Sunday, February 18, 2018

In the Classroom

Just like my last semester here, I'm taking a full load of classes. The goal is to learn more but this time I'll have a 1-year graduate certificate saying I accomplished something. Visit here for what I took last time. I have the same professors as before. Here are the classes I'm taking:
  • Cultural Backgrounds of the Bible looks at the culture of the Bible (hence the name). How did these ancient people view the world? At the end of the semester we will go to Jordan for a few days and spend some of that time living with the Bedouin. It will be intense!
  • History of the Second Temple Period covers the broader historical world of the Bible from the exile to Babylon (~600 BC) to the Jewish revolts (~AD 150). (This continues History of Ancient Israel)
  • Jewish Thought and Practice looks at modern Jewish beliefs and practices and how it has developed over the ages. We will be attending a synagogue service as part of this.
  • The Parables of Jesus and Rabbinic Meshalim looks at some of the parables that Jesus taught along with the thousands of parables that other rabbis taught.
  • Archaeology II is a continuation of my first archaeology class, starting around 600 BC and going forward to...well, however far we get. It's taught by archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkay, head of the Temple Mount Sifting Project.
All is quiet when class isn't in session. Given the small number of students, we're in a small room.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Valentines

Today is Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday. Can I relate them somehow?

We've been learning in class about social identity in Biblical times. Western culture is individualistic. I do this and that. I define who I am. The ancient Biblical world did not see it that way. The smallest unit of identity was the family, the beit av (house of the father). This is why you see people frequently identified as son of so-and-so (possibly going back multiple generations). When the gospel of Matthew introduces Jesus, he begins with a long genealogy to show Jesus' pedigree. A person is defined by the family they are apart of.

Being single, Valentines Day has never been a day I look forward to. (I more often call it SAD, Singles Awareness Day) In the midst of wishing for that special someone, imagine the power of a statement like this: "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1a) To call God Father and to be his child - what does this say about one's identity? I am not defined by being single but by how God views me.

This is where Ash Wednesday comes in. This is a traditional Christian holiday that kicks off the season of Lent, which culminates with remembering Jesus' death and resurrection. This was how God showed his love for us: he came to earth and died for our sins. It's his way of saying, "I love you."

No valentines for me, but I did have a great walk to this panoramic view, looking north at the Old City. Click to zoom and see if you can spot from left to right: Dormition Alley, golden dome of the Dome of the Rock, Mount of Olives (3 towers sticking up), and the distant hills of Jordan.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Seasonal Differences

I'm participating in some of the Physical Settings field studies again. I enjoy visiting these places over and over. It's good review. I don't want to merely repeat what I previously wrote, so you can read about the last time I did this field study with JUC here. I just want to focus on one takeaway in this post.

The key difference from last time is how the landscape is different in spring versus fall. Israel doesn't get any rain over the summer so the terrain gets quite brown. On Mount Scopus (the northern end of the Mount of Olives where Hebrew University sits), we looked toward the east. Annual rainfall quickly drops off as you journey to the east. Compare the seasonal difference:

September, 2011 - looks pretty brown!

Lush and green in February, 2018! Notice the green fading the farther east you go.
In the same way, there are seasons in life. Although not as predictable as the annual calendar, there are times of dry and times of plenty. Remember that whatever the season, God is still in control.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Life Isn't Fair

I looked at the weather forecast back home: 20 degrees and snow. I was grabbing my earbuds to go for a walk around Jerusalem. With the sun shining on a wonderful 70 degree day, I set off. I passed the Old City wall. I decided to find a new street, ending up at a park which contains some 3rd-7th century tombs which had been converted to cisterns 1300 years ago. I made my way back eventually, grabbing some books to read for class. I settled in a cozy chair out in the JUC gardens with the warm sun smiling on me.

I don't deserve to be here. Life isn't fair.

That's not to say life here is perfect. but I am reminded how God has blessed me to be here. I don't always see it. I need to be reminded of the multitude of blessings he bestows upon me, whether the day is good or bad.

Tombs/cisterns in West Jerusalem, surrounded by green!

Cold and snowy back home. I'm not missing it!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Walk Around Jerusalem

In between classes, reading, studying, and more around campus, I'm making a deliberate effort to head out and explore the city. At home I normally go for a walk each day, so this is really an extension of that habit, but it's more fun. I have a typical route at home I walk after work each day (unless it's cold and snowy, in which I'm inside on my treadmill). I keep trying to find new places to walk here. Sometimes I'm with others; sometimes I'm alone. In past trips, my wanderings have been almost exclusively in or near the Old City, but I'm branching out into other areas. Here's a random sampling of what I've seen in the last two weeks.

A column north of the Old City destined for Herod's Temple, except it broke so there it lay 2000 years later.

The Golden Gate, the (shut) eastern gate to the Temple Mount.

Ho Ho Holy Land Jerusalem! (Santa uses camels, not reindeer, here)

A random bus stop with books to share.

They turned the old Jerusalem train station into an outdoor mall and the tracks into a walking/biking path.

Another day walking by the Old City wall, except this time with someone standing precariously on top.

The Montefiore Windmill, visible from campus, originally built in 1857.

Need I say more?

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Fresh Start

I need a holiday — a very long holiday — and I don't expect I shall return. In fact, I mean not to!
~ Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
I like to compare a good vacation to restarting a computer. When encountering problems on a computer, one of the easiest possible solutions is to restart it. That little trick can fix a large portion of common issues. A good vacation is like that, flushing out the rhythms of everyday life and providing a fresh outlook.

However, there are times that a restart isn't good enough. Sometimes the most straightforward way to fix major computer problems such as viruses or malware or other gunk (that's the technical term) is to wipe it and start over. This is not always easy, but a clean install can make a computer run like new. This doesn't mean forgoing the installation beloved, useful programs or documents. Rather, it serves as a fresh start to decide what is truly important.

As I was preparing for another semester in Israel, I have felt like this time should be like a fresh install. What gunk have I allowed into my life that needs to be cleansed? It's been difficult to pull myself away. My life is well-entrenched with good and bad habits. I have a comfortable life living in a comfortable home working at a comfortable job and attending a comfortable church. But is that what it's all about? Am I living a good life when God is calling me to give it up for something greater?

I don't want for this break to be temporary. I don't want to return the same. In fact, I mean not to.

Can you relate? Is there anything in your life that needs to be cleaned up?
JUC garden. To think it's 50 degrees colder at home with snow makes this all the more beautiful.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An Early Spring

I began this blog 6.5 years ago because I was attending Jerusalem University College (JUC). It's a small American Christian school situated on Mount Zion just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Ever since I attended a short-term program at JUC in 2005, I fell in love with the land and the school. A short-term trip was no longer good enough. Thus I took a leave of absence from work and spent the fall semester of 2011 studying the ancient world of the Bible at JUC. That should be enough, right? Not quite. I heard how the spring semester is different. There are different classes with more to learn and see! Thus the seed was planted to return for a spring semester.

Spring has arrived.

Various people asked before I left if I was excited. In the days leading up, I was too busy packing and preparing, filling me with a messy jumble of emotions. As I hopped on the plane, the excitement finally floated to the top.

I've been back in Jerusalem for almost a week. Classes have begun. It's a little weird being back. On the one hand, it's been awhile, and I need to readjust. On the other hand, I feel like I'm basically picking up where I left off. I'm ready to learn more!

I'm back!

A wonderful, sunny day looking across the Hinnom Valley at JUC with goats grazing below

Reading homework outside - I'll take this any January!