Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Time to get on the plane

Today will be mostly a day of waiting. Our group got up early to get in line to go to the temple mount area, so we could see the famous Dome of the Rock mosque

. We waited two hours in line and once we got there were were allowed to stay only about 10 minutes because there had been some breach of security and the guards wanted to clear the area. (Picture of the day).

We are now waiting back at the college for our taxi to come 6 to take us to the airport for our 10.30 pm flight. When we get there we have been told to expect long lines going through checkpoints and custom searches. If all goes well we should be home in about 24 hours.

I know it will take some time to digest all we have seen and experienced. Reflecting over coffee with Laura a few minutes ago, a few things come to mind.

1. A better sense of the geography of Jesus life. Case in point, Golgotha and the empty tomb are only about 100 yard apart.

2. Radical nature of Jesus teaching. He challenged every aspect of his culture and society. He offended everybody while loving them too.

3. The simplicity of Jesus teaching. He used common and accessible images to convey his message. Preachers beware!

4. His society was incredibly violent and conflicted. Just like ours.

5. We like to think of the divine as perfection. Jesus entered fully into the messiness of reality. That is what incarnation is all about.

6. There far more expressions of Christianity than we are aware of in the
States, many are more colorful noisy and expressive than we are. Many face open persecution.

7. The situation in the middle east is much more complex and much more dangerous than we think. Every side has blood on their hands and there is little desire to compromise on anything. Our foreign policy over the years h not helped matters.

I am sure there will be many more insights as time goes on. For now, I am grateful too all of you back home for your prayers and support. It WAS a life changing experience!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Day 14 March 26

It was a long day on the bus.

It was longer for me since I got up at 5 to spend some time at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher by myself before the tourists arrived. It was great walking through the narrow streets as people were just beginning the day, you could even hear the cock crowing. It was also wonderful to be in the church at that hour, apart from some monks chanting, there were only about 10 people in that whole massive building. It was a meditative way to begin the day.

At 8 we were off to Samaria on the bus. We had a long visit with the high priest of the small remaining Samaritan community on top of Mt Gerizim. THey are one of the oldest communities in the world and have the worlds oldest language and book they claim dates back to 3000 BC, but is more likely about 1000bc.

Then down off the mountain and to Sichar and the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. The well is in a beautiful new Greek Orthodox Church presided over by Fr. Justin who designed the church and filled it with many of his own fabulous icons. Laura was in heaven (picture of the day).

The final stop was to visit a Christian community in the town of Zagbedah-St Matthews Anglican church. In spite of the different culture, parish life was much like ours, guided by an energetic young rector. The women of the church served us a traditional regional dish, chicken on top of a round pita bread topped with butter, onions, and sumac. That fortified us for a long tedious ride back to Jerusalem.

After dinner we had an excellent lecture about Islam by a young Palestinian Christian priest who is doing his doctorate at Cambridge.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 13: March 25

It was an emotionally draining day. We began with informal Eucharist in the lecture room of the college. I celebrated and the the six members of my "family"did the rest. There are two priests,one deacon, and two laypeople in our subgroup that keeps track of each other and debriefs at the end of the day.

AFter breakfast we spent nearly 2 hours at the holocaust museum Yad Vashem, a stunning museum but emotionally gut wrenching. We we got back on the bus, no one spoke for a long time. We then visited a rabbi in a settlement on the west bank to get the Jewish perspective on the political situation in Israel then met with a young Arab leader in one of the refugee camps. Not much hope here, both sides seem unwilling to even discuss a compromise, and right now everything is overshadowed by a possible war with Iran, which will effect the entire world should it happen. We had a tour through the camp before stopping in Bethlehem for a quick lunch. (Picture of the day).

In our free time this after Laura and I explored then Jewish Quarter of the city since I was on the hunt for a tallit or prayer shawl. We had some interesting conversations with shop keepers who all seem to be originally from the States.

