Bob's Blog: "Perspectives"
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Bob's Blog

Words of Life When Least Expected

Personal Update

From my side of the fence it seems a strange time to be blogging. I’m not feeling very spiritual these days. According to Paul’s admonition in his letter to the church in Philippi…”be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). At the moment I’m anxious about a whole lot of things. FAIL!!! My wife has already relocated to NW Arkansas to start her new job. Since August we’ve lived in different cities during the week and it’s getting old fast. I will remain here in Kansas City for another 3 weeks trying to keep everything on track with the sale of our home. At the moment the movers will be showing up at our house on Nov. 11th-13th. My youngest son Michael gets married on the 14th and we close on the KC house the 15th. From there we drive to Arkansas to close on our new home on the 18th and move in afterwards. Finding time to sleep will be a challenge. I think the holiday season for us will be a time of trying to catch up with ourselves, settle in and maybe even find time to rest. I hope to get writing again in January and finish my second book.

 

Words of Life When Least Expected

As with most introverts, I tend to wait and share my ponderings after I’ve completed looking at the subject matter in my soul from a myriad of perspectives.  When I’m finally ready to share my thoughts I’m simply looking for a final inspection as I’ve already done most the grunt work. As I’ve grown older I have noticed a diminishing capacity for the number of concurrent ponderings my soul can retain at one time. I think I’m down to a 10 "thought sphere" brain. If a new thing to ponder shows up the last sphere in line gets ejected and I lose all the work I’ve put in. This is really frustrating and my wife keeps encouraging me to write more so I don’t lose these thoughts. I could create a whole new cosmos with the number of thought spheres I’ve lost!

Now with all that off my chest time to preserve some thoughts though you will have to connect the dots.

Dot 1: I’ve been thinking about how much Jesus was Pro-Life. I know where your mind just went…of course Jesus was anti-abortion!  Have you ever considered Jesus’ pro-life philosophy was much broader and more encompassing than just the abortion issue? Jesus talked a lot about the concept of life. He told his students he was “the way the truth and the life.” (John 14.6) He taught about “eternal life” which was simultaneously quantitative and qualitative. He used the term “living water” multiple times and at one point raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a theological foundation stone of Christianity and is all about the power of life over death.

Dot 2: Nearly a thousand years before Jesus arrival on the earth a very wise Jewish King said this… “The tongue has the power of life and death.” (Prov. 18.21) There is a lot to think about in that statement. Obviously Solomon was using the tongue as a metaphor for words. In other words “words have the power of life and death.” I think as we reflect on the journey of our lives we can all attest to the power of words and their impact on us in producing either life or death in our souls. In one way or another we have experienced words of death. “You aren’t; good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, skinny enough, spiritual enough. You just aren’t enough! These are words of death drowning us in the sea of life. Tragically this is where most Christians live as the culture of religion is adept at telling us all how we’ve failed God and each other. Just in case you didn’t realize it, in the church world you’re considered dead and it’s there where they can make you undead. In some places even a good Zombie.  

Dot 3: I love word pictures and the story of Jesus walking on the water is a poignant one. If the water represents life, how symbolic is it to see Jesus walking on top of the water in the middle of the storm. Now that’s inspiring! Appropriately and miraculously he’s conquered the elements and is in control of the situation. For a moment Peter forgets who is and also walks on the water before he starts sinking like the rock he was. Soon he is flailing while trying to keep his head above the water and not die. I think this is a good word picture describing how most of humanity lives and yes, including Christians, not that they’d admit it. Every Sunday, we Christians migrate to church to be told we should proverbially be “walking on water” by those standing on life rafts behind the pulpit. Truth be told, most of us are living lives trying to keep our heads above the water. We are dog paddling while society and our churches keep dropping “you’re not enough” rocks into our pockets weighing us down. We are surrounded by words of death on all sides. Even worse, many of those words come from our own inner demons which have a field day belittling us. I think much of humanity lives in quiet desperation feeling anonymous and insignificant. I think Jesus set out to change that scenario.

Dot 4: For those who saw the movie “Avatar” there was a very powerful phrase the Navi (the blue creatures) used. I think they stole it from Jesus. Ha! Once they felt they knew you they would say “I see you.” Jesus did this all the time. When he rescued the women caught in adultery, he saw who she really was. The women he met at the well, he saw her. He saw Zacchaeus in the tree and countless others that he “healed with a word.” Jesus noticed and peered into the soul of humanity seeing what motivated people and not judging them by their external appearance. Jesus was a master at giving people words of life. He lifted them up out of the stormy waters of life by extending his hand and speaking life to them when they least expected it.

