Friday, March 9, 2012

love your enemies

Perhaps one of the hardest commandments given to us by Jesus, it is something that doesn’t have quite the same context in the states as it does here. In the US, even when we try to make it tangible and specific, it usually relates to those who have slighted us or to enemies of the state, in an attempt to speak and practice peace in a world that seems more and more divided by war. Even the word “enemy” does not have the same concept in the states. It’s a bit abstract, unless you’re a soldier serving in the military.

It’s different here in the Holy Land. It’s real. It is the daily reality of people who live here. How do you live out such a commandment when your village can be isolated by roadblocks, when you’re required to go through a checkpoint with metal grates, when you can be stopped and detained at any moment with no rationale, when you can be shot on sight if an Israeli feels they are endangered? It is unimaginable. I can’t even pretend to understand. Perhaps the most striking thing about spending time in Palestine is the persistent and perseverant hope in the midst of injustice and oppression. The humbling part is that I’m not sure I could do the same.

I’m an emotional person and on my first trip to Palestine I was shocked, horrified and angry. Perhaps it was “righteous indignation” but it was still anger. On this trip, I am filled with sorrow, but I am also inspired. I see all these people working for peace, working non-violently for peace. It’s easy to respond to violence with violence. I wonder if it’s actually inherent in our nature; I know it is inherent in my nature. To overcome that urge, to not throw a punch when you’re arrested by soldiers with machine guns, when you’re beaten, when children throw rocks at you, requires an immense amount of courage and strength.

One of the speakers yesterday commented on the distinction between pacifism and passiveness – a distinction that I think is incredibly important. One can be a social revolutionary in a pacifistic, non violent way in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr and Ghandi. It’s not always about fighting back physically. I can’t help but draw compromises between some of the non-violent protesters here and the occupy protesters in the US. My brain automatically connects the image of Palestinian and International protesters getting fired upon with concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets to the recent scenes in the US of occupy protesters getting pepper sprayed and tear gassed at point blank range and I stand in awe.

Standing in solidarity with the oppressed, standing up and voicing opposition to injustice is certainly a good step, a responsibility that comes from scripture (and more than that, from the fact that all of us are human beings who deserve justice and equality, regardless of who we are and where we come from). In the midst of this, I struggle with the commandment to love your enemies. What does it mean for me, an educated American with great privilege, the child of immigrants, and someone whose cultural history includes a history of persecution? Alternately, what does it mean for those whose daily lives include oppression, injustice, and persecution, be they in the West Bank or Uganda or in the US? The only conclusion I can come to is that I cannot fully understand this verse, this commandment without experiencing “enemies” in a real and tangible sense. But this doesn’t mean that I can ignore this verse as something that doesn’t apply to me.

As an American, it means that I need to fight for justice. That I should fight against the racial discrimination and profiling that still takes place in the US. That I need to fight for justice, even for those with whom I disagree. It means that when politicians and religious leaders speak things that I cannot believe to be true, things that I believe violate the intrinsic human rights of individuals, I should not give into the hate that tempts me. It means not doubting the intelligence of those I disagree with, but trying to educate them, to listen to them, and engage them in dialogue.

But how do Palestinians live out that commandment? How can they persevere in this love when their lives are constantly disrupted? One of the speakers yesterday expounded on this:

“What is this love? Do I go to a checkpoint, get out of my car, approach the Israeli soldiers, open my arms and go, ‘Habibi! Give me some love? That’ll get me in one of three places – in prison, in a loony hospital, or six feet under. What does it mean to love your enemy? It means to get to know someone.”

It is easy enough to proclaim the “enemy” as the “other”, to generalize them as one giant group, a collective other, forgetting to view them as individuals, as human beings. How often do we refer to Al-Qaeda, to terrorists, as a collective group as though there are no individuals among them? That’s one of the important points being reiterated here at the conference. Some refer to the occupation as the systematic dehumanization and degradation of Palestinians, but insist that one should not generalize. There is a danger in generalization – be it Jews, Israelis, the Israeli government, the Israeli army. Each of these categories is made up of individuals. To generalize them as homogenous categories, as unified forces with no internal opposition is to vilify them and make it nearly impossible to view them as individuals. They are human beings. Every person on this earth is a human being, worthy of love and forgiveness, no matter who they are or what they have done.