One of my important insights during this trip was wishing I could have experienced the Holy Land when I was 30 rather than 60. To this end, I have decided to fund some of our most promising just out of seminary clergy so they can have the benefit of this life changing experience. It will not only effect them but also their congregations over their career.


is our last full day. Most of which will be spent in the bus.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Day 11 March 24

We had a much lighter day today. Most of the morning was spent at the Sepulcher and environs. The church was very crowded so the experience want relaxing. One surprise for me is that the both Golgotha and the tomb can be contained under one roof. The best insight from the guide was that we needed to remember that Jesus is not here. " He has gone before you into Galilee.". Interestingly Eastern churches this church is known, not as the Holy Sepulcher

, but as the Church of the Resurrection.

The photo of the day is of the light coming in the central rotunda right over the tomb.

We had the afternoon off. Laura did some shopping while I visited the nearby church of St Stephen. It is on the grounds of a French institute, so I had to ring to get in a d was the only person there. A nice place to meditate on a warm afternoon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 23, 2012

Day 11' March 23

The day began very early as we began the way of the cross at 5.30 AM, just as the city was waking up. It was deeply powerful to retrace Jesus' steps. There were places where we had to contend with early morning dump trucks, but also other more garden like settings. After breakfast we followed Jesus' entry into the city starting with Bethphage, The mount of Olives, Gethsemane, and later in the afternoon, Mt Zion. Out end stop was best: the new church (St Peter Gallicantu )

built over the house of the High Priest where Jesus was first tried and scourged. Underneath is the prison area where he must have been tortured. This was only unearthed in the last century so it does not have all the accumulated building on top of it.

The picture of the day is the remains of the staircase that Jesus was led up after his arrest and when was sent onto Pilate.

On a ore secular note, we had some free time before dinner so Laura and I went out for a drink at the American Colony Hotel, partly to escape the group for a while and partly to experience this great old hotel. Where else can you get a good Martini in Jerusalem?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Jordan river video

Jordan River

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Day 10 March 22, Back to Jerusalem

We left the excellent accommodations at Pilgerhaus at 7.30 in order to get to Mt Tabor before the crowds. When we arrived we had to switch to small shuttles for the hairpin climb to the top. We had a terrific view, and I picked up a small rock from the ruins of the old church to bring back to the Church of the Transfiguration in Mesa,and also one for my newborn third cousin named Tabor.

We made some interesting stops along the way, but the highlight was the spot at the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized. Until a few months ago this was on a closed military base, but it has been opened up and many churches are in the process of putting up new building around the ancient ruins. Even at full flood, the river is only about 15 feet wide and we could talk to the pilgrims just across from us on the Jordanian side.

Picture of the day is us at the Jordan. I will also try to put up some video later.

After some shopping in Jericho,we have now arrived back at the college.

The only downside of the trip is that about 2/3 of the folks are sick with a terrible cough. The bus sounds like the bronchitis ward. So far Laura and I have been

spared this plague.

Tomorrow stations of the cross at 5.30 AM

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day 9: March 21: Galilee and Golan

We began today with the springs at Banyas, an ancient pagan temple site where Cesarea Philipii was built. This polytheistic backdrop was the place where Jesus asked Peter, "Who do you say that I am?". There were hundreds of Jewish school kids there on the first day of spring holiday, not for Christian reasons but to see the ancient temples. This is also the source of the Jordan river.

Then it was high up Mt Hermon to visit a tiny Christian community and have some local apples and fruit, no tourists here! That is the picture of the day. A drive through war ravaged Golan Hight's,

at times within yards of the Syrian border, brought us back to the Sea for lunch. Then to my favorite spot of the day,the area where Jesus healed the Geresene demoniac whose name was Legion. I've discovered that I like the places which have the fewest tourists.

A late afternoon boat ride was great fun, and very meaningful when the captain cut the engine and we floated quietly for a few minutes around the same place that Jesus stilled the storm, although we had nearly perfect weather.

But of all our experiences today, our early morning Eucharist on the lakeside topped the list. During the sermon, a fisherman came along shore casting his nets, just like 2000 years ago.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saw a lot today but a highlight was a boat ride on the sea of Galilee.

