Monday, May 25, 2015

Teaching Steps

The sun is bright.

The birds are chirping.

Music is being played for a Bar Mitzvah behind the wall.

I climb the steps and look out over the south portion of the city.  The great wall sits directly behind me.   To my left I can see the white washed hillside of the Jewish Cemetery.  In front of me I can see the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was taken after his arrest.

I sit upon the steps.

These aren't just any steps they are known to be the steps that Jesus sat upon and taught his disciples.  In our faith tradition they are known as the Teaching Steps  I sat there thinking of all the people that might have climbed the steps and entered the city through the gates that I sat under.

Jesus' firmness and yet gentleness as he spoke came streaming through the steps that I was sitting upon.   The life that he was offering was being lifted up for me to come and drink from.

As I sat there this morning I was overwhelmed by all that God has entrusted into my care.  He has asked me to teach His people.  Invited me into a journey that involves being firm and yet gentle, speaking truth seasoned with kindness.  He has invited me into a journey that asked that I not just teach but to have a spirit and willingness to be taught.  To lean into ways that are higher than mine.

Teaching is profound, learning and sitting at the Master's feet is transformative.

Today there is a spirit of thankfulness.

A sense of awe and gladness.

A readiness to return home to the sweet place in which I leave and walk with the people that have been entrusted into my care.
To listen intently to the struggles,
be open to the diversity that makes a community,
to learn from them and with them and to
sit with the Master.

This will be my last entry from the Holy Lands.  I am leaving in the morning and will be traveling all day long.  Thanks for walking alongside me in this journey.



Sunday, May 24, 2015

The struggle is the same

I've been here long enough that relationships are being forged.  

Shop owners nod as I pass by. They acknowledge my presence here.

I wave letting them know that I am passing them and that I know who they are and where they are within the maze of the Old City.

Today I did not venture out of the comforts of the Guesthouse until it was dinner time.  The streets (if you have never been the streets inside the Old City are more like alley ways and not proper streets.  People are often wall to wall in the streets. Often your personal space does not exist as people brush by you when they are passing or stop to shop) were almost empty.  Many of the shops closed within the Christian Quarter to honor the Sabbath.  For others their days were quickly winding down.  I passed the Tamara shop and the nephew of the owner asked if I wanted to stop to have tea.  I really wanted to make sure that the restaurant I wanted to dine at for dinner was still open so I told him that I would be back by.

After dinner I returned to the store, the owner, Moses and I began sharing in conversation. After several minutes of conversation, guards down he shared something very personal about himself.  He told me that his name wasn't Moses but instead it was Mohammad. I asked him why had he told me that his name was Moses.  He shared with me that he was born Muslim and for most tourist it was easier to tell them that his name was Moses in order that they might feel more comfortable in his store and purchase his jewelry.   He said "many tourist will not purchase from a Muslim and Moses allows them to think that we believe in the same God."

I immediately got it.

I knew on some level what he was talking about and why he choses not to reveal his name to others. I have the same thing when it comes to the question, "what do you do for a living?"  There are a variety of situations in which I want to crawl under a rock.  I want to change the subject.  I want to find another way of telling people what I do. Many of you have heard me say this before. I don't want the Rev. in front of my name to determine what people think about me.  I don't want it to be the way they determine if they are going to be in conversation with me or not.

This is Mohammad's struggle.  He wants to be known for being Mohammad, not by what he might or might not believe.

Costumers arrived, he went back inside to help.  He ordered three teas (they have learned by now that I like my tea with mint and sugar; again I have shared conversation with them several times this week) and his nephew and I picked up our conversation.

We spoke of the expression of hospitality and the importance of tea.  The tea isn't to make you purchase anything but is a way of saying you are welcome into this family while you are with us.  I love that. It's very satisfying to experience this sense of acceptance.

