Blog 9 – 2015 (final)

January 26th, 2015 by

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Blog 9

We had a free morning on our last day in Israel.  Ten of us decided to make our way to the Dung gate and walk up to the Temple Mount.  This is, as Rev. Bryan George noted, the most highly contested piece of real estate in the world.  We felt the tension of this place immediately after we started heading up the ramp to the top.  You have to go through extra security, a metal detector, and any bags have to be searched.  The Israeli army polices the entire area.  You hear chanting from the Western Wall and chanting form Muslims on top of the wall.  The air is just ripe with tension.

While we were there, some Muslim women were shouting “Ala is great.”  Some Orthodox Jews had tried to gain access to the Temple Mount and the police had to separate the two groups.  OurIMG_0478 guide says this happens every day.  These two groups agitate each other continually, like spoiled children.  We saw the group of Muslim women afterwards and they were giving themselves high-fives and fist pumps.  It was so funny.  We could not understand them, but it was like they were saying, “We did it, we did it, it’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!  We did something today Beth. What are you having for supper tonight? See you tomorrow at the same time? Text me if you want to meet earlier.”

With all of its incredible beauty, this contested land is not all that special.  Is a 35 acre piece of land, with no guaranteed water source or fertile soil, worth so much discord and bloodshed?  During the Byzantine or early Christian era, the Temple Mount was nothing more than a refuse pile where the inhabitants of Jerusalem placed their garbage and unwanted items.  It was not until the 691 CE that the Moslems built the Dome of the Rock to commemorate the place where Mohammad ascended.  It just so happens to be the place where Jews believe that Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac and we know its where the various Jewish Temple’s stood.

In so many ways, the entire Middle East situation is so sad.  There are no winners and all losers.  We need to support Israel, but in doing so, we often disregard the Middle Eastern Christian community, which is stuck in the middle.  These Christians need us and need our support.  Mostly they need our prayers…..  The current political situation in Israel is not a good one for this minority community.  It will become even smaller as the Israeli government continues to press them out of their homes and cities.  No one can stay in an area if there is no work.  There can be no work if free access to vital transportation and economic relief cannot be found.  Israel, along with its Muslim and Christian population, needs to build bridges instead of walls.  Walls are not EVER the answer.

We had the opportunity to visit with some local Arab Christians in Bethlehem.  It was delightful, but we realized that their life is very difficult.  They cannot travel from city to city and they have family members that they cannot ever see.  We take our freedom of movement for granted!

Bethlehem sits across a valley from a large “illegal” Jewish settlement.  While the inhabitants of Bethlehem are walled into their city by a wall that is at least 15’ tall, covered with barbed wire and electrified, the Jewish settlement has free access to wherever its inhabitants want to go.  Also, Bethlehem has to sparingly ration its water supply, storing it in containers on their roof.  The settlement inhabitants water their lawns.  Where is the justice?

Jerusalem has never had peace.  The Psalmist writes n Psalm 122, “Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest.      Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” For the sake of my family and friends,  I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”  For the sake of the Lord our God’s house I will pray for your good.”  If Jerusalem would have peace, maybe, just maybe, peace could come to Hartwell, Bowman, Anderson, and maybe even Atlanta.  If all goes well, then peace could come to Ohio, just kidding Ohio friends!

Please stop what you are doing and pray right now for peace.  Pray fervently.  Pray without ceasing.  Pray as if your life depended on it.  Pray as if the world depended on it.  Pray as if nothing depended on it.  Just PRAY. . .

See you on Sunday!

Allen

 

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The wall!

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Gilo Settlement (40,000 people)

 

 


Categories: Miscellaneous

Blog 8 – 2015

January 26th, 2015 by

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On the 20th we ventured into the heart of Jerusalem.  We visited the excavations of the Southern Wall, the teaching steps where Jesus would have walked, the sacred prayer area of the Western Wall, walked part of the Via Dolorosa, and visited the Holy center of Christianity of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  After lunch we visited the Pool of Bethesda and beautifully plain, St Anne’s Church.

