Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Human Constructs

"Human constructs."  That's my new pair of words to think about this week.  It's not a new concept; just a new term for something that I ponder from time to time.  A quick reference check and I find the given example of a human construct is money.  Money, even silver and gold, has no value other than what humans have determined its value to be.  By giving money value it becomes very functional in our society.  Interestingly enough, in today's economy, money or the value of money, isn't even represented by coins or bills.  Today's exchange of value is virtual.  Some may think that there's "real" money of "real" value behind the transactions, but I bet most transactions ever involve gold or silver or other money backings.

However, I have not been thinking about economy or money.  I've been thinking about religion, ceremonies, rites and norms.  Basic to religion is the basic question: Is God a human construct?  Does the frailty of humans require that they create a god to acquire confidence to overcome that frailty?  Do humans need to have a god to explain the unexplainable?

Let's assume there is a god.  There are several monotheistic religions, such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  Well, the believers of these religions may not agree with the doctrine of the other religions, if each believes there is one god and they're not the same god, then there must be three gods (at least) or indeed there is one god but they each have a different understanding of the same god.  This may be a good time to introduce the "human construct" idea.  If god is the one and only and yet each religion defines god differently, then the differences must be "human constructs," or god reveals himself/herself in different ways to the different religions.

Now that we have human constructs in each religion, what are these constructs and how do they affect the religion.  The inequalities of women and men in Islam, such as the dress code, is both cultural after the beginning of Islam as well as before.  The Christians celebrate eucharist at different intervals with similar text based on an event, called the Last Supper, when Jesus said something to the effort that when you eat bread and drink wine, think of me.  Jews have hundreds of rules which probably came about for natural reasons as much as spiritual reasons.

The issue then becomes which human constructs are valuable, effective, meaningful and should be continued and which should be set aside as a hindrance to the essence of the religion and the "best practices" of human behavior.  How can we relate to god, do the will of god and do it without doctrinal baggage?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Last Day in Israel

I apologize to all of you who are watching the news about Paris and wondering if this behavior could expand to Jerusalem or our flight.  Our driver is awesome; he knows what's happening where and sometimes detours if he has heard something about an unsafe area.  More importantly is that we all over the world need to join together with positive thoughts that whose who hate will hate less and that our leaders will use wisdom and compassion to protect us.

Aha, the teacher and guide discovered that we would tolerate a earlier, 7:30AM, get on the bus.  We did this to drive to a crusader's church, that is it was built by the crusaders when they tried to rescue the Holy Land from the Turks and Arabs.  We had reserved the church to conduct a final mass on this trip.  There were exactly 20 chairs in the front row for all 20 of us.  Keriann, Kay and Marvin started the service with a trumpet accompaniment and some singing.  Teacher Luker led us in the eucharist, scripture readings and an hominy during which each of us could talk about our "Emmanus" moment during this trip, a time when our eyes were opened and we saw Jesus or something special.  It was very postivie about what group members were feeling.

The church is possibly near where Jesus walked with the two men on the way to Emmanus and then taught them and broke bread with them.  Dr Luker also pointed out several other sites where this event may have also occurred.

A quick bus ride hanging on the sides of hills that were covered by enough trees for them to call forests.  Amazing for being in Israel.  We ended at Yad Vashem, a museum featuring the holocaust.  The focus seemed to be on the persons who were imprisoned and killed.  If one watched all the videos and read all the explanations it might take days to pass through the museum which zig zagged from rooms on the left to rooms on the right and back again.  We allocated ourselves one hour.

After exiting the museum we viewed several outdoor monuments and the children's museum.  The museum was dark to the point that one had to follow the railing but filled with hundreds of small  points of lights and the names of all one and a half million children who were killed in the holocaust were read in English, German and Hebrew along with their age and country of residence.  Simple but very thought provoking.

Back to the hotel of a lunch of your choice and a free afternoon.  Some chose to walk to the Old City and walk the Via Dolorosa (the route of Jesus's final walk to Gologoth), some went shopping and others napped.  I napped.  The walkers reported taking some "altervative" routes and walked about six miles.  The shoppers shared stories about their wares at the evening meal.

Meals at this the Olive Tree Hotel are buffets with great variety.  I have not seen any milk in the evening or meat in the morning, so I suspect we are working with a Jewish kitchen.  Monday evening was an American style menu, Tuesday Chinese and tonight Italian.  While one can always find something tasty, some of us think if they stayed with a Istaeli menu they'd be better off.

Internet service is very bad to impossible this evening so it's questionable if this will be posted this evening.  As we return to Portland tomorrow, a post will probably be just an acknowledgment that we arrived back safetly.  With the holidays coming soon, it may take some time, but I will try to develop a more extensive website about this trip:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mount of Olives

Thanks to Gail's briefing I think I can brief you on today's events.  Let's start at a church over the tomb where Jesus was buried.  Teacher Monte Luker explained an idea about where Jesus was buried, died and how the churches came to be.  The area of the tomb and Gologoth, where Jesus died, happened in an abandoned guarry.  When quarries were abandoned, tombs were carved into the walls. Also because there was a harder stone in the middle of the quarry, a hill remained there and the Romans used that hill for crucifixions to be in the eye of the public and a warning for such anti-Roman activities.  So this theory is that the crucifixion and tomb are actually quite close.

We saw the tomb after waiting in a long line and crouching down to enter a small entrance.  The slab where Jesus lay was a simple slab but carved smooth out of the stone.   The ornamentation in and around the tomb was extravagant, but well intentioned.  The tomb is literally in the Orthodox Church but there are chapels of the Coptic, Armenia and Roman Catholic churches in the wings or down the hall.

Walking further down the halls, we saw a rock through a glass display window.  It was a part of the base of the hill Gologoth.  Further on was a steep staircase leading to the top of the hill.  In the top of the hill was a permanent hole carved to hold the base of a crucifixion cross.  The hole where the cross of Jesus was set lie under an altar.  One could crawl down and touch the hole if you wished.  Again the ornamentation overwhelmed the simplicity of the hole and the event of the Crucifixion.

More walking and we visited a chapel with a great deal of imagery about the selection of the donkey and where Jesus started his ride into Jerusalem.  It was a brief stop.

The Church of All Nations is adjacent to a cave where Jesus taught his disciples.  The walls of the church and courtyard are covered with the Lord's Prayer in many languages of the world.  By far most of the languages are minor languages and it was difficult to find the English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and the like.

It was all downhill from here and very steep.  We are now on the Mount of Olives which is covered with thousands of above ground tombs.  Most tombs have little scattering of small rocks on them.  Jews place another stone on the tomb with each visit, much like Christians might place flowers on the grave sight.  Jews choose to be buried on the hillside of the Mount of Olives because they will be first to see the coming of the Messiah.

On the road down, a very steep narrow road, a nephew of our bus driver (I hope I heard that correctly) and acquaintance of our teacher since childhood, asked if he could sell some scarves.  He offered them at five for $20 and it was hard not to buy five.  He laid them out on the street and we picked through them.  When our excitement was waning, he went and opened another bag of scarves and put them on the street as well.  He is going to get married in about a week.  Finally we continued down the street.

At the bottom of this walk was the Garden of Gethsemane.  The garden is well manicured and there may be a tree or two there that may be as old as 2000 years, or nearly that old.  Of course, if it is that old it might have been there when Jesus prayed there.  In the nearby church was a rock on which Jesus possibly prayed.  The garden is historic, the rock is traditional.  Whether or not the rock is the same rock, it gives one time to pause and think.