As the customers purchased their wares and Mohammad returned to our conversation he shared one last thing with me.  He confessed that he wasn't a practicing Muslim.  He said very quietly "I'm really an atheistic".  He talked about expressing that belief could do harm not just to his business but to his family.  He said this almost in a whisper "In this country, having no religion is not accepted."  His children are living abroad so they will be the last generation of his family to be here in the Holy Lands.

We are all longing to belong.

Longing to belong is one of my foundational beliefs.  Every single one of us is longing to belong, to just be ourselves.

Mohammad's struggle isn't any different than me telling others I'm a clergy person within the UMC and not being accepted because I am female.

Our countries are different but our struggles are the same.  We are all longing to belong...longing to be who we are.

Fortress

There are moments in our lives that are pivotal.

There are moments when our very foundation seems to shake and feel on the verge of crumbling.

There are moments in our lives when it feels as though the very things that provided security leave us exposed and vulnerable.

These are the moments when we begin to wonder if the all-powerful, all mighty God that we have heard so much about and believed in will stand with and for us.  We wonder if the God that has confirmed our baptism is present and watching over us or has left us to fall to our enemy.

Yesterday I spent time walking along the rampart of the city.  The view was stunning, I could see the villages in every direction rising out of the desert.  I saw a sneak peak into the everyday lives of those who live here in the city, as their outdoor patios were filled with simple chairs and always a long table that was an invitation to sit and become part of the family.

It was during this walk that I began to hear God whisper these phrases over and over.
I am your fortress
I am your strong-tower
I am your watch tower
I am your rock.

These words  that are so often used within the Christian lingo are so often empty and fail to convey the essence of our God.  They leave us hanging and failing to grasp the fullness of God.

Yet standing atop the fortress there was a presence.

I could imagine the years of a city under siege, always trying to defend itself from the enemies that stalked them, trying to find a spot in which they could penetrate and over those within the walls.  I could imagine the fear of the unknown.  Always over my shoulder was a watch-tower, a spot in which it was someone's job to watch over the city.  To ring the bell in the plight of incoming danger. To rise them out of their slumber and into action.

We do not live in a place where fortresses or watch-towers are present {yes there is the watch tower on Firetower Rd but we do not see it on a daily basis and only understand it as a way to watch for fire}. While we might not live in a place where those physical reminders surround us we have stood in the waters of baptism and accepted God's reign in our lives.

Through the waters of baptism and the fire of the spirit we step into a relationship with a God who loves us so much that when the hard questions of life come rising forth He is going to surround us in a fortress of protection.  The protection may not always be what we had hoped and longed for but it is a fortress of security. There is a security that He is never going to let us go, that when our choices leave us broken he is going to fill in the cracks and safe guard us.

When the pivotal moments of distress and question rise; when the world is pressing in on us and wants to crush us God rises and says I am the one building a wall around you. When the crumbling of our souls begin and the devastation of our situations are stripping us of our steadiness, God looks out for us.  He is our watch-tower, the very one that seeks to warn us when we are about to make decisions that will lead us astray.

God does not want me to suffer, he does not want me to become crushed by the world or situation.

God wants to rise and be my fortress, to see inside the very heart of my being those intimate places that not everyone is privy to experience.  God seeks to walk above my every moment so that he might offer a sense of security that he isn't going to leave me exposed.

You are my fortress....you are my watch-tower...you are my holy of holies.




Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hopes for the future

Tonight's blog isn't really thing life shattering or spiritually profound, it's just something that has been on my mind and heart all day.

There is something powerful when you have a life partner that allows you to do the things you love and fill your soul.  I am so thankful that Luke Diamond always....always lets me 'run away' when I need it most.  He never discourages my crazy sabbath ideas (even when they leave you stranded on your anniversary with your mother-n-law in a beautiful city).  He knows that I need time away. He knows that I am a better wife, mother, pastor, friend and self when I have time to sit and be, travel at my own pace in places that fill my being.

