I was really tempted to just say "ditto" after all of Scott's blog entries, but here I am at 4 a.m. typing away. Thank you jet lag.
I've been back just a couple of days and thinking back to my first day in the Holy Land seems like decades ago. Although it was 2013, so I could say it was last year which means I don't remember everything and that would indeed be a fact. I'm not going to name places, dates, or facts, but merely things I felt and things I feel are true. This may be partly because I don't remember all the details, but mainly because I have no idea how to spell half the places we went to visit.
The first week we studied under the Shalom Hartman Institution and I simply can't brag enough about this place and the people we encountered through it. Simply phenomenal. The people that I met that week were so full of passion and had a level of devotion I have never seen in my life. Their faith inspired me and the phrase we coined thanks to Marcie (our director that week) was "holy envy." Our group had the chance to observe people that really lived out their faith with such great intentionality. I have a friend and our goal is to live intentionally and I believe the people we met in Jerusalem are great examples to us. Nothing seemed a burden to them, but a joy and an excitement to follow and live their faith. The greatest example I saw of this was during shabbat, the Hebrew word for sabbath.
People, guess what.
They actually observe the sabbath.
It is insane.
We are talking the city shuts down. When that sun goes down, that city seems to sleep. People feast and enjoy the company of family and friends. They don't use technology. Did you hear me? No tweets, no FB updates, no Instagram photos of the incredible spread of food, no tinkering of lights, adjusting heat or air, etc. I know, it is mind boggling. Did I mention stores are closed? Buses don't go. Streets are even blocked off. For goodness sake, one elevator in our hotel had a "shabbat" setting so it opened, closed, and moved floor-to-floor without the need of pressing buttons. It was a ghost elevator, but it allowed those following Shabbat not to use technology. If you can't use technology, you can't be working on that pitch for your company and your boss can't e-mail you and expect you to answer. WOW.
I envy this. I would love to take a Sabbath like this. I think I could take it if I were alone on an island and my cell phone didn't work. It is the rest of the world that doesn't shut down. The world is what keeps bothering me. I could definitely get used to Shabbat... as long as I had people with me. For those of you that know me, you know I hate being along longer than about one hour, MAX. On shabbat, as Scott mentioned, we had the chance to eat dinner in someone's home. It was wonderful. I truly believe some of the best community is done around a dinner table in one's home. Never forget the power of hospitality; there is more love in opening your home up to people than you'll ever realize. Like that one time I was only going to live with my cousin for 2 1/2 months and it ended up being fourteen months. Whoops, sorry Tricia and Todd. Though I am a better person for the love they extended to me for that season in my life and for the love they continue to pour into me even from miles away.
As the week went on, we visited more sites that had to do specifically with the ministry of Jesus. Most were underwhelming to be honest. We all tried desperately to connect with something and to feel something, but some sites seemed completely disconnected to the time of Jesus. It was hard to look past the crowds at some places and even harder to look past the ornate and overwhelmingly tacky decorations at others. I wish things would have been left alone. I wish there would have been just a rock or just a cave rather than an enormous chandelier that was hundreds of years old and yet had halogen light bulbs. My mind and heart were confused and were searching for some sort of solid ground. Perhaps this is why I loved skipping rocks best at the Sea of Galilee. I felt as if we were able to picture ourselves as disciples alongside Peter, Thomas, John, and the rest of the gang. I imagined them there, skipping stones with Jesus and asking questions about who was the greatest, what it meant to love, and what forgiveness really looks like. This was a holy moment for us all.
I wonder if we could go back in time and show the people that began sending enormous gifts to these sites and show them that we don't need more stuff. We don't need more decoration. We are huge consumers and what we need is more simplicity in our lives. These sites really could have been bare and we would have enjoyed them that much more. The verse that kept coming to mind was when Jesus said, "the Son of Man has no place to lay His head." Jesus didn't have a home or an Ikea or piles of stuff. Why junk up all these places, when buildings and things clearly didn't matter much to Him? I mean, do you think Jesus really wanted a church devoted to the supposed spilled milk of His mother's breast? I kid you not...
HOWEVER, I do understand some of the churches and places built on mountaintops--places such as Mt. Carmel or the Mount of Beatitudes especially. Perhaps people really just wanted to build something to get closer to God, to be able to reach Him a little more. I can't knock people for wanting to be in the presence of God more.
I know this is getting long, but stick with me because I'm nearly done. There were many places I didn't connect with such as the launching pad that apparently Jesus stepped on before He ascended into heaven. Since when is Jesus like Mario and needs a boost? Then again, there was something deeper going on all around. I do believe there was something Holy about the places we visited. It was difficult to see at moments, but it was there.
Do I believe an angel visited Mary in Nazareth to tell her of the baby that would be born? Yep.
Do I believe they took a long journey to Bethlehem and while they sat in that cave with their newborn son that they were overjoyed, scared, and in disbelief? Yep.
Do I believe Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by His crazy cousin? Yep...hope it wasn't that cold then.
Do I believe He walked on water? Yep.
Do I believe He fed thousands? Yep.
Do I believe He walked miles and forgave many? Yep. Healed them? Yep.
Do I believe He wept in a garden? Yep.
Do I believe He was crucified? Yep.
Do I believe He rose from the dead? Yep.
Do I believe He ascended into Heaven? Yep.
Do I believe He will come again? Yep.
Do I believe His love, forgiveness, and salvation are for all people? Without a doubt.
I believe the Gospel to be true. I just can't deny it.
I walked away from this trip knowing that many will never see this place. Many will never take this long journey because well, it is long and it is expensive. However, how can I make this story come to life? How can I make it tangible and real to many? How can I be part of showing them that the ministry of Jesus can be truly transformational? How can I tell others about this love and grace?
This is what I took away from this trip. I probably missed points and didn't say all that I could, but this is what I feel and know to be true for me in the wee hours in the morning.
Thank you to those that prayed for us and helped us along the way. We love you more than you'll ever know.