One of the highlights of the trip was the chance once again to visit a little known rarely seen chapel in the very deep gut of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  I had made arrangements with our guide months in advance to visit Saint Vartan’s Chapel.  The door to St. Vartan’s Chapel is to the left of the altar of the Chapel of St. Helena.  This chapel was discovered in the early 1970’s while extensive reconstructions, renovations, and archeological excavations were done.   You descend down a narrow staircase where visible are vestiges of the ancient quarry that existed here at the site as early as the 8th BCE.  There are many broken pots and containers from the period as well as a small water cistern that dates from the early 100’s.  It could hold several hundred gallons of water in its day.  Onward down the stairs you take a sharp turn to the right and opening up before you is a hewn out chapel with a natural stone ceiling from the quarry, and human built stone walls, dating to the early period of Hadrian and the Roman re-make of Jerusalem.

On a smooth stone, carefully preserved behind glass, is an image of a ship with a broken mast.   Beneath the ship, which is about 26 inches long and 12 inches high, two Latin words appear – Domine Ivimus. They mean “Lord we shall go” and recalling the words of a favorite pilgrim’s psalm, Psalm 121.

Scholars believe the ship was a Roman vessel and that by its style, as well as the inscription, the carving can be dated to the first or second century C.E. That means that it may have been incised right on the wall of the pagan monument built on this spot by Emperor Hadrian after 135 C.E. before the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was even constructed.   The artist might very well have been a Christian pilgrim who nearly perished in a ship-wreck on the way to the Holy Land, and carved the ship to give thanks for a safe arrival at the sacred destination.

For a few seconds, our pilgrimage coincides with the pilgrimage of an ancient traveler.  We feel his or her presence in the cramped, small space of the small chapel.  We also realize that we cannot take any of our time for granted.  We are under the watchful eye of the Armenian priest in charge of the site.  We have made a small contribution to the ministry of the Armenian church to have this privilege.  I am overcome with emotion as we stand in awe of the advent of time, our greatest enemy and dearest friend.  God has granted us the ability to make the trip, but we know that our time in St. Vartan’s is limited, and our time on earth is limited as well.  The Church of the Holy Sepulture is a sacred space for me.  Not only am I always intrigued by its history, both good and bad, but the idea of pilgrimage is so appealing in that we can connect with so many others that have gone before us.  This simple graffiti reminds us of our mortality.  We will never know the name of the pilgrim, but we can forever relate with his or her message, “Lord, we shall go.”  True life is never standing still; it is always going, yearning, moving, making waves, and honoring the saints and loving the sinners.  We must NEVER be satisfied in our faith but always yearning and striving to be better and serve better and love better and work harder!

Thank you St. Vartan’s!

See you on Sunday!

Allen

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Categories: Miscellaneous

Blog 7 – 2015

January 19th, 2015 by

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Blog 7 – 2015

We toured around the Mount of Olives today as we overlooked the city of Jerusalem, wept over Jerusalem with Jesus in the Dominus Flevit Church, and continued down the Palm Sunday road into the city.  We visited the church of nations over the site where Jesus wept prior to his capture, in the garden of Gethsemane.

We traveled to the Dead Sea, toured where the Esseens lived at Qumran and then went swimming (floating) in the Dead Sea.  After dinner we went to an awesome light show at the Tower of David and wandered back to the hotel in the Old City.  What a day!

I guess what impresses me the most is the kindness and genuine sincerity of the local people of Jerusalem and Palestine.  I know that they must get tired of the tourists, but tourism is also the city’s and country’s livelihood and most profitable industry.

Everyone has been so helpful, if we needed help.  We have talked to Israeli and Palestinian alike and have found nothing but gratitude for being here and a gift of welcome and grace.  There has been no time where we felt threatened or worried about our surroundings.  This land is not like it is portrayed in the American press.  Thank goodness America is not like it is portrayed over here.  We live, in the west, in a much more violent society, frankly.  There is a murder most every day in Atlanta, there are very few in comparison here.  The Christian community needs our prayers here!  They are a super minority and feel that the west, especially the American Christian community has forgotten them.  These wonderful people are not necessarily Israel.  When we support Israel with our prayers, we do not necessarily support them, because most of them are Arab Christians.  Their life is very, very difficult.  When we “stand” with Israel, we often stand against the Christian community here.  I support Israel, but I also believe that we must help our forgotten brothers and sisters here in the Holy Land that we stand with them too.

