

When I went outside to put my feet in the water there were some French speaking pilgrims visiting and taking pictures near the shore. I took it all in and then placed my prayers in the rocks outside the chapel before going in to see "the rock" that Jesus may or may not have sat on. As you can see in this picture there were lots of people sitting and worshiping.

What you don't get to experience is that most of them were Korean and they were all singing hymns. It was really quite beautiful. I could tell that they were on a tour together yet I didn't feel like I was intruding. I felt like I was one with them. We were from very different cultures but still believed that something divine happened in this area 2000 years ago. Something so divine it was worthy of singing, spreading the message, and even putting a church on top of a rock.

I had many of these "we are the world" moments when I felt like God really does bring people together. I also had a few moments when I saw how humankind has divided us all in the name of God. The good news is that the "we are the world" moments felt like a fulfillment or an answer to a question that I had yet to ask. The other moments felt like something was wrong and we should fix it.

May your "we are the world" moments be plentiful.

Until Everyone Hears,

Monday, May 9, 2011

Walking on Water

Full Moon over the Sea of Galilee
From Holy Land

Yup - I tried it. Couldn't do it except in the shallow end near the shore where there were rocks barely under the surface. Even then it just appeared that I was walking on water.

I'm not sure how it really happened or even why Jesus picked that particular super-hero type miracle. Healing sick and dead people is one thing - that's a service to others. Water into wine is just great for a good party. But walking on water? Why not flying?

Perhaps it was because the disciples spent so much time on the water. They were mostly fishermen so they were out there to make a living. Plus the "Sea of Galilee" is really quite small (only 14 miles x 6 miles). You can pretty much see all of the cities surrounding it from anywhere on the water. So traveling by boat was an easy and common way to get around in those days.

The first time we saw the Sea was at night. The full moon was rising above and the water was so clear it almost looked like a mirror with the reflection of the moon in it. When we went out on the Sea in a boat, we stopped in the middle of the water and read the scripture where Jesus is asleep and wakes up to calm the storm.

As we sat there in quiet listening to the sounds of the water, I knew that I was once again in a holy place. Even though no one had built a church in the middle of the sea telling me that Jesus had been there, I knew. Just like I know that he's with me on youth retreats or on Sunday mornings or when I tuck my kids in bed - He's there.

Bishop reads scripture on our boat ride:
From Holy Land

After the boat ride we went to a museum that had an artifact discovered not too long ago. It was the remains of a fishing boat that could be carbon dated to Jesus' time. Of course we don't know if it was one that Jesus used, but it did help me to picture what it would have been like. How in the world Jesus could sleep in that boat through a storm is beyond me. I can barely sleep through a storm when I'm in my dry bed.

The 2000 year old Fishing Boat:
From Holy Land

Perhaps that is part of the message of the story. Things that seem like storms to us aren't always that big of a deal to Jesus. Perhaps we shouldn't worry so much and rely on him more to take care of those storms for us. And maybe someday with a little practice and my eyes on Jesus, I can master the walking on water thing.

Until Everyone Hears,

Friday, May 6, 2011

DaVinci Code and The Holy Land

From Holy Land

The Church of the Annunciation was established at the site where, according to Roman Catholic tradition, the Annunciation took place (the angel telling Mary she was going to have a baby). Greek Orthodox tradition holds that this event occurred while Mary was drawing water from a local spring in Nazareth, and the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation was erected at that alternate site.

We ended up visiting both sites and each site had its own holy feel to it. Regardless of if the Annunciation actually happened at either site, it is highly likely that Mary spent time there (as I said before Nazareth was/is a small town).

One of the beautiful things about this Church is the artwork in and around the building. Countries from all over the world have sent mosaics, paintings and sculptures depicting the Annunciation. It was great to see Mary in so many different cultural contexts. It really proved to me that the Gospel is for everyone.

But with all these pictures of Mary, I was drawn to the painting behind the upstairs altar that seemed so out of place. Here is what looked like a painting of Jesus' Baptism. There are two men obviously standing in a river and a dove overhead. What caught my eye is that it looks like Mary is crowned behind them sitting on a throne and shooting us the bird. Now I'm sure that she's either pointing to heaven or has her hands in one of those holy positions that protestants don't know much about. Regardless her presence in the photo kind of creeped me out.