Last night, the student group was fortunate enough to meet with an ex-Israeli soldier, one of the cofounders of Breaking the Silence and who now works with Grassroots Jerusalem. He had many good points (which I may expound on later) but the part of his talk that corresponds with the theme of loving your enemy was the simple exhortation “Compassion works”. In trying to witness to what is happening here, in trying to foster discussion about the occupation and what it means, it is important to remember this. Compassion works. We need to treat everyone with compassion. According to Sami Awad, this translates to the need to grieve in their pain and celebrate their joys with them. So much blood has been shed on both sides of this conflict, so many lives have been lost, and an anxious “peace” has been achieved. Bombings on both sides have decreased, Israelis are segregated from Palestinians and neither side is encouraged to travel freely among the other and both sides are being allowed to vilify the other.

Loving your enemy does not mean ignoring the injustice, forgetting the horrors that have happened. Loving your enemy requires the ability to go beyond this, the ability to view individuals as something more than their actions, to view them as fellow human beings. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The cracks let the light come in - responding to injustice

How do we reconcile the will of God with the evil and injustice in the world? With all that is wrong in this world, with all the wars and destruction, the hatred, the human rights violations, it can become incredibly disheartening to believe that God has a plan, and a good plan. A plan to help and not to harm (Jeremiah 3:8?). I think that’s one of the hardest things about visiting the Palestinian Territories – the difficulty in trying to maintain hope in the midst of all of this injustice. When a thirty foot wall topped with razor wire and an electric fence separates the Palestinian territories from Israel and there are checkpoints with armed guards where pedestrians file through metal gates reminiscent of cattle grates. I can’t help being reminded of my first trip to Auschwitz in 1993 and the despair that I felt. “Never again.” There are similarities here – the separation of people, the division, and what can only be described as the dehumanization of people. If we put aside the question of who has a right to this land, I still cannot think of anything that legitimizes this. The hardest thing for me in visiting here is that it is hard to imagine how one can maintain hope in such a climate, how one can persevere in nonviolence and peacemaking despite all this.

However, there are glimmers of hope. There are numerous individuals who I’ve had the opportunity to meet who are able to maintain hope for peace, even though there are children who have few options for a future. I can’t help but ask, “Are those glimmers enough?” Last night, Shane Claiborne quoted John of the Cross, “The cracks let the light come through.” It’s a quote I’ve been rolling around in my head since then. What do we do if we can’t see the cracks? Is it our job to create cracks? To chip away and allow glimmers, slivers of light to come through. There are few cracks in the wall that divides this land, but there are some. There are ways for people to illegally cross the wall and in a way,that gives me hope while simultaneously worrying me. If anyone is caught illegally scaling the wall, they can be shot on sight. There are people who work in nonviolent means for peace. Perhaps the amazing and inspiring art on the wall (some by the famous British artist, Banksy) represents another series of cracks in the wall. Beauty in the midst of this sterile, intimidating wall. Seeing all this begs the question – what is my (our) responsibility to injustice? What should be my response?

There are various responses to this. We are all called to different ministries – some are called to be prophets, others teachers, others martyrs, etc. This is a bit how I understand vocation – something personal. My spiritual director once told me that “vocation is what you do when you can’t do anything else.” Perhaps it’s an extreme statement, but it makes quite a bit of sense. However, such a statement doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to discern what one’s vocation is, especially for someone like me who has quite a few interests.

How does our vocation relate to the injustice that we witness? It should be obvious that none of us can do everything. We have limited time and resources and to attempt to stretch ourselves out over all the causes that speak to us might leave us with the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ feeling. I’m not sure that’s the answer. I think each of us have causes that speak to us more than others, something that touches us personally, something that becomes part of our ministry, whether we are lay or ordained. And our individual response to this injustice is an opportunity for grace.

So what is that response? Perhaps the most common response that I have heard here in Palestine and which was echoed by Bishop Hayes of the United Methodist Church in Oklahoma today, “It is not enough to come and see, it’s also go and tell.” The two requests I have always gotten from people I’ve met here is ‘go out and tell our story’ and ‘pray for us’. Those are simple enough requests that any of us can fulfill. Witnessing injustice does not automatically require us to become an activist, to put ourselves in the way of bullets, to endanger ourselves and our security. Prayer and witness is sometimes enough.

