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Welcome!

Welcome! What follows are the chronicles of an adventure God invited me into during a five-month period several years back. Many generous people who believed God was calling me to sojourn through the Holy Land made it possible for me to do so.

Today, even four years later, I am grateful. I will always be thus.

In order to navigate this site more efficiently, I would encourage you to utilize the search button on the top-righthand corner of the screen. Type in the name of a Biblical book, city, or character and see what pops up. You can also feel free to retrace my journey (in reverse) by simply scrolling and reading. Either way, you’ll find images, words, perhaps even some videos. All of these were shot, written, and filmed on location, in the dust and sun where they really happened. If you have questions or feedback, feel free to drop me a line at my other (more active) blog.

P.S. Everything on this site is protected by my own special copyright…which means: my copyright is your right to copy. Take and use as you will. After all, everything we have is a gift from God.

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Home. And then…

Surreal. This is the first word that comes to mind when I think about being home. I feel as though I’ve been running hard, breathing deeply, and squeezing my heart out like a wet rag these past five months. Now, I find myself sitting in my favorite Caribou, looking out across the suburban landscape that constitutes familiarity, and playfully meditating on the voice echoing in my mind, “What’s next?”

My chest thumps, and I smile at the realization (more than ever) that our God has energized creation with an inertia, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds….”(Gen 1:24)

The story of His love begins with an imperative: we’ve been created to create, to give form and function to the breath of God that, even now, races through the veins of each and every member of the human race. Apathy is a slap in the face of the fiery-eyed God who, with a certain giddiness (I’m starting to believe), looks on as we give form to His burning heart. He’s given us a wooden pattern: calvary. We need only to dream and do with cross-shaped lenses, grateful that our hearts are a bell He aims to ring.

With this in mind, as my plane began to descended into the Minneapolis/Saint Paul International Airport Sunday evening, I wrote a poem.

According to their Kind

A buried bell beneath my chest
Rocks the depths, rolls tide
Like earth beneath the sea
When the wills of coral kings collide
And this is His, His pulse, His breath
Reverberations of His grandeur
To pull back waters
like velvet curtains
Legacy
We, the Spirit’s crystalline decanter
We, the clanging of chaos answered.

Hush

Having returned Thursday evening from a six day tour through Jordan, I’ve found myself scrambling to finalize preparations for my return trip home. Yesterday afternoon I left JUC before making my way across town with my friend Ryan. I had been graciously invited to stay the night at the ministry where Ryan volunteers, a home for Kurdish children who have holes in their hearts. They (and usually their mothers) come from points all across the Arab world (Iraq, Morocco, etc.) and prayerfully await a call from doctors in Tel Aviv who volunteer their time to heal kids who can’t pay a dime.

You can find more about this ministry by visiting the Shevet Achim website.

I was invited to hang out with a couple of the kids yesterday afternoon before the staff, Ryan and I shared in a Shabbat meal together–a VERY welcome surprise just a day before I leave Israel. It’s rather fitting that my final 24 hours in this country overlap with the weekly Shabbat, a time set aside by the Scriptures, a time when men are invited to share in the restfulness of the finished work of God. We don’t Sabbath well (or ever) in the US, but here, on Saturday mornings, the streets are empty. Jerusalem (or at least West Jerusalem [since most Arabs don’t celebrate Shabbat]) slows to a crawl. I spent the morning in a park under the shade of a massive pine tree reflecting on the past five months. Deep in thought (as often happens) my eyes scanned the horizon line. Suddenly, applause erupted from the other side of the park as a group of parents sat with smiles while little girls took turns dancing barefoot on the grass.

I turned the page of my journal and wrote a poem, an ode to Shabbat:

Shabbat

Beneath the jade tree, Shabbat spins
a little girl all bangs and bows
Bowing to the pregnant wind
Waxing poem and waning prose
I smile from my vantage point
A pilgrim cast upon her dance
I rise and fall with every twirl
Filled with love and bled of chance
Irony is earth and sky,
Her wasteful dance, the heart of heaven

And high atop my rubbish heap,
I pick through years of toil and leaven.
‘Till tumbled down and wild-eyed
I seek my jade tree harbor
My clumsy feet, my life and home,
And I, Shabbat’s martyr.