This trip has been one that people questioned from the beginning.  People would say to me, really, you're going alone?  Many have wondered why I would come to the Holy Lands alone.  Some have asked if I was scared to be doing it alone.  Several have commented that they would never take a trip like this alone because of fear.  In the midst of the each of these quiet worries, concern and fear I would respond with a confident yes, I am going alone.  Then as to justify my traveling alone I would add 'I have a friend who is from there and I am meeting another friend from Britain who is now teaching there'.

There have been moments when late at night as the mind wanders around in the crevasses of the darkness my fear would slip in.  I wondered if I should be making the trip.  My mind would play tricks on my and conjure up strange situations that I might find myself in.  Then in the break of dawn and the light of day those fears would slide away.  They would dissipate into thin air, leaving my heart and mind clear of the purpose of coming.  I wanted to walk the streets of Jerusalem alone.  I wanted to be in this land that I love so much and gain a deeper understanding of the people that reside here today and how that might have been the same with those living in the time of Jesus.  I wanted to sit in the places without having to look at a clock. I wanted to ask the questions that I wanted to ask of Jesus.

Today I navigated the tram system (which is so user friendly and so very nice) and made my way to the Machane Yehuda Market.  The market is one of the local markets.  It is filled with striking colors and fragrances from every fresh fruit you can imagine.
Deep, dark red cherries
Plump, fuzzy peaches
Perfectly round watermelons
Small, pale green cucumbers

Then there's the dried fruit
White strips of coconut
Orange mango
Red strawberries
Tiny squares of different varieties of dried fruit mixed together

There were olives from light green to think dark green almost black.

Bread
Golden, round loaves of bread
Warm pita bread
Delicate pastries filled with chocolate or fruit and topped with powered sugar
Savory breads filled with melted cheese inside


Spices.....more spices that I could ever imagine.

It was literally wall to wall people (it's a Jewish Holiday this weekend and everyone had their hand written list gathering all the supplies needed for the celebration).  Every ounce of space within the market was filled with people whom spoke a language that I did not know.  Their skin tone a bit creamier than mine.  Unlike the Old City where all things are in three languages, this market is local so there aren't any signs written in English, only a few street signs. As I walked the market I had a local guide map in my hand and I quickly had to assimilate the letters (remembering to look from right to left not left to right) to understand the correlations between the information in my guide and the stalls themselves {for the first time in my life I really, really wanted to know Hebrew and wished that I had been made to take it in seminary, but I was making it}.  I loved every fragrant, every color, every tasting that I had in the market today.  

On the way home today I had thought of Emma.

Yes in the midst of all of this I thought of Emma.

I began to think about all the people who had tried to discourage me from coming on this trip. I thought about all the back handed comments about the type of people who live here.  I thought about the ways that I had to ask for assistance today and I began praying that somewhere in the midst of being entrusted with this role of being a mom that Emma could see that I was leading a life in which God has designed and called me to participate in. The I was giving her the example that she didn't have to let fear overtake her in difficult situations. Today I was praying that as a mom, I'm giving my sweet daughter the example of a woman of faith that isn't afraid to push the world away and do something bold in her own faith.

It's not really about me but I thought, I sure hope Emma sees her mom as someone willing to take chances and live a life of adventure. I want her to grow into a woman of God who isn't afraid to go against the flow to follow who God is designing her to be.

Today wasn't a pivotal spiritual day but it was a day of wanting to follow Jesus in such a way that it impacts who my daughter so that believes she can be all that she wants to be.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Center...Heartbeat

If you are reading  my blog you know my now that yesterday I did a lot of walking and I do mean a lot!

I loved every single conversation that I had yesterday. They were enriching and life giving.  Every single one of them reminded me that we are not alone in our journey of faith, we are all longing to belong and be connected to someone and something greater than ourselves.