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eucharist by the lake

We had Eucharist by the sea of Galilee this morning. Off shore a fisherman was casting his nets within yards of where Jesus called his disciples.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Day 8: March 20. Galilee

We saw so much today, it is hard to keep it all straight. We began with at stop at Cana where our guide helped to put the wedding at Cana in social perspective. Afterwards, I did a short renewal of marriage vows service for anyone who wanted. The it was onto Galilee where we visited a number of sites: The site of the sermon the mount. After visited the church we took ashore hike down the mountain through much new green spring growth and learned to identify "the lilies of the field", and "the wheat and the tares". It was great to get away from the tourist crowds and walk in the same landscape that Jesus did. That is the picture of the day. Later we visited the site of the feeding of the five thousand, and Peter's confession, "feed my sheep", after the resurrection. The day ended with a visit to Capherum, to see the Synagogue where Jesus shocked his listeners, and Peter's house.

The biggest surprise for me was to see how close all these sites were to Jesus's home base, all within a few mile radius. Unlike the settled sites where churches are, this is the same ground Jesus trod without the layers of rubble and buildings on the urban sites.

We are now settled in for two nights at the Pilgerhaus, A very modern hostel right on the Sea of Galilee. Our lodging in Nazareth last night was historic, but we are looking forward to a warm room and a hot shower!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Galilee video

Our guide gives us a sermon on the mount

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, March 19, 2012

On quick picture before signing off

It is late here, but wanted to share with you a picture of my most moving experience so far. Thanks to the connections of our guide, we were able to visit the excavated ruined under a covent in Nazareth which is closed to the public. Here there is the remains of one of 40 or so houses that comprised the village in Jesus time. The sister who guided us, who is an archeologist, reminded us that with such a small village Jesus must have been in this house at sometime as he grew up and spent time with his neighbors. The other great find in this dig was the discovery of a first century tomb, complete with a rolled stone blocking the door. This must have been what Jesus tomb in Jerusalem must have looked like. it was very moving to be deep underground in this spot with no other tourists, just our little group.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Day 7, March 18

I am sitting in the lobby of the pilgrim hostel in Nazareth using my iPhone, the only place I can get wifi. Will put up a picture tomorrow. Great day with visit to Cesarea Maritina, Mt Carmel, and Nazareth. Very appropriate since today is St Joseph's day. Especially mindful of all fathers and my own dad.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Day 6: March 18, Holy Sepulcher

The day tarted out very early and very cold. We left the college about 6 AM for the 15 minute walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in order to beat the crowds. There were already three or four services underway when we

arrived--all at the same time. There was the noise of chanting in different languages, bells ringing, and lots of incense--all in a huge ancient stone structure--chaotic and mysterious all at once. We got a good view of Greek Patriarch who was visiting with a big procession and lots of cameramen.
His vestments were spectacular, especially his jeweled crown.

At the Dean of the College's suggestion, I had with me a stole which I had bought from Palestinian Christians to place on the "Stone of Anointing" where Jesus lay after the cruxificion. This is traditional for priests to do in the Eastern Church.

At 11 AM, I celebrated at St George's Cathedral, and the Dean preached.
There were about 50 people there, and I have not been so cold in church since I was in England. Many in our group, including me, seem to have the sniffles from all our time in the cold.

In the afternoon, we went to Museum of Israel to see their huge model of Jerusalem at the time of HerIt really helped to orient us better.

Tomorrow we leave for 3 days in Galilee, and there many not be any internet connection there, so if you don't have a posting for a few days you will understand why.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Morning worship at Holy Sepulcher

7 am, freezing cold, and unforgettable.

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, March 17, 2012


YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Day 5: March 17

Laura and I decided to join the optional trip to Masada and Qumran today and were glad we did. Masada was very impressive, although I had to get over my fear of cable cars to get to the top. We were there for about 90 minutes and moved by all the history we learned. That is the subject of the picture of the day. We had super weather too, much warmer here than in Jerusalem!