Dot 5: Something I’ve observed about us Christians is we are very good (religious) at giving people stuff when it’s expected. Whether its gifts or words, we are right there on time for birthdays, anniversaries, baby births, funerals etc. We are doing what we are expected to do when are expected to do it. I find this interesting in that the most powerfully impacting moments of my life have come from people when it was least expected! I think I hear a big Amen from across the blogosphere. I think this is most peoples experience and yet we are pretty pathetic at doing it. Do we really “see” people? Do we see the young mom struggling under the pressure of being the perfect parent? How about the teenager struggling to make right decisions? What about the person struggling with self-esteem or the failure to be good enough at anything. Are we so busy being self-absorbed with our own struggles that we are too afraid to really see others in theirs?

Connecting the dots: If we are to live as Jesus taught I’m suggesting we humble ourselves, see others in their struggles, give them a word of life when it’s least expected but most needed. Look around; see who’s slipping under the water. Throw them a lifeline in the form of words of life written down which they can hang onto and keep them afloat. Please don’t just send them a Bible verse verbatim, those aren’t your words therefore will have very little real impact.  Explain what you mean! Do what Jesus did, keep it personal and meaningful. Often people just need to know you notice, you see them and they are not anonymous. Tell the young mother how you see her endless love, lack of sleep and sacrifice for her family. Tell the single Mom, I see your dedication to raising your children and providing for them. I admire your commitment. How about telling the guy who just lost his job how much you respect him. I could go on and on but you get the idea. Jesus was committed to imparting life to humanity through words.

Personal Update

It’s been awhile since most of you have heard from us on anything other than seeing our precious grandchildren on Facebook. There’s an explanation which until now I haven’t been in a position to share. Not that it was any big secret but neither Elizabeth nor I had any idea what was going on! At a certain point one realizes that they are clueless and anything written is purely speculation and foolishness.

In April of 2012 we were feeling quite blessed. Elizabeth was the VP of Sales at a Wet Wipes & Feminine Products company and doing a magnificent job. She was making very good money which allowed me to focus on our passion Compassionate Justice without taking a salary. Then the company decided to hire a new CEO/President and at their first meeting he proceeded to inform her they were eliminating her position and others!  I remember her calling me in painfully stunned shock. This was a week after he had fallen all over himself praising her in an email for her exceptional work!

With the job market in the US the worst it has been in decades she was suddenly thrown out into a very difficult situation. In fact a scenario she had never experienced before. Companies from all over the US started calling and interviewing her and we started to think this was going to be a short lived trial. Little did we know that she would be made to jump through countless hoops, manipulated, lied to over and over again. I watched her spirit get crushed time and time again. It was brutal and painful for me to watch.

At the same time funding for our Compassionate Justice projects was getting increasingly more difficult to secure. I found myself begging and pleading with people for tens of thousands of dollars wondering how other organizations were able to raise millions. I started to get really down on myself realizing I total sucked at fund raising! I knew the impact these medical supplies and textbooks were having on the people of Zimbabwe but I couldn’t seem to convince others it was a worthy endeavor. I’m grateful for a few close friends who sacrificed so we could get containers full of invaluable supplies over there.

Realizing our backs were to the wall and we had no idea what was going on we decided not to accept any more gifted supplies as we didn’t know how to pay for getting them over to Zimbabwe. At the same time Elizabeth took some contract work and consulting jobs and I went to work doing whatever I could to bring in some income to keep our heads above the water. I had to put both Compassionate Justice and my next book on hold until the dust settled and we could see clearly.

Well, I’m happy to report that we might finally be seeing some clarity after all this time. Last week we drove down to Siloam Springs, AR where DaySpring a Christian card and gift company and subsidiary of Hallmark is located. (www.dayspring.com) We had an amazing time meeting their management team as well as the original founders now well into their 80’s. I was very happy for Elizabeth as they were extremely excited about her joining the company. I believe they are also genuinely grateful to have her be their first female executive in upper management. Her start date will be August 12th.

What does that mean for us in the short term? On the positive, we are going to have to relocate to NW Arkansas which is a beautiful area. On the negative, we are moving 3 hours away from our children and grandchildren. I was feeling rather sorry for myself until I contacted and old friend who lives in that area in hopes of hooking up for lunch while we were there. He apologized for not being able to meet as he was on his way to visit his grandchildren in New Zealand! Three hours doesn’t seem all that far in comparison. We are asking God for an opportunity to purchase a house on one of the lakes in the area. We hope that will be an added incentive for our family to come and visit.  Elizabeth has lived by water all her life until moving to Kansas City. I find it soothing to my soul. Walking by the lake will enable me to quiet my soul and write which I need to do. I was supposed to have the book done this past April and just wasn’t in a place to get out the rest of what’s inside me given our circumstances. I’m looking forward to a change of scenery.