We need to especially remember kindness and generosity in Hartwell and extend to those visiting out community a hand of friendship lined with grace.  We need to love those that don’t know that you don’t have to slow down when making the right turn at McDonalds.  We need to express kind words of welcome and friendliness to those that take too long to turn right at the intersection of 29 and East Howell.  This is true also with those that are up in their years and are driving in our fair city, no names mentioned!!

Our guide has said over and over, “If not hear, then near.” I say, if not you, then who?

Grace and Peace,

Allen

BTW – You have been prayed over by the group from our church.  We have been praying for everyone in our directory by name; and others in the Hartwell community.  Your name will be placed in the Western Wall tomorrow.  Each and every one of you has been prayed over at least twice.

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Categories: Miscellaneous

Blog 6 – 2015

January 18th, 2015 by

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Today we went to Samaria, which is all in the West Bank.  It is a strikingly beautiful place with rolling hills, deep valleys, and high mountains.  We visited the ancient city of Sebaste, where there are remnants of building projects by Omri and Ahab (bad Israeli kings), Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus, and a beautiful theatre built in the fourth century.   We went to the Biblical city of Sychar that is present day Nablus, where we saw and tasted the water from Jacob’s well.  This is the place where Jesus met and changed the life of one of the first evangelists, the Samarian Woman.

We had a traditional Palestinian lunch in Sebaste that was one of the best meals I have had in a long time.  It was just an incredible day that ended with a Skype to the 10 am service, a great Israeli dinner, and then a Jerusalem metro ride to Ben Yehuda Street where there are street performers, many young people, and a great atmosphere.

Tomorrow we venture up to the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, and we head out of town for a dip in the Dead Sea.  I always find the Dead Sea such an interesting place.  The topography is so beautiful.  From a distance, the water is a beautiful dark blue and it looks like it would be teaming with life.  The shore on the West is small mountainous outcroppings the change into gentle desert sloping down into the water. There are foreboding salt piles and ancient remnants of coral and sediment from a time when the sea there lived and thrived millions of years ago.  These vestiges of past monuments to life are eroding away and being added to the dire saltiness of its water.

On the eastern shore, the white desert and salt sand gives way to the towering mountains of Moab and the Trans Jordan.  The stark diversity of this site gives it an other- worldly appearance to me.  I not only feel that I am far away from Hartwell, GA but even at times Earth itself.  It’s as if we are future travelers visiting a remote planet that thrived in millennia past and is presently wholly and completely dead to any life and vitality.  As you get closer to the water’s shore, you do begin to see foliage and fauna that from a distance looks lifeless.

These plants that do survive around the Dead Sea flourish where few would.  They are hardy plants that get much sunshine and little water.  They are the types of plants that you can only imagine in National Geographic magazines and talked about in scientific specials.

This Dead Sea has always intrigued me.  It is so beautiful and, like the Sea of Galilee, is a Holy Land “real deal.”  In a land where there is constant speculation of precise sites and events, our guide said that most events in the Holy Land’s history are, “If not here, then near,”  it is a place that was here at the time of Jesus and has changed very little over the past two thousand years.  The Dead Sea, or as Jesus would have referred to it as the Salt Sea, is 9.6 times saltier than the world’s oceans.  In early Jewish prose, the Salt Sea is often called the Sea of Death.  The waters are completely and entirely dead and there are no living organisms that can survive in it.

The other day as we went to the traditional baptismal site of Jesus, the Jordan River had overgrown its banks.  It wasn’t flooded, but the water was high due to the amount of rain the area has had.  When Jesus was baptized, he washed the stain of original sin into the living water of the Jordan and it went eventually to the death of the Dead Sea.  His cleansing was done, not for his own sins, but for ours.  What a blessing God has given us in forgiveness.  I hope that we as humans can only learn to give it more freely, rather than to simply receive forgiveness all the time.  May God bless you with the soul cleansing waters of forgiveness.