Lunch was buffet, Jewish or at least Middle Eastern for just $10.  What a financial treat.  And now to the museum.  In the first door was an outdoor display of a model fo the city of Jerusalem.  It was a great review of what we had seen, will see and will not see.  We were early for the Tuesday 4:00PM opening of the main part of the museum so we sat with a cup of coffee or tea.  A delightful rest.  Teacher gave us a 30-minute explanation of parts of the museuem related to our tour and then we had 30 minutes to stroll on our own.  It was dark as we left the museum and headed back to the hotel.

Monday, November 16, 2015


We'll see how far we get tonight.  It's after 8:00 in the evening; we boarded the bus in Bethlehem at 8:00 this morning.  The iPhone says we took about 10,000 steps, walked over five miles and climbed 20 flights of stairs.  As we were returning to the hotel from a fabulous light show at the City of David, people in our group were saying things like "It's way after my bedtime," and "I'm ready for bed."  It's been a long day.

"Do you have your passports?"  "We may need our passports today."  These were a couple of the teacher's comments this morning.  We arrived at the Dung Gate to enter the old city of Jerusalem about 8:30 and stood in line for 30-40 minutes to get through security.  They didn't ask for passports but our bags were scanned and we walked through metal detectors.  We climbed an covered ramp to get to the courtyard of the location of the former Jewish temple.  Currently there is a mosque built there.

As we entered, one of the "dress code police" said that one young male in shorts and one young female in shorts needed to cover their knees.  Gail had already given a scarf to the young lady which she fashioned into a nice skirt but it was not long enough.  They were taken aside - we didn't know to where - and returned after a elongated five minutes each with a wrap-around skirt they had to buy.  The father of the young lady was giving her a side-by-side supportive hug when another "appropriate behavior police" approached them and said "I know she's your daughter but you can't touch her here."  Our teacher explained what we were seeing and after a couple stops a "time keeper police" came by and said five minutes, five minutes before we have to leave the courtyard.  The teacher continued talking hoping to give us as much information as possible in the five minutes.  Soon another "time keeper police" came by and pointed to his watch.  We talked as we walked toward the exit and didn't have to be removed by force.

We strolled through some back streets and re-entered the old city at the Western Wall, also called the Wailing Wall.  As we stood in the courtyard looking at the wall we read that the men enter to the left and women to the right.  Curiously enough curious women after they entered their portion of the Wailing Wall peered over the wall that divides them from us.  A good writer could write an entire chapter or even a novel about the sights and behaviors that one saw.  Oh, if everyone could have the fervor for prayer as some of these gentlemen at the wall had.  Wow.  Including loud wailing.

As I entered the area by the Wailing Wall I was asked where I came from.  "Oregon."  "Are you a Jew?"  "No."  "Welcome."  I'm not certain what that was all about but then I noticed that several of our group were wearing the little Jewish hat, a Kipa.  I also noted that I was wearing a hat and others wearing hats also were not wearing a Kipa.  Maybe he was helping me get things right, or maybe I looked like a Jew.

The West Wall is named so because when the wall that enclosed the Temple Mound where the temple stood was destructed, and then later rebuilt, the lower part of this wall is a part of the original wall on the west side.

As we were leaving the Wailing Wall we heard music and came across a group involved in some Jewish ceremony with drums, a clarinet, a saxophone, a trombone and a couple dozen family members/friends dancing in a circle.  As this concluded the family members/friends continued inside and the musicians headed out in the opposite.  We wondered "Were these musicians for hire?"

We learned more from our teacher as we viewed the continuation of the West Wall on the outside.  There was a 3-D movie, more stories, more information, more photographs and many more stairs up and down.  We received an exclusive talk from a modern-day Jew.  He closed his shop and gave us his full attention.  Another excellent representation of another view of religion and the world from Jew.

Then it was uphill and more uphill to an Armenian Tavern for lunch - we actually were given a menu and were allowed to order individually - and some spirited conversation about American politics.  By now we are all skilled geologists, archealogists, historians, theologians, politicians and statespersons.  We have not mastered either the Hebrew or Arabic languages, yet.

Finally, well finally, before dinner, we climbed down into Hezichiah's (sp) Tunnel which is an underground water tunnel for the city of David.  Two of our group chose to walk the tunnel; the rest of us chose the dry but still very narrow upper tunnel.  The bulk of us walked to the mouth of the wet tunnel through a Muslin neighborhood with some care.  The end of the tunnel is the Pool of Shiloam where Jesus restored the sight of a blind man by placing mud on his eyes and telling him to clean it off in the Pool of Shiloam.

After checking into the hotel and an early supper we attended an awesome light show in the City of David which was projected on the walls of the city ruins.  Another wow.  The show depicted the history of Jerusalem from beginning to today.  The reviews from the group were very positive.  Very impressive.

For pictures for this day go to Dave's blog at

Sunday, November 15, 2015


We heard severl times today the references of Bethlehem in the Bible.  Foremost is the birth of Jesus and 14 generations earlier, King David.  So we headed for the cave where Jesus may have been born. Our teacher, Dr. Monte Luker, a professor of Biblical history, says that it is possible and likely that Joseph and Mary actually were at the home of Joseph's family.  Many other relatives were also there creating chaos and crowded conditions in the house, so Mary chose to find privacy for the birth in the adjacent cave where the animals were kept.  After the birth the baby was placed in a manager in the adjacent barn.

The church, actually churches, over the birth cave are Greek Orthodox (their altar is over the cave), Syrian and Armenian (their altars are to the left) and Roman Catholic.  The congregations take turns with worship on Sunday morning, and we were there on Sunday morning, and the cave was closed when we arrived.  So we went worship at the Christmas Lutheran Church and returned for about an hour wait in line to see the actual location  in the cave.  I'm afraid all the ornaments and tapestry made it hard to impossible to envision a cave.  But they all have good intentions and we hope they are correct.  I didn't get a respectable picture so I will include a commerical image.

Worship at the Lutheran church was in Arabic, and some English.  The bulletin was in English and Arabic with English pronunciation.  The hymnal were interesting, at least to me.  Page one is located where we would call the back of the book.  The music was written as we know it but from right to left, but still top to bottom.  Pastor David greeted the congregation and read one of the scriptures.  One of our team estimated that we, 20 in number, represented about one fourth of those attending the service.  The hymns are familiar, the pastor played guitar and there was a great pianist.

After the cave we went to the traditional shepherd's field, where the shepherds who came to see Jesus that first night cared for their flocks.  There was a restaurant there called The Tent,  The service was a modified family style serving.  First were flat bread, salads and several delicious dips for the bread: hummus, a spicy garlic hummus, cucumbers in yogurt and a green one.  All great.  Then they brought the huge trays of chips (French fries) and shikakob (sp?) of several kinds of meats but they served us and filled our plates.  All was good costing us $17.  Lunch is always a surprise both with regard to menu, service style and cost.

Our last adventure of the day was a drive through a Jewish "settlement" with a local resident as our guide.  We stopped by his house and continued to learn his point of view and ask questions.  He has worked for the Israeli government and explained the justification of Jews' desire to live in the West Bank and to have one government, an Israeli government where all and any persons can be citizens.  If his goal was to stimulate conversation, he was successful.  If it was to persuade us, he wasn't all that successful.  With the killings in Paris and Beirut on our minds, the conversations continued intently through the evening meal.  Now we lie down to sleep, asking for peace and hoping for wisdom among our leaders.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday - Sabbath - Shabbat

Hang on.  If I had the energy this could be a long write and then a long read.  Busy, full of many sights and great information, and I think, a bit intense.