Given I will be responsible for getting the house ready, selling it and overseeing the move (thankfully we have a relocation company through Hallmark), I will be preoccupied for the next few months. I will try and get writing this winter and hope to be ready with the manuscript by April 2014. I suppose you are wondering what the book is about. Well, it’s about how most of what God does happens outside the church and through people who are not in “the ministry”. It will shift a few paradigms and I’m sure make people take a step back and go… hummmm. I like to make people think and this book will do just that.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we go through this rather emotional transition. Outside of 3 years in California, I have lived in Kansas City for the last 30 years.  If you have a few hundred thousand dollars lying around not being used we’ve found some wonderful homes outside of our budget but perfect for what we’d like to do.  Haha!!!

Generational Perspectives

I was busy today writing my next book project which will deal with the subject of who God uses and how He uses them.  I wrote the following about Adam and Eve.

As we learn in the narrative of Genesis Chapter 3, Adam & Eve blew their first job opportunity.  They tried to promote themselves into the CEO position with illegal knowledge, got caught and were subsequently fired.  They also lost the lush office with a view and all the perks.  They received their pink slips and were sent packing without severance or insurance benefits.  Their next job prospect was a rough one as they were told;

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) 

This was a serious demotion and their jobs suddenly became significantly harder.  At this point the predominant goal in their lives became one thing - survival.  They were also dealing with the powerful emotion of fear which can be an intense motivator.  Despite the great scientific, technological and educational achievements of the modern world, or even our sense of being sophisticated or advanced, underneath it all we are still today people who are driven by the desire to survive while dealing with our fears.  In fact I would say it is because of our intense desire to survive that we have made advances in so many sectors.

It was at this point my thoughts drifted off to a conversation which happened last Sunday night at our weekly family dinner about the differences between generations.  I have noticed some obvious distinctions between my “Boomer” generation and the “Millennial” or generation Y of my children and wondered why?  Why do they (Millennials) seem so passive?  Where is their sense of urgency?  They seem to be so nonchalant about life to the point where it irritates me!  Why is life one big party to them?  After all, isn’t life about survival and yet they seem to be so laid back about the whole idea.

I wasn’t looking for right or wrong answers or even better or worse but to simply understand why we approach life so differently.  I started thinking about the world I was raised in and who raised me.  The perspective of life my parents’ generation grew up with, (“The Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw defined them) was formed by the Great Depression where they lived multiple families to a house and survived on potato soup for days on end.  They observed daily soup kitchens, tent cities and despair all around them for a decade.  Then as young men they witnessed first-hand the deaths of over 400,000 of their closest friends.  When my uncles returned home from WWII with the loss of life so vividly etched into their psyches, they wrestled with the guilt of surviving.  The issue of life simply being about survival was the motivation that drove them to work long and hard hours trying to eke out a living and buy a piece of land they could survive on.  These values and this perspective were imparted to us as children.

I grew up as a child in a world where the Russians were going to send over nuclear missiles and annihilate everyone in the US.  Our neighbors built underground concrete bunkers and stored months’ worth of food rations in them all in an effort to survive.  As we started watching television I remember being bombarded with the images of starving children in Biafra, Nigeria. I was horrified.  I also remember watching the evening news where every day they tallied up the death count in the war in Vietnam.  I saw and felt death all around me and just like my parents, took on the perspective that life was about survival.

When my friends and I started having children of our own, we didn’t want them subjected to the many fears that survival can create.  We kept the thought of death far away from them.  At all cost and as long as possible, we wanted them to enjoy their innocence as children.  We created a society in which tragedy and death was hidden from them.  We organized their lives so that everything was safe and structured. We created age level sporting activities so they no longer had to compete against the older kids in the neighborhood.  We made life “fair!”  In fact we seldom let them out of our sight unless it was safe.  My mom on the other hand rarely ever knew where we were!

A few years ago I was watching a segment on the evening US news show 60 Minutes. The topic was the Millennials.  The assessment of the “experts” was that this was the most coddled and over protected generation in the history of humanity.  They went on to say that with their over organized lives, we had developed a generation which would have a serious deficiency in leadership. They painted a bleak outlook for the future with a generation whose perspective of life was it should all be fun and somebody else will organize it!