Everything

Today has been by far the hardest.

The unfinishedness of my redeemed heart is staring me in the face like a cracked and flaking urn some ancient potter meant to serve as a gold plated home for spring flowers.

Six days in the Jordanian wilderness stand between me and a return trip to the place I’ve called home for the first 29 years of my life. I’m the same person who boarded a frosty December plane a few months back…only, my eyelids have been stretched wider. I’ve seen places I’ve never dreamed I would behold. I’ve seen facets of my heart that are still crying out for a savior and lie within prisons of self-imposed fear. I am broken in, like my high school baseball glove.

Can I muster a final statement, a barrel-chested proclamation of what I’ve learned in Israel? No doubt people will ask me upon my return, “So, how was it?” I’ll smile back and probably say something smug like, “How ’bout you take me out to coffee and I’ll tell you all about it!” or, “You should read my blog.” But I think it’s important to offer a sort of summation to those who simply don’t have the time sift through my stories or can’t afford coffee (though I promise I’ll only order drip coffee). Honestly, I’m ok with that.

Within the confines of a day where I feel like I’ve been sucker-punched and left staggering; unable to pray, read Scripture, or even journal, all I can offer is agonized assertion that Christ still wants everything.

Let me explain…

The university I attend literally sits atop Mount Zion, a place that functioned as a sort of second name for the Jewish place of worship Bible. Worship: the act of pouring out our hearts before our Creator.

Amid heartache, hopelessness, wonderment and gratitude; wherever the waves of our fickle hearts toss us, God’s love cuts our seas like the frayed edge of a garment, pulling us from the tumult and gazing deep into our eyes.

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God (Psalm 69:1-3).

Whatever condition our hearts are in, however mangled they’ve become before we sigh and send them to the foot of the cross…God isn’t surprised. God wants all of us, every square inch of the flesh he first breathed into and brought to life.

Traveling back and forth across the Holy Land has unveiled the legacy of God’s bride in all her nuanced imperfection: pain, sin, aching, astonishment, awe…God has taken everything, the entire tapestry of human history and carefully woven it into something beautiful: billions of lives connected by the careful hands of Love’s embodiment.

So often when we approach God (or his people) we hold back and grow silent, believing the condition of our hearts to be too grave for grace. God isn’t intimidated. He made us.

Breathe. Trust. Smile under the weight of His love. He wants everything.

Homecoming

Familiarity is a funny thing. Our hearts naturally grow accustomed to familiar surroundings: smells, traffic patterns, and wardrobes of passing pedestrians. Jerusalem has, over the course of these past four and half months, become familiar. I know where to get the best falafel in the Old City. I’ve discovered the city’s best used book store. I’ve even uncovered the best place to get a pint and write poetry. I rise every morning smelling the flowers outside my window, yawn, walk (sometimes barefoot) across the cobblestone pathway which leads from my dorm room to the cafeteria where Nat and Shirley (our Texan chefs) have faithfully blended massive amounts of TLC with my morning granola.

Jerusalem has become familiar…it will never be home.

Over the course of my time in this land of dust and sun I’ve learned that true homecoming is an inward reality. Our faint hearts finally rest when we submit to the staggering truth that He is our home. And so wherever we are, whatever corner of the globe our feet march across, when our hearts have found peace with Christ, our sojourning will forever fail in carrying us beyond the threshold of His grip. Wherever we are, we are home.

I think back to the weather beaten Greek Orthodox monastery that housed me during my first month in Israel. I was lonely there. I waded through long nights of tears wrestling with the question of who I am when separated from friends, possessions and familiarities. As wind and rain created a rhythm to those winter nights, I began a long journey home while in the midst of a foreign land.