Within those who witness injustice, there are certainly those who are called to action. Some of us are not content to sit idly by, to simply pray for peace. Last night’s talk by Shane Claiborne touched on this by connecting it to the miracle of loaves and fish. In the story, it is the disciples who notice that the people are hungry. They come to Jesus and say, “The people are hungry. Do something” And Jesus’ reply is roughly “Why don’t you do something?” and the disciples go out to find food and then it miraculously becomes enough to feed the entire crowd. But there is a sense of agency among the disciples. We can’t rely on God to do everything for us, to intervene and interfere in our lives. Sometimes we have to do something.

There’s a similar sentiment among the conference attendees here that Shane mentioned. Often after seeing the situation here, people turn to God and demand “God, do something!” Shane postulated that perhaps the response from God would be “I did. I made you.” This statement carries with it both responsibility and agency. I don’t think this means that everyone who witnesses injustice is required to respond with direct action and involvement, but I think that for some of us witnessing injustice leads us deep into the wilderness to discern what God is calling us to do. How are we supposed to respond to this? Are we called to share what we have seen, to bear witness to those in trouble? Are we called to be activists? Are we called to donate money and resources to worthy causes? I think the answer is ‘any of the above’. Only through prayer, stillness, and listening to God can we discern what our response should be. Through the cracks, we can see the light and perhaps our job is just to do whatever we can to amplify that light.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Christ at the Checkpoint - Opening and Day One

Last night was the beginning of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference and it was definitely eye opening. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the fact that our welcoming speaker was the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority – Dr. Salam Fayyad who stated that “The occupation has made us strangers in our own land.” That’s a sentiment that has been often echoed throughout my encounters in the Palestinian territories. The establishment of the state of Israel has been based on the framework of “A land without people for a people without a land.” But there were people who were here. There are always people on the habitable land. (Except on the moon, but I’ll leave colonizing that to Newt Gingrich.) The interesting bit of Dr. Fayyad’s talk was the concept of sharing in rituals as the definition of what it means to be Palestinian. According to him, “This is what it means to be custodians of the Holy Land.” Custodians. Not owners. Custodians. Humans did not make this land holy, God did. It was here that the Abrahamic faiths got their starts, here where the historical Jesus lived, ministered, and died. There is a sacredness inherent in this place to many people of faith, but what does that mean for the conflict and the disputes. Does anyone have a right to claim this land as their own or should everyone who lives here simply identify as a custodian of the land? I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dr. Fayyad – politicians can be very well spoken, but they can also be inflammatory – two sides of the charisma necessary to be elected. However, I was pleased by the main point of Dr. Fayyad’s talk – that the goal of the Palestinians is “To be able to live with dignity in our home.” Is not that a basic human right? I’m sure the Israelis have the same desire, but how do you solve such a heated debate with two (or more) sides laying claim to the same piece of earth. There were, of course, other speakers the first night, but they paled in comparison to Dr. Fayyad and I began to struggle with being a fish out of water in the midst of this evangelical conference.

Today I find myself in an interesting state of mind. The conference begins with worship every morning, but it is in a tradition that is foreign to me. Parts of it leave me a bit uncomfortable. While I support ecumenical movement, this feels odd and I realize that my tradition / beliefs / upbringing make me feel more comfortable in a group where ecumenical refers to Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. Perhaps because of the claims to apostolic succession in many of those churches, perhaps because of the shared histories and the strength(?) of the theology. This conference is quite the opposite of that. One of the speakers I’m most looking forward to hearing is a priest of the Latin patriarche of Jerusalem and I really hope I get a chance to speak to him.

It’s odd to be at this conference because the World Council of Churches (WCC) held a conference on the Middle East from February 22-27 and I wonder if I would have found myself more at ease there. The WCC conference had Jews, Muslims, and Christians attending and presenting and I don’t see the same type of diversity at this conference. The lack of diversity is hard for me to reconcile. I need diversity, especially in discussion about peace and conflict resolution. While homogeneity can be comforting, without diversity, without recognizing the stranger as our neighbor, I don’t think there can be peace.