Backtracking on the bus to Qumran (both locations are right along the Dead Sea), we experienced the full fury of Holy Land tourism where hundreds were gathered at the restaurant/gift shop where we were scheduled to have lunch.
Far more seemed interested in buying

bath salts than experiencing the ruins. Still, once we got out in the open and saw the caves where the scrolls were found, it was all worth it.

We ended up our trip with a stop at a Dead Sea beach for those who wanted to float. It has been so cold it never crossed my mind (nor did a bring a suit), but all had a good time and Laura and I experienced a "low point" in our lives at 1200 ft below sea level.

Tomorrow we will be up very early to go to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
so we can experience worship there before the crowds arrive. Then we come back to St George's Cathedral where I am going to celebrate at the 11 AM service.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 16, 2012

Day 4: March 16

Today was much more positive, although the weather was not. It was cold and showery most of the day, but with a few moments of sun.

We started with a visit to the Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem about five miles from Jerusalem, but in a lovely wooded area which reminded us of the pacific northwest. This was the home of John the Baptist, and we eventually visited the site of his birth there. Both churches were rather quiet and simple.
There was a group of German pilgrims singing Christmas carols which made for nice background music. At the church marking the birthplace of John the Baptist, I said special prayers and lit a candle for the folks at the Church of St John Baptist in Glendale.

It was onto Bethlehem, again through the heavily guarded wall and through many abandoned buildings. We stopped at the YMCA on the outskirts of town to visit one of many shepherd's fields, possible settings for the angels visiting the shepherds. This one also included a cave, and I could imagine such a setting for the first Christmas. I hunted around in the field to for a small chunk of rock to bring back to the Church of the Nativity for their new building.

We had lunch at a nice place that catered to tourists, "The Shepherds' Tent", which was a huge tent with comfy pillowed seats--the food was good though.

That fortified us for the trip up the hill to the Church of the Nativity. Even though our guides had timed it right, it was still jammed with tourists. The basilica itself is in bad shape, dark, with rotting timbers and leaking roofs and ill tempered Greek Orthodox monks. We got in line to see the grotto site where Jesus was supposedly born, and in spite of the crowds, it was somehow worth the wait, and that is the picture of the day. There were other places in the building to explore as well, and I especially enjoyed the tomb and cavelike study of St Jerome (the cranky but brilliant translator of Vulgate Bible), which as been recently renovated.

When we left the church we got caught in a violent shower, so when we got back on the bus we were quite wet and tired and were not too up for the trip to the souvenir shop our guide wanted to take us to--run by Palestinian Christians, it is one way of our helping that damaged economy. After a long

wait to get back through the checkpoint, we are now home for dinner and early bed before heading to Masada tomorrow.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

First video

The bells of the Church of the Nativity on a stormy afternoon

YouTube Video

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 3: March 14

It was a rather depressing day, and the very cold and wet weather did not help. It was rainy, foggy, and windy, about 42 degrees. We left fairly early on the bus for Hebron. The first stop was the Oaks at Mamre where Abraham met the three angels (no angels, the oaks are long gone, and the ruins of a 6th century church are filled with trash). After a fortifying coffee--arab style, strong with lots of sugar, it was back on the bus to the Cave of Machpelah, the (supposed) burial site for the patriarchs and matriarchs. This is very holy site for both Jews and Muslims, but it is located in a bombed out slum with, and looks very much like a war zone. Checkpoints and guns everywhere, wielded by soldiers who look about 15 years old. The Jews are only allowed to use 20% of the building, and their side is cramped, noisy, and disorganized. The Muslim side is a rather nice mosque. The women had to cover up with special garment and walk behind the men once we got in, and we all had to take our shoes off, but otherwise were treated nicely.

Although in tradition the cave (far underground, and you never see the cave itself) is supposed to be the gate of paradise, it struck me more as the gateway to hell, with God's people not even able to share a site which should bring out the best of them. God must have infinite patience. I think I would want to sweep the whole mess down into the cave, cover it up and start over!

