It’s Time To Check In

Check: still here. Check: still breathing! Check: still a beginner. Still struggling, but who isn’t? I’m okay with that. And I want to share this passage, which, save for the last sentence, I have never really heard before. I may have heard it in passing, but never really listened to it.

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phillipians 4:10-13

I can’t believe that my answer is here, in the Epistles. Of course, it always is, I’m just too stubborn to look all the time. It seems to me there comes a point when we let go of our parents’ lifelines and then all of a sudden are in too deep or not deep enough. Many, many times since I’ve been in Israel (and truth be told before Israel, I guess) I’ve felt like I’m either “too full or too hungry”: not getting enough or getting too, too much. Why can’t I be content somewhere in the middle? Well you can; that’s life.

It seems to me that there are two ways to do things: either to read adventures in books, or to go on adventures with your own two feet. Both ways have their benefits. I sat last weekend in the Golan Heights (and hiked, of course) in a Moshav (a small community). The quiet became my quiet and I felt very much at peace. But I just came back from a trek over volcanic rock, up and down hills and jumping into cool, clean water pools. I don’t know why, but sometimes I think I have to have everything figured out. (Okay, a lot of the time I think this.) I don’t. I can’t. I get so afraid of putting myself outside of my comfort zone. I think of myself as a stuffed shirt, an office box, a pale-bellied fish: an unwarented slave to something,  some demonic force at work against me (of course) that wants to keep me in a box. But life begins outside this box of vanishing complacency. It used to be a world I only read about in books. And still, sometimes my imagination gets the better of me and alters my perception.

Sometimes I think I see illusions–or maybe I’m dehydrated. I always used to dream as a kid, outloud in broad daylight. Really. My life was spent in pretend lands, and sometimes I still think parts of Israel, my time in Israel, is one of those pretend lands in my head that I will write down in between classes in the sixth grade in my black and white composition notebook. Will someone pinch me, please?

The funny thing is, I did just come back from a pretend land. I swam in waterfalls. I walked along the edge of a mountain while overlooking towers of trees that slope and ascend in curvatures unheard of by the artist. I several times had to stop myself and stand and stare and the vast, misty foreground opening itself to me like a warm embrace. How lucky I am. How incredibly, incredibly blessed!! Is life seriously THIS beautiful???!

I used to be a total cynic. I used to read about magical lands and dream myself away from reality instead of opening my bedroom door and extending my toes over the line of complacency. Now I know that that door is the doorway–the portal, to a bigger, better, more beautiful world that I get to live and play in!! It’s like my backyard suddenly became the world. (And hiking is my “kick the can” :))

I still love books. Nikolos Rostov is still my dream guy and I still think I”m part hobbit. But my alter-egoes have to rest on the shelf for a little bit, along with my old diaries and Harry Potter books, I guess, while I go and try and figure out this life. I never believed I’d be here. I never believed I’d be living here, reading and dreaming and inhaling and exhaling sweet Middle-Eastern air. I can’t believe I just wrote that down. (I don’t care if it’s been three months; I’m still in shock.)

It exists! And the cool thing is, somehow, I am existing with it. And I think if I can do that here, assuage my life into the messy, crazy, “balagan” of a culture (really, cultures) that operate here, and somehow take care of myself and prosper a tiny bit in the middle of the desert, in a place completely foreign to me, then I think I can do this pretty much anywhere. That’s a tall order, but who knows?

God bless you all. You mean so much to me. Also, remember to dance!

Jerusalem

I would really love to post all my pictures from Jerusalem, call out some tourist places, and call it a day.
But that wouldn’t be accurate.
Jerusalem is….Jerusalem. It’s always been Jerusalem, and that word still carries so much weight.

