Apathy and Anxiety

One of the great difficulties of this trip has been the constant fight against becoming passive to the experience. It’s so easy to fall into a kind of glazed, un-engaging state of mind—especially after everyone told me how it was an amazing opportunity or such an incredible experience or pressed upon me how it would be life-changing. After hearing that so often, it was almost natural to slip into this jaded mindset. Of course it’s going to be life-changing, I thought. You don’t need to tell me over and over again.

Of course such a thing is natural. My friends and family were always going to be excited for me, and they were always going to remind me about how it was going to be so amazing and awesome and life-changing and all that. That was always going to happen because it’s all true. It’s true because people around me have experienced it and returned with glowing reports—people like my grandparents and Katie Slusher and Preston Sprinkle. These are people who have been where I am, lived where I live, seen the things I’ve seen, talked to the people I’ve talked to, and encouraged me to go in the first place. The latter two stayed in the same dorms, learned in the same classroom, ate the same potatoes and rice and crusty pita bread (well, not the exact same obviously, but you get the idea), hung out in the same miklat, exchanged money with the same Shaban and listened to the same Bill Schlegel talk about the same Kiriat Jearim and insist that he is not a tour guide. They know the trip, they know how it changed their lives. Therefore it’s going to change mine too.

But that’s the trap. Their great experience doesn’t guarantee one for me; it doesn’t give me any kind of “earnest of success” or any degree of certainty. There are bad stories too. Granted, there may be one bad IBEX experience for every twenty good ones, but who’s to say I’m not the unlucky one? Who’s to say that I’m better than the person who took it for granted? Who’s to say that I’m shrewder than the person who listened to everybody talk about how awesome and life-changing the experience was going to be and took it all in stride, but got to the end and realized that they wasted the whole time?

No, the greatest fear of IBEX is not bombs or terrorists or Hamas. The greatest threat to IBEX, or my experience at IBEX to be more to the point, is myself. It’s my apathy; my jaded, uncaring personality. I may not be like Katie Slusher or Preston Sprikle. I may not engage the land and culture the same way they did, and I may not glean the same enjoyment from the trip.

The great trap is the feeling that it’s going to affect me no matter what. It’s not. I have to engage the moment, live in the present, live with a “wherever you are, be all there” mindset. That’s the only way Israel is going to affect me. Otherwise, I’ll miss it all, like a lazy person sleeping on a sunny day. This is why, in our first day on the Moshav, when the forty of us sat wide-eyed and excited in the IBEX classroom, Abner told us to believe it. Believe what everyone has been telling us, believe the experience, to not let ourselves be jaded by the sweet talk of others who have had or wish for a similar experience, just believe it. If you believe it, he said, it will change your life. But if you don’t, you’ll head back to America the same person you were before—and that is a real tragedy. He told us stories about former IBEX-ers who email him and say: tell the students this semester to take advantage of it all, because I wasted it.

What is it that can possibly make us apathetic to Israel? What is it that could freeze my imagination and block my mind from the blessings right in front of me? 

I love home. I love my family. I love Cedarville. I love my friends, I love Chuck’s, I love the lake on a very warm spring day, I love the comfort of my own bed, I love watching the Mets on television, I love smelling the griddle on a lazy morning and running downstairs to see the table set and the pancakes ready to be eaten. I love playing golf beneath the warm yellow blanket of the sun, playing baseball with my brothers in the backyard, curling in a chair and reading a good book. I love the new comfort of the BTS, the ridiculous drawn-out theological conversations with Jon and Kyle, and the quiet intensity of playing mini-cornhole after quiet hour in Lawlor. I love basking in summer optimism about Michigan football with my Papa, talking to my Dad about the new way the Mets are going to fail, convincing my Mom how amazing some book is, and telling my sister how often she’s wrong. I love the feeling of orange juice going all the way down my throat in the morning, fresh strawberries, cold grapes, chocolate chip cookies just pulled out of the oven with the soft dough and melted chocolate, cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza.

But if I dwell on these things too long, if I long for these things, if I wish and wish how I could enjoy my family or taste that pepperoni pizza, I stop living in the present. If I’m always thinking about how great it would be to be home, I’m no longer considering how great it is to be here. And that is the elusive, hard-to-pin-down and even harder to admit danger of IBEX, or any trip abroad in college. If you’re anxious for the future, if you long for where you’re going and don’t focus on where you are, you can miss it. You can miss it all.

It doesn’t take bad people to miss their opportunities. It just takes anxious—and by extension apathetic—ones. Staying in the present is difficult and draining, but in the end, it’s more rewarding.

So may I live in the moment, be someone who is “all there”, consecrate this chance and sanctify my attitude—so that in the end I can enjoy my family and friends and all those other things as a person changed and captivated by a renewed awe for Christ. And that, of course, is why I came at all.

 

 

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Meditation on the significance of the parables

Story is one the most powerful and globally recognized ways of communicating. In the context of the Bible, it is different than propositional truth because instead of listing facts and theologies that inform us about who God is and how he works as revealed in Scripture, it uses the raw material of real life and presents it directly and often literarily—using strong metaphors, imagery and irony which appeal both to the emotions and the intellect. Before we get too far into talking exclusively about stories, it is important to note that the parables are not always complete stories, like the Lost Son, for example. Many parables—like New Wine in New Wineskines, the Mustard Seen, the Leaven, the Hidden Treasure, and the Pearl of Great Price—are simply metaphors or images of a theological truth, instead of actual tales.

It must be noted that stories don’t stand in opposition to propositions; they instead help to illuminate the propositions and induce responses drawn from every element of the human consciousness. Propositions tend to exercise only the intellect, while stories help us to respond emotionally and even physically. For example, as powerful as Romans is, the Bible would be incomplete if we were to only be told about Jesus indirectly, in theological jargon. To be sure, Paul’s theological handling of sin and redemption through Jesus is essential, but there needs to be more. The Gospels provide that, through carefully constructed (and divinely inspired) narratives of Jesus’ life. This larger approach to the life of Christ can help us understand the smaller significance of why Jesus told parables at all, instead of just telling us things about God directly (which he also did).

The great story of life is the Story of redemption, as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. This Story finds its crux (both literally and figuratively) in the life of its greatest protagonist—Jesus Christ, the promised and foretold messiah who will destroy the power of sin, redeem people to himself, and rebuild what God had built in the Garden of Eden but man had polluted. One of the beautiful things about Jesus’ ministry is that he often used parables to tell truths about himself and his Kingdom—stories within the Story. The parables themselves serve, I believe, a two-pronged purpose. First, Jesus often told them to puzzle and confuse the listeners. This happened often with the disciples, exemplified in the story surrounding his parable of the Sower. When he told the parable, he deliberately told it in a cryptic, difficult-to-understand way, and the disciples didn’t know what he was talking about. But Jesus didn’t hide the meaning forever, as he later explicated his own short story (of sorts, this phrase is admittedly pushing the terminology). But now the story was clarified to the disciples, and they understood its deeper theological meaning. Jesus’ parables are not propositions, just as the gospels themselves are not propositions. But just because they are not theologically presented does not mean they are insignificant, and more to the point, also does not mean that they don’t present theological truths. I don’t know if I can prove this textually because I am not a theologian nor a biblical scholar, but I think the parables are literary spotlights into theological truths.

As noted before (and this is the second point), Jesus used parables to tell the hearers something important about his Father (the Lost Coin and the Lost Son), his Kingdom (The Good Samaritan and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector), and himself (New Wines and New Wineskins). He used stories—replete with characters (obvious protagonists and antagonists), plot, juxtaposition, irony, and all kinds of other traditional literary devices—to show theological truth. This word show is significant. Any literature professor will tell you that good writing (whether fiction or non-fiction) doesn’t tell as much as it shows. Jesus used parables to show theological truths in action. Again, it is important to remember that he also told people truths directly, in order to be precise and clear. He even sometimes told his hearers what he had shown in the story, so that the theological significance will be obvious and unmistakable. And don’t forget that sometimes Jesus doesn’t tell a story, but instead simply uses a metaphor for the same purpose—to illustrate a theological truth.

Jesus used parables—stories and metaphors—to demonstrate theology about his new kingdom, not only in ways the people could relate to and understand (drawing on contemporary culture—in this case Jewish—to do so, like any good story), but also in ways that are true to the reality of it all. 

*I know I said like two hours ago that I was really busy and didn’t have time to write anything, but this was just begging to get written. We talked about the parables in class today, and stories are something that I’m always thinking about (especially our mutual master story), so this just kind of came together and I wanted to put it somewhere. I’m writing a paper on literary criticism, and my thinking for that inspired a lot of the stuff in this.

Busy-ness

Sorry I haven’t posted recently. I’ve been rather occupied of late. There are a lot of things that have to get done in the next few weeks, especially in light of the news that my parents are coming to Israel in the middle of April (!) As such, I need to get all my work done before they get here, which actually means before Travel Study to Egypt because when I get back, they will be in the country. That’s about three and-a-weeks away. And we spend a week in Galilee during that time. I have to write two fifteen-page papers (one on literary criticism of the gospels and the other on Ancient Egypt in the Old Testament) and like seven 300-pagers for Jewish Thought and Culture. 

So that’s my life right now. Throw in this book I wanted to write for Tyler’s birthday and all the little things we do during the week like work days, Old City trips, bonfires and archeological excavations and it gets kind of frustrating. Still, it’s all worth it. 
So I guess it’s possible that I don’t write on this until the end of the semester. But don’t count on that because I’m going to have to write something for fun. Might as well be this blog. At least here I have an audience. I think. 

