Monthly Archives: November 2010

Rocks and Dirt

Turkey. Syria. Jordan. Israel. Twenty-three letters. Some ink at best, some pixels at worst. They are country names, names with flags, names with languages. Countries with with heroes like Ataturk and Menachem Begin. Countries with cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem. Cities with politics, elections, minorities, religions, cultures, cuisines.

This is easy stuff, you’ve heard about it before, and if you haven’t, it is nothing that Professors Wikipedia or Google can’t teach you. Want more? Turn to your peers on Yahoo Answers, Facebook, BBC. Maybe you want to come to these places, too. Maybe you should. They are beautiful places with beautiful people.

I heard it said once that Jerusalem was a pile of rocks and dirt. Yeah, and so maybe it is. They also say that the city is a pile of rubble built on piles of rubble; the road to Rome is a few meters deep, even accessible in the Jewish quarter, and the city is as much as twenty-five layers deep. Rocks and dirt. Those who view these words as sacrilege ought nevertheless to consider that the city itself is but a whisper for some and a shout for others, and audible headline across the world that few actually get a chance to experience with all faculties.

People say, “Jerusalem, omg!” and perhaps are put off by my steady, if seemingly indifferent demeanor. The thing is, I’m not interested in commercial Jerusalem with its glass baubles, volatile T-shirts, and gaudy religious relics. The faces of Jerusalem, often simplistically characterized as eschotologically dogmatic Christian Zionism, radical Ultra-Orthodoxy, and extremist resistance groups turn out to be a visible but incomplete view of the landscape.

And, oh! The pilgrims of Jerusalem. I am often embarrassed at their voyeurism, even if the locals seem accustomed to it. Thus I have witnessed a man clutching a large black camera with his wife huddling close to ensure that the perfect shot was taken of an older man doing his prayers in park; I got similar vibes as tourists persisted in taking shots of Shabbat at the Wailing Wall, an act that is forbidden and highly insensitive. I have experienced the throng in the churches as people push and shove in front of others to get good pictures and kiss famous relics. I’ve heard snippets of conversations in the sook as middle aged women pay exorbitant prices for the perfect gift for John; he needed that incense, and Susan would just look darling in this necklace. And earrings. And dress. And scarf. Oh my gosh, there’s a MATCHING scarf!

I went on a free tour yesterday to survey some of the primary holy sites of the city and was bemused at the irony of at least two hyper-clingy couples; one girl had on a hot pink tank top and threw on a statuary cardigan when we got to the Wailing Wall, only to be outdone by the girls in matching spaghetti-strap dresses with bra-straps exposed. Poshlust, I say. To quote the YouTube David (who went to the dentist) . . . Is this real life?

It’s not about pictures, shopping, or clothing, and I am not necessarily condemning the people I’ve just mentioned. But what are they doing? Am I them? Will I become them? Yes, friends. I’m having a great time. But friends . . . this is a heavy place to be. You’d be amazed at how well that fact can be hidden from visitors, even the ones like myself who seek it out. By now I’ve heard many perspectives, opinions, facts. But at the end of the day, a tourist need but shuffle around, get the perfect shots and leave unchanged. I guess it’s noble of me to point that out. But maybe somebody needs to hear it.

Luke 19:36-40 (ESV)
And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent,the very stones would cry out.”


Just Suppose

“Suppose we could step out, from everything in the past that weighs us down and holds us back – the things we’ve done or failed to do that deaden, wreck, cripple. Suppose we could cast off once and for all every nightmare we can imagine about the future and for once in our lives live just in the mystery and gift of today.” -Frederick Buechner