Soon after I arrived in Israel, a friend of mine released a worship album. One song in particular drove a stake through the center of all I was feeling while on the top of the Mount of Olives and became a sort of anthem for the journey I was on. The chorus goes like this:

Hold my hand
I’m sick of fighting in a foreign land
Dreaming of home again,
when home’s the only place I’ve never been
Heart in hand,
your child’s asking for the Promised Land
In your arms again
I find I’m closer than I’ve ever been.

In less than two weeks I’ll be coming “home.” In truth, I’ve never left.

There have been days over the course of the past four and a half months when while sitting in class or standing atop some precipice overlooking the Biblical landscape I thought my head would explode. New information raced along electrified neurons like speed skaters atop an Olympic track.

But most of the time, my interaction with the bones, stones, sand and shoreline of Scripture superseded words and cast my heart deep into the realm of mystery. These things are both clothing me and beyond me.

I’m willing to say, “I don’t know” a lot more.

As devotion has increased, pretense has waned. I’ve started writing poetry again–a means to perhaps reflect the way in which my soul has been wooed into mystery.

This morning I sat in a coffee shop pondering these things: hope, truth, Christ’s cross, and the ways in which His Spirit has whittled away the things I thought the writer of Hebrews meant when he refers his intended audience (who probably walked the same broken streets I did this morning on my way to the aforementioned coffee shop) to the saving reality of faith.

This morning I wrote a poem:

I bend down beside the water’s edge
Wedge my feet between sanity and eternity
And the moon over me, all around me
Like the undiluted glory cradling the face of the prophet
And my chattering teeth preach before ancient pews
Hewn by the breath of God before time could crawl.
These words cast fog against the black
Each sentence lacking synthesis, failing to match
The rhythm of the story pulsing beneath my chest.

I rest.

The stars blinking back at me,
Knowingly
Expecting nothing but the whole of me
To bend my knees and surrender to a mystery
Encompassing both sanity and eternity.

I’ve long feared my heart is like an angry freight train churning downhill into oblivion. Sometimes, amid moments of clarity, I stop and ask myself, “Why?”

I’m convinced that the fall of humanity purchased a consequence especially applicable to me,

…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground… (Genesis 3:17-19).

Our self-imposed slavery often leaves us at the twilight of our projects and pursuits wondering whether the awkward and diluted sense of accomplishment we feel was really what we were seeking all along. But we keep going, like the mouse on the wheel, like the freight train pummeling down the cliff: we’re racing toward an unforeseen end.

Every Friday night sirens pierce the fading light.

Shabbat. Selah.

Twenty five hours of rest, each one serving as a silent commentary on my Westernized soul. If I’m honest, I believe my worth is intimately intertwined with what I’m able to produce. Scripture is clear: our identity is intrinsic. We are who we are by the breath and the grace of God.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; mail and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation (Genesis 2:2-3).

I suppose it goes without saying that we could learn a thing or two from God. God creates. Everything is deemed “very good.” There’s no Hebrew word for “perfect”, but it’s clear that creation is unfinished. Human beings are placed atop sod with a purpose, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

Humanity stands on the brink of a hope, a purpose. Moments (seemingly) later, everything goes wrong. Creation falls apart. God knows exactly what is about to happen. Creation, His prize, His masterpiece, is about to unravel.

Still, He rests.

Are we able to pull back from our work, even when it remains unfinished, imperfect, and even possessing the distinct possibility to crumble, leaving us look vulnerable and…rest?

One of my professors tells the story of a bathroom remodeling project he hired out to a Jerusalemite. It was Friday and the project was well behind schedule (Middle Eastern time is a bit different than we’re used to). Morning bled into afternoon, and as the sun sunk into the Judean Hill Country, the remodeler’s pace quickened. Suddenly, the man tossed his tools to the tile, raced out of the house, and sped off into the sunset. He never returned. Sabbath called, and he answered.

Upon returning home, I want to let go. I’ll always remember jogging through the center of the streets of West Jerusalem on Saturday afternoons. People don’t drive on Sabbath. Life shuts down. People come together and look to their Maker in an attempt to reclaim the sense of dignity we, as His creation, have been endowed with.

In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity. The island is the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

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