The other thing I found odd about this painting was the All Seeing Eye. I immediately thought of the DaVinci Code and the symbolism it referred to in the book. Was Dan Brown right? Maybe it is all some big cover-up! (BTW you can look up the Eye of Providence on wikipedia and dis-spell that myth)

Finally there is one other gem in this photo that got me in trouble. From far away, it looks like Jesus (or the one I'm assuming is Jesus) is holding a rosary. When I looked at it much later in my photo, I saw that it resembles more of a double or archbishops cross than anything else. In any case he's obviously holding something. I called over a colleague whose first name starts with J and last name rhymes with "immons" and we pondered on how odd it is for Jesus to hold a cross of any kind at his Baptism and just how odd this photo was in this wonderful and holy place. I guess our ponderings got a little too loud because we where "SSHHHHHHHed" quite openly and again I felt like I needed to leave yet another shrine of the Holy Land.

Later that night my friends and I went down to the hot springs near our hotel. There is a spa at the hot springs but a spring outside of it that we put our feet in. Someone came along and told us to come back as paying customers.

That made three times in one day. I guess the All Seeing Eye really is representative of the Trinity and was just having a little fun with me. I really enjoyed my first day of sight seeing and couldn't wait to get started on my next day.

Until Everyone Hears,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We Got Next

From Holy Land

After a day of seeing places that may or may not have been a place that Mary, Joseph, Jesus or Paul may or may not have done something at, we finally came to the synagogue in Nazareth. Nazareth is a small town by today's standards but back in the JC day it would have been around 300 people. Everybody would have known everybody and nothing could have been kept secret. With a town that size and no need for denominational differences yet, there would have been only one synagogue and we got to sit right inside of it.

Sitting there I looked at the Christian altar that seemed so out of place and it hit me. No matter where else I had been that day, I was definitely walking on the original floor where Jesus walked. Not only had he been there, he had worshiped there and came back as and adult to preach there (Luke 4:14-28) And then they kicked him out.

As I was leaving the synagogue, there were two other groups trying to get in (its a very small place). I turned around to get one more look and one more picture. I guess I took just a few seconds too long because the guide for that site snapped at me a tiny bit and told me to move along. I got a small amount of satisfaction knowing that I got kicked out too.

The picture that I took on my way out is below. It is the view out the window of the synagogue. I'm not sure what the view was like when Jesus was a boy, but I could just picture someone staring out the window while services were going on, looking at the basketball hoop and thinking, "We got next."

From Holy Land

That's just what Jesus did. He went out into the world and didn't let Nazareth stop him from spreading a great message. He really did get the next game in and in my opinion became a champion.

Until Everyone Hears,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From here its a local call

From Holy Land

One of the first impressions of Israel is the non-commercial atmosphere. There is not a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Wal-mart on every street corner. In fact I only saw a handful of McDonalds and zero Wal-marts. I don't know how they live. Can they really be God's chosen people without a Wally-World?

At least one big corporation has gotten their hold on this fertile market of the fertile crescent. Coca-Cola. You could get a Coke just about everywhere and often in glass bottles. It was $3 a bottle but it was cold and tasted like home. You could also get an Arabic Coke or a Hebrew Coke depending on where you were. No difference between the two except the language on the bottle.

I didn't really get "home sick" while I was there but I did think of home every time I saw a Coke or a Coke sign. It made me want to call home to just say "Hi." But it is quite expensive to call Atlanta from Israel and there's an 8 hour time difference so that only gives a small window when the family would be home, awake and ready to talk. So I did the next best thing. I purchased internet time at the hotel and sent emails. I didn't get much response from the crew but I felt better knowing I'd made contact.

It reminded me how lucky we are to have prayer. We don't have to worry about God being busy. Of course He's busy but He's omnipotent and cares about us making the smallest contact. I was glad that even though I couldn't talk to my family everyday, I could still talk to God. And as our tour guide told us, "Prayer from here is a local call." Amen.

Until Everyone Hears,

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Floribama

From Holy Land

Here we have a picture of three beautiful women. On the left is Rev. Catherine Booth; middle is Mrs. Lena Jenkins (wife of Rev. Jamie Jenkins) and left is Rev. Joan Kinrade. They are standing in front of the Mediterranean Sea on the coast of Cesarea Meritime, the ruins of the capital city of Herod where it is said that the first conversion of a Gentile to Christianity took place.

At the grounds we were able to picture chariot races in the hippodrome, Paul standing trial in the theatre, and all sorts of odd things going on in the bathhouses. Unfortunately most of the buildings had been burned during the Crusades and now we have to use our imaginations to visualize what probably happened here.

