Pink Floyd, Peter Paul & Mary, I’m Leaving on A Jet Plane
Okay, I admit it publicly…at almost 50 years old. It was the mid-1980’s when I was in high school, a Myers Park Mustang. My dad and step-mom travelled quite often. My two buddies, Scott and Mike, and I would raid my dad’s bar mainly for his Crown Royal. Dad was a Crown & Coke man in those days … ugh … as they said in the 80’s “gag me with a spoon!” What were we thinking? We’d hunker down with that bottle and Scott’s VHS tape movie of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I had a copy, but my sister, Robyn, stole it. She’s reading this and should still feel guilty, right sis? This scene repeated over and over I cannot tell you how many times. It was fun times; just a “another brick in the wall” of our High School experience.
We’ve seen a lot of walls over here and heard a lot about walls in the news lately.
Here’s the Western Wall. For my sons’ pediatrician and scouting comrade, Jon Kocmond, we placed this note of prayer he brought to us in memory of their teenage son, Nathan. Pilgrims and people offering prayer alike pray at The Wailing Wall leave notes, slips of paper and more in the cracks and crevices. Each year at Yom Kippur workers clear these prayer tokens and bury them on Mount Zion. According to Jewish tradition Zion is where our Jewish brothers believe a messiah will return. Jon, Sarah and family: Thaedra and I wish rest for Nathan and continued prayers for your family as you move forward always remembering the incredibly rich dimension Nathan added to everyone who knew him. I’m bringing you this olive cross. It has been with me to every Holy site we’ve visited since our Monday arrival in Jerusalem.
There is a massively extensive separation wall between Palestine and Israel and the wall separating the West Bank from Israel. These walls serve an important purpose. It is absolute fact that since these walls have been constructed terrorist car bombings in Jerusalem have decreased by 99%. That’s HUGE! As a tourist, it is also comforting. As an American Christian here to see sites, it is tremendously comforting. Truly, these people would kill one another. As importantly would be the destruction of the Holy sites we have seen this week.
Of course, there are the Old City walls. Built to protect and see this city through the ages, the wall has always been a symbol of division. And even though tourists get excited about seeing it and traversing the City gates, it remains an outer surrounding for a place characterized by conflict and division.
There has been so much talk about walls lately especially the border wall our current administration wants to build. I don’t know if a wall is America’s answer; will it effect the change we desire? That’s neither a rhetorical nor open ended question by the way. There remain, among others, the issues of drug inflow, MS-13, unlicensed immigrant drivers who don’t understand our culture who endanger us everyday-everywhere, and ineffective immigration. Believe me I’ve seen it personally in my career many times.
We’re heading home. If you talk with anyone who has been here, then I think they’ll agree they leave a part of themselves here. It is truth to admit that you bring home part of this place, too. I don’t mean chunks of Dead Sea salt, a piece of Rock from Masada, or an piece of something \from Gethsemane (don’t tell anybody I did that-both times).
The part you bring home is the relationships you build. This trip our group was blessed to spend an evening in Palestine (Bethlehem) with a family in their private home for dinner. They welcomed Bishop Farley and several of us for native meal shared a glimpse of their lives and opened their home and hearts to us (I wrote about them in an earlier blog: Get a Piece of the Rock). Bishop said grace before dinner. Incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever been blessed by a bishop (at least he didn’t bless me out).
To get to know Victor better and glean from his extensive knowledge has been the best. When Brandon, Susi, Mark, Juna and I visited 2 years ago we departed knowing we had a friend who is at the top of his game. To any of my 2016 Red Bus comrades, you cannot imagine how much more awesome he is now. Still melodic in speech, his gentle, genuine desire to share his homeland’s deeply rich cultural and Christian history with us.
As I write these words we are flying directly over the Aegean Sea. Like Peter Paul and Mary sang, I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again. Honestly, I probably never will be. Now that I’ve shared this experience with my beautiful bride and soulmate, I’m good.
I want to share a few sites I haven’t taken the opportunity to share up to this point and to give a few final reflections.
Garden Tomb: Discovered in 1867, it is a place outside of Old City Jerusalem some people claim may have been the actual cruxifiction site, Golgatha, and the site of His burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. I think people are easily convinced this might be the real place simply because it looks like what people expect to see (I personally gravitate toward Holy Sepulcher being the place). Here are a few shots from the Garden Tomb.
