Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Holy Land Appears in Dreams

This happens after pilgrimages: I dream of the places where I've just been to. Dream last night landed me in Israel, on the top of the ridge of the Wadi Qelt.

Of course, people who know I've been in Israel also ask about the pilgrimage, which stirs all the memories again.

Putting together the School of the Pilgrim newsletter stirred up the Holy Land.

Pilgrimage follows and frames my entire being.

Shalom and Salaam!

Buen Camino!


Monday, October 27, 2008

What Was Shaped on Pilgrimage in the Holy Land

Today at a meeting of the ministers in the area of Henderson, NC, in which I represented First Presbyterian Church, we talked about the lighting ceremony during Christmas. The subject was this: should we call it the Christmas Lighting Ceremony. I listened for awhile before stepping in and saying that I had a woman who is Jewish who attends my church, and Hannukah would be also recognized in our church. "And what of those who may be Muslim, and the celebration of Ead?" It is a celebration in the life of the Muslim tradition.

With that we chose to call is a Holiday service.

The Holy Land Pilgrimage shaped me!

Salaam and Shalom!

Buen Camino!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Banksy on pilgrimage

Throughout our time in the Palestinian Refugee Camp otherwise known as Bethlehem, we were intrigued by the art of the muralist Banksy. Today I noticed that there was much to do about a mural that Banksy did in London that caused a stir.

On this Friday, the mural above is a Banksy piece we saw entering and leaving Bethlehem. Provocative, yes?

Shalom and salaam, here AND there!

Buen camino!


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls Rock!

The Dead Sea Scroll Exhibit, currently in Raleigh, NC, at the NC Museum of Science (showing until Dec. 28th), is excellent. It shows and explains both the discovery of the Scrolls, alongside the explanation of the Essene community in Qumran, and then, at the end, the Scroll fragments themselves. Found in 1947, the Scrolls were once brought to Duke University, shown in the Chapel, and Duke decided not to purchase the Scrolls. Instead, for $275,000, the Scrolls were bought for Israel, which is where I saw some of the Scrolls at the Shrine of the Book.

What was powerful was one expert who said, "now that we disturbed them, we have to preserve them."

Having recently been in Israel on pilgrimage, having taken a bus down to Masada near the Qumran area, and having been to the Shrine of the Book, dedicated to preserving the Scrolls, I marvel at the Scrolls discovery and the very pilgrimage of the scrolls themselves.

Salaam and shalom!

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Deut. 24: Moab and Moses

As I prepare for this Sunday's worship and the sermon I am struck by the story of Moses on the end of his pilgrimage through the Sinai. He ends up on the edge of Moab, on Mt. Nebo, about to cross into the Holy Land, the land of the Canaanites, but he is simply given a vision of what and where God's people are to go.

From Wadi Qelt I have seen Moab, looking down on Jericho, to Jerusalem, seeing the glistening waters of the Dead Sea, the Negev stretching nearby.

It is simply profound, having been on pilgrimage in that part of the world, to have the words of the Old and New Testament spring to life as I read it having been to that part of the world.

Come, one and all: go with us on pilgrimage next April 2009!

Salaam and shalom!

Buen Camino, Brett

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Israel...that's a Christian nation...

The necessity of visiting and going on pilgrimage in foreign lands came to haunt me the other day at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA: a gentleman that I've met before in the YMCA was in the whirlpool with me after a work-out. We were talking about the upcoming campaign, and the difference between the candidates: McCain vs. Obama. He suggested that Obama simply needed a little more time in the Senate before running, with experience over seas. I asked him how much he understood Obama's experience overseas vs. that of the current President, and he had not realized that you could count on one hand all the time that President Bush had experienced life overseas, and usually only to visit his parents.

Then we got into the politics of the Middle East, in which he stated: "Well Israel is a Christian nation." I couldn't resist or hold myself back. "No. That's not correct. That's wrong. In terms of religion it is a largely Muslim and Jewish nation, but it is not Christian. Christians are a distinct minority."

The importance of pilgrimage abroad.

Salaam and shalom,

Buen camino!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Pharisees: Jesus' Friends?

The lectionary reading today was from the Gospel of Matt. 22, in which Jesus is asked about the coin and what to do with the issue of power: Caesar vs. God.

What was wonderful was that on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Israel, I came to appreciate anew the work of the Pharisees. They believed in the power of the people. They believed in a bottom-up work of community of faith. They enjoyed the give and take with Jesus.

Pilgrimage matters in knowing more about the land, culture, and history of our faith.

Salaam and shalom,

Buen camino!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Music of pilgrimage

One of the aspects that I appreciate about pilgrimage is music! The music I heard in Spain on pilgrimage is different than the music in Israel, is different than the music in Guatemala, is different than the music I heard in Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, the desert southwest of the States, Ireland...

I remember one night, attending synagogue evening prayers in Jerusalem, listening to the Psalms being prayed through music. There was a lilting "lah-lah" line that stuck in our ears, minds, tongues, dying to be sung as we left evening prayers that night of Rosh Hashanah.

Music matters!