Shabbat is the day of rest for Jews.  It's starts at dusk on Friday and goes through Saturday dusk.  During that time there are some specific guidelines that Jews must follow.  One is to not start a fire.  The reason for lighting a fire would be for heat, light or cooking., so when electricity became a part of those processes, the church authorities interpreted that rule as not being able to turn on anything electrical like lights or stove or heat or television.  Or a latte maker.  This really upset one coffee lover this morning.

The first drive of the day took us on a around-about route to Arad so we could experience the Negev Desert.  Truly a desert as one might imagine one in Israel; there was nothing except barren rolling hills with deep eroded ravines and distance mountains, or higher hills.  Tel Arad - remember a tel is a mound with one city built upon the ruins of another - is an outpost built by King David to secure the southern border of his kingdom.  The outpost was quite exclusively military with minimal accomodations.  However, there was a temple which is not a place of worship of God, but the house of God.  Worship was done outside where the animals were slaughtered and sacrificed.  Some of us stepped into the holiest of holy place with no repercussions.  Around the tel was an ancient Canaanite village.

The next stop a bit farther north was Masada.  What was the Alamo to the Mexican-Texas war was Masada to Israelites.  Jewish resistors moved to Masada on top of a high plateau with very steep sides when the Romans were conquering Israel.  After Jerusalem was conquered in 70CE, the Romans moved on Masada.  The resistance had a great defense but over the course of three years the Romans built a earthen ramp to the top and penetrated the walls.  Knowing that they would win the next day, they retreated for the night.  The Jews knowing they would be captured, raped and enslaved the next day took their own lives.  Men killed their wives and children, men killed other men by a group of ten.  The ten drew lots to see who would kill whom and finally who would kill himself at the end.  The Romans only found dead bodies the next morning.  The intensity of the Romans to persist for three years and the Jews who were able to resist for three years is amazing.

At Qumran, just a few minutes farther north, we had lunch - what chaos that was as it was like a fast food cafteria and we didn't know what we were ordering or what we would be paying; it turned out OK,  For the most part it was pocket bread filled with chicken or falafel and French fries.  We saw the caves on the hillsides where the Dead Sea scrolls were first found and also saw the room where the scrolls were written.  These were written by priests who were sort of run out of Jerusalem - they didn't agree with all the priests in authority.  The writings were rewrites of some the Torah and some original thoughts about their beliefs,  From where we stood we could see several of the caves: Caves numbers four and five.

Alas, we arrived at the Jordan River.  The river is the borders between Jordan and Israel and even though they have a friendly relationship the border is quite militarized.  The military allows tourists through to this one point where people come to look, to touch the water, to fully immerge themselves or to be baptisted.  While one can say with great confidence that John the Baptist did do baptisms here, it's not likely that Jesus was baptisted here despite claims by certain groups.

The climb up to our view point at Jericho was challenging.  On top one could see a mountain or high hill where Jesus might have been tempted, according to some.  We saw an excavation of an old tower, claimed to be 10,000 years old - it may have been for defense or religious purposes.  Jericho is the oldest city on earth and the tower is the oldest man-made structure.  Jericho was chosen as a location to live because it is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert.  One of our group plays trumpet in a band or two and he played "Joshua set the battle on Jericho and the walls came tumbling down."  That may appear later in a video.

Five minutes later we foun ourselves in a major gift shop looking at jewelry, sharves, dried fruits, hand blown glass and more.  We bought some goblets because they were beautiful and were made from Hebron glass.  Our hotel is on the outskirts of Bethlehem, run by Palistinian Christian.  We actually had milk and meat in the evening meal - Jews don't eat milk and meat in the same meal - and we might have bacon for breakfast.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Free Day

If you think "Free Day" means that I won't write a post to day, that's not so.  It means that the driver is off for the day and we can hang around the kibbutz.  But there wasn't much "free time" because we had to see the sunrise, get breakfast and prepare to float in the Dead Sea.  Then there was the "float" and mud sponge bath (only some did that), and several showers to clean off the salt and mud.  Lunch came soon after that and the talk over lunch took us within an hour of an afternoon tour of the kibbuta which ran almost until supper.  Supper was filled with stories and laughter so the day was all gone.  Now it's late and I'm thinking that "Free Day" should mean a day free of a blog.

And so it is.

All My Bags are Packed, I'm Ready to Go

All my bags are packed, we're ready to go, to paraphrase John Denver.  We're headed from our northern digs to our southern stay on the Dead Sea.  But first, before the long drive...

Around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee to Beth Saida.  These ruins, yes, there are more ruins that look like other ruins, are called the fisherman's house (Peter) because 2000 years ago these ruins which are a mile or more from the sea was on the sea.  Because this is on the mouth of the Jordan, it's possible that the delta built up and moved the sea southward.  Across the valley is a place where some theorize where Jesus fed the 5000.  Now we getting close to where Jesus might have walked.  It may not be "holy" ground, or at least not any more holy than other ground, but it is exciting to think that one is seeing some of the same sights Jesus saw and maybe even walking where Jesus walked.

Further east at Capernaum was the house called the home of Peter's mother.  And across the street, literally, is the synagogue where Jesus read scripture.  The synagogue we see is from a centruies after Jesus.  The sunagogue Jesus visited can be seen in a lower layer displayed in one corner.  A a novelty on the floor is sratched a child's game we can Mill as a child; nine stones for each of two players of two colors.  The players take turns placing the stones on the intersections and corners.  After all stones are on the board, players can move to another intersection along the lines.  If a player gets three or thier stones in a row, they can remove an opponent's stone which is not safe "three is a row."  The player whose stones are gone first, loses.

The fourth stop was the display of a boat found a couple decades when the Sea of Galilee was very low; the boat from the first century either before or after the birth of Jesus.

The treat of the day and perhaps of the trip was the drive for Samaria also known now as the West Bank because it is the land on the west side of  the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee.  The check points appeared ominous but we passed through easily.  It was said that most drivers don't like to drive through the area of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslins and a few Jewish settlements.  It was much like some of the third world developing countries we have visited whereas the Israeli cities and countryside appears a developed as the United States.  Lunch was in a small shop high on a hill at the end of a windy one lane trail conquered well by our driver.  That meal startes with soup, flatbread and numerous condiments.  Then there was chicken, rice and vegetables.  An American-type soda certainly did taste good.

The rest of the day was the drive to Ein Gedi, a communal kibbutz on the Dead Sea.  After finding our cabins we check out the spa pool filled with Dead Sea water and then up to the evening meal.  We'll explore in the morning when there's light.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

So Much to Learn

So much to see.  So much to learn.  So much to digest.  We'll do what we can.

It was north to Hazor, pronounced with a long "a" and a German "ts" for the "z": "hay-tsor" or "hayt-sor."  We're near the northern point of Israel with Lebanon to the west and Syria to the east but still not visible despite our perch on the top of a tel on the top of a hill.  The ruins are of a Canaanite time which show evidence of destruction from great heat as seen in the cracked foundations.  Since everything seems to be masonry, whay could burn?  Some interior walls were lined with cedar, there was wooden furniture and perhaps the olive oil from the presses spilled and supported the fires.  The Israelites did the destrustion and built the next layer.  A massive open dig well where women would descend and ascend with their jars of water was a spectacular site.

The Jordan River's source is in this area, three mayor springs.  We passed over the first and stopped at the second one where the walk was often over large round bolders with the spring water running beneath and around and as a strong stream on one side.  It was a nature walk, if you will, but ended around a bend with a large wall of smoothly rounded boulders, the ruins of the city of Dan.  After some stories and explanations (so much to see and learn and digest) we looked out over the valley from the ruins of the temple to Lebanon on the left and Mt Hermon on the right.  Headed back down by another route we passed debris and trenches from a recent war, the six-day war of 1967, I think, only to find the ruins of the gate to the city covered in plastic since the portective structure was badly damaged.  Through these gates Abraham and Sarah probably walked.

The third spring that was a source of the Jordan is called the Gates of Hell.  It is thought that this is here Jesus went when he learned of the beheading of John and where he asked the questions about whom the people and they, the disciples thgouth he was.  Peter says "You aree the Christ, Son of the LIving God." or something like that in his native language.

The spring came forth from a deep hole in a cave which today is dry due to shifting o the earth.  Temples and monuments have been built here in ancient times and their ruins are evident including the Temple of Pan. (So much to learn and remember.)

Lunch was at a Druze village with local foods followed by a stop along the road to take picturs of Syria across the valley.  Damascus was just 35 miles to the the east.  The fotification on the Israel side was impressive, but what whate was seen, unseen and told to us.

The final stop of the day before the hotel was a winery when we learned that the winery had vinyards from the northern hills of the Golan Heights where the grapes grew in a cool high country to near the Sea of Galilee where the climate is a bit warmer and the soils of a different flavor.  This variety of grapes allowed the winery to combine flavors and winemaking techniques to create some fine wines.  There was sampling and buying and a final ride to the hotel in the dark

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fish by the Sea of Galilee

What a day!  First Zippori, or Tsippori, or Sepphoris, depending on your preference of spelling or language.  Zippori is a small community across the valley from Nazareth, a community which was growing fast when Jesus was growing up and possibly or probably where Joseph and Jesus worked building houses.  At that time Nazareth was less than 20 extended families and Zippori was booming. Now Zippori is small and Nazareth is tens of thousands.

We, well, some of us, walked down into and through a man-made mostly underground aqueduct which moved water from several springs to the ancient city of Zippori.  I bumped my head during the crawling phase.  Then we wandered through the ruins of Zippori which revealed the Roman, the Byzantine and the Crusaders era.  There was the north-south main street of the Roman city with chariot ruts in the large cobblestones, the fortified tower of the crusaders on the top of the hill and the ruins of the homes of the rich and middle-class Roman citizens.  On the adjacent hill, more rows of Israeli homes were being built amid rows of existing red-roofed Israeli homes.

In Nazareth we spent most of our time stuck in traffic in narrow busy streets.  They, those who dig up old things, have found the remains of a part of the city of Nazareth that existed in the first century, giving us the hope that where we placed our feet, Jesus may have also placed his feet.  I don't find anything holy about these places, but very moving in that my dear friend Jesus lived here and played here.  They, the same diggers, have created a living village with samples of persons picking olives, crushing olives and extracting olive, spinning and weaving wool, working in a woodshop and caring for the sheep.  While nothing is certain, there's enough evidence that one can convince oneself that Jesus was at these same places.

After a few more moments caught in traffic we walked through a church that is built over the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, and therefore Jesus, probably lived.  Again one can cast doubt on such thoughts, but using reason and evidence, a reasonable person could conclude this to be the place.  Several churches have been built here but a wonderful feature of the present church is that it includes ruins of past churches.

On the road again for a short distance and a long time - another hour of heavy traffic - we past through a city named Cana but probably not the same Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, but probably close by.  One store advertised Cana Wedding Wine.  At the end of this jaunt we had lunch, even though it was now 3:30PM, of fish from the Sea of Galilee, also called St Peter's fish - this is probably the same type of fish he caught in his successful fishing business.

Being that's it was already late in the day we quickly headed to Beth Saida on the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee, but it was closed - winter hours and all that.  When one door closes you quickly head back down the road to find an open one, a place called Peter's primacy.  As we stood on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, Pastor David read from the end of the Gospel of John where Jesus appears to the fisherman apostles suggesting they cast their nets on the other side of the boats and after their successful catch, cooked their fish and broke bread with them.  This is also where Jesus asks three times of Peter, "Do you love me?" and when Peter answers in the positive Jesus says "Feed my lambs."  I'm certain that this beach has been redone several times in the last 2000 years, but it could have been where Jesus and Peter stood during that very meaningful exchange.

Back at the hotel, many of us had a light meal just hours after the lunch of fish.  Admittedly I had to turn on my "think positive" and "think of all the great moments today" attitude when the bill for $23 per person was presented.  Breathe deep and move on.  See you tomorrow.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Drive

Elvis, our bus driver, a tall dark handsome friendly young man, gives us great confidence in his driving as he snakes his huge bus up and down through narrow village streets and along the main thoroughfares.  The windows are very ample with essentially a double seat for each of us as the bus holds 40 and we are but 20.  Monte, our teacher, has a microphone which he uses almost all the time we are driving, tellng stories and identifying land marks, as well as quizzing us about whether we know what happens at certain sites.

We have seen the expected olive orchards, wheat fields which are just coming up, fish ponds for raising fish, acres of net-covered trees which we believe may be banana trees.  We haven't focused on questions about farming because we are still dealing with the newness of being there Biblical history was made.  We drove through a huge flat valley with Mt Carmel - actually a range of mountains, certainly more than hilss but certanly not the Cascades - on the west side and a hill with Nazareth on it and Mt Horeb on the east.  There are numerous other landmarks which after I have time to study the maps I will name (hopefully - it's my dream and intent).

We see some birds like starlngs here and there, and flocks of pelicans, often hanging out around the fish ponds but no cattle, goats or sheep yet.  There were sheep walking amid the Bet She'an ruins followed by a shepherd.   Typcailly the landscape is green.  There was rain some places yesterday; fortunately not on us.  Often we drive through rolling hills with cuts ro the roads to smoothly slip through.  The exposed banks are layers of white sediment type rock.  I will have to ask our resident geologists for more details.

Yesterday and last evening as we came east around the south side of Nazareth toward the Jordan River, we could see the hills of Gilead on the far side which is now Jordan.  After Saul and his three sons were killed in a battle with the Philistines, men loyal to Saul spent all night retrieving their bodies and placing them in Gilead.  At one point, only one point during the drive north along the Jordan River did we actually see the water of the river.  It is not a river amid a barren dessert but an quiet small stream overgown on both sides.  At least that's what we saw in the moment we saw it.

The hills on our left as we drove north to Tiberias with the Jordan River on the right, had no animals or crops, although I could envision both vineyards and orchards.  Perhaps there's someting about the soil or climate or economy that's makes this not suitable.  There were no farm houses or barns, only villages of white houses and appartments, typically on hillsides.

Defining Generalities and Going in Circles

This was an awesome day.  No one got hurt or fell down.  The forecasted rain didn't happen.  The food was awesome.  We had several great experiences with an archbishop and several high school students.  We know that someone or something much greater than us was in control.