I was a bit depressed afterwards and overwhelmed with the sense of guilt that I had been part of raising a generation of marshmallows.  In hindsight, I think the saving grace for some of my kids was the military.  While it was still organized with clear lines of authority, they learned to shut up and work hard.  They learned the value of human life and what it means to survive.  I remember how distraught my platoon leader son was after a training exercise where half his men were killed.  For him I’m relieved it didn’t happen in real life.  I have others friends whose sons weren’t so lucky and carried their dead friends off rooftops in Iraq.

I hate to say this but I suspect many of our children are going to learn the hard lessons of life no matter what and probably much later than we did.  In all of our efforts to protect them from certain realities, life has a way of teaching us all its lessons whether we want to learn them or not.  Life when reduced down to its most basic elements is still really about survival.

Who’s Influencing Who?

The last couple months I have been busy remodeling parts of our home and installing an irrigation system.  The house is over 20 years old and was in need of a serious facelift.  The grandkids now have a newly painted bedroom of their own.  Elizabeth has a new home office and fully remodeled kitchen and dining room!   All the activity has left me with little time to write so I have some catching up to do over the next few months.

Who’s Influencing Who?

Here’s something I’ve been pondering for a while now…as much as I wish the teachings of Jesus were profoundly impacting and transforming secular culture, I fear the truth is it’s in fact the other way around.  My perspective has been formed over a lifetime of observing a macro shift in how Christians view their relationship to God and his spiritual Kingdom.  I realize this observation is going to make some feel uncomfortable but hear me out.

Having been born in the late 1950’s and observing my parents and grandparents, their identity was heavily formed by how they related to their larger communities of family, friends, city and nation.  They saw themselves as an extension of those communities and at all cost those communities were to be preserved.  Personal sacrifice for the good of the community was seen as an honorable endeavor.  During the two World Wars, when they felt their communities were threatened, they signed up by the millions ready to die for the sake of the greater good.  Even at the start of the 1960’s, US President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, uttered these now famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."

Interestingly, this same perspective carried over into the Christian community.  Or, maybe the Christian community was heavily influencing the cultural values of the time.  Self-sacrifice was a fundamental component of the Christian faith.  Romans 12:1 “I therefore urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God, for this is the reasonable way for you to worship” was standard protocol.  Western missionaries who left the comfort of home to live a sacrificial life and spread the gospel were revered.  Those saints mentioned in “Fox’s Book of Martyrs” were set on a heroic pedestal as Tertullian proclaimed in the 2nd century, “the church is built on the blood of the martyrs.”   All of this was influenced heavily by Jesus own words “No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

I first became interested in the teachings of Jesus in the mid 1970’s and even at that time when one came into to the Kingdom of God you laid all at the foot of the cross.  Soon I began to notice a developing trend in the world around me…the beginning of all things “self.”  There was self-actualization, self-awareness, self-definition, self-determination, self-development, self-discovery, self-efficacy, self- empowerment, self-esteem, self-growth, self-help, even a magazine called Self!  I have continued to observe as the decades have passed how American culture has become increasingly narcissistic and self-centered.  Andy Warhol, said in 1968 "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.  YouTube is the new breeding ground for aspiring famous wannabe’s driven by the need to be seen and admired.  We no longer see ourselves as an extension of our greater communities, but as self-preserving “ego” pack rats.  Our unspoken motto is “it’s all about me!”

This same cultural shift is apparent within the Christian community.  In 2009, when my book “Saving Zimbabwe” was being printed, we decided to set foot inside a Christian bookstore for the first time in years.  Given the book was about people laying their lives down for the sake of others in Zimbabwe, we were curious as to where the book might fit in the stores.  The first thing we came across was a bookrack with the Top 20 Selling Christian Books.  As we perused down through all the titles, we suddenly realized that most all were either self-help books or books about how to get something from God.  It suddenly hit me how much of a paradigm shift there has been in my lifetime.  We are no longer there for God, He is there for us!  He exists for our benefit.  We have now become the center of the universe and all that is, exists for us!  I soon realized there was “no room in the inn.” Our book had no place to lie in the world of the self-centered Christian.

I wonder if this is what is at the core of the Christian communities decline into cultural irrelevance.  When was the last time we were on the cutting edge of anything?  Most everything I’ve observed that is “new and edgy” within the Christian community is a bad rip-off of a secular idea.  I don’t mean to come off as the Christian version of a grumpy Andy Rooney (RIP) from “60 Minutes”, but we need to be honest with ourselves and ask “who’s influencing who?”  The governments of the world are beset with huge problems.  Our God is the creator of this world and the giver of life and yet world leaders aren’t asking for our advice.  We supposedly know the inventor personally and have his instruction manual and yet few outside our community care.  Why is that?  What are we missing?  Why do few listen anymore?  Have we lost our distinctiveness? 