Grace and Peace,

Allen


Categories: Miscellaneous

Blog 5 – 2015

January 18th, 2015 by

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Blog 5 – 2015

Yesterday we visited the beautiful sites in and around the Sea of Galilee.  We took a peaceful and spiritually uplifting boat ride, visited the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, and the Church of the Primacy of Peter.  On the way back to the hotel, we took a small detour and drove for a mile or two up into the Valley of the Doves.  This was the route that Jesus would have taken from Nazareth to the Galilee region.  To see the high cliff, Cliff of Arbel, riddled with caves and the path that was as difficult to navigate today as it was 2000 years ago.  The sight of this place was breathtaking.

The Cliff of Arbel is where Jewish families hid out during the first Jewish revolt which resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.  Josephus Flavius writes that the Romans made their way up to the caves and flung entire families to their deaths.  Many jumped with their wives and children to avoid capture.  The peaceful nature of this breathtakingly beautiful place was shattered with screams and the flow of innocent blood.  It is recorded that so many Jews were killed by the Romans that one could walk across the Sea of Galilee on the bodies of the dead.  My heart breaks as I know that Jesus would have passed this place and would have known what was to happen here.  How difficult it must have been for him.

After supper, good southern term, we ventured into Tiberius to get some walking in and to see the sights of the town.  We stopped at a place I have stopped many times before to get some of the best Gelato that I have ever had.  While waiting in line, a young man approached our group and asked me if we were from the United States.  We acknowledged that we were and his facial expression just like melted.  He was an American soldier, and he and his friend had been stationed in Egypt and they were taking some R and R in Israel.

We bought these young men, who looked to be 15 years old, some Gelato and spent the next half hour talking to them.  They were so excited to see some “homefolks.”  We learned that Tyler and Jacob had spent Basic Training together at Fort Benning and that they had been in Egypt for six months and had one month to go before heading back to the states.  They were often bored because they could not go far from their base in the Sinai Peninsula.  This was the first time they had come to Israel and had four days to see the country.  They had come from Jerusalem and now were in and around the Galilee region.  Tyler and Jacob were very grateful and I handed them $10 so that they could have something later on us.  We also learned that Jacob had become a father while being stationed there and had not seen his son that was now three months old.  He and his wife had Skyped, but he was looking forward to seeing his baby boy Jonathan in a month.

I hope they felt our genuine gratitude from our group for their service.  My heart was saddened to hear of a father that had not seen his son face to face yet.  Jacob’s eyes just lit up talking about him.

Talking to them, in the back of my mind, I was praying for peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  These young men were on the front line protecting my freedoms, protecting my right to vote and discuss politics and even disagree.  These young men could have easily been my sons.  It hit me that Tyler was probably the age of Drake Schaetzle, who Tracey and I in many way, consider a vital part of our family.  I looked at these gracious and genuine young men and saw the future of our country and was proud of what these two have accomplished and prayed that God may use them in great and powerful ways.

We took down an address for Tyler Rozzi and Jacob Gomez and also information so that we could send some gifts to both of them and to Jacob’s new son Jonathan.  We plan to bless these two young soldiers so that they realize that there are people that pray and care for them, just because we are persons of faith.  What a blessing God gave us in this chance encounter!  The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.  My day was filled with wonder as we saw great things, walked where Jesus walked, and my heart was burdened by a place of great loss of life.  Then, without even being prepared, the Holy One shared the opportunity to bless and turn our inward reflection out towards someone else.  Who are you blessing?  Who has left your presence and said, “I am so glad that I met you.”  How is God using YOU to make someone else’s life better?

Post script – I’ll be glad to share Jacob’s and Tyler’s address with anyone that may want to bless these young men.  Just let me know.

Grace and Peace,

Allen


Categories: Miscellaneous
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