Here, here is our challenge: to love all our brothers; even, and especially, those who hate us. Israel is so paradoxical because in the midst  of the “promised land” there is still so much hate. I’ve been here almost a month now (wow) and it’s becoming horribly apparent to me from every angle that I am not enough in myself for the hatred that infiltrates us all and is magnified here in such a small and tense arena. My first real realization of this was Jerusalem–nothing epitomizes this conflict as Jerusalem. There I was, in the holiest of holy lands, where martyrs and saints and kings have walked, and you would think that everyone belonged to a “gang” because that’s really all it felt like–like the Jets and the Sharks ready to shiv each other over control of the corner soda stand. It’s astonishing how like children adults can be. And it’s shameful because we should know better. We should be creating a better world for our children, not training them in the combat.

When walking Friday night to the Western Wall, I saw a religious Jew and Muslim boy and his mother cross paths (about six inches away from each other at most, because the streets are so incredibly narrow..the ancient, cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, that cry out with every step). As naturally as breathing, the boy jumped around and started laughing at the Jewish boy on his way to pray. (Just for the record, the boy’s immitation of dancing was a horribly staunch depiction of men’s Shabbat dancing. It is powerful and majestic…a sight to behold.) The boy’s mother did nothing, but complacently walked on.

I was shocked. Of course this goes both ways, and I am not educated enough to give facts or statistics on such conflicts, but in my lowly opinion  facts and statistics are like crutches to an injured man: he can get around well enough but he cannot walk upright. They demean the issues of humanity and civility down to figures and pieces of paper and ink. And the fact of the matter is that when human life and peace is on the line, facts and statistics are meaningless. For God’s sake, we’re all the same people.

I know that for many who live here and have grown up here–Israelis and Palestinians alike– that such blatant hatred has become a way of life and one must develop thick skin. You really do when you live in a place that people want to wipe off the map. But to me, the fact that this type of perpetual whitewashing–talk of a nation or a country “free of” another group of people–is precisely the problem, not the solution. I thank God that I’m still in shock, because it means that I’m not immune to it.

This country is so beautiful. It’s so rich in ancient history and biblical tradition. It’s a wonderful place to be, but it’s also difficult and very exhausting, from a personal level, too: when I strike up a conversation with someone and I see their eyes immediately dart down to my cross, up, and down and back up again, I can’t help but stop my train of thought and wonder what just happened. Who cares? The fact of the matter is that many people do care quite a lot about another man’s faith. I’ve also gotten this: “Are you Jewish?” “No.” “Then why are you in Israel?” And this: “Are you Jewish?” “No.” “Christian?” “Yes.” “Oh, Jesus.” “…”

What about him?

Maybe if we weren’t all so concerned with names and titles we could realize that we all drink the same water and breathe the same air and that that creates symbiosis among us, whether or not we want it or even like it. As my mom would say, “tough.”

The Fig Tree and The Shuk

Two, almost three weeks now in Be’er Sheva and I feel much older. Soon I will have to do adult things like buy laundry detergent and toothpaste…permanent actions that mean I really am here and I really am staying. When I was planning for this trip, I planned for a lot of extraneous circumstances like two day hikes and outdoor camping trips. That’s all well and good, but I neglected the fact that my life would continue during these months!! The sun rises and sets here just like it does in Memphis and Yardley; the seasons change, the people yell, the cats scratch, politicians argue, beer gets brewed and drunk. You go to pubs, you study, and every Friday night you pray and thank God for all his infinite blessings. The weeks seem so long here, but time somehow moves more quickly. If i were lucky–not that I believe in luck, but if I were in a movie–I’d say I’m living someone else’s life. I look around and think about how I got here and I can’t but smile. And then I know that I really am here. I’m home! These are my pictures on the wall; these are my books; there are my clothes in the closet; there is my homework to be done; there is my tea to be drunk.
I went a few days ago to the Shuk, the daily outdoor market in the “Old City” by the central bust staion. Stalls and stalls overflowing with tomatoes and cucumbers, bursting at the seams with fresh fruit! So many varieites I had never seen before (cactus fruit, guava, passion fruit……). I stuck to what I knew: plums and fresh figs. FRESH FIGS! They’re everywhere here, even in the desert (truth: okay, it was planted a few centuries ago, but we hiked up sand dunes to the Mediteranean and picked fresh figs off the tree :)) I accidentally bought about four pounds of figs at the Shuk because I didn’t have the courage to ask for half a pound (I mean kilo. What?!) But that seems like a serendipitous problem. If I had more kitchenware I would make a fig and cheese tart with the excess, but alas, I’m back to basics in my apartment with gas stovetop and “travel” pot.
I also bought a mountain of pita bread (pronounced pee-tah, not pee-dah…glad I have Israeli friends to call me on my Americanism…), some cheese (I have no idea what kind because I still can’t read the signs…) and some fish–both fresh and smoked salmon.