Holy Sepulcher: This is the most venerated place on earth. By the time Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christ’s followers and the early Christians had already been meeting here for worship for a few hundred years. The Emperor’s mother, Queen Helena, declared this to be a true site (based on quite a bit of fact: a cruxifiction site called Golgatha located outside the City gates was here. The stone is cracked from seismic activity and descriptions correspond well with historic and scriptural records. People get confused when they see the protective Holy Sepulcher Church presently. It’s difficult to imagine this highly ornate place steeped in tradition having been a killing and burial site.
(This is the Golgatha Stone. You can see a huge crack in it proven to be cause by earthquake. The stone runs stories deep into the earth. The cracks can be seen by visitors stories below this surface shot. The image below is the top area of the stone covered as worship space and is said to be the spot where Jesus died.)
(Place believed to be where the Cross of Christ was erected.)
(The images above and below show the outside of the highly decorated and preserved tomb. Through the wall you can seen the bedrock into which the tomb was originally carved.)
Dead Sea: It is a truly amazing place. Unfortunately, severe drought has caused the level of the Sea to fall approximately 18 feet since the late 1990’s. Israel has a serious water issue.
Masada: One of 7 of King Herod the Great’s desert fortresses. It offers spectacular views. Interestingly, this is where the Zealots occupied after the Roman Rebellion around 70A.D. Scripture and history records that the 900 Zealots had been held under siege here. Once they realized the Romans would capture them…killing the men, raping the women, and selling the children into slavery, the men decided to die was better than living under the conditions that would face them. The evening before the Roman legions stormed Masada every man killed his family. By casting lots the men killed one another until 10 remained. One of the 10 killed the remaining 9 men and then “fell upon his sword.”
Anunciation in Nazareth: This Basilica is constructed over the remains of the Virgin Mary’s childhood home. Historians and archeologists agree with a great deal of certainty that this is the place where she would have been when Gabriel announced to her she would bear a child by virgin birth.
Capernaum: Called the Town of Jesus, it is where he resided in the upper Galilee region for a large part of his ministry. It just so happens that He lived in the home of the Apostle Peter (Stretcher Bearer guys: I cannot wait to share a full and. detailed version of the time we spent here when we meet in May.
I do know this: after two trips to the Holy Land I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically recommend this place as a must. Not necessarily for religious education, but simply to see some of the most incredible sites from the ancient world, to experience a culture unlike ours, and to understand how life works and our place in it a little bit better.
The difference between Jerusalem and other major world cities, for example, is that many are extremely touristy. Israel requires a sense of adventure, stamina, bravery to be where people live on edge and bit of resolve to delve into a region characterized by Islamic & Jewish conflict to discover the roots of our own Anglo-Saxon traditions and cultures. If you are looking for something common, keep looking. And as much as I love a tropical island vacation I’ve yet to find a frozen pina colada with a little paper umbrella here…and I looked!
Here relaxing means learning and living with the fact that world does not revolve around us and how completely insignificant our individual problems are. It is truly a freeing place to be. In one of my first blogs in the 2016 series I said I’d hoped the trip wouldn’t change my life. It did not. This one has not either. Both of them, however, have changed my perspective.
Do you ever just want to go back and feel the security you felt when you where a little kid? I hope you have these memories. You know, when your mom or dad took care of all your problems: stumped toes, lost toys, drove you around with the windows up while smoking Winstons & Virginia Slims….wait….that helped nobody! When you visited your grandparents…they would snuggle up and read a bedtime story to you. Or do you, like I, remember drifting off to sleep as a little kid exhausted after a long, adventurous day without a worry in the world listening to the adults in the other room? I can get back those peaceful moments in my mind’s eye in just a second.
I think this peace is the same peace I have gotten from both of my trips to the Holy Land. Moments of worry free tranquility. And although I’ve uploaded 1000’s of pictures to the cloud and walked tens of thousands of footsteps I am bringing a piece of this place home with me. In the same child like fashion I am grateful for the chance to have left my little part of the world and visited this part. Grateful for family, friends and grateful to know that despite every problem, every messed up thing in this world, it’s like that kid’s song we used to sing reminds us: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
If you’ve watched the news in the last few days, then you know the Middle East, especially Syria, is in turmoil. Keep the people in your prayers. From the Holy City of Jerusalem, big-blog-theory signing off for a while.
Thanks to all of you for the amazing support of this blog, for helping honor to people to whom I’ve dedicated articles, and for walking through this geographical and Biblical time capsule highly dedicated to preserving the past so that we can be well rooted for the future. Big-blog-theory.com and Holylandbucketlistadventure.com (2016) have received more than 1400 hits in recent weeks and the numbers are growing.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem-