Friday, October 31, 2008

Week 7 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

The big event this week was a faculty in-service. Kevin Lawson, Ed.D., Prof. of Christian Education from Talbot Theological Seminary, led the faculty of Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) through some thoughts about Christian education in the church and in the college. Kevin is on a whirlwind tour through a handful of Christian schools in the Middle East. I was fortunate to be asked to go to dinner Monday night along with Kevin and the president of BBC, Bishara Awad. We enjoyed good conversation at a very nice restaurant in Bethlehem called Al Khoukh ("the hut"). We met a number of people there. One was Bishara's son, Sami Awad. He heads up an organization called Holy Land Trust.
Holy Land Trust (HLT) seeks to empower the community through mobilizing its strengths and resources in order to address the challenges of the present and the future. This is done by working with the Palestinian community through developing nonviolent approaches which aim to end the Israeli occupation and by building a future that is founded on the principles of nonviolence, equality, justice, and peaceful coexistence.
I would also recommend Sami's blog "Never Give Up."
I also met Jonathan Kuttab. He is the cousin of Bishara and Alex Awad. Jonathan is a lawyer and Palestinian activist, as well as the chair of the board of Bethlehem Bible College. I became aware of Jonathan's work in the spring of 08 after I had had lunch with his son, who attends Earlham College. So I was very happy to finally get to shake hands with him.
Tuesday evening I was again asked to go to dinner along with our guest. This time we went into Beit Sahour for a traditional Arab meal. I hadn't yet visited Beit Sahour or the religious site there, the Shepherd's Field. The restaurant was called in English, Ruth's Field, on Shepherd's Field St. I recommend it. They are expanding; it's a very friendly place, very clean, great food.
We were surprised when we arrived back at BBC to find Israeli military vehicles blocking Hebron Rd. a few hundred feet from the college. Over the next several hours I heard loud booming noises from nearby. I didn't know if it was the sound of missiles being shot or what. I knew they were not exploding on the ground, since there was no sensation of a shock wave. As you might imagine, we were a bit nervous not knowing what was happening. I am registered with the State Department, so I would hope to receive warnings if anything big was happening. For the next few nights I would hear occasional sounds. I read online that someone or some people had thrown Molotov cocktails at the barrier wall or guard tower. The Israeli military was focusing their search for the culprit(s) in the refugee camps nearby. For people who live here, this was probably just a mild instance of what they have lived with for many years. This is the most recent local news report .
This is a report about what happened earlier in the week.
In the former report there is mention of Cinema Street. That's the street lined with shops where I would go for my Arabic class.
I failed my real live test of Arabic. Thursday evening I walked down Hebron Rd. to get a couple of Falafel sandwiches. At the first intersection a couple of young men came walking around the corner. I looked at them, smiled, and nodded my head to them. I wasn't prepared for the guy to actually say something to me. It sounded like he said, "Bitchy Arabee." I was so surprised I just said, "What?" Was he asking me if I knew any angry Arab women? I kept thinking about it, wanting to remember what he said so I could look it up when I got back to my room. By that time it suddenly dawned on me what he said, "Bihki Arabee," "Do you speak Arabic?" To which I should have said, "bahki Arabee shway," "I speak Arabic a little bit."
Today was my class day. I set my cell phone's alarm to wake me up at 7am. I showered, dressed, and ate some breakfast. I looked over my material carefully for the day. Then I started listening to the Mosaic news from the Middle East. I heard my cell phone going off. It was my interpreter, Rami, calling me. He was very patient with me asking about class today. To my utter surprise, I discovered the clock on my laptop was now an hour behind. I had missed the first half-hour of class. For the past month I've not had any problem. I rushed upstairs to class. I had been working hard to prepare for class hoping to get through chapter six of Hebrews. Instead, I was late getting started and we didn't finish the first section of chapter six.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Week 6 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

On Thursday this week the college held its annual field day. I'm not sure what they call it officially, but it was like having an all-school picnic with a time of worship, having grilled chicken and Arabic salads, and some game time.
We traveled across town in Beit Jala to a Lutheran Christian center. It is a very nice facility. We met first for our weekly chapel service. A large group of students were visiting the area from Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. We sang some Christian worship songs. I might have said before, these seem to be songs developed in Egypt. I haven't heard them sing any Western Christian worship/praise songs. For anyone who is "clapping-impaired," following along clapping with this music would be a greater challenge than most music we hear in the States. But it is lively music and music with great intensity and feeling. The college students from Minnesota sang a song in English; it was very nice but a much slower, subdued type of music.
One of the students, Elias, who is from Gaza, led the worship and gave a devotional talk. He talked about the beginning of the book of Ruth. The irony is that Naomi and her family left Bethlehem, the name of which city means "house of bread," because of a famine. Elias spoke about the spiritual feast Christians have in Bethlehem and the need for them to share that spiritual food to those in need.
The picnic lunch we shared was very good. There were generous amounts of grilled chicken with tasty spices. There were the usual Arabic salad, olives, pickles, hummus, baba ghanoush, and a few others. Of course there was pita bread. And there were french fries. Later we had a dessert. I don't know what it's called or what's in it besides honey. It looks like filling is rolled up. The exterior is a dark brown and the filling I think has pine nuts. I'm not sure. I do know it is delicious. [It is Kanafeh or knafeh.]
 Our group was first up to compete in a tug-of-war with another group. As you might expect, everyone thought my group would win with me as the anchor on the end. It was certainly one of the most strenuous things I've done in quite awhile. I haven't asked anyone if they took a picture of our contest, and I don't intend on doing so. I sat out on the sack races. We were just beginning to do another game when the dessert was served. Many of us deserted the games for the sweet relief. Just then we got a little bit of rain, so we moved underneath a large tree.
I have two observations about eating customs. One is the practice of eating with the fingers. Not only do Palestinian people eat with their fingers, they manage to do it without making a mess. I make more of a mess eating with a fork than they do eating with their fingers and using the pita bread as a scoop. They also have a custom of sharing their food. We all went through the line individually and fixed our plates. When I joined a table, I could see that they had made a plate with the various items for dipping and were sharing it. Someone would go get a bunch of chicken pieces and put it in the center of the table, and everyone would take from it. Everyone was very gracious and made sure everyone had plenty to eat and drink. This made me think about the expression we use in my house for minding your own business. My wife will say, "Eat in your own plate." I kept thinking about that during lunch. Maybe there should be an expression that means be sociable: "Eat in your neighbor's plate."
I'm beginning to be able to speak Arabic a little bit. Our class has focused on the verb system as the backbone of language. I need to continue to learn verbs but also need to learn many more nouns and adjectives. I can say that I want something, like something, or have something, but I probably don't know what it's called in Arabic. I have one more week to go in the class I've been taking. I don't really have the finances to continue taking the classes. I will need to make sure I continue study on my own and talk to people in Arabic.
The big problem with learning a language in another country is many of the people speak English and are more than willing to converse with you in English. Someone reminded me of the joke, if a polyglot is someone who speaks many languages, what is someone called who only speaks one language? An American.
The other day I needed to buy a pair of scissors to trim my moustache. I tried doing it with toenail clippers and even a kitchen knife. Couldn't do it. I walked into a pharmacy and the owner began speaking to me in English. We had a nice conversation. As I remember, he has relatives that live in Michigan near Flint. But he didn't have any scissors. On the next block was another pharmacy. This man also spoke English very well. I had another nice conversation about US politics and the economy. And I got my little scissors plus he sold me a single disposable razor.
I found a shop that makes wonderful falafel sandwiches. I've had falafel sandwiches for dinner two nights in a row. I might go for three tonight. The first night it was an older man who waited on me. He couldn't speak much English, so I tried my Arabic on him. I told him I was learning Arabic at the Dar Annadwa Center. He asked a clarifying question that I couldn't understand, something about school. When I left there I realized I could have asked for what I wanted in Arabic. That made me feel good.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Week 5 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

Sunday – 10/12

 I left my apartment early this morning in order to figure out where to get a bus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, then from Jerusalem to Ramallah, find the Friends meetinghouse in Ramallah, and then make the return trip. I wasn't sure how much anything was going to cost. I knew taking the bus was rather inexpensive, but my alternative was to take a private taxi and make sure I got there.
 After having a few minutes of prayer before leaving, I made my way up the hill to try to get some more cash in case I needed it. After walking up the hill by Bethlehem University, I discovered that the ATM I've been using was temporarily out of service. Now I knew I would need to take the bus and not a taxi. I had about 140 shekels on me. Just down the hill on Scinema near the Hebron Rd. is the area I believed was the "bus station." There were a dozen or so people standing around, so I joined them. After about 10-15 minutes a large, white & blue bus pulled up with the number 21 on the front. That was it. I was pleasantly surprised. It was a large, comfortable, clean bus. We boarded the bus and paid 6 shekels. I found a seat and we began the wait. After about 20 minutes the driver felt it was time to go. We began the drive around Beit Jala and then arrived at the checkpoint.
 Only the elderly, mothers with children, and internationals stayed on the bus. Two Israeli soldiers boarded. The young man stayed at the front of the bus. He and the driver joked around. The young woman went through and looked at passports. She gave some little girls a nice smile. When they were done with us, they went outside the bus. The people seemed to know to stand back and then approach one at a time. People had passports and a piece of paper. The soldiers collected the passports and returned the piece of paper back to the person. Sometimes there was a little discussion. There was one young man who only had some piece of paper. There was something about it that they didn't like. They acted like he was trying to get away with something that was quite obvious to them. I don't think he got back on the bus. After everyone was on, the bus driver came on with passports and handed them back to people. There was then another batch of passports. It was interesting to hear all the different names.
 We were back underway after about a half an hour. It seemed like another half hour of winding through streets -- letting off some people, taking on new ones -- before we arrived at the bus station. I began looking around for my transfer bus, bus 18. First I had to find a restroom. I was so thankful to find the restroom, I didn't care about the big puddle of water on the floor. A man seating near the entrance had tried to tell me which restroom to go into. Good thing hand motions are an international language. There were no signs on the doors and the doors were wide open anyway.
I finally asked where to find the bus to Ramallah. He tried to tell me how to get to the other bus lot. First I went to far down the street. I asked someone and he sent me back the other way. I got back to a side street and another man directed me down that street. I had to go quite a ways before I actually saw the large parking lot full of passenger vans.
The number 18 bus to Ramallah was backing out of its spot as I approached. The driver was not going to wait for me. Then I realized another bus 18 was waiting behind it. Once again, we began boarding the bus and when we were loaded we took off. This trip cost me 6.50 shekels. I watched out the window as we drove through city streets. I kept wondering when we were going to leave Jerusalem and enter countryside before coming to Ramallah. After awhile the bus pulled up to the side of a busy street and everyone started getting off. I asked a man, "Is this Ramallah." He said, "Yes, this is Ramallah." So there I was.
 The only directions I had from the Ramallah Friends Meeting web site was that the meetinghouse was on main street, next to Natche Building and across from Rukab. I had no idea where to go, so I grabbed a taxi. [I have since discovered I was sent by email a detailed description of how to get to the meetinghouse.] The taxi driver seemed to know the Friends School but not the Friends meetinghouse or the International Friends Center. He pointed to a building and said that's the Natche Building. Next to it looked like it could be the spot. He called a cop over to have me ask him where it was. The cop said he knew where and pointed and talked in Arabic for a minute. For the next 15 minutes the driver drover around town asking various people if they knew where it was. Eventually we ended up back where we started. When I asked him how much, he didn't tell me. I don't know if he felt like he had failed or if he felt like he had done more than he should have, since I couldn't give him a street name and number. I gave him 20 shekels and he seemed happy. I know in Bethlehem taxi rides are 10 shekels anywhere, so it seemed like he had gone out of his way for me.
Anyway, I got to the church on time. We had a nice time of quiet meditation, shared messages, and singing. I met Jean Zaru, the presiding clerk of the meeting, and Joyce Aljouny, the director of the Friends Schools. There were a few other visitors, and I got to know several of them.
While walking back to the bus station, I saw the famous Stars & Bucks coffee shop in the center of Ramallah. I just had to get a picture. People who know me know I love coffee. I've been accused of being able to find a Starbucks anywhere. This is the best I could do in Palestine.
One of people I met at the meeting, John, is living in Bethlehem, so we journeyed together back to Bethlehem. He had us get off the bus a block or so before the bus lot in Jerusalem. We walked down Saladin Street so he could stop by the post office. What a crazy place that was. There were maybe a hundred people sitting in the post office waiting for their number to be called.
 John suggested we take the 124 bus back to Bethlehem. It's slightly cheaper and takes a little less time. However, it does mean walking through the checkpoint and then walking a little ways into Bethlehem. We were about an hour ahead of commuter traffic of Palestinians going through the cattle stalls. There weren't very many people there, but it was still a daunting experience. You enter into a building where you go through a security gate after showing your passport. The young Israeli woman was on the phone as we went one by one and pressed our passports to the window. She asked me where I was from. I fumbled a bit wondering if she meant the city and state of origin or where I'm living now. All she wanted me to say is that I was from the US. We then passed through a turnstile, walked down a sidewalk, passed through another turnstile, and then were crossing a parking lot heading toward the wall. We went through another turnstile and found ourselves in a caged walkway. It was certainly as long as an amusement park queue, to use the British term. When we came out we were on Hebron Rd. We were met by taxi drivers wanting to give us a lift and then a boy who wanted me to buy postcards to help feed his family. He was hard to shake.
 There was some interesting "Wall Art" along the way. In one scene a rhinoceros is pictured breaking through the wall. It was very well done. I'm not sure how to interpret the image of the rhinoceros, what does it represent? Another wall said, "BEEN THERE DONE THAT." Continued on the wall around the corner were the words, "ICH BIN EIN BERLINER," the famous words of JFK. For many the hope is that, if the Berlin wall could come down, then maybe the Israeli wall could too.

Monday – 10/13

 My plans for today were to do laundry. I had talked with my friend Rami last week about taking a trip today. After I had got myself ready for the day, I brought my laundry bag to the apartment door. Just then my cellphone rang. It was Rami asking if I wanted to take a trip today. Within a half hour he arrived, and we set off for the Jordan valley.
We first made our way into Jerusalem. We went through several checkpoints, but I don't pay much attention to them anymore. I enjoy our conversations so much that I often forget to look at the scenery around me. As we made our way east from Jerusalem, I was startled to see the Judean hill country. It is so stark and overwhelming. It went on for miles as we continued east and continued down. I could feel my ears being affected by the change in altitude. We passed the spot where sea level is marked.
 We stopped first in Jericho. Once again we had to go through a checkpoint before entering the city from the highway. The Israeli soldier, after looking at my passport, asked me where I was from. This time I just said, "US." He replied with broken English and a big smile on his face, "I love USA. I ... friend ... George Bush." I had to laugh and so did the other soldier. There's a big political statement there.
Rami drove into the center of the city of Jericho and then stopped at the traditional site of the sycamore tree of Zacchaeus. It seems to me this size of a sycamore tree would have made it difficult for vertically-challenged Zacchaeus to have reached the bottom branches to begin with. The lower branches of a sycamore tree look strong enough to hold a bunch of spectators.
We arrived at the entrance to the ancient site of Jericho. There was no one else visiting the site of Tell es-Sultan and seeing the archaeological excavations done by Kathleen Kenyon. She dug here in the six years prior to my birth. She used the method of dig a hole down into the tell. A tell is the mound that grows over thousands of years of building one city on top of another. There are two deep holes. In one you can see the oldest remnant, an ancient tower dating back to about 8,000 BCE. One has a good view from there of the beginning of the mountains to the west and of the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea stretching out to the east with the mountains of Jordan beyond.
Before leaving Jericho we ate lunch at the Temptation Restaurant. This was a place we would call in the States a tourist trap. Huge buses were parked and lined up in a continuous flow of dropping off and taking away people from all over the world. Rami took me into the Arab restaurant; another cafeteria with western-style food is upstairs. From what I could tell, I looked like the only non-Arab in the restaurant. Rami, as a tour guide, knew most of the men who stopped by, taking a break from their work as a guide or as a bus driver. We had a full meal with just the pita bread and the appetizers. We then had grilled lamb kabobs. It was quite a feast and very tasty. The pitcher of lemonade was especially refreshing. We ended the meal with tiny cups of Arabic coffee.
 After making our way back through the checkpoint, we proceeded to the site of Qumran. Here is another tourist trap. Rami had me take a few minutes watching a short movie about Qumran. I can imagine American tourists, particularly conservative or Catholic Christians, would enjoy the film. The production quality was good. They used three screens that almost had an "Imax" feel to it. There was hardly any information about the actual site: its discovery, the artifacts, the theories about its function, what scrolls were found in the nearby caves. All in all it was a waste of a few good minutes.
I thoroughly enjoyed getting to walk among the stone walls marking the rooms of this ancient site. As with many archaeological sites, there are many questions about the varied interpretations of the functions of rooms. Was the room marked as a scriptorium really that? Was the site even the same place as described in the documents found in the caves? Was this actually a Roman villa rather than a Jewish monastery? Whatever it was, it was an impressive feat to build a place like this and get the water down from the mountains and store it.
A large canyon runs right to the west of the site. The mountains look deceivingly close they are so big. I was glad to get a picture of me with one of the Qumran caves behind me in the distance. Somehow I had thought this site was practically on the banks of the Dead Sea. But we were not close to the Dead Sea and didn't go any closer. It might have been fun to have taken a dip in the Dead Sea, but I wasn't compelled to go closer. One has to leave something for another visit.
We stopped for a few minutes along the way at a monastery, the Dir Hajla (Dayr El-Hajla) Monastery. I found a 360 degree panoramic of the chapel. It was fun to visit a Greek Orthodox Monastery. The Byzantine style Christian art is one of my favorites. After looking at their places of worship, we had some figs for our journey back. The figs were delicious. That's not all they produce at the monastery. According to Rami, they also have a pig farm. Not something I've seen in Israel, whether on the hoof or off.

Wednesday – 10-15

 On Wednesday I began attending a three day conference “The Influence of Media and Education on Christian-Muslim Relations” held at Bethlehem University (BU). BU is "a Catholic Christian co-educational institution of higher learning founded in 1973 in the Lasallian tradition, open to students of all faith traditions." Fr. Jamal Khader, Chairperson of the Department of Religious Studies, was the organizer. Our sessions were held in the Cardinal Carlo Furno Hall, a very nice, comfortable lecture hall. We were furnished with headsets for translation either into English or Arabic, whichever the case might be.
On the opening day, a few dignitaries were on hand.  For example, H.B Michael Sabbah, Latin Patriach Emeritus of Jerusalem was in attendance and greeted the audience. Also H.E. Sheikh Jamal Bawatneh, the Minister of Religious Affairs for the Palestinian Authority, also greeted us.
Our first speaker was Dr. Sari Nuseibeh, President of Al-Quds University, Jerusalem. He spoke on "Religions and their Interpreters: Barriers or Bridges?" I think his basic thesis was that the problem we face in not with religion in itself, but with the people who practice the religion in ways that are detrimental to others.
In a joint session we heard from Dr. Barakat Fawzi of Al-Quds University, representing the Palestinian Ministry of Education. He talked about "The other in the Islamic religious textbooks in Palestine." Also Rev. Ibrahim Nairouz, who was listed as an educator from the Episcopal Church "The other in the Christian religious textbooks in Palestine." I enjoyed hearing them talk about how Palestinians created their own curriculum based on religious sensitivities. They acknowledged that, in spite of their efforts to write a curriculum for Muslim and Christian children in the schools, there was also a need to train teachers in respect for the "other" in their teaching of the curriculum.

Thursday – 10/16

 We began Thursday with a live video conference from Gaza. Dr. Ahmad Hammad, of Al-Aqsa University in Gaza gave a talk titled, "The role of media institutions in building social unity in Gaza strip: A field study." There were some technical problems with hearing the speaker clearly. The translators did their best to hear but often had to apologize for not being able to understand some sections. He talked about how media reflects society. Media has a responsibility to preserve society and strengthen the social fabric. Media needs to work to end division and bring unity to society.
The next lecture was apparently read by someone other than the speaker, who was to have been Mr. Samih Muhsen from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. His talk was "Christians and Christianity in the Palestinian Media." I would love to have heard this talk. Unfortunately, the speaker read the Arabic so fast that the interpreters had to speak English faster than the speed limit.
For me the highlight of the day was Dr. Paolo Naso. He is a journalist and Professor of Political Science at La Sapienza University of Rome and at Pontifical Gregorian University. Although his lecture was titled, "Western Media and Christian Muslim Dialogue," he only talked about the European Union countries. He did a masterful job with Powerpoint. He had some startling images comparing political propaganda against Jews in Germany and France in the 1930s and current images used against Islam. The similarity is remarkable. One showed the image of a Jew holding a globe in his clutches, his claw-like hands dug into Europe. A similar image from recent media depicts a map of Europe with a Bin Laden-type figure breaking out from the ground of Europe.
Just before lunch we had a very interesting presentation on the joint research of Dr. Josef Freise (The Catholic University of Applied Science, Cologne, Germany) and Dr. Sami Adwan (Faculty of Education, Bethlehem University). Their presentation was called, "Religion as an indicator of behavior for German and Palestinian youth: towards Interreligious models of education in Germany and Palestine." They did a qualitative study of groups of Muslim and Christian youth in Germany and in Palestine. It focused on the role of religion in their lives. It was a fascinating study. Many people objected to the research and its "findings." The researchers were carefully to delineate the weaknesses of this type of study and that one can't generalize too much. Some people didn't like the results. One woman said she was offended. Another person thought they should have done a different kind of study. Another suggested they tainted their results by the questions they asked. I didn't think any of the accusations had merit.
I should say that the Q&A time often was taken over by various people, usually the same ones, who wanted to make statements. The moderators did their best to limit the comments to questions.
 A special lecture in the afternoon was The Michael Prior Memorial Lecture sponsored by the Living Stones Foundation, UK. The speaker was Victoria Clark, author and journalist from London, England. Her most recent book is Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism (Yale 2007). Her talk today was, "The Influence of the Evangelical Zionist Lobby on Perceptions of Islam in the Western Media." She did an excellent and thorough job as a journalist. She interviewed the key players and attended Bible prophecy conferences. I can't fault her for the facts she presented. I was raised in this type of church. I tried to understand Bible prophecy but I never quite got the hang of it. Rather than being a literalist, I always took more of a literary approach. I can't say I ever heard anyone take it to the extreme of people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, or especially John Hagee. My problem with the presentation had more to do with the mocking tone and sarcasm. People seemed to eat up the anti-American rhetoric. Americans are being faulted for treating the Muslim nations and their people in the Middle East as monolithic. But then all of America was represented by the Christian right and their strange bedfellows, the Jewish lobby. Nearly all of the conference focused on Christian as represented by catholic faiths. About the only time that the US is discussed and when Protestant churches are talked about, it is Christian Zionism, Republicans, and the Christian Right. Someone asked why there aren't Christian groups in the US working to counter the Christian Zionists. The speaker couldn't name any, which left the impression there weren't any. It was a very grim picture of the US painted with a very broad brush. I've thought a lot about that. I think I've concluded that we deserve it. I've expressed my concerns with the conference organizers, but in the end it's a criticism we just have to accept until we do something about it to change the way in which the world views us.

Friday – 10/17

Last week my class asked whether I would be giving exams. So I said I would first give them a practice quiz so they can see what kind of exam I would give. I wrote out ten questions, some multiple-choice, a few True/False, and one fill-in-the-blank. The academic secretary translated the quiz for me. Because these types of questions are often based on which answer is the best answer or some questions are meant to be a little tricky, we had much discussion. On one question I agreed with the student that one of the answers wasn't worded properly. It was a good learning exercise. We ended up only able to spend time on one section of Hebrews. We've finished only four chapters of the 13.
I remembered at the end of class that I wanted to take a picture. Rami was nice enough to offer to take a picture of me with the class.Class picture
One further bit of news. I learned today that I received a letter at home from my church saying that they have decided to keep the interim minister. While I understand their reasons, it is still something that affects me deeply.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Week 4 of 13 in Israel/Palestine

Book Published - 10/10

Book cover Friday night I happened to check my publisher's web site – like I've been doing every day for the past several weeks – to see if my book was available. And there it was . I'm very excited to finally have this book come out. In some ways this book is the product of the last 15 years of research on Hebrews, which started with my doctoral dissertation. It was only Nov. 2007 when I was able to present my thesis about comparison (synkrisis) in Hebrews during the Society of Biblical Literature conference. Several years ago I began studying Hebrews again and preached messages each Sunday at Salem Friends Church in Liberty, Indiana. During the week I spent many hours researching and studying the Greek text of Hebrews and compiling an exegetical outline. Then on Friday and Saturday I would set the scholarly research aside, so to speak, and work through the same text, seeking a way to communicate its message to my congregation. After six months of writing and preaching, I came to the realization that what I had written out in outline format might be of interest to a wider audience. I converted my format to paragraphs and began the process of editing. ESR writing students assisted me, but only with proofing for grammatical and punctuation errors. First Roni Lynn worked with me and then Carrie Drees read through the whole manuscript. Wipf & Stock Publishers accepted my book proposal and I submitted the manuscript. Wipf & Stock did the typesetting and had their artist design the cover (I had no say about the cover). It's especially meaningful for the book to come out while I'm teaching the book of Hebrews here at Bethlehem Bible College. I'll be teaching Hebrews at Earlham School of Religion during the spring semester. I hope people will read the book. I hope church groups will read the book together and use it to encourage them to form strong communities of faith.
The book is available directly from Wipf & Stock . has the information but it might be a week or so before all of the information is included there. It was unfortunate that the book appeared there with two copies, and now it shows as being out of print. Wipf & Stock is a print-on-demand publishing company. More copies are in production now.

Sunday – 10/12

Baraka Bible Presbyterian ChurchI was determined to find my way to a local church this morning. I had asked about churches and at least knew that south on Hebron Rd. there was a Presbyterian church. Once again, however, I realized that I hadn't asked what time the church service was. I did manage to find a listing on a web page of Arabic Christian churches. I also had seen a sign along the road for Baraka Bible Presbyterian Church. So I set off walking at about 10 am. I couldn't remember if I had seen the sign while walking or when riding in a car. If it had been while walking, then I knew it wasn't too far away. If it was by car, then I had no idea how far away the church was. I walked until I came to the farthest point I had walked before, where I have been getting groceries. I hoped I hadn't missed the sign or I might be walking a long time before I decide to turn around. To my delight the sign for the church was just a little further than the grocery store. I saw a van going down the drive, so it was a good assumption the church was just down the hill.
Worship at Baraka B.P. ChurchWhen I found the entrance to the church, I began meeting people that I knew. The assistant pastor, Danny Awad, greeted me. I saw several students from Bethlehem Bible College (BBC). I met a young man from New York state who is volunteering with a school nearby. The church has Arabic/English song books. I hope to buy a copy soon and learn some of their songs. They provide non-Arabic speaking people with headsets to hear an English translation. Very nice. The music was different than churches sing in the States, but otherwise the worship format is very similar. As a Quaker, I'm not accustomed anymore to participating in communion services. It just so happened this was communion Sunday. Following communion the church recited the Apostle's Creed and sang the doxology. The sermon focused on religious practice within people's homes and the witness they have to others in their neighborhood.
On the walk home I stopped at a restaurant called Fawannees. I had a hummus appetizer (three pita bread, plate of hummus with seasonings and olive oil, and a small relish plate), a mixed grill of tasty meats, and a diet coke. I was trying to get their attention so I could order a coffee and baklava. I think there are two restaurants connected, one a pastry shop and the other a restaurant. I couldn't get anyone to come to the table, so I just got up and paid at the counter. Better for me to stay away from the baklava as much as possible.
Fewanees RestaurantAfter a stop at the grocery store to restock my empty pantry, I made my way back to the apartment. I was checking my email and responding to someone on Facebook, when one of the BBC students began chatting with me in Facebook. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he told me he was from Gaza. He had left there because it was dangerous for Christians. He told me he has friends living in Gaza who want to convert to Christianity but they are afraid of the Islamic militants who would punish them for leaving Islam. We agreed that not all Muslims are bad and not all Christians are good. But it's more than many of us can imagine that our decision of where to worship could get us killed.

Arabic Class – 10/6

I worked all day Monday on Arabic. Our teacher focuses on learning conversation patterns and on verb formation. We use English letters, sometimes called "romanized" text, so that we learn to pronounce words with the right vowels sounds. I find it difficult to be a language class with a group of people. I experience anxiety in those situations in any sort of meeting. Even speaking English in a small group makes my brain not work well. It's doubly difficult to speak in Arabic to the class. Although I study and know the words, I can't get my brain to work fast enough to process the information. I find it funny the way the teacher seems disappointed if I don't do well. But if I do respond correctly, he looks surprised.
I stopped on the way back at a restaurant near Bethlehem University called Bonjour. I had a very good vegetarian pizza. It was close to the kind of pizzas I had while in Italy this summer.

HerodionTrip to Herodion (Herodium) – 10/7

This afternoon Rami asked me if I would like to take a quick trip to visit Herodion. It's not very far from Bethlehem. Fortunately for me you drive halfway up the hillside and park. There were hardly any people there. You get to the top by walking through ancient tunnels dug either for the purpose of hiding or for accessing cisterns. It was quite a climb for me walking up stone steps and then the metal stairway. We took a little breather half way, since Rami didn't want to have to carry me back down.
Palace complex on top of HerodionAt the top was the palatial fortress of Herod. On one side was a colonnade, a rectangular series of columns, where there would have been a garden in the center and a peristyle around the outside for taking a stroll. What I found interesting is that Roman practice seemed to be to have a water attraction, a fountain, in the center. Here there was a mikveh off to the side. The room that looked like a dining room has now been labeled by the Israelis as a synagogue. There was a bath area for a steam bath, a cold room for cooling off.
Dead SeaThe views from the top of Herodion were spectacular. You could look to the west and see Bethlehem and Beit Jalla. Looking to the northwest you see Jerusalem. On the other side of Herodion you can look to the southeast and see one of the many examples of Jewish settlements (illegal Jewish settlements). The most spectacular vista is looking east and seeing the Dead Sea with the mountains of Jordan looming on the horizon.
I kept telling myself, you're really here. It's so real to be walking in the dirt and stones, but in a few months it will only be a memory.

Upcoming Plans

I'm planning to travel to Ramallah on Sunday and worship with Friends at the Friends Meeting House. I've asked numerous times about how to get there. Everyone gives me the same three or four optoins but never something definite. Next week I'm going to attend a conference held at Bethlehem University on The Influence of Media and Education on Christian-Muslim Relations . Then in mid-November I'll be participating in Sabeel's 7th International Conference , this one called "A Time To Remember, A Time For Truth:  The Nakba, Memory, Reality, And Beyond."

Friday, October 3, 2008

Week 3 of 13 in Israel/Palestine


The weekend was very uneventful. I went shopping on Friday afternoon. I went to the supermarket down the street and bought essentials. Then went to the fruit & vegetable store. And I still had to go to the next door shop to pick up a few other things. What I need to figure out is where you get fresh meat and where the bakery is. I joke with people here about missing Wal-Mart where you can do all of your shopping in one place.
I had planned to go with someone to their church Sunday morning. I made the mistake of not finding out what time and where to meet him. I expected him to knock on my door when he was ready to go. Later I realized that all was quiet in the dorm and I had been left behind. I will try not to make that mistake again.

Arabic Class 9/29

Arabic class went okay. There are times when the teacher gives us a few minutes to memorize a conversation in pairs. I did okay with mine. Then there was an exercise we were supposed to do and I just didn't understand. We were suppose to take a conversation and then change it to make it about ourselves and someone else in the class. I felt like an idiot, but I couldn't do it because I don't know anyone well enough in the class. He helped me through it, but I still felt stupid. I did okay when he called on me to recite a noun with pronoun endings.
At the end of class we worked on numbers. I had studied them in the afternoon, so I did okay. He gave each of us a CD that apparently has him reading the text of the book. I'm glad to have that. I would like to buy the second book and CD at the end of the term so I can keep studying.
It turns out that Ramadan is ending and Muslims are out shopping. Where my Arabic class is held is a suq with many shops. The street was very busy. I was sort of laughing to myself. I came here to see Palestinians and I'm getting an eye full. Apart from the merchants shouting out to people to buy their goods, the people are quiet, friendly, and courteous. The street may have some clutter and be streaked with the result of years of traffic, but people are clean and dressed nicely. Friends greet each other with a hand shake or maybe even a kiss on each cheek, men and women both. Even in the midst of a shopping spree, Bethlehem is a very hospitable place.

Daily Life

My daily life is structured by the morning tea time at 10:30 am and the lunch at 1:00 pm. Since many people leave home early in the morning in order to commute to Bethlehem, there are, what we would call, sub sandwiches for sale. Many people buy a sandwich and put it in the sandwich press to heat it up.
The lunch is usually rice with some kind of topping and pita bread. On the table will be bowls of "salad" to add to your plate and what we would call a "relish" tray of pickles and olives. I don't have any indication that anyone is paying for the lunch. I sat with the Dean of Administration during a lunch and it sounded like he tries to get people to pay something for lunch – but no one does. That's my kind of common meal.
It gets dark here in Bethlehem by 6pm. It's now 5pm and the sun is beginning to set behind the mountain west of us. This usually brings with it a period of strong breeze. There have been some nights that the wind is blowing so hard my curtains are sailing up in the air. Beautiful sleeping weather. But in the morning the air is usually very still.
I get that sense that Palestinian Christians here get annoyed with hearing the meuzin call Muslims to prayer. I can hear the chanting of the Qur'an, but to me it's like listening to Gregorian chant. One person said he can sit in his living room and hear well enough to listen to the Friday sermon. I suppose, if you could understand Arabic, that might be distracting. During the past six months I listened to Muslim chanting of the Qur'an as a meditative or spiritual practice. So it doesn't bother me the way it does the Christian residents here. I recorded a minute of sound from my window (mp3).

Trip to Jerusalem – 10/2

Rami arrived this morning at about 9 am to take me on a half-day tour of Jerusalem. Rami has majored in Bible geography and archaeology and is a trained tour guide. Besides being a knowledgeable guide, he's also a wonderful person to be with and to talk with.
Rami took the back roads into Jerusalem that avoid the main highways with their checkpoints. Rami is a Jerusalem citizen, so he is able to move around quite freely. Just looking at the scenery is spectacular, but I often was so engrossed in our conversation that I didn't notice much of what was around us.
Rami pulled over to the side of the road so I could get a good view of the old city of Jerusalem, the site of the Jerusalem temple, and the al-Aqsa mosque with its gleaming gold dome. He explained that the Mt. of Olives is a chain of mountains along this ridge.
As we descended toward the Christian sites on the Mt. of Olives we stopped to take a picture. Here was an opportunity to have a camel ride. I just couldn't see taking a camel ride around a parking lot. If I'm going to ride a camel, I want it to be in the desert not on a city street with a man leading the camel around.
We traveled on down the road, which is a very narrow path between stone walls. One could easily imagine this to be an ancient path people would have traveled in the first century.
We stopped at the site of the Garden of Gethsemane. Rami showed me around and talked about the ancient olive trees, some of which might be as much as 1,000 years old. I went into the church where Rami said was the stone on which Jesus was thought to have prayed and wept. The inside of the church is kept dark to symbolize the darkness of the night of Christ's suffering. It's too bad actually, because the byzantine artwork was quite beautiful. There was a Latin mass going on as people came walking through. I couldn't find the rock anywhere. There was a rock in one corner, so I wondered if that was "the" rock. Rami didn't go inside with me; in fact he said he would go back to the van because it wouldn't be good for him to hang around in front of the building. He told me later that the rock was in the center where the group of people were gathered around in worship.
I didn't spend much time in the church. I stopped for a minute and paid two shekels to relieve myself. There's just something funny about paying shekels to use the bathroom. There's no sign posted. There's just an Arab guy telling people it costs two shekels once they get there. You think you could haggle over the price, especially if you weren't going to spend much time in there, if you know what I mean.
We must have stopped again where I took some more pictures of the eastern side of the temple mount. It is a spectacular view. I had hoped to get a closer view today, but our timing was off and the mosques were not open. I hope to make another trip and be able to visit the Mosque of Omar and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
We parked the van near the southwest of the temple mount and walked along an old wall. You could see at the bottom the ancient wall, then stones in the wall that were reused Herodian stones, and what remains above are the later building work from the Ottoman period. What was also interesting were the ancient ritual baths (mikvaoth) that lined the walkway. I was surprised to see how many tombs were also there. I hadn't realized tombs were so close to where people walked.
 We decided not to go through the archaeological park, but to walk alongside toward the western wall, known by Jews as the Wailing Wall. An odd thing happened here. There was a young Muslim couple walking in front of us. A woman was coming from the other direction and bumped into the Muslim woman. It was more like a shoulder block by a football player. The older woman didn't seem to care one bit what she had done. It even looked intentional, but there was no way of knowing. I was shocked. The Muslim woman turned and looked at the woman but then turned back around and kept walking. This will stick in my mind. Even if it was an accident, it was inhuman to bump into someone like that without any apology.
The southwestern corner of the temple mount shows some of the original stone from the temple wall. Here is the area where archaeologists discovered a stone with an inscription leading to the conclusion that it might have been the top corner stone, the so-called "pinnacle" of the temple. To the right is the southern wall where steps lead up to the Huldah Gates. We walked around to the left toward the western wall.
We went through a metal detector to enter the courtyard. The small section of the western wall, the Wailing Wall, is a bustle of activity. To the right is a women's section and on the left is the men's section. There are many plastic tables and chairs giving the area the feel of a piazza. On the men's side was a group celebrating a boy's bar mitzvah. Standing at the wall were various people in prayer, some chanting prayers and bowing. There were of course Israeli police around everywhere.
 Rami brought me to a place where we could walk around in the old city. We wanted to have lunch, so Rami took me to a wonderful Arab diner. He knew the people, some of them having connections to where he goes to church. I ordered another falafel sandwich. The problem is ordering a falafel sandwich is like going to Subway. You're supposed to tell them what you want inside the pita bread along with the falafel. I was about to get up to look at the display case so I could point to things, but the guy waiting on me asked if he should make it like he likes it. I gave him the thumbs up, the universal sign that in Arabic means tayyib. I asked Rami if we could have our picture taken in front of the restaurant. The man whom he met outside was actually a well-to-do businessman or political official. It was actually amazing how many people Rami knew, which shouldn't be so surprising since he grew up in this part of Jerusalem. What was even more surprising was our running into his mother-in-law.
 We went walking through the buildings. Rami tried to explain to me about the various sections of the city: the Jewish quarter, the Christian quarter, the Armenian quarter, and the Muslim quarter. If I'm remembering correctly, the area he showed me was a section that had been a place where Christian Palestinians lived, but Jews drove them out and rebuilt the homes for themselves. It was a beautiful walk through the narrow street, an urban canyon with women walking with children or pushing strollers with infants.
We came out on an area where you could see first century ruins. The main street, the cardo, with the Roman columns running down the center and shops lining either side were visible below the current street level. We saw further remnants of the cardo. At another place there were open excavations of an ancient wall thought to have been built during the time of Hezekiah.
We then spent some time looking through a museum built around the remains of a first-century aristocrat's house. The lower levels were built further down the slope of a hill, while the upper-level living spaces were further up. The lower levels contained much of the water for the house, a cistern, baths, and the ritual mikvaoth. The floors contained mosaic tile floors with simple but elegant geometrical shapes. Some of the walls of the rooms showed remnants of the fresco wall-paintings. In many ways the rooms of the house resembled those I saw in Italy a few months ago. The architectural had similarities but the artistic subject was different. There were no images of people. The wall-painting seemed to imitate the type of stonework with inlaid edges. Unfortunately the museum had a "no photography" sign posted, so I didn't take any pictures.
 When we left this part of the city, we traveled to south-western Jerusalem to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Park. I was most interested in the areas in which the park commemorated the "righteous gentiles" who sacrificed themselves on behalf of Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was particularly meaningful for me to take a picture beside the memorial. To me it was also significant to be there with a Palestinian. The current Middle East conflict is directly related to the mass murder of Jews in Europe and their desire to live in peace and security. But in many ways the Palestinians now experience what the Jews did in Europe, even to the extent of all of Gaza being a concentration camp in which people are being slowly strangled to death. What Rami and I have in common is being a follower of a Jew who gave his life for others. One of the highest callings of our faith is to be willing to lay our lives down for others.
Our ride back to Bethlehem was uneventful. We only spent about six hours in Jerusalem but it felt like a lifetime, millennia of history packed into a few short hours.

Class Day & a Quick Trip

I think I'm getting better at making it through the class time. Whenever I mention something that is a difficult theological issue, there are some students who want to discuss or debate the issue. These are important theological topics, but they are the typical ones Christians have argued about for two thousand years. Most of the students have not yet had systematic theology, so they are very eager to figure out what they believe. On the one hand, they are deeply influenced by what Muslims teach about Islamic doctrine and what Muslims teach against Christianity. They also have learned about Christian doctrine from the various catholic traditions. At the end of class some people were debating the nature of Mary and the sinlessness of Christ. I wasn't going to try to explain that one.
At lunch some people wanted to know more about my views on the book of Hebrews. So I tried to give them the basics of my approach to Hebrews. They seemed genuinely interested and wanted to have a time when I could give a public presentation of my work on Hebrews. A couple of days ago, by the way, my editor emailed me saying that my book has been printed, he had a copy sitting on his desk, and he said it looked great. Now I have to wait a few days before I get to see what it looks like on the Wipf and Stock web site and hopefully
A visitor here for a few days is from New Zealand. He works with Tearfund , a Christian aid agency, and is on his way to a conference in Europe somewhere. I joined him on a quick trip around Bethlehem. It turned out to be about the same tour as Rami gave me a week ago, when we looked at Solomon's Pools. Our guide this time was Atallah, the Dean of Administration at Bethlehem Bible College (BBC). He drove south on Hebron Rd. and pointed out the refugee camps. I knew there was a camp across the street from BBC, but didn't realize that the buildings we saw on the other side of a vacant lot is actually the sort of apartment building complexes that have grown up around this refugee camp. I suppose we might refer to it as a "ghetto." There's a very narrow street that runs through the middle of it. People who live there are still waiting to be able to return to their homes that were either taken over by Israeli's or to the land where their homes once stood.
We also passed by a vacant lot that at one time had been the Palestinian Police station. Israeli bombers blew it up. There's a stark contradiction when Palestinians are blamed for not being able to provide security but Israeli's destroy the police infrastructure.
We went further down Hebron Rd. to the place where the Israeli's have a gate. Whenever they choose they can close the gate and prevent Palestinians from leaving. Nearby you can see the new highway the Israeli's built for the settlers to get quickly to Jerusalem.