A Place of Eden’s Remembrance

I once went to a coffee shop. It was calm and quiet and cozy. It smelled of Americano and chai and raspberry jam spread over hot spongy bread. The aroma would waft over the tables and when I smelled it I felt content. Content with everything. There were no problems. There was no homesickness. There were no papers or classes or knee scrapes or alarm clocks. It was a moment of retreat, an escape to a special place where everything is quiet and perfect and peaceful.

I asked the man behind the counter for a small cup of coffee. Twelve shekels, he said in unconfident English. I handed him the money, he asked for my name, I gave it. Oh and no cream, I said as he turned away.  

I sat down, clutching my receipt and waiting for my Israeli coffee. The men scuttled behind the counter. I waited. I had only been drinking coffee since September, and now it was January and the last time I’d had coffee was at a Starbucks in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. That was roughly two weeks ago—approaching legitimate withdrawal period for me. When my coffee finally came, it was blanketed with a foamy white film on the surface of a bright tan liquid. I told the man who had made my coffee that I hadn’t wanted cream, and after some discussion the worker incredulously gave me an undefiled brew (apparently, black coffee isn’t kosher or something because he couldn’t believe I didn’t want cream or sugar).

I’m not addicted to coffee. I say this confidently. I can survive without the taste sometimes—the occasional bad brew, a few bitter sips as it gets cold and turns from a deep, rich black to a tan ringlet around the white bottom of the cup. That I can live without. But it’s the existential comfort that I love, the moment when I smell it and taste it and feel the heat of it run down my throat. I can drink it and read my book over blades of smoke rising from the surface, lighting my nostrils. The room is quiet, it smells nice, no one interrupts me as I read and I can fill my cup as many times as I like. The clock has no power there. The cell phone is off. There is no power except that which I allow—the coffee and the book and more coffee.

Growing up in America, we thirst for these moments. You may not thirst for coffee as I do, and for me it isn’t even necessarily coffee that transports me to this fantastical world. The drink doesn’t really matter (though it helps when it’s hot), but I shut myself away from the world around; I lock the door to my mind and toss the key. Uninhibited quiet. I don’t call it “silence” because to me that is just the absence of sound. “Quiet” is its own entity; the presence of something instead of just the vacuum of what usually is. Peace. It all shuts down and slows down and maybe, if you’re lucky, it all stops completely. Stillness. Hold onto that. And go back to that café as many times as you can.

Because this kind of place comes only so often. It’s the kind of place where you leave everything outside, check all problems at the door. When you walk in and see French presses at work, smell the black richness of espresso, taste the steaming mug and smile as it warms your fingertips, it acts as a kind of mind-wipe. A good kind. A kind that makes you forget your problems and freezes that moment of peace, and time drips by slowly. Life is good, peaceful, safe. True sublimity and satisfaction. It’s a special room, an inner sanctum. You see old friends there. They welcome you, pat you on the back, offer you their best chair and a spot closest to the fire. It’s been too long friend, they say, we’re glad to have you back. You enjoy your time. You pass it with laughter and stories and yes, steaming coffee. You don’t feel pressured to do anything else because there is nothing else to be done. When you do leave after awhile, you do so full and content and joyful. They wave goodbye to you as you put on your coat and even hand you a leftover pastry in a plastic baggie for the road. You leave with hugs and kisses and dream of when you can come back.

Someday you do, and each time is better than the one before. You see, it’s all so simple there. The café doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t demand anything from you, doesn’t kick you out if you’ve been there too long. You sanctify the time and drink deeply, because it may be awhile before you experience it again.

It had been a long time. Though I’d had coffee since then, I hadn’t been in my clean, well-lighted place. I hadn’t sat down, read, let the time flow by with little care. It’s an example of what we all yearn for in life. We want those special moments and slow, quiet times. We want a chance to experience a taste of what God meant for us, what he designed for Adam and Eve and what man’s pride shamefully destroyed. Part of our purpose on this earth is reclaiming just a sliver of that peace that we threw away. Finding it is rare, but it happened this week in West Jerusalem. We were in the modern section of the city and found a place called The Coffee Bean. I drank my coffee; didn’t read but it was okay. We talked and fellowshipped and laughed. We sanctified the time. We drank deeply.

And I was content. 