My cynical attitude was somewhat improved by the next stop at Bethany at the tomb of Lazarus. It has stronger archeological credentials (although we never actually got to the traditional tomb) and it has a kind of garden setting in the midst of the squalor of the surrounding city. I again thought of the comparison with visiting some of the poorer parts of Mexico, with lots of unemployed young men and trash and ruined buildings everywhere.

Our guide gave us a moving meditation about Jesus and his presence with our loved ones who are sick, and we prayed for all the faithful departed in the hope of the resurrection.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 2--March 14

It was a busy day. The morning was spent in some introductory lectures about the history of Jerusalem given by a Palestinian priest and archeologist.
In the afternoon we headed out in a large bus (37 in our group) to make a circuit of the city and view it from several overlooks. It was very windy and cold, so we did not stay outside the bus for long!

Tonight after dinner we were asked to "process" our experience and share what surprised us. Laura was struck by how close all the towns are--Bethany and even Bethlehem are almost suburbs to Jerusalem to our way of thinking. I was struck by how hilly the country is. It must after taken a lot of work just to walk around in the "hill country of Judah."

The most moving moment for me was a stop at the wall that separates the Jewish and Arab sections of town. It reminded me of the wall on our Mexican border. When one of our group ventured too close to the wall, the guards fired a warning shot in the air! I for part of the way, the wall is right next to the Roman road where Jesus would have entered the Holy City. That struck me as very poignant that on his way to glory Jesus "passes through" such symbols of hatred manifested by these stupid walls put up between people who really have so much in common.

Everywhere there is barbed wire, look out towers, and cameras following our every move. It also struck me that the Palestinians are Israel's "mexicans", who are treated badly, and yet do all the hard work.

Tomorrow we are going further out on the bus to Hebron. The weather calls for cold and rain, so it might not be a real pleasant trip. Otherwise we are having a good time, enjoying the company and the good food at the college.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

First day March 13

We arrived at St George's College about 5 PM, and after settling into our dorm style room, joined the community here for Evening Prayer. There are folks from as far away as Australia and Melanesia. We were on our own for supper so walked to a nearby hotel and had a nice dinner--lamb kabobs and seafood pasta. We slept fairly well, considering the time difference.

We made our first foray into the old city this morning. It is about a 10 minute walk from the school. It is a bit like stepping back 1000 years. We made our way through many narrow streets and finally ended up at the Western Wall. Far more people looking at it than praying. Women and men are separated if you want to pray. I placed my hand it an remembered many people here and at home, the most moving experience of the day.

After a rest, I went back to explore some of the Via Dolorosa, while Laura did some shopping in closer to home for a few forgotten items. Since I look so much like a tourist, it is hard just to walk around without getting glommed onto by every shop keeper. I tried to seek out little back streets when possible.

Tonight we have our first dinner as group and many introductions, I am sure!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Monday, March 12, 2012


The first item of business was getting the wifi code. Now we feel In touch with the rest of the world.


We had a great flight thanks to frequent flyer upgrade. The seat even made into a bed! We could not have afforded this on our own

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Test blog from iPad

Chappy wants to help pack!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, March 8, 2012

test video

Here is a test video of some members of St Paul's Sudanese congregation dancing on Sunday morning.

I took it with my iphone, then sent it to YouTube, then mailed it to myself and copied it here. There must be a shorter way to do this, but it is still faster than the old flipcamera to computer to blog route. Let's see if it comes out OK!


Blog reactivated!

Its time to dust off the blog site! Laura and I will be leaving for Israel in a few days, which means that it is time to reactive this blog-site. I don't do much blogging in-between trips since facebook and twitter already take up enough of my time, but using the blog while traveling is the simpliest way to post pictures and videos.

I have been told that the fastest way to diseminate a video is to post it on Youtube, and then link to it from here. Look for some test videos the next few days so I can try to get the hang of this!

We leave this Sunday and arrive in Tel Aviv on Monday!