Are We a Fear Based Culture?

I remembered something today from my distant past.  Not bad for an old guy!

When I was in 3rd grade (a long time ago) I was told by my teachers that by time I was an adult there would be only 1 square yard/meter per person of land to live on.  It really frightened me!  My little mind was racing imagining a world where we lived so close to our neighbors I could reach over the property line and shake their hand without moving my feet.  I wondered with that little space where would I put my toilet?  Of course who needs a toilet when there’s no food to eat which was the end game of the fear driven lectures.  Overpopulation would lead to the starvation and ultimate elimination of the human race from planet earth.

You can imagine my shock a few years later when our family decided to drive from Milwaukee to Los Angles for a vacation.  Not even a few minutes outside of the city (where I had never been) I started seeing dairy farms and lots of land with nothing on it but a few cows.  A few more hours and we were traversing the corn fields of Illinois, then Iowa and finally Nebraska.  Where were all the people I wondered?  I was really confused?  In fact driving to California was really boring...no people anywhere!  Irritating my little sister was far more interesting.

Over my lifetime, I have heard hundreds of doomsday scenarios, the extinction of the human race and just about everything gives you cancer!  The daily news is still today so full of fear.  I’m starting to think the news is hazardous to ones health!

There is something I picked up on our recent Israel trip which has inspired me.  Despite the fact little Israel is surrounded by nations that want to blow them off the face of the earth, they refuse to succumb to the potential doomsday scenarios and keep on living their lives.  They are building at a feverous pace, having babies, raising families and savoring each moment of life they are afforded.  The daily global news media reports of the Middle East are primarily negative and about death.  The Israeli’s have refused to be held prisoners to fear and choose to focus on life…L’Chaim.  I need to do this more.  I’m going over now to take my grandkids to the park and celebrate life with them, it’s good for the soul.


Israel: In Conclusion

I apologize for just now getting to blogging about my final days in Israel.  After Elizabeth and I returned home to Kansas City life got a bit crazy.  A new wood floor was to have been installed in our family room while we were gone.  When we walked in the house (after 3 grueling flights home) we discovered the floor hadn’t been finished and there was sawdust covering everything!  They had told us to leave the kitchen “as is” and would cover the counters and bookcases while having it all cleaned up before we returned.  That didn’t happen and sawdust was on and in everything!  It took us a few days to dig out and be able to use our kitchen.

The second big project was finalizing the details to enable us to ship all the medical supplies and school books we have stored in our Compassionate Justice Intl. warehouse to Zimbabwe.   They have been sitting there for months now waiting on funding and paperwork from the Zimbabwean government.   The funding had arrived before we left and the final paperwork arrived while we were in Israel.  I’m thrilled to report all is in order and hopefully enough people will show up this coming Saturday so we can complete the load in.  The container is scheduled to leave the warehouse on the 20th.

Now as far as my last few days in Israel…the second last day was spent in Kaysaria (Caesarea) at the Albaad plant where they manufacture Fem-care products.  I was given a complete tour of the facilities and concluded 1) I’m glad I’m not a women.  I have a whole new appreciation for what they go through every month!  2) I could never work in a manufacturing plant on a production machine.  It’s really boring!   One of the management team then took us to lunch afterward.  Sam is a non-religious Jew who has lived all over the world.  I found talking to him stimulating as he’s well read, well informed and see’s life pragmatically.  I always appreciate frank and honest discussion no matter the perspective.  At times I find conversations with religious people difficult as they tend to ”parrot” things they’ve heard or are unwilling to see the obvious being prejudiced by a narrow paradigm established by their church.  Talking to Sam was refreshing and informative.  The one thing he said that has stuck in my mind actually happened as we were walking back to the car.  We were discussing the issue of land ownership which is at the root of so many conflicts around the world.  He turned to me and said so straightforwardly “people around the world hate us…if nothing else we have this little bit of dirt here by the sea where we can defend ourselves from all being killed. “ 

The last day I stayed in Tel Aviv while Elizabeth finished up things at work at the Wet Wipes plant.  I discovered the Eretz Israel Museum was just a few kilometers from our hotel.  I decided to set out on a hike and spent the next few hours learning more about the history of the region via archaeology, Judica, Ethnography and various cultural exhibits.  It was quite interesting.  Now my wife hates museums so it was good she wasn’t with me!  I walked away at the end of the day with a whole new appreciation for the diverse cultural history of Judaism and the Jewish people.  Jews are scattered across the earth and have existed as a sub culture in most every society for thousands of years.  They are a resilient and adaptable people.