We headed west out of Tiberias ending up in a village called Ibillin.  We thanked God and other saints for our wonderful driver who maneuvered his big bus through winding narrow steep streets down and then up to the parking area at the school.  We were escorted into a meeting room where Archbishhop Elias Chacour shortly joined us.  With his little hat (I'm certain it has a special name), black vest over a long-sleeved shirt, and his "Archbishop" necklace (it too probably has a proper name) were all accented by his long great beard and gentle eyes.
I'm sorry about the angle of the image but I'm learning the limitations of blogging from an iPad.

We were forewarned that he'd ask two questions, the first being why did you come to this country.  (I'm very reluctant to call it Israel or Palestine because I don't know who should properly be ruling the part of the world.)  We answered "enrich my knowledge for the college course I teach",  "it's a pilgrimage of faith", "to discover and better understand another culture of the world", "it's a trip of a lifetime", "I'm traveling with family, that's a joy", "to see placenames and feel the connection to the Biblical stories". "to understand the anger of people in the area of the world."  And more.

Then he introduced himself for the next two hours, primarily telling the story of his life which is also outlined in his book "Blood Brothers."  He spoke of how his family was displaced from their home and father taken away by Israeli soldiers,  how they watched as their homes and village were bombed and destroyed, how his father and mother taught love and peace for all, how he went to school to be a minister - his father's dream, how he was appointed to a small village after seminary for 30 days and is still there, how he went to court some 37 times always to get a building permit to build the school where we sat.  His storytelling was compelling.  In his modesty he never mentioned his nomination for the Noble Peace Prize or his accomplishments to create this school that not teaches over 3000 Christian Arabs, which is one definition for a Palestinian.

Lunch followed a tour of the adjacent church.  While it was a special church and there were stories of its unique characteristics, it was basically another special church with unique characteristics.  Four high school students joined us for lunch, a typical Arab lunch.  They were delightful, talked about their school, their families, their dreams and hopes; we talked our families and work, classes and how Arabic writing works.

Content and happy we boarded the bus with plan B for the afternoon.  Instead of stopping by the what seemed to be the nearby site of Zippori we headed to Bet She'an, which we discovered after consulting a map took us in a big circle frm one side of the country to the other and almost back to our hotel.  At Bet She'an we walked through the ruins of a Roman community built during their reign after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans about 70AD.  Centuries later when the Byzantine ruled the city, they rebuilt it with their cultural trademarks.  Columns which lined the Roman street lie ordered as if destroyed by an earthquake.  (The earthquake fault rules along the Jordan River.)  Some of the group climbed a hill, called a tel, on which city after city was built upon an older destoyed city, creating a taller hill.  The reference to the discovery of these ruins was intriguing until we were told that this city was just found buried under dirt some 40 years ago.  It now is a National Park, protected and in some cases, reconstructed by the government.

Exhausted from another day of extensive information and sensations, we rode back to the hotel, indulged in another awesome meal and prepared for a good night's sleep.  Zippori and Nazareth are on the schedule for tomorrow so we reading our assignments.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Day One

There's more to be said than this writer has energy for this evening.  As stated in the previous post, we landed about 5:00 this morning, checked in and freshened up at the hotel where we were supposed to sleep if we had arrived as scheduled the evening before, boarded the bus and headed out.

The first stop was Ceasarea (I'll do my darnest to spell things correctly but there seem to be several names for some of the places and then there are also variations on spellings and pronunciation), just a short drive north of our hotel along the shore of the Mediterrean Sea.  Evidence shows that Herod the Great loved to build things, he was a big dreamer.  So he build this more or less man-made deep harbor and bustling city of commerce with a temple to honor the Roman government (Ceasarea being a name chosen for Ceasar the Emperor of Rome at the time), a hippodrome, an amphitheater, and a palace for himself with a dining room on the water front and a swimming pool down at the shore of the sea.  The amphitheater has been restored looking toward the sea and is used today for concerts and other promotion.

Our leader, Monte, told us that one very important historical feature of Ceasarea is that it's essentially where Christians were first called Christians.  At first most of the followers of Jesus were Jews and they remained Jews who believed in Jesus.  Later non-Jews started to follow Jesus and the name evolved.  Ceasarea seemed to be the focal point of this transition.  At one of the stops of the tour - a stop is when we are all gathered together, Monte talks about what we are seeing for awhile and then gives us a few minutes for pictures before we move on - Monte started to tell us that the ruins where we stood was probably where Paul was imprisoned before being sent to Rome and his death.  Just as Monte started to told, Nancy Becker tried to sit on one of the ruined walls and missed, falling to the ground and bumping her head.  It took a little time to get her cared for so the schedule was shoved back again.  She rested in the bus parts of the rest of the day.  Basically she manifested what all of us felt after nearly 48 hours without real restful sleep and a regular schedule.

After wrapping up in Ceasarea we headed to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, specifically the mount on which it is believed that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  Of course, it's only theory but a solid one so the Catholics have built a church there overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  It appears that many small groups reserve small meeting spaces, either outside or in, to conduct worship experiences.  Monte led us in communion.  About four or five other groups were celebrating similar services in several languages including one in sign language.  The church was octagonal with a side for each beatitude and an altar in the center.  The Catholics care for the facilities and provide the elements for communion.

We hurried onto the bus because we were still behind schedule and we were scheduled for a boat crossing of the Sea of Galilee.  The forecast for tomorrow is rain but the rain obliged us early and provided us with wind and rain during our crossing, maybe like the wind and rain when Jesus calmed the sea. It was late and dark enough that we saw several fishermen out in their boats.  It's tradiational, even from the time of Jesus, to fish at night.

Back on the ground, the winds were calm and we headed to the hotel for an extensive feed, doing our homework for tomorrow and a good night's sleep.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

We're here

Yes, our journey through the skies and halfway around the world has ended.  At 5:00 AM local time, after a four-hour flight from London, we strolled through the corridors of the airport outside Tel Aviv to the back of long lines getting our passports checked.  We all made it.

On the bus we met Monte Luker, our teacher for the next two weeks.  He gave us our first lesson on what we were seeing and what we may expect during our journey through the homeland of Jesus and all the characters of the Bible.  As we pulled up to our hotel in Netanya, a short distance north of Tel Aviv (Spring Mound) he introduced our driver as Elvis, or Ahmend.  He likes the character Elvis.  We found a plate of fresh food in our rooms, warm showers and a view of the Mediterrian Sea at the base of the hotel.

We're exhausted and so thankful for the rest until 11:30 when the last of the group will arrive.  Then we off touring and getting out next lecture.

London, England

It wasn't part of our itinerary but here we are in Heathrow Airport, London, England because Lufhansa cancelled our flight to Tel Aviv when some of their employees went on strike - just as we were about to board our plane in Portland.  This alternative route includes a 12 hour layover.  We won't miss any of our tour, only the sleep the night before.  Several of our group chose to head downtown and tour the city.  Others are sitting around trying to get the sleep we're missing.  Life is good and the stomach is full.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Challenge Number One

As we sat down to wait at the airport, Gail's phone rattled.  After digging it out from the bottom of her bag she read that they were sorry but the flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Tel Aviv, Israel was cancelled.  So we waiting for an alternative, possibly from Denver to London to Tel Aviv.  Check back for an update.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Traditional Sites vs Historical Sites

A trip to Israel for us is the product of many reasons.  I suppose foremost would be that all Christians would have such a trip on their wish list or bucket list.  That would not be one of the reasons for us to travel there.  To relive the stories of the Old and New Testament, not much different than the first reason, may be the second reason.  That's more feasible.

