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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cana and Nazareth

Today was another meaningful day of coming close to the footprints of Jesus. Our first stop was Cana, the location of Christ's first miracle, the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. We visited a church that had been built upon the so-called spot where this event took place. Of course, there's no way of pinpointing the exact spot, but just being in Cana, knowing that Jesus had indeed been here, was pretty special. Archeological digs have unearthed large pots which would've been used for water and wine. While the place looks virtually nothing like it would've when Jesus was attending weddings, it was neat to see the unearthed pottery and imagine life in this little town. Of course, local merchants have capitalized on the biblical narrative and you see Cana Wedding Wine shops all over the little village. One shop was offering a taste of the wine of Cana and the bottles were labeled with touristy clich├ęs. 
I guess everyone's gotta make a buck (or a shekel) somehow!

From Cana we journeyed on down the road to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up with Joseph and Mary. The city is very modern and quite large but the church of the Annunciation dominates the tourist trade. In this little square, digs have uncovered what they believe to be the site of where the Angel Gabriel visited the young Mary to announce that she will indeed bear the Savior, Jesus Christ. The place is a little cave, a common dwelling in those times. The cave itself is interesting, spruced up a bit with modern religious elements but generally speaking, it was still a nice experience to walk in that place and ponder what life must've been like for Mary when the angel visited her. I was pleased with the church itself. The sanctuary was lovely and the walls are dotted with artwork that many countries have donated to the church with a cultural depiction of Mary and the baby Jesus. It was neat to see some ethnic features in each of the pieces. I did not like the one from the U.S. Mary looks angry or evil and the baby Jesus isn't really even present. But the statue outside of the sanctuary depicting the annunciation was really beautiful. Such is art.

In addition to the church of the Annunciation, another spot nearby commemorates Joseph and his little carpentry shop. Again, these points are symbolic rather than exact but these sites do give you a great idea of what life was like when Jesus was running around Nazareth as a young boy. To think that archeologists have uncovered these ancient ruins and thus can give us clues as to what life in Nazareth was like when Jesus was growing up is a real feat unto itself.

In the shadow of both the church of the annunciation and Joseph's chapel, we stopped to share in a time of devotion. The leaders emphasized the ordinary nature of Mary's life and even of Christ's as he grew up in this neighborhood. The point being that Mary made herself available and said yes to her calling, even in the midst of her very ordinary circumstances. That we should be willing to do the same was the calling. It was great.
After lunch some of us ventured into the town of Tiberius. Located on the sea of Galilee, modern day Tiberius was much like any seaside town. Fun to imagine the comings and goings of the folks who lived in the biblical era. I will have a good mental picture to draw upon when I encounter Tiberius in my scripture reading in the future.

It was a very hot day. Some thermometers were measuring 100°F. The air conditioner on the bus broke on the way back to the hotel so it was a real roaster of an afternoon. We cooled off with a dip in the sea of Galilee as the sun began its decent. It was refreshing and clean. Hard to believe that at one point in time, both Jesus and Peter swam in this same body of water. A thrill to experience indeed.

Our evening ended with a bonfire on the beach and some structured sharing time followed by warm conversations around the fire. What a peaceful, joyful, beautiful night it was, on the shores of the Sea of the Galilee.

Tomorrow, we're off to Bethlehem!


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Memorable Day by the Sea of Galilee

Woke up early to a beautiful morning on the shores of the Sea of the Galilee.
The seaside by our kibbitz
After a nice breakfast at our seaside hotel, we boarded a bus to begin an incredible day. Our first stop was the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount. 
The church on the Mount of the Beatitudes
Not only is it a beautiful setting, there are some geographical realities of the region that were fun to learn about and see. We shared a wonderful time of reflection together under the trees and then enjoyed some time wandering around. Not only is the landscape gorgeous, we were also traveling in the footsteps of Jesus. Hard to get my mind around.