A few closing thoughts…

- I was particularly struck by the fact that for 1,300 years Arabs and Jews have lived side by side in that region with very little conflict.  It’s only since the west got involved in the later part of the 20th century that all the conflict erupted.  I wonder if we in America and the UK have become arrogant in our assumptions of what’s best for the rest of the world.

- I have also become keenly aware the US media is oversimplifying the true complexity of the situation there.  Outside of the return of the Messiah, I don’t have any confidence world leaders have the answers to peace in the Middle East.  It’s like a giant ball of string that’s been knotted up.  It will take more than a few lifetimes to untangle this mess.  The Middle East needs a mulligan!

- I’m torn…In Israel I have many Jewish friends both religious and not.  After years of bombings, murder and mayhem they built a huge wall to protect themselves.  The problem is that because of the actions of a few, my Palestinian friends and my brothers are imprisoned behind that wall.  They want peace and friendship with the Jewish community and yet are attacked by those that fear peace on both sides.

- Access to water resources not oil is the real purple elephant in the room.  30% of all of Israel’s water comes from the occupied Palestinian territories.

- Sometimes people get a bit turned off by the aggressiveness of Jewish people.  When one considers they live their lives under the constant threat of annihilation one tends to extend them a bit more grace.

- Israel doesn’t need any more religious people!  I understand what Jesus felt when he went to Jerusalem…its stifling.  What it really needs is tangible expressions of people loving their enemies and laying down their lives for one another.  We need to shut up and “Just Do IT”

Israel: Day 9

We woke to the sounds of the city of Jerusalem this morning.  While lying in bed, we reflected on the fact we had slept on land where Abraham, David and Jesus had walked.  Empires and armies for millennia have gone to war over these rocky hills.  We were at the vortex of three major religions all vying for supremacy.  These mammoth religious Teutonic plates rub against each other every moment of every day making little progress in dislodging the other.  The history here is rich with traditions that go back thousands of years which form entrenched paradigms that make peace an almost impossible dream. At the moment there is an uneasy calm in the air.  One senses though the wrong insult or provocation would send the whole place up into an escalating chaos and conflict.  Passions, especially anger run deep here and acts of violence are never far out of reach.  One has to walk very carefully through this religious and political minefield.  I have more questions than answers and find it frustrating to have friends on both sides of the equation.  It’s a bit like when friends divorce and try to force you to pick sides.  I don’t want to!

 After a breakfast of humus, dried fruit and juice we headed out early for Mt. Moriah.  The Temple Mount (Har haBáyith) is only open for a few hours in the morning and afternoon and you are not allowed inside The Dome of the Rock.  This was a big change from when I was last here in 1986. Then we were actually allowed inside the dome.  I even took photos!  Religious politics play a huge role in the change of policy.  Nonetheless, the outside views on and around the dome are stunning.  We arrived at just after 9 AM and there was already a fairly long line.  As we made our way closer to security, one of the guards asked us if we were a part of a tour.  When we responded “no” he pulled us out of line and escorted us straight to the front of the line…nice!  After all of our bags were cleared, we walked up an ascending wood walkway right past the Western (Wailing) Wall.  The view down was quite interesting as we observed a Bar Mitzvah and religious men arguing while others were intently praying. 

As you enter the mount area, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the right and up the stone steps to the left, through arches, is the stunning view of the golden Dome of the Rock one of the more iconic images of Jerusalem.  I was captivated by the ancient columns, beautiful archways and of course the spectacular blue and gold color of the dome building.   As we walked around even the outlying buildings are amazing and the views east toward the Mt of Olives spectacular!   At 11AM they started chasing us off the mount as Muslim prayers were about to begin.  From there we headed to the various markets where I had an “Abraham in Egypt/ Gen. 12” experience!  Apparently my beautiful wife was “fair in the eyes” of the males here in Jerusalem.  She was getting proposals at every turn.  I started to think if this continues I may have to claim she is my sister as Abraham did with Sarah.  Of course she wasn’t appreciating the attention and kept asking me to stay close.  I started singing the lyrics to a Paul Simon song “will you be my bodyguard.”  As we meandered through the streets her Indian pedigree kicked in and she started to bargain with the vendors.  If you come here, remember to take 50% of the first price offered.  From there you start to bargain and volume purchases do help bring the individual costs down.  For whatever reason, today was a particularly low day and vendors were aggressive in wanting to do business.   We covered the Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters and our weary bodies had just about had enough and were ready to head back to Tel Aviv.  This was until we came across the Tower of David!