Probably the foremost reason for us is that Pastor Dave Pederson, a local pastor and friend, is leading a tour and we were ready for another trip to another culture to experience something new.  Personally I think we hope to understand more about the people and in this case why there is such a struggle on the basis of religion.  We grew up with Christian parents in a "Christian" country, and hence for a good part, that's who we are, but there's no great reason why other religions don't have validity.  Each religion has it good points, each has its followers and believers, and those followers and believers believe their way is the best way.  If we all could just know that there is one God for all.

Something that both Gail and I enjoy when traveling is sharing our experiences with others.  So this will be our avenue to share stories and pictures with friends, family and other interested persons, if and when Internet is available.  See you around.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Spikes and Valleys

Periodically spikes and valleys of life are extreme and compressed.  So seems the last three days.  First the shootings at Umpqua Community College where nine victims died, nine were wounded and one more left this world a lost distressed soul.  It was far from my home, my work and my life, but once my head wrapped around the event, so very close to my soul.  Again the state, the country, the whole world was assaulted by an all too frequent and routine massacre of innocent people.  Again, the argument about guns came to surface, some seeking more restrictions on available of guns while others defending the privilege of owning and using guns of all types.

This was just a day after my last cancer treatment leaving me free of the disease.  That was a day after my first class teaching this term at the university; typically the favorite day of my year and if this was an exception to the routine, it was on the high side.

Today, two days after the shooting, the Polk Community Free Clinic was open.  Fifteen persons were available see providers and receive some care.  It was a good day, busy, positive feedback, laughter, smiling faces and content patients.  Stories were cared about past notable patients.  Fifteen patients and some twenty volunteers went home feeling better about life, their health and their community than when they awoke.

And then there was this evening.  We put together an opportunity for college students and community to gather at dusk with candles, song, prayers and readings to stand together in solidarity and support for those affected by the shooting.  First there were five, then six.  Soon there were seven, and then ten.  More came from the resident halls, others from the parking lot.  They can in pairs and groups of six or seven.  Finally when only candlelight could be seen, some 60 stood in a circle singing and sharing silence, even as they heard the names of the victims.  As the group melted into the darkness, same groups hugged and shared their support for each other.

A staff member of WOU shared with me that after checking out some details, discovered when we attended the high school graduation of his nephew, he attended the graduation of the soldier who confronted the shooter.  A student standing alone as the crowd left, when asked how she was doing, said that she was a freshman from Roseburg where the shooting occurred and several of the deceased were freshman from Roseburg.  I've not recovered from her pain yet.

Participation at the vigil displayed the solidarity so important at a time like this.  What strength we could feel.  And what pain we felt.  May we all work in community to avoid this situation again.

More Straight Forward but Simpler?

This post is being attempted with the iPad and bluetooth keyboard.  And that's all I'm going to write.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

My Wish List

I claim that I don't watch much television, and only go to a movie about once a year, but the truth be known, the television is the background noise much of the day, especially in the evening.  The evening meal entertainment is the news, weather forecast and sports, but after the news no one touches the off button and the noise continues.

We do surf the three channels that come through the antenna on our roof and choose the least annoying sound.  As a result we often land on a program featuring a variety of locations around the world.  This evening it was Kenya with wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs and many other beautiful African animals.  My reaction, not unlike that of many people, is to wish that I could be there to experience that.  And then I remember, I have been there and I have experienced this.  It was great.

This situation is an example that reoccurs regularly.  These are hints of things I would like to do, or places I would like to visit, and then I remember I've already done that.  How blessed and fortunate I have been.  Now I can move on to do something else.  There are so many places on this great globe called Earth that I have not experienced, so I move on: Italy, Ireland, Australia, Switzerland, India, South America, and maybe even New York or Boston.

Tonight it's just dreaming about the morning.

Morning Again

I asked the Eskimo from Barrow, Alaska sitting across our kitchen table from me a question about time, years of time, and I illustrated the question with a timeline, a straight line with dates listed from left to right.  He responded that in his culture time is illustrated not in lines but in circles, in cycles such as days from morning to morning, or months from new moon to new moon, or years from snowfall to snowfall.

As the sun rises in the east coming in through our bedroom and kitchen windows, I know that another day lies before me.  It will be different from the days in the past and those in the future and yet it's the same.  Both are are valuable.  The fresh air of the morning, even on a hot day, feels like medicine as I step out with the dog to feed him.  Checking the bird feeder and the humming bird water is much like yesterday, and the day before.  Feeding and watering the chickens and peacock and peahens is another part of the cycle of the day; observing the new chicks from hatching to coming out from under mom to scratching up some feed to watching them jump up on the roost the first time is the unique part of the day.

For most of us most of the time another day is just that, another day.  We forget, or at least I have often, how special is it to be alive, to feel the cool morning, to taste the fresh tomato just off the vine, to share a moment with one's best friend.

At this moment the sun is dipping behind the tree, even after spending the afternoon hiding behind a series of clouds.  Finally at this stage in my life, I say thank you for this day, for my ability to eat without discomfort and enjoy the taste, to walk without pain, to sleep without hestitation and to remember why I entered the room.  As it stands tonight I look forward to another deep breath of fresh morning air and the surprises that will follow.  I regret the chaos in the world and am so thankful for the peace that envelopes my life.  My wish today, that is, at this stage in my life, I wish that everyone could experience that calm, that peace.

So is the cycle of life.  Thank you everyone.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Yesterday's Inspiration

Yesterday I had interactions with two different church leaders who inspired me.  These weren't direct interactions, one was a reading in the National Geographic magazine, a form of hearsay, and the other was in conversation about a church leader, another form of hearsay.  The article was about the pope Francis and other was about a local minister.  One inspired me to copycat, the other inspired how not to behave.

The subtitle of the article was "As Francis make his first US visit, his emphasis on serving the poor over enforcing doctrine has inspired joy and anxiety in Roman Catholics."  I was inspired with joy.  The oral conversation, on the other hand, included paraphrases to the effect, "that's the way it's supposed to be."  There is more to the "supposed to be" phrase; there is a long complete history of "you can't do this" and "you have to do this."

I'm not Catholic.  I got the impression from my parents that I shouldn't talk to "them" and certainly not marry one.  I'm grown some since then and have set aside some of my childish ways.  Members of our family has married Catholics and they are an inspiration to me.  Still I have no reason, Catholics do have a lot of ritualistic procedures, to become a Catholic.  As you may have inferred from an earlier blog writing, I'm not certain I want any title or label, other than servant of God.  I can however still be inspired by one as Catholic as the pope.

Friends become friends for a number of reasons; something in common is one possible reason.  Someone you feel comfortable with, is another.  For whatever reason we have the friends we have, we choose our friends.  We don't choose our family, we're born into that.  Perhaps in a similar way we choose our church, the one we attend on Sunday and work for throughout the week.  Just as I and my ideas and attitude have changed over the years so can churches change, and so if one chooses a church because you have something in common, one might un-choose a church because you have less in common.

But after un-choosing, what does one choose in its place?  I don't come with the answers.  I have not thought through all situations carefully or thoroughly.  But I will continue to seek the answers; I do embrace the title "seeker."  What I do know, and this is what I will pursue, that I can and will pray that those you inspire me to not do what they do will themselves be inspired to love others and God above setting the rules and flowing doctrines.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

More on Labels, Titles and Names

Gail and I have registered in both the Republican and Democratic parties for years.  That way we hear from both groups.  Interestingly enough, we vote essentially the same.  Those who believe membership in these political groups dictate how one votes, enjoy labeling themselves and those in the other parties, mostly to win support from those who may think in a similar manner, at least regarding the labeling.