Confession:  I  was so frustrated because I when I left the Mount of Olives and walked back toward the Dung Gate I knew that I wanted to pass it to enter this Zion Gate but as I made the climb there wasn't anything about the way that seemed familiar. I entered the Zion Gate and began walking to the right.  I knew that the Jewish quarter should be there but it isn't like entering the other gates where the city is full of life and you know exactly where to go. I walked to the right, down and around the corner but I just couldn't get my senses.  I knew the Jewish Quarter should be in that direction yet I could not get my baring.  It felt odd and out of place, so I got out my map, turned and walked  back to the left toward the Jaffa Gate and David's Tower because I knew the way from there.  I would be comfortable from that point on.

I made my way back but I had walked completely out of my way and in the heat that was pounding down upon me.  It exhausted me, left me feeling a bit defeated that I could 't find my way.

The city is a maze and I should not have gotten so discouraged but I was frustrated because how in the world am I suppose to lead a group through the City if I cannot find my way?  How am I suppose to show others to be confident in their journey if I keep getting lost? These were the questions that I was wrestling with late yesterday afternoon.

This morning as I walked it from the Guesthouse where I am staying I easily found my way through the city and into the Jewish Quarter and to the places I wanted to go yesterday.

I'm going to do something that I never do and that is to share my private thoughts directly from my journal....

"Yesterday I en entered the Zion Gate sure that it was where Fr. Frank had taken us to purchase oil and a few other things but when I entered I was frightened...unsure ....not clear which way I needed to turn. So I walked toward that which was familiar  and while it gave me comfort, it was the really long way around.  Today I have slept late and have taken my time walking through the city....finding my way from the 'inside out'...starting from the familiar home of the Austrian Hospice and walking into the core/the heart of the City toward the outer Zion Gate and of course I found my way.  As I climbed the last hill out of the Jewish Quarter and felt the familiar way (the place where the group of school girls greeted a small group of pilgrims on my first trip with Fr. Frank) come upon me.  I rounded the last corner to find that yesterday I was a mere few steps away from the direct route back home.

Holy One, so often I get caught up in the details. I think I know where you are leading but then it all seems so unfamiliar--I am quick to stop and return to that which is more comfortable; a way that I know."

This morning as I wrote those words it dawned on me that when I return to the heart beat of God, when I start from the center of who designed me....
who called me....
who guides me....
who sets the vision and purpose of                                  my life.....
When I return to the center and heartbeat of God I will always find the way.

When I start from outside of God's heartbeat I forget my way.  I am more easily convinced to do things that seem comfortable and more familiar.  When I return to the heart beat of God, the unfamiliar isn't as scary and always leads me to the very place where God intends for me to be.

We make this road by Walking

Brian D McLaren has a book entitled "We Make the Road by Walking".  I have been reading this book off and on for the past several months.

Today was all about walking .

I wish I knew how many miles that I actually walked but in the long run it's not the miles that you cover but what you do while you are walking the road.

When we walk there are people whom we are able to meet and have conversation with that we might not otherwise have the opportunity to see the depth of who they are and the strengths that they extend into the fellowship of life.

This morning I was able to walk through the Western Wall Tunnels.  It's a tour that takes you beneath the modern day Western Wall.

{Short history lesson: our Jewish brothers and sisters Mount Moriah is the holiest place for their faith.  It is on the Foundation Stone that Abraham walked with Isaac, willing to give his only son to Yahweh.  It is believed that this is the spot where the angles were 'walking' /climbing up and down the ladder in Jacob's dream.  This holy of holy place is foundational and at the heart of the First and Second Temple.  After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans the Jewish community began making their way to simply pray at the wall.  They had lost their temple, their gathering place, so they walked to the wall that could get them as close to God as possible. As the temple was rebuilt they simply took the focal point of a bridge and began building what we know as the current Old City}.