Things of the Negev variety

In this post, I hope to chronicle all the things we did on our four-day excursion through the Negev. In all, the trip was simultaneously enjoyable and humbling. It was exciting and interesting because of all the things we learned and all the places we saw. The Negev is mostly barren desert, but even the dusty, dry hills and tells and the pounding sun provide their own kind of sublime beauty. No, wandering through Wilderness of Paran may not feel as good as snorkeling in Elat or feeling the warm Egyptian air rush from the south, but I feel there’s something to be said for feeling cold, clean water rush down your parched throat as you stand in the midst of a vast wasteland. The dark land of brown and tan brings pain and testing, yes, but coming through all that and feeling relief  is, as I said before, a shade of the sublime.

Because of its dry climate, it is difficult to support an invading force. Only the best prepared forces with plenty of water can survive an extended campaign in the Negev, and even then, their conquests must be done quickly before their supplies run out. One can observe this at Masada, where in 73 A.D. the Romans were faced with a difficult siege of the giant Herodian fortress because they lacked the means to sustain a drawn-out starve-out of the Jewish revolts. Armies never invaded from the south because of this, and even the Egyptian campains hugged the coastline to the Mediterranean. With this in mind, it is easy to see why the Moses’ Israelites had to march across the rift valley and, because of Edom’s stubbornness, further south before getting on the Way of the Wilderness before stopping near Mt. Nebo on the eastern side of the Jordan River. It is impossible to sustain a long-lasting government in the Negev without extending north, or at least having a strong ally in the Judean Hill Country who is able to provide assistance during drought and protection from invading enemies and raiders.

The Negev provides a special kind of uncertainty, something Bill calls a “maybe-you-can-make-it-and-maybe-you-can’t” mentality. There is climatic instability; you are never sure if there’s going to be enough water to sustain life. One can only trust in God for provision. This is significant for understanding why God brought the Israelites into the wilderness in the first place. They could only rely on God’s provision and wisdom to lead them through the wilderness, the treacherous terrain and the “fiery serpents and scorpions”. This way, the people could not take pride in their own strength or wisdom to deliver them, but only God’s. This is a message that the Israelites learned very slowly, and it even took an entire generation to die out in the barren wasteland, but eventually they learned to trust in the Lord and not their own strength, and so the Lord raised up Joshua to lead them into the land. This trip colored and added dimension to just a sliver of what was so terrible and difficult about living and wandering in the Wilderness for forty years as the Israelites did, and also gave us a glimpse of the power and faithfulness of God for bringing them through it all kicking and screaming.

Our first stop on the first day of our four-day Negev trip was in Beersheba—a site Abraham named when he lived there in the 3rd Century B.C. It is located in the central basin of the Negev, and it is where Abraham lived for much of his life in the Lord’s service. Jacob lived there for several years like his grandfather, and Samuel’s sons were involved with it also—as described in I Sam. 7:2. Abraham, Lot and Sarah traveled to Beersheba for the first time in Gen. 12:9-13:2, but were forced to travel to Egypt because of famine.

Sarah probably took ownership of Hagar when the Pharaoh forced them to leave. In Gen. 21, Hagar and Ishmael were expelled into the “wilderness of Beersheba”, and Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran and started his family there. Later in Gen. 21, Abraham and Abimelech settled on property and water rights at Beersheba, which leads to Beersheba receiving it’s name—“well of the oath.” When we were in Beersheba, we simply looked around at wells and cisterns and other ruins in the excavations. One of the most interesting things was the horned alter replica., which is based on the design of the replica they found dismantled in Beersheva. It is possible that Hezekiah destroyed it during his religious purging as recorded in II Kings.

Our second stop was the Iron Age city of Arad, where we visited some fortifications that included a Jewish temple dating back to that time period. Beneath us, there were ruins from an earlier version of Arad, one that dated back to the Early Bronze Age, meaning that it is very likely that Abraham and Lot would have walked through the very streets we did.

After visiting David Ben Gurion’s home in Sedeh Boker, we drove to Ain Avdat and took a hike through the Nahal Zin. Part of what made this hike so interesting is what had happened just a couple days before. Earlier that week and especially the weekend before, it had rained quite a bit in both that area and most of Israel, so there was a long, serpentine rivulet worming through the canyon. We walked along the stream, which caused problems for some—including me—who stepped in the water or slipped in the mud, smearing it down one side of their bodies. It was unusually cool for that area, as it was unusually cool for most of the week. But the temperate air made the trip that much more pleasant, as we didn’t have to deal with the scorching heat that most IBEX teams do. Our next stop was Avadat, a city built by Naboteans—copper miners from Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. The ruins were rather well-maintained and the area was a neat place to walk around. Our final stop of the day was Mactesh Ramon, a giant crater in the middle of the Negev, likely formed by the Flood. We stayed in a hostel that night in Mitzpeh Ramon. And the evening and the morning was the first day.