I guess I found myself offended when those in one party called themselves Christians and implied that those in the other party were not Christians.  Okay, that activity simply rendered the label Christian useless.  It also degraded those sincere non-Christian theists as unworthy of American privileges and responsibilities.  By birth Jesus, at minimum an awesome model of being a loving caring person, was a Jew, and worshipped God as his family and community did as a Jew.  In practice, he did more and lived differently.  His focus was on loving God and neighbors.  He probably wouldn't be considered a model Jew.  Those who saw the wisdom in his teachings and practices, were later identified as followers of Jesus Christ and were labeled Christians.

What is a Christian?  There was a time when extremists would hang out in airports, handing out literature about their beliefs and ask, "Are you a Christian?" meaning something to the effect, "Have you had an emotional experience and then declared that you were a Christian?"  When visiting her daughter in Saudi Arabia, my mother was asked, "Are you a Christian?"  She first thought of the question as asked in the airport and then realized that the question was more like, "From among the religions of the world, are you a Christian as opposed to a Muslin, Hindu, Jew or other?"

If one declares himself as a Christian, at least within a community of Christians, the question then arises, even if not asked, "What variety? conservative, progressive, liberal, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc."  Each variety considers itself the best; that's why they chose that variety.  Can we just follow and practice the teachings and modeling of Jesus and maybe be called Followers of Christ or Followers of the Teachings of Jesus?  Or more broadly, can we just be "Theists," believers that God exists.  In my mind that means that God is good and that I too should be good by relating to God and being good to all people.

The interesting thing is that none of this requires that I give up or denounce what I learned as a child and lived as an adult.  It still comes down to "loving God and neighbors," and "doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God."

In the extreme I might even consider the option that there is no god.  But then I look out the windows this beautiful peaceful morning with eyes that defy understanding, listen to the sounds of the morning birds through the open window, feel the cool breeze before the warming sun and I have to say "Thank you for this day and for my life."  It feels so natural to be thankful.  But thankful to whom?  Alas, there is a God.

The leaves on another branch fluttered in the sunlit tree as a bird landed and sang its morning song.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Rose by Any Other Name

What label would you be given in your obituary?  Father or mother, probably?  Republican, democrat?  Jew, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, farmer, businessperson, teacher, the list could go on?  What do the labels mean?  How does one acquire such labels?

So I'm asking too many questions again.  I've gone to church all my life with almost no significant breaks.  I guess I'm a Christian.  I guess I'm also a Presbyterian and an elder in the Presbyterian Church.  So what does that mean?  I've been convinced over the years this was an honor and a responsibility to serve and help others.  And vote in the Presbyterian Church.  I've never been much for joining groups to acquire the privileges of that position.  As far as being responsible whether in the Presbyterian Church or any other group or organization, I've discovered that I can help others and serve them without a label.

So how would I be different if I were not a Christian, or Presbyterian, or elder?  I have no plans to change my behavior or my service to community and others.  What would I lose if anything if I were to remove those labels from my life.  They say I couldn't vote at the annual church meeting for a pre-set slate of candidates.  There are other votes that I would not be able to participate in.

Being a member of the church is a miniature of a country and with that point of view, remaining a member of the church is critical, because it's important to have the right, privilege and responsibility to vote for persons who will guide our country and promote better welfare for all.  Of course, being a member, or citizen of the United States does offer me many privileges.

The church however is not merely a miniature of a nation.  A church is a group of individuals who claim to believe in God and a certain way to interact with and because of God.  Those beliefs extend beyond Christians and extend to all theists; Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and so forth.  We call these beliefs religions and from the earliest records of religions, people have used their beliefs to harm others.  Yet, we continue to embrace religion, often to claim that we are correct and they are wrong.  But do we really, I mean really, attempt to relate to God and then relate to others as we would relate to God?

And what privileges does being a member of a church give me?  I figure God loves me whether I'm a member or not, and it membership were necessary for God's love, which church is best?  Or more universally, what religion is best?

This could go on, but for now I will stop.  Maybe you too will question what we've been taught from birth!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Who am I?

Why does that come up now?  My gosh, this is a question I thought we dealt with back in college when existentialism was the craze.  Actually I deal with this question every day, but yesterday I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Who Am I" poem and newsletter headliner by Pastor Becky.  I guess if Bonhoeffer can tackle this question, so can I.

Becky's writing struck home as she talked about being an introvert and that many ministers actually are.  I heard at a Committee for Preparation to the Ministry meeting some months ago that it isn't that introverts don't like people, they're just more likely to become energized when they are alone than when they are with lots of people.  Okay, so the shoe fits.  I sometimes revert back to a quote from Snoopy of the cartoon strip "Peanuts" back in the early '60's in which he said something to the effect, "I love mankind, it's just people that I don't like."  For me that relates to a quote of Ganghi who said something like this: "Christianity won't be so bad if it weren't for the Christians."

Another thing that comes to mind at this time is that I am alone at home for a week and although there are opportunities to get out and do lots of things this Fourth of July holiday weekend, I'm enjoying opting out.  I could miss the crowds and heat and do quite well, but I feel called to help with the Ice Cream Booth, which I announced months ago that I would not do when I thought I too was going to North Dakota (I stayed home to feed the animals and water the plants especially because the temperatures are near 100˚), and there are people I would like to see, such as Anya and her parents.  So this afternoon after I bottle feed the baby bison and cow calves, I will pack my computer and go to Monmouth.  Tomorrow, the Fourth of July, that's to be seen yet.

So what do I do when I'm home alone?  Today's answer is different than it would have been years ago.  In both cases, I would enjoy it.  I try to do things that are more easily done alone than when another person is around.  I don't turn on the TV, I eat at unscheduled times, I eat more simply, I try to clean up as the day goes along to avoid a big clean-up sometime in the future and I do it in preparation for Gail's return.  I do some of the routine tasks that Gail would do such as water plants.  I don't do some of the things I would otherwise do, like cook and water dishes.  I made a big hot dish the first day and eat off that every meal and I reuse the same plate for each meal; I do wash it between meals.

I try to do things that need a large span of time:  digging through old files, organizing family tree and history files, writing some of the history, scanning pictures, transcribing old writings, etc.  Outside I try to clean the garage and shop, finish half-done projects, cut and remove weeds, prune trees.  It's been too hot to do that routinely so I try to squeeze that into the cooler mornings and evenings.  There's some firewood to cut and a barn wall to paint as well.  I'd like to read more, write more, study art, listen to music and play the piano, and maybe train myself to not have to be doing something all the time.

You see there's no people stuff on the list, not even traveling, I reserve that and desire that when Gail's here.  Fortunately this week falls at a time when there are no big people events on the horizon and I can postpone communicating with them and motivating them to help others.  That will come next week.  Alas, as an introvert and being energized with this "alone time" I will jump with both feet into planning the Block Party and the Hospitality Week, as well as following up on Western Compass activities and redesigning my class for the university.

But for now I am alone, not counting birds, insects, trees, flowers, the breeze, Sheba (our dog), and I am who I am.  But who are you?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dreams and Souls

Two puzzling thoughts regularly come to mind these days.  Certainly these are not the only two thoughts that are puzzling but they are the subject of this writing.