Jerusalem

Note: [Way too much happened on this trip to make this too literary. I’m just going to treat this post as an information dump from me to you. You would think that because it took me so long to post this, that would mean that it would be especially good. Not so, sadly. Oh, and the whole posting every day thing? That probably isn’t happening. I’ve already been assigned three ten-page papers for this semester.]

On Tuesday, we went to the Jerusalem for our introductory walk through the Old City. We were dropped off right outside the wall—specifically the Jaffa Gate—built by the Ottoman Turks. There was this huge fortress right inside Jaffa Gate called the Citadel, and it was Herod’s private palace during the time of Jesus, and may have been (and probably was) the place where Jesus was condemned by Pilate before his crucifixion. With that in mind, it is likely that Pilate lived here during the life of Jesus, instead of the traditional fortress of Antonia, which is where many—mainly the Catholics—think he was. On that note, it was unbelievably cool to see the outside of this building.

The middle section of the wall has larger stones and a few indents in the rock, and is a section of the wall from Herod’s palace from Jesus’ time. It is very likely that Jesus looked at those very stones.

I’m sure I’ll experience this as the trip goes on, but I got a weird feeling looking at that wall. It brought color to the image of Jesus I’ve had all my life, gave it some strength on an apologetic level for some reason. I’ll hopefully draw that out more in future posts.

The rest of the Citadel was built by those who ruled and lived in Jerusalem in later years. During the Crusades in the 11th and 12th Centuries, the Crusaders built deep moats around the Citadel, and other kings and conquerors and armies added to it over the years. One of the neatest things about that building was that it represented over 2500 years of human history and conquest in Jerusalem. I saw a piece of cuneiform that dated back to the 14th Century B.C. and ballistics and stones used by the Greeks and Romans. That made me pretty excited. And made me want to be an archeologist.

We climbed to the top of the Citadel and looked east over the rest of the Old City, from where we could see the Temple Mount (meaning the Dome of the Rock), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Mount of Olives on the other side of the city, across the Kidron Valley.

There was a modern statue of Saladin outside the Citadel, which made me want to play Age of Empires.

Christ Church was next, founded in the early 1800’s and the first Protestant church in the Middle East. Its leaders over the years have tried to make the Jewish people feel welcome in Christianity—starting by interpreting Romans 11 not as a condemnation of all Jews but an invitation to all Jews. The church made me glad to be a Protestant first, but also glad to be a Christian. I think that’s one of the things we don’t grasp in America—an appreciation for the uniqueness of Christianity, and especially an appreciation for the awesomeness of Jesus. One of the reasons for that is because we aren’t really exposed to other religions. In the States, there are just evangelicals and atheists. There are Jews and Muslims and Catholics and Greek Orthodox and all kinds of other religions in Israel. Biblical Christianity is extremely rare, but all the more special. Muhammad is dead. Buddha is dead. Their bodies have returned to dust and their souls will one day bow before Jesus in the end, and he will rule in eternal glory. That’s our savior. Our hero. More on that later, though I guess I already wrote a lot already.

We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional location of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. It was humbling to think that this could—and very likely is—the place where our atonement was purchased on Christ’s account and the power of sin and death was broken, but it was also one of the most disappointing and depressing places I’ve been. To our Western, American mindsets, it is extremely uncomfortable—even offensive. There is a wooden slab on the floor near the front of the church, the place where Joseph of Arimathea allegedly laid the body of the slain Jesus. Elderly women, young women, native men and others bend down to the wood and kiss it, or wipe it with a napkin, or sprinkle it with spices. A slab of wood. But to them, probably Greek Orthodox, that is the most reverent thing they can do for Jesus, both there and the extravagant, highly-decorated place of the crucifixion—replete with hanging bells and incense and paintings of Jesus in Anguish or Mary in Despair, etc.

I plan to write about Jesus a lot this semester, both new things I’m learning about him and new ways I’m learning to be in awe of him. So there’s that coming. And that post on Mudhouse Sabbath that I promised is coming soon. When I get the time.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I’m typing outside and it’s cold tonight. We’re going to Hezekiah’s Tunnel tomorrow, so I’ll definitely post soon. Later…

Psalm 48: A Psalm of Jerusalem

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of the earth,
Mount Zion, to the far north, the city of the great king.

Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.
For behold, the kings assembled, the came on together,
and as soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic, they took to flight.
Trembling took hold of them there, anguish as of a woman in labor.
By the east wind you shattered the ships of Tarshish.

As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts,
in the city of our God, which God will establish forever.

Selah

We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.

Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice because of your judgements!

Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers, consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation
that this is God, our God forever and ever.

He will guide us beyond death.

NOTE: We have to memorize this, but I liked is so much, I decided to post it.

Day One: Qiryat Ye’arim and Abu Ghosh

Note: This is a catch-up post. It is intentionally short and whittled down to make room for the bigger stuff we did in Jerusalem today. The stuff I write about the first day is not meant to be exhaustive, it’s only stuff that interested me about the trip.

Monday, January 20th was orientation day for the morning, so not much interesting to report there. Except that we have a bomb shelter on the Moshav that is actually supposed to be one of our prime hang-out places. I figured out how to use the library and how to set up the wireless on my computer, but neither of those affect you, Constant Reader, because you don’t really care how my studies go (unless, of course, you are my parents. In which case you care a great deal).

In the afternoon we took a hike. The Moshav (called Yad Hashmonah) is located between Tel Aviv, which is to the east of the Moshav on the coast of the Mediterranean, and Jerusalem, which is to the west futher inland.

We hiked east about a kilometer to Qiryat Ye’arim (pronouned something like “Kiriat Jearim”), and read from II Samuel 6–the story of when David took the Ark of the Covenant from the Philistines and began transporting it toward Jerusalem. It stayed in the house of Abinidab, which was at the top of the hill at Qiryat Ye’arim for about 120 years. There is a Catholic church at the top of the hill, replete with a gigantic statue of Mary holding Jesus and standing on top of the Ark. Whatever.

On the other side of the hill is the Arab city of Abu Ghosh, which was neat to walk through. We stopped at another church there, which I thought was significantly cooler. There were painted murals on the walls of biblical history, but when the Muslims took control of the church during the 11th or 12th Century, they scrubbed some of the paintings off the walls because they are iconoclasts ( basically defined, they hate images in churches). So you walk around this beautiful church on the inside and see faces erased from paintings and heads gone and so forth. It was tangible history; I could see it on those walls and in the tomb of a preist in the basement. You can see pictures of this trip on facebook shortly.

I thought all this was so cool. Which is was. But it doesn’t hold a candle to Jerusalem the next day.

fitting a square peg into a round hole

We have all heard about how horrible Americans are, and the sad thing is, it’s usually true. American tourists are perceived by the world at large as loud, insensitive, selfish, obnoxious, and way too comfortable with their western worldview to relate with people from other countries. We’ve all seen those people, at least in the movies. Obviously, I don’t want to “be that guy” but it can be difficult to try to fit in a culture you know little about and a language you don’t know at all.

We arrived in Tel Aviv at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, and I had to go through customs so I could get my Israel visa. Since our layover in Newark, the other, more knowledgeable students had told us multiple times to be sure we told the customs-people that we were tourists not students. Students only get a one-month visa for some reason, while tourists get a three-month one. Because we are technically in both categories, we were eligible for either. At least that’s what they told me.

Still, I felt like a dirty liar telling the lady that I was a tourist, especially when she asked me what I would be doing in Israel. “Studying,” I said mindlessly. I had thought about all the ways I could tell them that I was a tourist. I was going to see the land. I was staying in a Moshav. I was with a travel group. All those other students who are getting three-month visas? Yeah, I’m with them. But “studying” just kind of fell out of my mouth.

“So you’re a student then?” she said.

“Uh…no I’m a tourist.”

She cocked an eyebrow and gave me what I assumed was an Israeli death stare. “You’re studying but you’re a tourist?” She had a thick Israeli accent, but sarcasm knows no dialectal bounds.

“Yeah, that’s right.” I was getting uncomfortable. This was going very badly. I wonder if they imprison lying Americans.

But she just shrugged irritably, asked me how long I would be in the country, and told me that I would have to renew my visa because I would be there five months instead of three. I think I managed to create a new United States stereotype: Americans are really bad liars.