From there we went to the Primacy of St. Peter. This site, right on the sea of Galilee, is the historical site of Peter's reconciliation to Jesus after Christ's resurrection. Perhaps you may recall that Jesus was on the beach, preparing breakfast while Peter was out fishing. When Peter recognized Jesus, he jumped out of the boat and ran to him and Jesus commissioned him to "feed his sheep". The church is built over the rock where Jesus and Peter allegedly shared that moment.
The Table of Christ where Jesus offered Peter breakfast post-resurrection
  We took time to stick our feet in the Galilee. The water was warm and I would've loved to have a swim. I found it funny that there were signs forbidding both swimming and grilling. I guess many would like to reenact the historical scene that took place on those shores a couple of thousand years ago! This spot was also near where the feeding of the five thousand might've taken place.

A short bus ride down the road took us to Capernaum, Peter's hometown and a place where Jesus lived for a few years of his ministry. The synagogue, Peter's house, and other residential dwellings have all been uncovered. 
Synagogue in Capernaum
Capernaum is a significant place in the New Testament and I look forward to having these visual images of the place when I encounter it in scripture.Much of the imagery in the teachings of Jesus grow out of a culture that milled flour. 
Peter's house
References to Christ being the bread of life and warnings about being better off throwing yourself into the sea with a millstone around your neck rather than causing harm to others come into clearer focus as you stand in the place where these teachings were originally rendered. 
A flour millstone 
After lunch, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee awaited us. Doug and I had been asked to lead in the sharing of the Lord's supper while in the middle of the lake. It was a special moment as we stood around the elements of bread and wine. Doug shared of some of the stormy times we've had over the past year and recalled the disciples' fear in the very spot where we were now sailing, when Jesus was sleeping through the storm and the disciples were asking, "Lord, do you not care about us at all?" There were times when we felt this. But we were reminded that God can calm the most violent storm, even the ones that rage within us if we will indeed just trust. It was a warm and moving experience to serve communion to our dear colleagues whom we have grown to love so much.

An evening swim at sunset refreshed our souls and body after a beautiful, hot day of touring in this holy land.

The internet coverage is a bit sketchy at times, but I will try to update as much as I can. We are having a great time in this beautiful and incredible place. Sharing it amongst the warmth of our dear colleagues in International ministry is beyond description. Tomorrow...Nazareth and Cana!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Delayed, but Finally Made It!

Oy vey what a trip! it's 4.00 a.m. Monday in Tel Aviv and 6.00 p.m. Sunday in Desert Hot Springs. We finally got to our hotel after numerous delays and a bit of trouble finding our hotel. But we are here and it is already thrilling and we're not with our dear friends yet and we haven't seen anything noteworthy! But the beach is a stone's throw from our hotel and we don't have to "report for duty" until 4.00 tomorrow afternoon. A mere 12 hours from now! I hope we get a little sleep!

It's never good when you arrive at your departure airport to an hour and forty delay right out of the box. Immediately this threw off our trip as we had a connecting flight in Istanbul that we would for sure miss. Luckily we could re-schedule from the onset but it meant not leaving Istanbul until well after we were originally scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv. Such is life. I like Turkey and the Istanbul airport is nice.

The 12 hour flight was one of the very best long haul flights I've been on. Turkish airlines gets major thumbs up and I'm actually not dreading the flight home! Doug and I lucked out as the middle seat in our row of three was empty. I tell ya, every time you are traveling as a pair, book the window and the aisle. No one chooses the middle so if there are extra seats, you get the room! If it gets filled, the one in the middle is always happy to switch with someone. NO ONE LIKES SITTING IN THE MIDDLE SEAT! For Economy class, Turkish Airlines treats you right. Everyone gets a little travel comfort pack with a toothbrush, eye shades, and ear plugs. The service is really nice. They even hand out a menu card before the meal service. And you get to eat with real silverware! Oh, how I'd love to get bumped up on Turkish Air! I bet their business class service is amazing! But they had a lovely drinks service where they served wine, drinks, beer, and fresh juices. I enjoyed cherry juice and some homemade lemonade with mint. Delicious. Inspired me to make that next winter when my lemons are ripe! The cuisine reflected the Turkish kitchen and it was actually pretty good! I watched Jersey Boys, the movie, and konked out until the next service, a nice breakfast platter.