I, like most of us, dream from time to time, and even remember for a brief time a part of some of them.  Recently my dream scenario was teaching a class, which may be related to the fact that next week I will be back in front of the classroom filled with about twenty students.  So my subconscious influenced that dream.  More recently however, I dreamt of a high school classmate who wasn't even a friend and hardly an acquaintance.  While I don't at this point remember details of any other dreams, I do remember that I was impressed the morning after that the dreams seemed so unrelated to anything that I had been doing or thinking…ever.  So the puzzle is where do these dreams come from?  Is there a supernatural force, a God involved?  I'm leaning in the direction that this is one way God talks to us.  Unfortunately it also seems like a waste of time and effort because most of us don't understand the message.

Secondly, there a question about the concept of souls or our spiritual being which lives on after death according to many if not most major religions of the world.  Science purports that mankind, the earth, the universe all have a beginning.  It also purports that space is nearly endless or at least so vast as to seem endless,  A reasonable mind recognizing our minuscular relative size to this vastness would wonder why only the earth has evolved with intelligent beings and why there may not be other intelligent life out there somewhere.  Both thoughts suggest a question about if humans have souls and evolved through stages from animal characteristics to human qualities, when did the souls enter the picture?

So when did we get our souls?  What do intelligent beings beyond the earth look like and do they have souls?  Are dreams influenced by God and if not why do they seem so random?

I guess I need to do some more walking and talking.  "And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own."  More than me talking I need to be listening when he talks.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Warm God

Nine of us shared an afternoon recently billed as a spiritual or inspirational retreat.  Our facilitator asked four questions for each of us to answer: Where did you grow up? How was your childhood heated or warmed?  What person in your life was the warmest?  When did you first experience God as warm?

My first three answers were: on a farm in North Dakota, coal and my grandmother, which apparently is a common answer for the third question.  The fourth question is more difficult to answer and I happened to be in a position to not get a chance to answer it.

I grew up going to church every Sunday with my parents and my sisters and brothers.  No questions asked.  We attended Sunday School and because it would have required an additional trip to town (about 5 miles) I never got to Vacation Bible School in the summer.  I attended confirmation classes on Saturday mornings for two years during my seventh- and eighth-grade years.  After confirmation I regularly attended Youth Group, sang in choir and continued to attend church.  I guess I was always involved in church and church was about God, right?  Of course, we prayed and recited the Apostle's Creed and other litanies.  The church was E and R (Evangelical and Reformed) which later merged with the Congregational Churches to become the United Church of Christ.

My parental grandparents often had guests for dinner, the noon meal, after church on Sunday.  Almost always, as I remember, the guests included the minister and family.  A son of the minister of my very early childhood became a good friend of my father and his son is a friend of my brothers.  Again there was a sense always being connected to the church.

During my college years I attended church with my circle of friends.  After college I lived with a college classmate's father who was a minister and I sang in the choir and helped with the youth program.  A couple years later I got married and we continued to attend church and take on leadership roles.  When we moved to a remote part of Alaska we became involved in starting a Methodist Fellowship (church) in our community.  After Alaska we continued to attend church and accept leadership roles in youth programs and general church functions.  Still it can be said that I was always involved with church.

But a first experience with a warm God.  That's harder to pinpoint.  First it's hard to identify what one may mean by a "warm God."  Maybe it's when thinking about God becomes emotional and personal as  opposed to academic.

I think of two times when I might have increased my emotional connection to a "warm God."  While living with my friend's minister father, we shared many moments of personal religious spiritual experiences including some metaphysical events.  God seemed more personal and spirituality took on a greater meaning.  The second may be now, more than seventy years after my baptism with my parents and my grandfathers as my godparents.  I find myself asking many questions about my experiences of the past.  I find myself peeling off what now seem like superficial, redundant and irrelevant details.  I find myself taking time to think and talk to God and to listen for wisdom.  I now feel I am on a journey of truly experiencing a "warm God."

So I will continue peeling, thinking, reading and praying.  I feel very close to God on this journey.  I look forward to relating in the future to a "Warm God."

Friday, January 23, 2015

I Had a Dream

We received an email yesterday that Marcus Borg died.  The story with that information was heartwarming, but then most people are better dead than alive.  He apparently was a wonderful person far beyond his writings and lectures.  I've only read a little about and by him.  I will focus on more reading involving him.

From another angle, I had a dream last night, actually it was this morning after my first awakening around 5:00.  It wasn't as profound as the dreams of Josephs, the pharaoh, Joseph's jail mates or Jacob with his latter, but it seemed memorable.  I was preparing a sermon.  It was a good sermon.  It didn't give an guidelines for a better life; it just asked a lot of questions about what we take for granted in religion.  I hope I can write it some day and perhaps even share with a congregation.

Recent incidents around the world in the name of religion have shocked everyone and perhaps leaves many of us wondering if we want to be connected with any religion.  The killing by Muslims in Paris, the killings of Jewish, the killings in the Congo by Christians are a few of the news stories.  The scriptures of most religion include contradicting guidelines for using and opposing violence.  I've been rereading Genesis and it's terrifying what our good model forefathers, and mothers, did.  Of course, I would question the historian who was there to report all these events.

Regardless of how we believe the Bible was written, by God, inspired by God, as reported by folklore, as envisioned to answer probing questions, somehow humankind with all its fallacies was involved and influenced the outcome.  We see that even today with the rewriting of the scriptures, the new interpretations of the writings and the modifications of policies and by-laws.  So how do we understand the Bible or in a greater sense, the nature of humankind and it purpose?

Perhaps those are some of the questions that Marcus started with.  It seems like he peeled aside some of the unnecessary contradictions and irrelevant stories and found a Jesus that shocks the Christian world but defines his relevant teachings.

Regardless of what you believe about God or Jesus or Mohammed or Abraham or Buddha, it shouldn't be a great leap to believe that the violence that people do to each other is not right; and that doesn't only apply to killings but also to our negligent of others' needs.  What we do to the least of these, we do …

Wouldn't if be cool if Marcus would come back with a full report about God?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Questions Continue

Stephen Hawkins in an interview spoke of his life goal to find the ultimate single equation that tied everything together.  Einstein got close with his E=mc2. Certainly Hawkins was thinking about the relationship between Black Holes and stars and even atoms, molecules and cells but he may not have been completely ignoring metaphysics as well as physics. The recent movie about Hawkins seems to focus on his love of life and his relationship with his girl friend/wife. Maybe the singular formula was under his nose, maybe he was living it.

God is love.

If you think about it with the depth that Hawkins would, you would probably come to the conclusion that every commandment, every rule, every proverb of every religion or philosophy is a subset of that simple equation: God equals love and love equals God. Hence God loves us far more than any of us have ever loved our dearest one, and in turn we will love God. Since God loves us so dearly, each one of us, we are best to love each other also with all we have, getting us very close to the practice rule that says we should do to others as we would want them to do to us. This, commonly called the Golden Rule exists is all religions.

Golden Rule
  In everything do to others as you would have them do to you for this is the law and the prophets.
Gospel of Matthew

  What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the entire; all the rest is commentary.
The Talmud

  Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.

  This is thge sum of duty; do nothing to others which if done to you would cause you pain.
The Mahabharata

  No one of you is abeliever until they desire for their brother or sister that which they desire for themselves.