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Posts Tagged ‘traveling’

Jerusalem is like no other city that I have ever visited! Not the beauty, not the variety, not the landscape, not even the history—all of the usual things that people talk about when evaluating Vienna or Prague or St. Petersburg or Bangkok, or Beijing—no, perhaps it is the spiritual confrontation and the emotional upheaval on every corner that sets Jerusalem apart.

At the Wailing Wall, people wail! I was prepared for the praying and the rocking and the reading of Torah, but I was not prepared for the wailing! These are not the first Jews who have wept over Jerusalem.

The Tomb of David is one of the most artificial of sacred sites, a site that really no one believes to be anything but a fabricated holy site, and yet there were not just tourists, but worshippers there! No one is fooled, but still some fill a need to believe and worship!

At first we were all a bit disappointed with the Via Dolorosa—the Way of the Cross—supposedly tracing Jesus’ steps from the Place of Judgment in front of Pilate to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. First we were told that any real steps that Jesus might have taken would be about 65 feet below the level of the street upon which we were walking. That’s not so bad.  Then as we walked, we realized that virtually every step was lined with shops of all kinds—not just tourist shops, but all kinds of shops.

Instead of carrying a cross like a few pilgrims were doing or stopping soberly to read the crucifixion story step by step, most people on the Via Dolorosa everyday were trying to make a buck—that is, a shekel! Perhaps it was time to drive the money changers out of the temple!!  BUT . . .

. . . then it occurred to us that even on the very day of crucifixion, this street probably was not so different. The way was lined with shopkeepers who possibly noticed the soldiers marching down the street, followed by some poor guy going to be crucified.  And then they went back to their customers. After all, it was the third person today they were going to crucify!

That the monotony of the mercantile just went right on at the very hour that Jesus walked to the cross just messes with your emotions a little, doesn’t it!

The church of the Holy Sepulcher completely covers the traditional Mount Calvary, Golgotha, and the tomb of Jesus! Nice to visit, but it didn’t move me really because if there is anything true about the place, it is totally covered up by the attempt of Christians to protect it, to give it significance, to magnify—maybe even to proclaim.

I wonder what we are slowly hiding because of our needs to protect, to make significant, to magnify?

Our last stop—at three o’clock on Friday afternoon–in Jerusalem was the Garden Tomb, first suggested as the real site of Jesus’ burial just a little over one hundred years ago. A British organization has created a quiet, beautiful garden to surround this first century tomb. Whether or not this particular site has any greater claim to veracity than the more traditional site, the garden and the garden tomb are much more emotionally satisfying. A wonderfully Christian British lady who had taken her three-week holiday to work at the site gave us not only a wonderful tour but her testimony of faith. To find heartfelt faith, full of joy that “He is not here; he is risen” was a special gift.

And so it is with so many “holy” sites in Israel. Most of them have some rationale for their designation; few of them are anything but slightly educated guesses; but all of them are someone’s attempt to remember the work of God! You don’t have to believe in them or worship in them to be thankful that someone wants to remember and glorify God.

“It’s complicated!” Every Israeli, every Palestinian, every Arab, every Christian we talked with in Israel and Jordan, every one of them at some time in the conversation said the same thing, “It’s complicated!” Whether we were talking about the politics of the region, about faith, or about life in general, their answer was the same, “It’s complicated.”

For the political conflicts, for the social struggles, for the religious division, they are all right! We have been able to find nothing but complication.

Thank God for the simple, uncomplicated truth: He is risen!  Those who believe this truth do not need to wail.

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Today I learned that the Bible was even truer than I thought it was!

We spent two nights in Amman, Jordan among the children of Ben-Ammi, the son of Lot and “the father of the Ammonites of today” (Genesis 19:38). Our friend and sister from Germany Veronika (who often comments on this blog!) but who has lived in Jordan for 17 years had arranged for us to meet with three leaders of a local church in Amman to talk about LST.  Jordan is a country with religious freedom, but just by virtue of being such a small minority, Christians in Amman have to be bold and creative. These men are involved mostly in training Jordanians to plant and lead churches. Perhaps they will invite LST and someday you can come here and join them in their boldness!

Open your Bible to Deuteronomy 34 and read the first eight verses about the death of Moses.  It’s not an unfamiliar passage to me, but visiting Mount Nebo opened my eyes to how true it is. I had read the words “There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan . . . “ and I had always understood it to be either just metaphorically looking over the Jordan and seeing that part of the promised land you can see which would represent the whole land—or sometimes I even considered the possibility that Moses saw everything miraculously with the eyes of God!

Never did I think you could see the whole land from Nebo—but you can!  With the wind whipping around the mountain top, we hung on to the railing that Moses did not have and looked across the Jordan valley. On our left we saw the Dead Sea. On our right we saw the Sea of Galilee. The maps in my Bible never prepared me for that sight!

Everything is downhill toward the Dead Sea! We spent a couple of hours at Petra, the city of the Nabateans built into the red rocky gorges left by ancient winds and waters. After several days of awesome moments with sites of Jesus and Moses, it was a little disconcerting to go into such a pagan past, but our very last stop in Petra was a pagan temple that had been converted into a rock church in later centuries.

We sang Amazing Grace and listened to the words and music reverberate against the stones that had heard and seen so much for centuries. If those stones survive for thousands more years, I pray they will release the words of amazing grace over and over again to those who will hear!

Sherrylee talked us into riding camels back to the entrance of Petra. I know Rebekah rode a camel from her home to meet Isaac for the first time. I hope she was a better rider than we or she probably was in no shape to be very impressive when she dismounted. I’m quite sure that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us!

To cross between Jordan and Israel is no easy feat in today’s world. Joshua needed a small miracle and so do many people today! We paid extra for what they call VIP service at the border—slightly embarrassing, but it certainly eased the waiting in line and the hassle.

Being VIPs gave us a little extra time to add Qumran to our trip, where we looked into the very caves where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered. Sherrylee was the one who pointed out the incongruity of having lunch in the very place where Jesus fasted for forty days.

Before we even caught our breath, our van drove past Jericho and went up to Jerusalem, passing the Inn of the Good Samaritan. I hope we didn’t miss anyone on the side of the road.

We finished this marvelous day in Bethlehem–not a city of peace any more, I’m afraid. We dutifully went to the Church of the Nativity, where hundreds were standing in line to see the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. It’s just a silver star on the floor far below ground level today. Joseph and Mary would not have recognized it. But they wouldn’t have wanted to wait in the long lines to check it out anyway!

Next year—no, tomorrow in Jerusalem! Our last day in Israel and another opportunity to meet with Christians here to see if LST can be of any help.

P.S. I plan to post a few pictures soon! The ones of Sherrylee and me on camels may or may not be included!

 

 

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