My passion for history and love of archeology kicked in and I dragged my road weary wife into the place.  She hates museums but actually enjoyed this one as it covered the whole history of this area.  When reading the Bible and its description of King David and his conquering of the Jebusites, you tend to get a more glorious idea than reality as to what this town/city looked like then.  When you see the models in the museum you realize more it was David’s son Solomon who really built this hilltop into the glorious city and temple area we imagine.   At night the place is lit up with colored lights and makes for a stunning visual effect.  After our feet said “no more” we walked up to the train station and made the trek back to Tel Aviv and waiting clean sheets.  We were asleep in seconds but our hearts were full from a day of amazing sites, good food and bargains.

Israel: Day 8

After breakfast we decided to walk off the calories we’ve been piling up while here eating all this great food.  While all the stores were closed for Shabbat, café’s and convenience stores remained open.  As we meandered down one of the main shopping streets I started laughing after we had traveled a good ½ mile.  Worldwide, women have the same fetish…shoes!  It seemed every 4th store was a shoe store and they were all women’s shoes.  Thank goodness they were all closed or we would have not strolled very far and I would have been bored out of my mind.

As we continued our walk I was struck by the amount of Jewish fathers out alone with their children.  Often Dad was on a bike with one child riding in front of him and the other on the back.  As hard working as men are here and the long hours they put in, it was heartwarming to see Dad’s spending quality time with the children.  After heading south for a few miles we turned west and headed for the sea.  Once we got there it looked like the whole of Tel Aviv was out enjoying the sunshine and warm weather.  The seaside was a bustle of activity from young to very old.  The water was a bit cool so no one was swimming just sunning themselves on the fine sand.  I did see two crazy Africans out past the “No Swimming” sign bathing.  I think it was one of those “Lost in Translation” moments.  

As we headed back north towards the hotel from afar we thought we saw people line dancing.  As we got closer we realized that it was Jewish Folk dancing and it was happening outdoors right by the beach.  We stood there for quite awhile mesmerized by the music and jealous we didn’t know the dance steps so we could jump in.  Elizabeth commented that the music and dancing seemed to come from a place deep in their souls.  I enjoyed seeing the joy on people’s faces as they were totally into it!  The whole experience reminded me of the celebration scene in Otto Preminger’s movie “Exodus.”  We then decided to try an Israeli McDonalds for the experience.  This of course put back on all the calories we had just walked off. They had dinner meal choices of “The Big New York” or “The Big Texas” and trust me they were big!  I couldn’t believe the size of the burger.  One thing we did learn…must ask for cheese.

We arrived back at our hotel around 4PM and had not heard a peep from anyone at Elizabeth’s company.  I was bemoaning the fact we are leaving in a few days and my heart was pulling me back to Jerusalem.  OK, it was my camera calling.  When we were here last week it was with Elizabeth’s clients on a tour and the guide kept moving us along.  It was getting irritating as he needed to make sure we saw all the sites and I wanted to take pictures of the people and the culture. Elizabeth disappeared downstairs for awhile and came back asking “how would you like to go to Jerusalem?”  I love my wife!!!  We threw on fresh clothes, packed a small bag and headed out the door for Bus #4 next to the hotel.  After a Sharuot ride to Jerusalem, a train ride to the Damascus Gate and a walk to the Hashimi Hotel here we are.  In fact as I write this Elizabeth is asleep next to me.  I best sign off and get some shuteye as we have adventures in Jerusalem awaiting us in the morning.   

Israel: Day 7

Friday here in Israel is the equivalent of Saturday in the US and the rest of the world.  Most companies aren’t open and employees have the day off for themselves.  The children only have a half day of school.  Shabbat (Sabbath) starts on Friday evening and lasts 24 hours until the evening on Saturday.  Elizabeth has been working the whole time we’ve been here on 4-5 hours of sleep so she deservedly slept in today.  I finally had to rouse her at 11 AM as I was concerned she was going to sleep the whole day away.  We headed out around noon to walk the area in Tel Aviv by our new hotel.  Restaurants and stores were open and people were scurrying about shopping.  We stopped at a café not far from the hotel to get a bite to eat.  The sun was out so we sat outside and basked in it while we ate.  There was a little dog there that would jump up and down every time someone’s food was delivered.  He kept trying to charm food off of people.  I enjoy people watching and observing the vast and varied make up of Israeli society.  People here do dress in a lot of black or shades of gray.  I did see one woman in a yellow shirt which was refreshing.