Our flight from Istanbul to Tel Aviv was also delayed, but for an hour on the tarmac. Nothing like sitting on a fully loaded plane in the very back row and just sitting there. We finally took off and it was an uneventful, 2 hour flight. In those 2 hours, Turkish air served drinks and a lovely salad platter that was just delicious. We landed in Tel Aviv around 12.30 a.m. Passport control took 45 minutes. Getting the rental car took another half hour. Driving into Tel Aviv took about a half hour. Finding the hotel took about a half hour! Poor signage combined with utter uncertainty about what we were looking for made for a long night. We had to park the car about a block away. The hotel clerk was very nice. Across the street from the hotel was an all night convenience store. We bought some water and a bottle of beer. The clerk was super nice. He said that he isn't allowed to serve alcohol in bottles in the middle of the night but he would gladly pour the bottle into two glasses and then we could take it away. Just a very nice gesture.

So we are finally in our hotel bed, noshing on potato chips and corn nuts, sipping a not bad Weiss bier! We've asked for a late check-out. They could make no promises. Breakfast goes until 10.00 and the desk clerk said we could show up at 9.45. I hope we can get a few winks before the day continues.
Hard to believe that tomorrow night we'll be on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Another Drop in the Bucket (List)

After many attempts, Doug and I are finally realizing our dream of visiting the Holy Lands! This afternoon our Turkish Airlines flight will lift off from LAX for Tel Aviv! We'll arrive in Tel Aviv via Istanbul around 8.30 p.m. local time Sunday night!
As we've talked about this trip, so many people have said, "But this isn't your first time visiting there, is it"? Uh, yes, it is!
We are very fortunate to be meeting up with the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East for their annual conference. We have been part of this organization for 17 years and we felt like we needed to re-connect with these dear colleagues one last time. The bonus was that the conference is in the Holy Lands!
Our trip will be led by Palestinian Christians and we will connect with people from the Palestinian Bible Society. It will be an excellent experience to hear about the lives of these dear brothers and sisters and to gain a broader perspective on the Palestine/Israel situation. I'm heading into these days with an open mind and an eager heart to learn.
The conference is hitting many of the expected high notes on a trip to the region: Galilee, Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem. It is an understatement to say that it will be such a thrill to walk where Jesus walked and to experience the close proximity to his life on earth.
We are staying on with several others to take a side trip to Jordan. We will get to see Petra and I'm super excited about this chance. Below is a stock photo I found on the internet. Can't wait to have one that I have taken!
All in all, it's going to be rich with sensory experiences. And the joy of sharing it with dear friends and treasured colleagues in International ministry makes it all the more meaningful.
(My cousin and his wife will have Tanner while we're away. He is very excited to be with them!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Books!

I empathized with Eliza Doolittle today when at one point in her journey with Henry Higgins she exclaims, "Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words" except in my case it would have to be "books, books, books, I'm so sick of books".
Before we left Sweden, we did a serious purge of our library. I mean over a 100 books that we gave or donated away. But when the shipment arrived last week, we realized that we still had way too many books. So today we took on the herculean task of doing yet another sort of these volumes. 
Of course, part of what makes it so darn hard to make decisions about books is that they hold a piece of our heart and lives. So even if we may never, ever crack the cover again, just seeing the title brings a wave of emotion. And then, of course, there's always the "oh, I'm interested in that subject and really should read that book". But after not reading it for 15 years, one really has to wonder if one really will ever read that book! But alas, there are children's books and travel books and theological reference books and devotional books and, of course, novels, both favorites and "to be read" that remain forever keepers.
Happy our African animals found a home. Those are keepers for sure!
So after sorting through the various boxes that had remained unpacked, we were able to whittle our collection down so that they fit on the shelves that we have with only a little overflow! We also sorted through a lot of knickknacks and keepsakes and made some hard decisions about what to keep and what to put in the garage sale box. I still have to sort through my desk stuff and set up a filing cabinet. And we also have a load of photos and pictures for which we do not have shelf or wall space so another purge is coming.
I know once we live for awhile without this stuff, as we have now for weeks, we'll likely not miss these things. But parting is such sweet sorrow, that's for sure. And while I do love real books, after today, I'm more and more convinced that my kindle is the way to go when it comes to space, storage and moving.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Traveling Passport