SMOKED SALMON!!!!
So happy.
The Shuk also features huge sacks of grain (think Biblical times), nuts, dried fruits and spices. Next time I go I’m bringing someone with me to help translate 🙂
I’m so happy here. Happy in a very strange and liberating way. But I know I have so much responsibility ahead of me. My first weekend here, I was asked to think about and meditate on what I want out of my time here, and I wasn’t sure. I’m still not completely sure, but whatever it is, it is slowly coming into focus…
I’ve also been terrible about saying my prayers here. But I still find comfort in words:

“Since we have the same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…for all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound in the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward world is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”

This country is overflowing with paradoxes. Paradoxes, or milk and honey…

"God v. Science"

I received this email today, and it could not have come at a more serendipitous time (though words fail me to describe such an event properly). As I prepare to take my flight halfway across the world, I feel a tremendous source of strength inside of me, knowing that there are forces of Good in this world more ultimate than any thing man can or will ever create.
Please read the whole thing.

Science

“Let me explain the problem science has with religion.”

The atheist professor of philosophy pauses before his class and then asks one of his new students to stand.
‘You’re a Christian, aren’t you, son?’
‘Yes sir,’ the student says.
‘So you believe in God?’
‘Absolutely ‘
‘Is God good?’
‘Sure! God’s good.’
‘Is God all-powerful? Can God do anything?’
‘Yes’
‘Are you good or evil?’
‘The Bible says I’m evil.’
The professor grins knowingly. ‘Aha! The Bible! He considers for a moment. ‘Here’s one for you. Let’s say there’s a sick person over here and you can cure him. You can do it.. Would you help him? Would you try?’
‘Yes sir, I would.’
‘So you’re good…!’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’
‘But why not say that? You’d help a sick and maimed person if you could. Most of us would if we could. But God doesn’t.’
The student does not answer, so the professor continues. ‘He doesn’t, does he? My brother was a Christian who died of cancer, even though he prayed to Jesus to heal him. How is this Jesus good? Can you answer that one?’
The student remains silent. ‘No, you can’t, can you?’ the professor says. He takes a sip of water from a glass on his desk to give the student time to relax. ‘Let’s start again, young fella. Is God good?’
‘Er..yes,’ the student says.
‘Is Satan good?’
The student doesn’t hesitate on this one.. ‘No.’
‘Then where does Satan come from?’
The student falters. ‘From God’
‘That’s right. God made Satan, didn’t he? Tell me, son. Is there evil in this world?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Evil’s everywhere, isn’t it? And God did make everything, correct?’
‘Yes’
‘So who created evil?’ The professor continued, ‘If God created everything, then God created evil, since evil exists, and according to the principle that our works define who we are, then God is evil.’
Again, the student has no answer. ‘Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things, do they exist in this world?’
The student squirms on his feet. ‘Yes.’
‘So who created them ?’
The student does not answer again, so the professor repeats his question. ‘Who created them?’ There is still no answer. Suddenly the lecturer breaks away to pace in front of the classroom. The class is mesmerized. ‘Tell me,’     he continues onto another student. ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ, son?’
The student’s voice betrays him and cracks. ‘Yes, professor, I do.’
The old man stops pacing. ‘Science says you have five senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Have you ever seen Jesus?’
‘No sir. I’ve never seen Him.’
‘Then tell us if you’ve ever heard your Jesus?’
‘No, sir, I have not.’
‘Have you ever felt your Jesus, tasted your Jesus or smelt your Jesus? Have you ever had any sensory perception of Jesus Christ, or God for that matter?’
‘No, sir, I’m afraid I haven’t.’
‘Yet you still believe in him?’
‘Yes’
‘According to the rules of empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your God doesn’t exist… What do you say to that, son?’
‘Nothing,’ the student replies.. ‘I only have my faith.’
‘Yes, faith,’ the professor repeats. ‘And that is the problem science has with God. There is no evidence, only faith.’