The first presentation of the day was on Arab Christians with an emphasis on the words “Arab” and “Palestinian”. What is the significance of these words, this language? It’s becoming increasingly evident to me that so much of the dialogue (or monologue) on this issue relates to the language used – the words chosen and their connotations. Identity. People. What do we mean by these words? The presentation emphasized how much of the early church was Arab and to me that was a no-brainer. Of course the church was largely Arab – this land, this area, is the birthplace of the church. There is certainly an issue of nationalism, national identity, race, religion – it comes back to the language we use. What makes a people? What makes a nation? How do we construct our identity?

Continuing on the issue of language, why is this conference “Evangelical” and not “Ecumenical”? What separates evangelicals from the rest? What is the opposite of evangelical? It makes me wonder if I belong here. I was telling a colleague last night that I wish I had a cassock or a habit. Something to identify me as catholic/Anglican. I think this speaks to a reluctance of being assumed to be evangelical. I would never describe myself in such a way. I don’t believe in evangelization, I don’t believe in proselytizing, I don’t believe in missionary work in the sense of trying to convert people. For me, “spreading the good news” takes a much more subtle method. Mine is influenced by the words attributed to Saint Francis, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” Actions should speak for themselves and I don’t believe that words will make the difference. By this definition, I’m not sure I qualify. I’m not sure my actions have been representative of Christ, of the gospel. Does that make me less of a Christian? I’m not sure. I come back to the lyrics of the Tom Conry song “Ashes” in the second verse:
“We offer you our failures
We offer you attempts
The gifts not fully given
The dreams not fully dreamt
Give our stumblings direction,
Give our visions wider view,
An offering of ashes,
An offering to you.”

I think it is enough to try, to attempt to live a Christian life. The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but I believe the intent of our actions, the intent of our lives, is important. Attempts are still a step in the right direction. As human beings, inherently imperfect, we can never truly be like Christ and the best we can do is to attempt.

The theme of the conference is “Hope in the midst of conflict” and I wonder if this is hope for the existence (and proliferation) of the [evangelical?] church in Israel and the Palestinian Territories or if this is about peace. For me, my reason for being here is the latter. I strongly believe in peace, in working towards that in a nonviolent manner and I don’t think there should be a push to expand the Christian churches here and certainly not to attempt to convert people. If people wish to convert on their own, that is between them and God, but it’s not in me to support something that believes that Christianity is the only way to peace. I don’t believe that Christ is the only way to God. The divine is experienced in a myriad of ways and perhaps some would consider this blasphemy, but I believe that God speaks to all of us in the way we can best understand and connect with. Where does that leave me? It leaves me feeling uncomfortable as an Anglican / Episcopalian at an evangelical conference and struggling to view this as an ecumenical opportunity. I approach this with an open, yet critical, mind. It may be a difficult five days, but hopefully I’ll learn some things and have some great experiences (even if I find myself longing for the critical theological thought of Harvard).

Hebron & the Ephrata settlement

(from 5 March 2012) After visiting Hebron last year, it was one of the most meaningful and emotional day trips that we took. It is a place that provides a microcosm of the conflict and I think it should a required trip for anyone visiting the country. Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims living not side by side, but one on top of each other. Fences over your head as you walk through the old city littered with garbage. Surveillance tower, armed guards and razor wire everywhere. How can there be any hope for peace in such a state. Today’s visit to Hebron was just as moving. Once again I found myself overwhelmed with sadness at the barricades and welded shops and it wasn’t until I was in the Al-Ibrahim Mosque that I was able to relax a bit. Holiness transcends religion. In the mosque, resting my head against Leah’s (?) tomb, I was able to gain a moment of peace – to understand that God still holds this land dear, despite the violence and terror that reigns.

After visiting the mosque, we were able to go into the synagogue as well, but without our tour guide. I wish we had been able to have a guide for the synagogue, because I wanted to hear the narrative of that sacred space. After all – providing both religions with access to the tombs of Abraham and Sarah seems a good idea in theory. All that is left of the Christian church is a cornerstone in the mosque with a Greek inscription. On the way out of the synagogue, our group was confronted by a Jewish man who proclaimed that all the Arabs should leave Palestine because this land belongs to the Jews because that’s what it says in the bible. It was said with the same ferocity and conviction of Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Perhaps it was the tone, but something about the man’s words caused me to break and I went off a bit and sat down on the stone steps and cried. I cried for the land, for all the lives lost, the livelihoods destroyed. Some of the beauties inside the mosque were created by Saladin following the destruction of the Christian Church that stood on that site. In the thousand years since the crusades, have we made any progress?