I got to literally walk on the stones that were so intricate   laid for the First Temple.  It was breathtaking to realize that thousands of feet had walked upon the stones and that so many men spent their lives making such amazing pieces.  This walking gave me an incredible opportunity to talk with our Tour Guide about her journey as a Jew.  The road was made by walking and it was in the walking that I heard her speak about the reality that she did not grow up in an observant home but moved here from Canada and married.  She shared freshly baked muffins with me, was open about what it was like to learn the 'laws' of her husband's Jewish traditions. She talked about a new movement within a Jewish group form America that wants to take down the barriers at the Wall and for the genders to pray alongside one another. She was candid about the struggles that is causing for those observant Jews here in the City and the many reasons why that would be difficult.  She was extremely gracious and invited me to walk with her to place where the City has made accommodations for this group or any person who wants to have a place to pray among mix genders.

This conversation, this greater insight into the Jewish faith was only made possible because  we made the way by walking toward one another in a spirit of finding the common ground and answering tough questions.

This was just the beginning of my walking today.

I walked through the Zion Gate and down across the Easter Wall of the Old City {for those of you who don't know this is known as East Jerusalem and is part of the West Bank, yes Jerusalem itself is divided into two territories}.  I walked along the top walk way and stood in awe of the Muslim cemetery that laid on either side of me. I looked across the street and there before me was the white wash of Jewish tombs.

I made my way down and over to the Mount of Olives because I wanted to sit at the Church of All Nations and read.  As I sat there one of the employees noticed me and told me that he was concerned for me because I was not wearing a hat (honestly I had just walked off and left it in my room) and it was about 100 degrees (40-41C). Concern for a stranger, care that I was sitting there studying and the shade had turned to sun and I needed to move.

The way was made by walking the city and having conversations.  I had spoken to a shop owner yesterday and today when I was so tired I merely walked into his store to ask if I could have some tea and if I could stand in his store where is was a bit cooler.   Of course he allowed me to stand there, he went to get my tea and offered me the gift of hospitality.  He knew I wasn't going to purchase anything.  I simply need a bit of respite from the days heat the journey that I was on.

The way was made by walking.

The way of getting to know other people's stories.

The offering of hospitality.

The way was made by walking.

I want to walk as a child of God who stops and listens.

I want to walk in the ways of God that are higher than my own.

I want to walk in such a way that invites others into the Spirit and wholeness of Jehovah.

I want to walk as someone who holds out the lantern so that others will see.

I want to make the way by walking.



{this is a side note:  for those of you who have been here to the Holy Lands this is how much walking I did in one day:
I cannot express to you how much walking I did.  If you pull up a map of the Old City Jerusalem find the Muslim quarter and I'm in the Austrian Hospice.  I walked from there, down to the Western Wall for my tour.  From there out the Dung Gate to the left along the eastern most wall, then down and over to the Mount of Olives, then back and up passing the Dung Gate to the Zion Gate (which is uphill the entire way).  Once inside the Zion Gate I walked left toward David's Tower/Jaffa Gate. Jaffa Gate into the core and up and out the Damascus Gate and a bit up to the east (another crazy story) and then back into the Damascus Gate, down the Muslim quarter back through the entire city to the Dung Gate and to the left to the City of David.   Back up and through the Dung Gate to the Muslim quarter for quick change and then back up and through the Damascus Gate to the Legacy Hotel (which is about 10 minutes)....then finally I walked from the Jaffa Gate back through the city to the Muslim quarter to my Guesthouse.}





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

We are all one

Yesterday was a day of making a movement to come and see all that God was offering. It was a day that challenged me to step into a spirit of setting aside my own desires and my will to listen to the paths that was unfolding.

Today began with listening... Listening to the call to prayer that called through the city at 3:30....it moved into listening to the sounds of the early morning trash and delivery trucks that navigate the narrow, dark roads of the Old City......then I listened as the birds made their entrance into the beauty of the day and harkened us to rise from our beds and enter the day with fullness.

