Israel 2012 – Day Three: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

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Disclaimer

The Odd Couple has just returned back to our hotel and immediately upon entering our room, held a meeting.

We don’t want to be reporters (Phil has already spent 40 years doing that, and I only had one college class in communications). We want to be bloggers. Blogging is not about facts, it’s about feelings.

We will try to do both.

It is our intention to include the feelings of this trip which means two things: We might make less sense and we might go a little bit longer. Feel free to skip ahead as needed.

Day 3
Today was Friday, an important day in this area. For Muslims it is the most important day of the week. For Jews, it is the day before the Sabbath Fast, thus typically a day of great eating.

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It was a rainy day… rain is a blessing in Israel. Ronin told us that it rains intermittently only four months out of the year. Water of course is vital for the area all year. This means that a years worth of water supply is dependent upon four months of unpredictable rain.

In that context, it’s impossible to pray for a break in the rain for the sake of our trip… I think of all the great Biblical droughts and famines and feel much more guilty for every time I’ve even thought to pray for a break in the rain while so many others must be desperately awaiting just one more day’s precipitation.

After a wonderful breakfast we drove to Cana, in Galilee the site of Jesus’ first miracle (water into wine). We turned corners into streets that we might’ve assumed wouldn’t have been made big enough for a bus. It reminded me (Neal) of a mountainous version of Little Havana.

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We went from 600 feet below sea level (our hotel) out of the bus up a pathway 6 feet wide lined with vendors all claiming to be the first or best, up to 1600 or so feet above sea level and arrived in the courtyard between a Greek Orthodox claiming to be on the exact spot, and a Catholic church claiming to be the same.

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You see, what remains are excavations of what was 2000 years ago. So, all over the Holy Land are churches, temples, shrines, etc. built above what once was.

We went down passed a Catholic wedding (live and in progress) into the grotto (cave) with the excavations believed to be where Jesus walked, we circled the vessel believed to be used by Jesus to turn water into wine and we had a devotion:

A Reading from the Gospel According to John

On the third day was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-4, 5-11)

(I had the opportunity to share, Bob called on me) “It seems that with expressions like “prime of our lives” and “peak of my career” that we also apply this theory that the best will one day pass us by if it hasn’t already. Jesus’ first miracle can empower us to understand that even when we think we have enjoyed all that (or the best) life has to offer, in fact, the best is yet to come.”

Prayer: God, you are the gracious host of our lives, who still works miracles among us, even on ordinary occasions. You offer us the wonders of mirth and merriment, friendship and festivity. Today as we enter that place made holy by Jesus’ transforming water to wine, let us be transformed as well.
Here may we grow sweeter, more lighthearted and joyful, more satisfying to those who know us best.
Here, where wedding vows were exchanged, may all the vows we have made be renewed and strengthened.
Here, may we know that You care for us eternally, for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death draws us back to You.
Here, where Jesus blessed a simple celebration by his renewal of the party’s supplies, we pray that we will be blessed by Christ’s spirit. Bless us with laughter and lighthearted friendship. Free us to celebrate all life’s simple joys. We pray in the name of Jesus, who enlivened the wedding feast so long ago. Amen. (Casey Baggott)

As we finished this prayer, the singing of the wedding worship upstairs was reaching a crescendo, beginning as a backdrop ending as the forefront. At this point we held hands and prayed the Lord’s Prayer in honor and thanksgiving for our loved ones, those present and passed, here and home, who are ever with us in our hearts.

You want emotion? We stood among those who in the last year one who has married his true love and one who said goodbye to his in a wedding chapel at the sight of Jesus’ first miracle separated by one Israeli married couple three feet in front of an excavated stone basin where the water might’ve literally been turned into wine!

Yet another experience shared together.

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Nazareth Village

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We went on to Nazareth Village, land purchased by Christians seeking to revive the Arab Israeli Christian community and present an interpretation of how Jesus’ life and village might’ve looked.

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Designed under the guidance of several Biblical and Ancient scholars using only Biblical methods and materials we saw models of homes, tombs, an olive press, and a synagogue (gathering place) that were replicated after Jesus’ childhood years. It was a representative oasis amidst a teeming city densely populated.

We were challenged to consider how influential our childhood was in who we would become. Understanding even the simple tendencies of life in Jesus’ time was so fulfilling to better understand the path he walked. Literally.

Walking up the steep, rocky, slippery, narrow path, Bob reminded me that it’s much easier to grasp the parable of sowing the seed in the grass as opposed to the path.

While somewhat Disneyesque and resemblant of the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, we can be certain we treaded on holy ground.

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Our guide stood on what looked to be an artificial hill and explained that it was a chiseled wine press. It was on the land purchased to be this site and later determined to be the wine press, where the entire village (500) would gather with music, dancing, and food, as they piled the grapes on top, smooshed them with their bare feet (to detect and remove the bitter seed) and allowed the juice to pour down until the “basin” at the bottom.

This was the only wine press discovered by excavators in Nazareth, thus, we were certain that Jesus, community man, child of Nazareth that he was, that this, must’ve walked the ground we were standing. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!

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Basilica of the Annunciation

Despite having the largest Christian population in all of Galilee, Christians represent only 30-40% of Nazareth. The majority are Muslims. Driving to the Basilica of the Annunciation we were greeted with store signs posted in Arabic and English reminding us that Christians and Muslims coexist.

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There were also sign messages displayed proudly around the corner from the church reminding us that for so long Christians were a threat to Muslims in this area, reminding us that the tension still existed.

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I wasn’t offended/defensive though. I’ve seen SOOO many similar Christian signs in America. Haven’t you? We all get kinda aggressive/judgmental when we’re threatened, I suppose.