We took a bus from Tel Aviv to Moshav Yad Hashmonah, and one of the IBEX professors—Abner Chou—told us about the area we were in. Tel Aviv is where the ancient city of Joppa used to be. Joppa was, of course, where Jonah went to buy a boat ticket to Tarshish, away from Ninevah and away from what God had commanded him. He refused to bring the mercy and love of God to the Gentiles. Many years later, Simon Peter (Bar-Jonah) preached the message of “neither Jew nor Greek” to a crowd of Gentiles in Joppa in Acts 9 and 10. God had sovereignly worked to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. To Us. Our faith, as proclaimed by the hills of Israel, is real.

And who said the Bible wasn’t literary?

One of the things I had to bring was an outlet adapter, so that my American plugs can fit into the Israeli outlets. American plug prongs are square shaped, and so they can’t fit into the round holes of the outlets here without that small piece of technology. Those square plugs are insufferably American: they don’t fit anywhere else in the world.

More blog stuff tomorrow, hopefully. I didn’t have time to post what happened today, walking from Yad Hashmonah to the Arab city of Abu Ghorosh. I’m already behind on this thing.

Oh, we’re going to Jerusalem today.

stories on a plane and a mudhouse sabbath

The first leg of my journey to Israel is over. I’ve learned that the Western time zone is weird, In-‘n-Out Burger makes the best cheesburgers in America (whether the same can be said for the world is yet to be determined), and California is a heck of a lot warmer than Ohio. (sorry all Ohio friends). 

On Wednesday I kissed the Buckeye state audieu, and the only (figurative) tears I shed were for my family, who waved goodbye to Joellyn and I as we walked through security at Dayton International Airport. The three-hour plane ride to Dallas/Fort Worth was uneventful, especially for Joellyn who slept the whole time. After reading for a little bit, I eventually succumed to the heavy eyelids too. The only interesting thing I can think of from that flight is that I think I may have seen former Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer sitting in first class reading what looked like Cosmopolitan, but I can’t confirm this. If he was reading Cosmo, I can see why Rodriguez fired him and why he didn’t get along well with the rest of the staff. The Michigan coaches only read Scientific American and the New Yorker. And Rivals, of course. 
We landed in Dallas/Fort Worth, and took one of those cool tram-things to our gate (C26, IIRC). There was a label on the glass of the tram that made me laugh and think of my Cedarville friends. It said “Experienc DFW” and all I could think of for a minute was why they would advertise David Foster Wallace on an airport tram. Seth, that was for you. 
I got coffee at Starbucks, then boarded the plane with Joellyn. According to the captain, our destination was Los Angeles, and the local temperature was 70 degrees. Oh yeah, I thought. This is the life
As I sat in my seat and read my book before take-off, I saw an orthodox Jewish man wearing a kappah and sporting a gigantic gray beard slide into a seat a couple rows in front of us. He was holding an old-looking book, which I assume was either the Torah or the Talmud (I would guess the latter). I felt a sudden and profound dissapointment that I wasn’t sitting beside him. It was perfect, really. I was on my way to study in Israel, thinking about Jewish culture, and reading a small book (per Chris Pluger’s suggestion, kudos to you) by Lauren Winner called Mudhouse Sabbath, a collection of personal essays in which Ms. Winner–who converted from Judaism to Christianity in college–explores what she misses about the Jewish faith, and what about that faith could enrich our lives as followers of Christ. As I saw that man sitting there, I wanted to ask him so many questions. This made me think, “Man, I really want to learn more about Jewish thought, culture and religion. What is it that they believe? What can we learn from them?” 
Uh…check. 

Our time in California was awesome. It was great to spend time with my family and go to some cool places like In-‘n-Out Burger, some neat malls, 3rd Avenue Promenade, the beach, Santa Monica peir and do some cool things like golfing, hear Sinclair Ferguson speak at the Master’s College Truth and Life Conference, sit and read (Hey. It’s me). 
It was nice to relax before going to the grind. Who am I kidding, it’s Israel, dude. Israel. What’s so grinding? Besides the sand in your teeth. But that’s culture, man. It’s part of the ambiance. I’d rather have holy sand in my teeth rather than Cedarville snow drifts and, uh, whatever else is going on back there. You all have my deepest sympathies.
And on Mudhouse Sabbath, I spent much of the airplane ride to Los Angeles putting together an short response to the book that I think will benefit all of you, but this is long enough already. Tomorrow is the 15-hour flying part, actually to Israel this time. Goodbye, America. When I come back you will have a new president (that is weird to think about). 
‘Till I post again. See you on the other side.