But as memorable as this first site was for us on the trip, for me the most memorable part was the bus ride over. I'm not sure if I mentioned before but the Bishop and his wife (Margaret) as well as his Executive Assistant and his wife (Lena) were all on the trip with us. It was a great time to get to know the Bishop better.

What I didn't expect was to get to know Lena and Margaret really well. On the way over to this first stop of our first day, they started chatting about a past trip they took with each other. I think that they were on a beach retreat with a few other clergy spouses and decided to take other women from the trip to check out some of the local venues. They ended up at the Floribama bar.

The fact that these women ended up in bar was humorous enough but the Floribama is another story. I know from personal experience that the Floribama is kind of like the ruins we were visiting that day except that they charge and entry fee (or two drink minimum) to see nothing historical. Just ruins due to lack of upkeep. They do have some local bands and can put on a good party at times so I had to use my imagination to picture Lene and Margaret walking into this dive ready to party.

I guess I've just broken the number one rule of trips "What happens on the trip, stays on the trip." and this is especially true for bus conversations, but I now look at these women with a new appreciation for adventure and I hope that if I'm ever in the Holy Land with them again, I can convince them to venture out to the Cesariusalem Bar with me one night.

Until Everyone Hears,

Monday, May 2, 2011

Welcome Home

From Holy Land

So you may be thinking "THIS is one of her best photos?" and yes its not the best picture but one of the coolest things about the hotels in the Holy Land. They cater to religious tourists and therefore they keep a kosher kitchen and all other applicable Levitical laws.

This picture is of the door post to my room. Inside this little box that is screwed to the frame is the Shema or Deuteronomy 6:4. Later on in Deut 6:9 it says "Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." And so the hotel did. There is one of these on every door frame.

The elevators stop at every floor on the Sabbath (so that you don't have to do the work of pushing the button to stop at your floor). I had no cheeseburgers while I was there. No bacon. No shrimp. And even my Coke had real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

All of these customs were only Biblically familiar to me. I'd never experienced them first hand and I must say it really was joy. It gave me a glimpse of a different culture and an appreciation for these weird laws. Every morning when I left and every evening when I came back, I saw this and was reminded that the Lord is one and that I am to love the Lord with all my heart, soul and strength. It worked too. I started and ended the day with God on my mind.

When we got to hotel after the long plane flight, our guide, Jimmy, popped on our bus and said, "Welcome Home." I was in a strange land, with strange foods, strange language and strange customs but because of this little piece of metal on my door, I felt like I was home.

Until Everyone Hears,

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Next Holy Trip

From Holy Land

In mid February of this year, I gathered in the airport with 20 or so clergy and a few of their spouses to set out on a journey of Biblical proportion. Okay - maybe it was more like a journey about Biblical things but still it was a great journey.

I was on a trip to the Holy Land with the other clergy I was ordained with back in June 2010. We all knew that we'd be offered the chance to take this trip at a reduced price and had heard from so many others that it was something we just shouldn't pass up. I'm always up for a good clergy field trip. So whether its to Selma, Alabama or the Varsity in Atl, I'm good to go. And the Holy Land? Count me in!

As we gathered at the far end of the airport for our night-time flight to Tel-Aviv I was just excited to be excited! Things that I'd only pictured in my head were going to come alive for me in ways I couldn't imagine. I didn't want to miss a minute. So with journal and camera ready, I stood and waited. It takes a long time to get to the Holy Land. For me it took 12 years and 5 months (but that's another story).

While we were waiting, the talk among us was about what we couldn't wait to see, what our family wanted us to bring back, and what we had heard other people say about the trip. One of the main things that others said is that you can't take it all in the first time. You have to go back a second time in order to really understand what you saw.

WHAT???? I've waited a lifetime for this once in a lifetime trip and I've got to do it twice??

At first that was a little disappointing. I wanted to take it all in and now I'm told I can't. It's too great a task. Don't. Even. Bother.

Well you know me - I didn't let that stop me. I took it all in. I walked where Jesus walked. I learned a few things that I didn't expect to learn. And now I'm ready to blog about it.

My next 40 posts will be all about my trip. Instead of documenting each place I went, I picked 40 of my best photos and will tell you the stories that go along with each. The journey is definitely a visual and tactile one so I thought this approach would work best. As much as I like to write, I just don't think I can do justice to some of the things I saw without the picture to go along with it. Even then you do have to go to experience, but if you do follow my one piece of advice:

"Don't plan your next journey before you start the first one." That's pretty good advice for anything and it really helped me focus on the moments I'll tell you about.

Enjoy your current journey - Until Everyone Hears,

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