The second day began with some wandering alone through the wilderness of Paran, and personal meditation on Deuteronomy 8. As I noted before, this trip helped me realize how dependant the Israelites were on God, and this trip to the wilderness brought that to focus. On a practical and personal level, the passage and the wilderness made me think about how sometimes we don’t think about how we’re a knife’s edge away from disaster or personal tragedy, and only the power and love of God keeps us from such fates. This small detour renewed my mind in God’s faithfulness and providence. Later, we hiked through the Red Canyons, followed by our trip to the modern city of Elat on the Gulf of Aqaba, replete with snorkeling and staying at a hotel with strange postmodern designs and billions of irritating junior high-age kids who played in the elevators at midnight with cans of Mountain Dew in thei hands, bouncing around and banging on doors. Besides that, our time in Elat was some of the best of the trip.

The next day was a trip to Timnah, then a walk through the Egyptian copper mines and the sandstone that surrounded the area. We visited a tabernacle model inside the park, and a Messianic Jewish woman took us around the tent and showed us how she thought each element pointed to Jesus. While her literal interpretations and application of the tabernacle’s elements to Jesus’ life may not have been legitimate, her overall point was. The tabernacle itself points to Jesus, and can only point to Jesus, as the true Jewish messiah. More on that later. Following a visit to the Hai Bar Desert Zoo where we looked at native predators and scavengers, we drove to Masada. That night, we hiked through the soft, powdery, moon-like Marl Canyons outside the Masada complex.

The next morning, I got up at 5 AM and hiked to the top of Masada in about an 40 minutes or so. It was winding, but worth it (ha. alliteration is awesome. hey!) After the hike up Masada, we drove to Qumran and looked at some of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered before heading back to Yad Hashmonah. 

One last thing. I know many of you are reading this blog, and a lot of you can’t write anything, but for those of you that can, I would love it if you dropped a comment here and there. It’s very hard on a writer to get no responses. Makes him feel lonely. Which I kind of am, I guess. The poem is a good example. That was my first and very tenative toe-dip into the Wasteland of poetry (if you understand why I capitalized “Wasteland” in context of poetry, you get a star. And you must also comment in order to claim the star). Anyway, Shalom y’all.

Shameless Plug

My mini-essay on our visit to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem was put (I’m trying to think of the right word. Featured? That sounds too conceited. Anyway…) on the Jerusalem Post website. You can see it here: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1236269355095&pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull

It was featured (there, I gave in) not because it was good, but simply because I sent it. Still, I thought it was interesting.

It has a 5.0 out of 5.0 average rating too! Woo!

i see water and buildings

   i am so full of grief

   my heart is

   absolutely shattered


 he used to call me every day

 i’m just waiting

   absolutely shattered

 

it was a beautiful day

 i’m just waiting

   my heart is

 just waiting

   absolutely shattered

 

 he used to call me every day

cantor fitzgerald

105th floor

please call

 

my son

 he used to call every day

 i’m just

 waiting

 

please call

we love you

please call

we miss you

 

  it was a beautiful day

the smoke

an act of war

     casualties

i see water and buildings

   absolutely shattered

     more than most of us can bear

 

we miss you

   i am

we love you

   so full of grief

 

  it was a beautiful day

the smoke

     the towers

windows on the World

     are gone

i see water and buildings

 

she had a voice like an angel

   my heart is

shared it with everyone

   shattered

in good times

   absolutely shattered

and bad

she looks so full of life in that picture

 

 he used to call every day

 i’m just waiting

she had

voice

like

angel

 

i loved him from the start

   absolutely shattered

i wanted to dig him out

i know just

where he is

 

he used to call every day

 waiting

i wanted to dig him out

i know just where he is

   absolutely shattered

 

tomorrow

   beautiful

will be three months

but it feels like yester-

   day

since i saw your face

i love you

to the moon and back

    forever

 

  he used to call

voice like an angel

  everyday

shared it with everyone

  i’m just waiting

good times and bad

 

an act of war

the smoke

billows

terror in the streets

     more than

   absolutely shattered

     most of us can bear

  it was a beautiful day

smoke

 

  it was a beautiful day

  i am

love you

  so full of grief

to the moon and back

    forever

 

i loved him from from the start

   my heart is

i wanted to dig him out

   so full of grief

i know just

where he is

 

the smoke

act of war

billowing

the second tower

it was a beautiful day

     gone



A poem inspired by John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls. Like his amazing work, this is a memory space, composed entirely of quotes from victims and media of September 11. Every word is a tribute from the family member about their loved one. The title, “I see water and buildings” is taken from the last words of a stewardess on Flight 11, just before it crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Comments and questions welcome.