May 28

Here we go,
            I cannot believe that our first week is already done! In some ways it feels as though we have been here for much longer than a week, but in other ways, I’m amazed that time is passing us by. Today we had a first exam, and I think I did pretty well, but then again, I am always a bad judge of my performance on tests, at least I know I didn’t fail.
 This evening a group of us went into the old city into the Christian Quarter to Ali Baba’s, a Muslim store owner who is always very kind to JUC students, and has consistently given us great prices. Believe me, I’ve been checking. Side note: I went and got a beautiful keffiyeh from a store owner who originally wanted me to pay 200 shekels! The day before we were in the west bank and there they were sold for only 20 shekels. I told him this and said I would just go back to the West Bank and buy one there. He told me that his was a higher quality, which I scoffed at because they looked and felt the same. He lowered his price to 50, and I said I would pay 25. He said no, so I walked out and said I would just get one for cheaper in the West Bank. I had walked a couple of feet when He came out of his store and said fine, take it for 30. An offer I accepted. He then sullenly asked me if I wanted anything else, to which I happily replied that no I did not. I have to say though that each time I make any purchase through haggling, I always second guess myself and wonder if I could’ve gotten it for even cheaper… oh well, in dollars it was about $7-8. So I’m still happy.

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            Anyways, we have been traveling everywhere! Top of the Mt of Olives, Dominus Flevit, Church of all Nations, Herodium, Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Bible College, Judean Wilderness, Elisha’s spring in Jericho, Oldest tower in the world, and the ruins in Gezer. It has been fascinating, tiring, and so rewarding.
These past few days have been such a blessing. To begin:
            We went to the top of the Mt. of Olives and visited the church Dominus Flevit (the church where Jesus wept over Jerusalem). This was one of the first churches I have walked into on this trip wherein I felt a peaceful spiritual presence. I sat inside the church looking out its front window with a panorama view of Jerusalem. I couldn’t help but connect to what I imagine Christ must have been thinking as he looked out over a place that looks so beautiful, yet carries so much trouble and pain. My heart wept over the injustice that is regularly enacted within and outside of its walls. Not only in Israel, but all over the world. I don’t need to recount for you the atrocities of humanity. Needless to say, I was glad to have taken the time to sit within the church and soak up the atmosphere of its peace.
            Our next stop was the Church of all Nations. This church is placed in what is considered the Garden of Gethsemane. Some people had trouble connecting to this place because of the number of tourists that were there, but my eyes could only stare in awe at the enchanting roof and walls of the church. The golden blue, green, red and purples of the church were enrapturing. There was a motif of olive trees, night, and stars that continually drew my eyes towards its domes. Here is some writing I did in the church while I was there,
            “It is in these havens of rest, when mental guards begin to fall, that thoughts, which were but nascent, are allowed to fully grow. The body being free from the violence life assumes allows the mind to sort the burdens of its soul. And while being changed in discovering the thoughts that weigh it down, begins to see beyond the mess the persistent light of hope. I want to stay in the midst of this calm, a calm that is withdrawn from self-aggradizement. This calm infused with a holy and soothing light. I can only imagine what the stars of Jerusalem must have looked like in the night sky. They must have been stunning rising above the temple.”
            I don’t know how to explain how good it was to not feel overwhelmed by toursity glitz and just rest in the peaceful environs of a church.

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        We visited the Herodium which was an atrocity of a place back in the day. Basically Herod Antipas saw two mountains next to one another and he ordered the top of one to be taken off and put on the other so that his mountain would be the tallest to put his summer palace on. Then (mind you folks, we are in the middle of a desert) this guy decided to build a pool, Roman sauna’s, and he has some of the biggest cisterns I have ever seen! All in the middle of a desert where people are desperate for water. All to say, he was a major jerk. I would not have liked him at all (or at least I hope not…). But, a friend of mine did put things into their proper context for me when he said that things like this are a reflection of some of the excesses you can see in the U.S. And the disunity within the church (such as the Holy Sepulcher) can even be seen in the four churches that are within four blocks of one another that never corroborate or work with one another to further the kingdom of God. Disunity of the church is not just in Jerusalem, it is all over the world, it is in the U.S., it is in Indiana, it is in Chicago.
            From the Herodium we went to Bethlehem. In Bethlehem we visited the Church of the Nativity. I have to say, that this church was much more of a culture shock for me. So many people were so desperate to kiss and touch a stone star that supposedly marked the place where Christ was born that I felt myself feeling callous toward the place. Again, got some lovely photos, but couldn’t find connection with it.

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            Since Bethlehem is located within the West Bank we had to go through an Israeli check-point where we didn’t even get stopped (going in or out) because we are Americans and in a huge tour bus. It was so good to get out of Israel and see some of the protest signs that Palestinians had put up concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also visited Bethlehem Bible College, where we given about a two hour lecture by a professor there named Munther who gave an excellent talk on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both its history and its theological implications from a Palestinian perspective. It was cathartic for me to have him give a thorough outline to our entire group concerning an issue that had been a constant companion of heaviness to me as we have traveled around Israel. It is easy as a tourist to not even know there is severe injustice happening in Israel-Palestine, but being able to hear people talk about it in our group over the past few days in casual conversation has been beautiful.
            The Judean wilderness was stark and almost palpably still excepting a small breeze stirring the shrubs. The hilly plains were numerous and pocked. At the top, I and a few others ventured down the slope nearer to the canyons. From the peak it seemed it would be simple work to get to the valley of the canyons and climb back up the slopes. Turns out my perspective was far from accurate. We descended down a steep slope only to find we were still far from the bottom. Also, looking back up we realized we would have a long climb back up to the path that would bring us to the bus. Again, I tend to think I am rather athletic until these moments come when I climb up this steep rocky slope only to quickly become winded and sweaty. But what an adventure it was!
            After the wilderness we went to Jericho, lovely city, everyone should go. Saw one of the oldest towers, maybe *the* oldest tower, in the world.  And then went to the ruins of Gezer.
We are going next on a three day trip to visit Ashkelon as well as the Dead Sea and so many other places I will make sure to fill you all in on when I get back!