After lunch we strolled along the Yankon River out to the Mediterranean Sea and then south along the seashore on a boardwalk.  It was a lovely time as we walked arm in arm past the stores and restaurants filled with Israelis also out enjoying the 65 degree weather in the middle of winter.  We then came to an outside “kitchen market” filled with fresh produce straight off the farm; meat, fish, wines, cheeses etc.  People were busy purchasing food for Shabbat.  Had we a refrigerator in our room, we saw many things we would have loved to purchase.  As we eventually made it back to the hotel Elizabeth took a nap and I headed to the hotel lobby where the wireless signal is much better.  I’m trying to stay on top of writing, emails and Facebook and took advantage of the down time.

Soon hundreds of Jewish people dressed up for synagogue descended on the hotel.  They soon they were singing, clapping and reading from the Torah.  While I didn’t understand a word of it I enjoyed the whole experience.  After they finished, they filed past me up the stairs to the hotel dining room for a Shabbat meal.  Elizabeth met me in the lobby and we headed back to the coast for dinner.  These Jewish people know how to eat!  The variety is amazing.  Our table was soon filled with so many little dishes of various relishes, egg plant, tomatoes, fried cauliflower, fish and all this before our main dish arrived.  It was a long walk back to the hotel as we were stuffed!

Israel: Day 6

Elizabeth and the company taxi arrived around 1 PM to pick me up and take us south towards Ashdod where the Masu’ot Yitzhak community is located.  Albaad, a wet wipes manufacturer, is located on the Moshav/Kibbutz.  A Mashov is slightly different from a Kibbutz in that it keeps the family unit together and allows for more individuality.  In the old kibbutz model, the children lived separate from their parents and the community owned everything.  The Masu’ot Yitzhak community has evolved into its own expression incorporating elements of each model.  I was excited about the opportunity not only to see behind the scenes of this Jewish community, but meet with Amnon Brodie, the Chairman of Albaad.  Amnon’s family was part of the original group who founded the communities back in 1945 first located in the Judean mountains.  The original families came from Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  They divided themselves into 5 different kibbutz’s and during the 1948 war, one of the kibbutz’s (Kfar Etzion) was totally overrun and destroyed.  Everyone living on it was killed!  It was a story I knew all too well.

Once we arrived, we were greeted by various Albaad employees excited to see Elizabeth who hadn’t been there in over a year.  Amnon, Boaz (CEO) and others all welcomed us with big smiles.  Amnon had arranged a tour of the community and our guide was a middle aged gentleman named David who was born in London and of course spoke excellent English.  It was an amazing time of interaction as he drove us around and showed us the various aspects of the community.  Besides a wet wipes business, they have a dairy farm; cattle feed plant, chicken hatchery and various other enterprises. I have just completed reading “Start Up Nation” about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Jewish people. There right in front of me I could see it all in action.

As we drove through the various homes and living quarters, we came to a tall sculpture incorporating the base of an old railcar.  Surrounding it was white stone panels with names in Hebrew etched into them.  David explained this was a memorial to all the relatives of family members of the community who had been lost during the Holocaust.  As you might imagine it was sobering.  Soon we were at a second memorial and this one dedicated all the members of the community lost during their service in the IDF, the Israeli military.  As we stood and contemplated, I noticed a mother walking along the road with three young children two of which were in a push cart.  Their cute little faces were leaning over the side of the cart watching us intently.  I was struck by the paradoxes of life and death.  Here we were standing at a memorial for people who had died so these little children could have life!   

While Elizabeth met with the CEO, David and I took a tour of the plant and I witnessed how a wet wipe is produced from raw ingredients to packaged product.  I was intrigued by the whole process.  As we walked along we found ourselves into deep conversations on the evolution of the kibbutz model, what the motivation was to live on a kibbutz and how to keep the most productive from feeling like they are “carrying” the lesser productive.  David was up to the challenge and gave me great insight for future ideas I have which may work in Zimbabwe.

After the tour was complete, Amnon took us to his house to meet his wife Esther.  She is a lovely woman, quiet with understanding eyes. She also works for Albaad in the lab.  She had prepared some pre dinner snacks and over a cup of coffee we got acquainted.  The Brodie’s have 5 children (3 boys, 2 girls) and 8 grandchildren.  They are a blessed family.  Once we finished our coffee they took us to the next town over for dinner.  While I dined on salmon, we had a marvelous time of sharing stories and learning more about each other’s lives.  They were deeply moved by the story of The Community of Reconciliation and fascinated to know they there was a Zimbabwean tribe descended from Jewish priests!  As the evening wound down, I found my heart filled with a sense of gratitude for the kindness they showed us inviting us into their busy lives and sharing their culture with us.

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