The Jewish settler we met with claimed “The Wall is a necessary evil.” The fact of it being ‘necessary’, however, does not make it any less evil.

How can we call it the Holy Land when we, that is humanity, and more specifically members of all three Abrahamic faiths, continuously tear is asunder, spill blood over it, and squabble constantly? Is not the sacred nature of this land worth coming to the table for?

How do we define a people? How do we definie truth? Both are relative. Race is a social construct and to claim that the Jewish “people” are a people and the Palestinians are not is problematic. We must first come to consensus on the term “people” before we can throw it around as a prerequisite for land ownership. History is written by the victors, but who are the victors in this case? Can there be any victors or has there been too much pain and suffering on all sides? Every person here presents their own narrative of their experience and some even claim their narratives to be truth and any others to be lies. Can two conflicting truths exist? Coming from an Episcopal/Anglican context, is it scripture or experience that defines truth, that defines belief? The Jewish settler we met argued his truth on the basis of scripture, that this is the promised land, that the Jewish “people” are entitled to this land, regardless of anything else. The Palestinians argue their narratives and truth on the basis of their experiences – being forced from their own, being restricted in their travel, being subject to search and seizure and all sorts of human rights violation. When two such diametrically opposed sides lay claim to truth, where is the middle way? Do we disregard both? Do we refuse to engage either side? I do not think one can walk through this land, this so-called Holy Land, and turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering on both sides – to the hatred and division that has become “the way it is.”

My American passport grants me a carte blanche – I am allowed to go wherever I wish with almost unrestricted access. “With great privilege comes great responsibility.” How do I use this privilege for the greatest good? Can I ignore the parallels between the occupation / disputed Palestinian territories and the history of the expulsion of Native Americans from their lands in the US or the partitioning of Poland under Prussia, Austria, and Russia? My own cultural history gives me a narrative of a people without a country, of a nation in exile, of persecution. This lens allows me to connect to both sides of the conflicts. It is easy to turn to anger and hate when one has been hurt and much harder to forgive, to turn the other cheek.

The Israeli settler we met with today said “The Jewish faith is based on law, not love. God may love the Palestinians, but I do not.” Perhaps that’s the problem. If we cannot love our fellow human being, how can we hope to attain peace?

Hope in a Hopeless Land – the village of Aboud

(From 4 March 2012) Today was an early start to head up through the fog and pouring rain up to the village of Aboud – a small little village that is becoming more and more isolated and cut off from the outside world. We were lucky enough to go to church in Aboud. The choice was between a Latin Catholic church and an Evangelical Church. I was able to go to the Latin Catholic Church where mass was in Arabic. The priest in charge – Abunah Joseph, was a hospitable, friendly man. The service was an interesting mix of old and new traditions. It was celebrated in Arabic according to Vatican II right, but mst of the congregation self-segregated – women on the right, men on the left. Abunah Josephl said it was a carryover from the Muslims in Aboud – a village that is fairly equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Abunah Joseph is against the self-segregation, but he says it’s incredibly difficult to change the people’s old habits. One of the interesting things about Aboud is that while it had it’s own well, the Israeli Army has cut off Aboud from its own well and the villagers of Aboud have had to steal their own water – something that is fairly inconceivable to Western minds.

Our second stop was the Orthodox church – the Dormition of Theotokos Church – with numerous icons of Saint George, who is incredibly prevalent throughout Israel & Palestine. More on that and the priest, Abunah Emmanuel, later.

I am experiencing a bit of a strange culture shock here – not between US culture and Israel/Palestine, but amongst the evangelical Christians. It is a context, a culture that is mostly foreign to me. I don’t know whether I could categorize them as liberal or conservative. Many are democrats, against Glenn Beck and Fox News, but then many are anti-choice (though, at least they are also anti-death penalty). Only one or two are favorable towards the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy. But the Christian rock music, the sharing of testimonies – that isn’t part of my tradition, my narrative. I don’t have the biblical knowledge (and quote retrieval) that these folks do and yet I hold a Master of Divinity. It's a very odd place to be.