So we walked up the street into the church to head downstairs into the grotto (cave) that led to the excavations of what is claimed by the church to be where the angel Gabriel came to Mary.

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On our way back up the stairs, compelled by the emotions in this place and of this day, we stopped (Phil and I) and knelt together to pray a silent prayer. In perhaps one of the biggest shrines to the woman of Magdela, both missing the women of our hearts, it was not the first time that this odd couple has prayed and cried together, but it might have been the most impressive place we have ever done so.

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Our Prayer and Reflection by Casey Baggott:

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin encaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail Mary, Full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1:26-28, 38

Mysterious God, the ancient text reminds us that Mary was an extraordinary young woman – full of your grace – and this made possible her gift to the world. We ask today that your grace might be visible in our lives, too. Help us to follow the leading of your daughter, Mary, who bore your Love to the world.

We long to do Your will, at whatever cost, for however long, toward whatever end You would ask of us. Give us the courage to speak again the ancient words… Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Amen

Nazareth Galilee Academic Institute

After lunch we headed from lunch at the Holy Land Restaurant, we headed back to the bus among the sounds of the Islamic call to prayer, heard at a distance from all over Nazareth. The streets were certainly less full during this walk compared to the rest of the morning. The call and chant played on loud speakers placed throughout the city streets.

We headed to the NAI. A brief word about the NAI

Abuna (“Father”) Elias Chacour founded the Mar Elias School in Iibillin, Israel in the early 1980s. It began as a pre-school and kindergarten, and grew to offer education through high school level. Mar Elias School was founded with the dream that by educating the children of all the religions in Israel together (Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Druze), they might learn how to live in peace. Currently over 1200 students study and learn together, and are coached in peacemaking. For this work, Abuna Chacour has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

(Tomorrow we meet with Abuna Chacour, more on him tomorrow)

In 2011 the school applied and received academic accreditation at the college level by the Israeli Ministry of Education, becoming the first Arab college given accreditation in Israel. The college was named the Nazareth Galilee Academic Institute and relinquished its Christian affiliation, in order to gain accreditation. It is still the hope of the college to promote peacemaking. It is intentaionally supportive of multicultural and multifaith.

A prayer as we departed the bus to experience the NAI:

O God, give us eyes to see clearly your truth in life’s complexity. Then may we be freed from the temptation to cloak our own desires in grand justifications. Help us establish meaningful ties to your children everywhere. Let us be your tools in overcoming mistrust, in establishing lasting peace, in ensuring justice and your reign of loving kindness. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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Dr. Raed Mualem

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This was the most interesting and inspiring moment of the trip yet. Dr. Raed is a man of great wisdom, vision, and intense passion for reaching peace through education. and understanding. In a showed time he impressed me with his love, sincere humility, and extravagant hospitality.

After a warm welcome, he gave us a powerpoint presentation that presented the current status of Arab Israel. In his presentation, he said:

Arabs account for 20% of the population of Israel (53% of Galilee) but only produce 8% of the regions GDP.

The average household income of Arabs is 60% of the income in Jewish households.

20% of Arab women in Israel work versus 62% in the Jewish community.

Dr. Raed praised Americans for their higher education and claimed the United States as their model for developing well-rounded education that in turn, develops society.

“You all say in America, if you educate a woman, you educate a household. We believe,” (with Arab Israel in it’s current state) “if you educate a woman, you educate a whole community.”

He thanked us for the model of the Liberal Arts education that develops the whole person and teaches them critical thinking.

He introduced faculty that underscored the importance of the four languages they teach at the university: colloquial Arabic, grammatical Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

Dr. Raed said, when you learn a language you begin to learn not only how to communicate but how to understand the culture – a tool necessary for bringing about peace to this world.

The university requires studies in 3 areas: Degree Concentration, Practice, and Multi-Cultural Dialogue and Peace Studies Education. “If we want peace, we have to teach peace.” Raed said, “Peace is not just a word, it is a mechanism, it is a tool.”

One-third of the professors are Muslim, Jewish, and Christian respectively.

They offer two degrees: Chemistry and Communications. Why? Because much like Nazareth is the crossroads to the rest of the Middle East (2 hours to Beirut-Lebanon, 2 hours to Damascus-Syria, 2 hours to Amman-Jordan, 2 hours to Jerusalem-Israel), these degrees are crossroads and intersections of their fields.

When the first (female) student spoke about her desire and dreams for her education, I was moved to tears. I think it was the future-father-of-a-daugher in me that dreams for similar conviction and within my daughter.

She was a communications major. She came because she wanted the chance to get a BA (more than 90% of the schools’ inaugural class were women). She was encouraged by her academic “family” (her fellow students at the school) to think critically because she was not just here to learn about TV and Radio. She told us, “When you have a Jewish professor, you learn how he thinks, you learn to understand him and where he came from. You realize all the similarities you share.”

“I want to become a journalist because I don’t think that this world has a portrayal of my perspective or my people’s struggle.”

I was am moved and inspired by her ability as a 19 year-old, to ask “What does the world need? And how can I meet that need?”

I looked at Dr. Raed’s smile of pride and excitement, and I wept again.

It was fatherlike.

Dr. Raed said, “I have no doubt that these students will pave the way towards a world of understanding and peace… I am confident that through education and understanding we will again bring to the world hope and love – the same hope and love that began in a man in this town two thousand years ago.”

This is the prayer, for the capabilities and potentials of the young women in the Middle East and throughout the world, that they may be celebrated and nurtured, educated and loved; may it be so, Amen.

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Bob Baggott says we have says we have been “spiritually tenderized” for what is to come…

Shalom until tomorrow.

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Click Here to Link to Day Six
Click Here to Link to Day Seven
Click Here to Link to Day Eight
Click Here to Link to Day Nine