The student stands quietly for a moment, before asking a question of His own. ‘Professor, is there such thing as heat? ‘
‘ Yes.
‘And is there such a thing as cold?’
‘Yes, son, there’s cold too.’
‘No sir, there isn’t.’
The professor turns to face the student, obviously interested. The room suddenly becomes very quiet. The student begins to explain. ‘You can have lots of heat, even more heat, super-heat, mega-heat, unlimited heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat, but we don’t have anything called ‘cold’. We can hit down to 458 degrees below zero, which is no heat, but we can’t go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold; otherwise we would be able to go colder than the lowest -458 degrees. Every body or object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy.. Absolute zero (-458 F) is the total absence of heat. You see, sir, cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat.. We cannot measure cold. Heat we can measure in thermal units because heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.’
Silence across the room. A pen drops somewhere in the classroom, sounding like a hammer.
‘What about darkness, professor. Is there such a thing as darkness?’
‘Yes,’ the professor replies without hesitation. ‘What is night if it isn’t darkness?’
‘You’re wrong again, sir. Darkness is not something; it is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light, but if you have no light constantly you have nothing and it’s called darkness, isn’t it? That’s the meaning we use to define the word. In reality, darkness isn’t. If it were, you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn’t you?’
The professor begins to smile at the student in front of him. This will be a good semester. ‘So what point are you making, young man?’
‘Yes, professor. My point is, your philosophical premise is flawed to start with, and so your conclusion must also be flawed.’
The professor’s face cannot hide his surprise this time. ‘Flawed? Can you explain how?’
‘You are working on the premise of duality,’ the student explains.. ‘You argue that there is life and then there’s death; a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can’t even explain a thought.’ ‘It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life, just the absence of it.’ ‘Now tell me, professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?’
‘If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, young man, yes, of course I do.’
‘Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?’
The professor begins to shake his head, still smiling, as he realizes where the argument is going. A very good semester, indeed.
‘Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavor, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you now not a scientist, but a preacher?’
The class is in uproar. The student remains silent until the commotion has subsided. ‘To continue the point you were making earlier to the other student, let me give you an example of what I mean.’ The student looks around the room. ‘Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the professor’s brain?’ The class breaks out into laughter. ‘Is there anyone here who has ever heard the professor’s brain, felt the professor’s brain, touched or smelt the professor’s brain? No one appears to have done so.. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, with all due respect, sir.’ ‘So if science says you have no brain, how can we trust your lectures, sir?’
Now the room is silent. The professor just stares at the student, his face unreadable. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the old man answers. ‘I Guess you’ll have to take them on faith.’
‘Now, you accept that there is faith, and, in fact, faith exists with life,’ the student continues. ‘Now, sir, is there such a thing as evil?’ Now uncertain, the professor responds, ‘Of course, there is. We see it Everyday. It is in the daily example of man’s inhumanity to man. It is in The multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world.. These manifestations are nothing else but evil.’
To this the student replied, ‘Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God.. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart. It’s like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light.

Turns out the student was Albert Einstein.
“Albert Einstein wrote a book titled ‘God vs. Science’ in 1921”

“Something cannot come from nothing, thus something as amazing as our universe is the evidence of an extreme intelligence. He is God.”