 As I sat with my bible this morning and listened to the birds greet one another the passage for the day from the book that I am currently reading laid forth passages in John, Galatians and Colossians. Each of the passages were a reminder that our God is a creative and mighty God.  Our God is a God that calls us his children and covers us with the promise that in him there is no a distinction between Greeks, Jews or slaves.  

The things that make us different from one another are usually the first thing we notice about one another.  I think if we were truthful with ourselves and our journey we would find that seeing differences between one another is a way of protecting ourselves.  It is a barrier that we can hide behind  because we are fearful of the unknown.  We notice and point out differences because our own self worth is at stake,someone else might just  jump over us in this sociology-economic world that unfortunately often pronounces our place within the world.  Differences create barriers and bread isolation.

Today I experienced the willingness to take those differences and see them as unique distinctions that are all working toward the same purpose: love your neighbor and know that we are all one.

I spent the day with a Palestinian   Christian who has forged relationships with  an Israeli who has made their home by living in a settlement (which means that by 'law' they should not be on the land but have taken it away from some a Palestinian) and profiting off of the land by producing some of the finest wine in the land. I watched as wine was freely poured as an offer of  genuine hospitality. I listened as he shared that this is the year of jubilee which means that during this entire year while they are harvesting the grapes and making the wine they will not be making a profit from any of the bottles sold throughout the year.  He spoke passionately about the importance of giving to God.  Palestinian Christian and an Isreali Jew sharing in the cup of forgiveness and rest.

I listened to the history of the Samaritans (a goroup of persons whose lineage is from 10 of the 12 Tribes and who have lived on the land lonager than any other) from a Muslim woman who loves her brothers and sisters and works to protect the 770 that are leftin this world.  With her hijab she sat with pride talking about a people who are near and dear to her heart  in order that her friends would not forgotten in this world. She sat with assurance that while their tenants of faith might seem far apart that they/all of us want to be known, loved and respected. A Muslim sharing the story of her Samartian brothers and sisters.

Then I sat with two Muslim women who live within the West Bank and are making an impact on their community doing some of the very things that we seek to do at Morton Memorial UMC. Women who cannot travel outside their own area are willing to invite others into their kitchen to break bread and share the struggles of life. Two women speaking in a language that I did not know but with a depth  in which I would sense.  We sat on the couch shaing coffee ( mine with plenty of sugar if you have ever had Turkish coffee you know why) and this was all I could think about:

Three women speaking different languages.
Three women with three different skin tones.
Three women from three very different backgrounds and life experiences.
We were not that different, distict yes but not different 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Come and Listen

Getting here isn't easy.

It takes planning.

It takes stepping away.

It may just involve a land of many languages.

And yet we are embraced and empowered to Come and Listen.

David Crowder has a song entitled "Come and Listen". It has this line, that merely beackons us to "come and listen to what he has done....come and listen to what he has done....come and listen to what he has done....come to the waters edge."

The words are ever so slight but oh so powerful because Crowder has this way of gentling bringing you to the edge of these lyrics.  His soft repetitive prose draws us into a space as if the Trinity itself were harkening out name.

This seems like such a simple, easy thing to do but if I were honest I'm not sure how fully I've been able come to listen to all that God has done for me lately. I've been walking through the motions that have left my soul aching and longing for a richness that only one that satisfy.

Come.....
There is movement involved in these four letters strung together.  They evoke a sense of openness and willingness to participate.  There is a calling to be. If I am to come that must mean that there is a power that is inviting me to have all of my senses awakened.  Take a step and walk toward an outstretched world.

Listen......
This one is harder, it requires a purpose and quietness. This word says stop what you are doing, put down your own selfish ambitions and desires to be boldy drenched in a voice that will instill a gentleness and give you ways that are higher than your own.

Sometimes in order for us to come and listen we simply have to make one gesture toward the Holy of Holies.   Today I made a movement to come and as I sit on the porch overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem I am going to be intentional about listeing to the voice of the One who walked these roads before me.

Come and Listen........come and listen.......c o m e  and l i s t e n.....