Some of you who have been reading this blog might remember that in the autumn of 2012, my passport went missing. I didn't discover it until late the night before I was to travel to the US and it was quite a traumatic experience then. You can read about it here. I had always assumed that it had been taken out of our home because it never did show up. That or I threw it away in a pile of junk, but since I couldn't stomach that thought, I went with the "someone stole it" line. 
A few weeks back I got a note from our good friends and former colleagues who had moved to Tokyo, Japan in the summer of 2014. Hanna had been going through some of Chris's bags and wouldn't you know it, the passport showed up in one of the pockets of Chris's computer bag. The most we can deduce is the following:
At one time, Doug, Chris and I all had the same computer bags. At some point, I took my passport over to the office to photocopy it and forgot to remove it from the computer bag. At some point in time, Chris picked up my computer bag and I picked up his. Shortly thereafter, Chris switched computer bags and didn't ever fully clean out the old one. So the passport sat in that bag in their closet completely unnoticed. Until, they moved it to Tokyo, Japan! And even then, what caused Hanna to completely go through it again, is a mystery. But it was a wild day when I got a message from Hanna that said, "You'll never believe what I just found in Chris's bag!"
I am kind of overjoyed with this development, even though, this passport has been canceled since that fateful day I needed to get a new one so I could get back to the US. But this passport has great sentimental value. It contains my work and resident permits from Sweden. It records many, many of our wonderful trips with country stamps and entrance visas. It's like a little mini-travel directory of the years May 2005-until it went missing in October in 2012. I noted that this one expired in 2015 so it just saved me the hassle of having to renew it now!
Of course, I'm very thankful that no one did actually steal my passport. And I am so happy that I finally know what happened to it and perhaps more importantly, that I did not throw it away. Thank you, Hanna and Chris for preserving this little piece of my history. Now that my passport has been to Japan, I hope to visit there as well one day!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Joshua Tree at Sunset

We've had the good pleasure of having good friends in town lately. I first met Richard and Susan in Paris in 2000 at the International Pastor and Spouses Conference. They had been called to serve the International Protestant Church in Zurich, Switzerland. Doug had a history with them from Minnesota. Richard's sister was best friends with Doug's sister Debbie. So it was an easy connection. Since then, we've enjoyed time with them in at least 10 different countries. Now, following our lead on living in the desert, they bought a condo in Palm Springs in which their kids live which is great for us as it brings us back together in this desert climate at least once a year!
Since the desert is very new to them and still quite a novelty for us, we are enjoying doing some exploring together. Yesterday evening we decided to pack up a picnic and head out to Joshua Tree National Park, which is about a 40-minute drive from our house.
We chose a beautiful day and the park did not disappoint. It is such a unique and stunning landscape. The Joshua Trees are so interesting and the rock formations almost prehistoric. Some of the scenes looked like Cappadocia, Turkey, one of the places we shared a memorable time together many years ago. 

We all enjoyed wandering around the rocks and trees. Every once in awhile, a cactus showing off its gorgeous bloom would catch our eye. Many geckos scampered about. 
We eventually found our way to a high point that overlooks the Coachella Valley where we would enjoy our picnic supper and wait for the sun to drop behind the mountains.
It was so much fun to picnic! This was our first picnic since leaving Sweden and it brought back all of our good memories of picnic suppers in the archipelago in Stockholm. Food tastes good outside! Many people were gathered in the same spot, but we were the only smart ones with food and drink! Several commented on what a great idea it was.
Soon the sun began to set. The sky was on fire and the contours of the mountains and hills became more visible as the silhouettes began to take shape. 
We laughed. We talked about serious stuff. We pondered our futures. We enjoyed the company of good friends in a special setting. Life is good when surrounded by beauty and beautiful friendships.