The Dirt Whispered "I'm coming Home"

(from 3 March 2012 - Jerusalem) Those words were spray painted on the Wall in East Jerusalem. (what the Israelis call the security wall and the Palestinians call the separation wall - whatever you call it is a 30ft tall concrete wall topped with razor wire) By this point in time, I'm used to messages of resistance graffitied on the wall, but this statement evoked a different sort of feeling. It was a statement I could identify with - the dirt, the land which we call holy, it doesn't care about race or religion, it simply exists as it has for thousands of years - contested, disputed, conquered, and covered in bloodshed.

Today our group (Middle East Fellowship student delegation to the Christ at the Checkpoint conference) visited Jerusalem, starting at the Mount of Olives and the garden of Gethsemane and working our way down to the old city where we walked the Via Dolorosa. It was rather off to walk such a devotional path with a group of evangelical Christians. Each site had only a brief mentioned which station it was but no prayers, no devotions. I missed it and it made me want to latch on to a Roman Catholic pilgrimage at some point to see what I would be like with that amount of devotion and ritual. At the church at the garden of Gethsemane, I happened upon a mass being spoken in Polish and stopped to listen to the homily for a bit. It was actually fairly good. The priest talked about being renewed by the Holy Land, by the garden of Gethsemane - to capitalize on the ability to become good people by accepting God's will. Yet there was nothing that I heard about discerning God's will. Acceptance of God's will cannot simply be a rationalization of what has happened - if it happened, then it must be God's will. I believe that God is good and as such, nothing evil can be part of God's will. (This of course became the topic of a very interesting dinner conversation on theodicy, creation, and the omnipotence versus the benevolence of God.)

We ended our trip to Jerusalem with a trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was crowded as it is most days. It seemed difficult for the evangelicals to appreciate the church. One student said, "I would like this church a lot better without the church." It was hard for me as well, but that was due mostly to the crowds. I'm a church junkie though, I love to see them, to sit in them, to pray in them - to visit an share in other people's places of worship. Though I enjoy the simple churches, especially the ones that integrate nature into the architecture of the church, I can still enjoy the ornate structures by remembering that the intent was not to show corruption but to glorify God and demonstrate devotion. In an odd way, though, in the middle east I find myself in sacred space when I walk amongst ruins of churches, remnants of what was and inspiration for what might be as well as the remembrance that "dust you are, to dust you shall return." It's like the graffiti on the Wall - these conflicts shall eventually pass away, we shall return to dust and the dirt shall come home.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Returning to the Holy Land

(from March 1-2, 2012) There is a sense of liberation that accompanies the nervousness of landing in a foreign country where one doesn't speak the language and can't even read the alphabet. I had a game plan of course- hire a shared taxi and get to my Professor's flat in Jerusalem - never mind that his flat was in a neighborhood I didn't know. There was a bit of faith involved in hoping that the driver would actually know where he was going and I wouldn't spend the day being driven around Jerusalem. It worked out quite well and by 5'o clock or thereabouts, I arrived at their flat.

Sometimes it's the little things that change your perspective. Last week I lost my job unexpectedly, only four weeks after I started an eighteen month position as Scholar in Residence at the Religious Institute and it really isn't something I've processed yet (other than moving back to Boston). Perhaps Jerusalem was exactly what I needed - to be halfway around the world, far from all my responsibilities, in another country with problems that make mine look trivial. With only a dash of familiarity in the form of my Prof and his family, I had a moment if quiet to just be. (And yes, this is possible to achieve this with two small vivacious children running about. )
I didn't even know how much I needed a sanctuary, but I suppose it's not unexpected given the recent events in my life. I'd been in Israel and Palestine before, I'd learned about the conflict first had and had some idea of where I stood on the matter, but these first twenty-four hours were just about solace. I was wined and dined by my professor and his family, had an opportunity to play with his children and answer their questions, and attempt to adjust to the seven hour time difference. There were, of course, theological discussions interspersed among catching up on each others' lives and a restful and blissful day of feeling like I was amongst family.

On Friday we woke up to snow in Jerusalem - perhaps the most unexpected surprise. There is something about snow that always tugs at my heart strings an fills me with a sense of peace. It felt like Christmas morning - waking up to a white covered street in Jerusalem. It melted before there was time to adequately play in it (and quickly turned to freezing rain / sleet thus canceling our touristy plans) but it filled me with a sense of happiness and peace.