Salaam and shalom,

Buen Camino!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lingering Pilgrimage

I am coming to the dawning awareness of the necessity of the School of the Pilgrim in terms of following up with people for 6 to 8 months: I was working out at the YMCA (Chapel Hill-Carrboro), and a friend who is Jewish and has been to Israel several times started talking with me about Israel. We had a great conversation for thirty minutes, talking about the politics, the religious issues, the presence of Hamas in the West Bank, the reality of both sides--Israeli and Palestinian--the politics, the land...

The pilgrimage in Israel lingers...

Salaam and shalom,

Buen Camino!


Monday, October 13, 2008

"He's an Arab!" What Pilgrimage Has to Teach Us About the World

After just being in Israel, talking and listening to old and new friends who are Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and some who are Christian, I was caught off guard by the questioner at a John McCain rally in which a woman said she wasn't going to vote for Barack Obama because he is an "Arab."

First reaction: no, no, no: he's not an Arab.

Second reaction at the same time: what's bad about being an "Arab?"

On top of this dialogue there was this article in the New York Times (on-line,, in which Hindu's are threatening Christian to convert or flee in India. ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ” Click here for more.

Coming out of 12 days in Israel I am very sensitive to the realities of this world that barely raises it's head in the safe waters of the Research Triangle in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC: we live in a world in which people simply fear the "Other" simply because of one's religion or faith. The questioner wasn't asking about Mr. Obama being an Arab, but being a Muslim. I don't think that many people in the States can appreciate that you can be an Arab and not be Muslim.

Pilgrimage in different lands as a Christian matters: it teaches one how small the world is!

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen Camino,


Friday, October 10, 2008

It's the Little Things

I picked up a box of blueberries and pomegranate cereal yesterday at Trader Joe's Market and was instantly transported to Israel. On the street corner, near the Jaffa Gate, Matt (intrepid as ever) ordered himself a glass of squeezed pomegranate juice. The vendor simply cut in half a red pomegranate, put it in a squeezer, and, voila! Juice! Juice that was redder than barnyard red...almost blood red, full of anti-oxidants. Jaqui ordered a smaller glass the next day, and we all had sips from this crazy fruit.

Matt had bought two pomegranates in the market area of Nazareth. We tried the one that was supposed to be "sweeter," and found it seedy. We tried to suck the seeds, but to little satisfaction. It tasted pulpy rather than juicy.

It is the little things around me today that inspire, evoke, and stimulate me about thinking "pilgrimage!"

Stay tuned: we're going on Pilgrimage to Israel again next year, leaving the 10th of April, 2009 for 10 days.

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen camino!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Next Pilgrimage

The invitation has been made by Henry Carse in Jerusalem to bring a group of pilgrims over to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, leaving April 10th (the day after the Western Church's Easter), in order to be in Jerusalem for Passion Week of the Eastern (Orthodox) churches (Greek and Russian, to name a few). Ten day trip. Offering an opportunity to see and be in the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as Bethlehem and the Sea of Galilee area.

Will come up with more information soon!

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Memories of Pilgrimage: Shoes

This morning I put my shoes on, and memories of Israel came flooding back to me because I wore these Keen sandals, along with my Chacos, around the various outdoor bazaars and holy sites--always wearing long trousers. I remember wearing these shoes, my feet feeling little to no pain of blisters, coated with Guerney Goo, a gift from New Zealand, thanks to Jaqui, who taught me how to liberally cover my feet with the white goo which helps in any rubbing of the feet in the wrong places.

As I wear my shoes and type this entry, I am reminded of the last taxi driver we had on Sat., zooming to the airport in Tel Aviv. We were talking about the land and the people, the ancient issues if you will, when out of nowhere his cell phone rings with the melody from the television series, "Sex and the City," and I broke out in laughter. Old and new collide in the taxi drive to Tel Aviv. Gotta love it.

Shalom and Salaam, Buen Camino...B

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pilgrimage Over Land vs. Pilgrimage Over Time, Place, and People

I am looking at the stubs and receipts I accumulated while in Israel. My "Old Testament" Hebrew lessons from Princeton help me in identifying the symbols, but little else makes sense, save for "Shalom" and "Israel" in Hebrew. Those are readily identifiable. I am smitten by the Arabic scroll, the fluidity of line that is seen a little bit in the Hebrew lettering, which tends to be more like blocks, save for the one character that is "l" in Hebrew, or the shema.

In the YMCA in Chapel Hill, NC, I quickly noticed the woman in Muslim dress yesterday, walking her young son down the stairs to the pool. On my desk is the text "Walk humbly with your God" in Hebrew lettering.

My legs and feet--which ached a few days after returning--are back to normal. But the culture, the people, the voices, the smells, linger on, especially as I smell the tapers from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or listen to a c.d. of a woman singing Arabic songs.

The pilgrimage we were on was more or less a pilgrimage not only on and over the land, but among a people, who have left their imprint upon my life. I hear their voices. I wake up expecting to hear a distant minaret's amplifier sharing the evening prayer. I see the woman sitting in the middle of the street begging for alms, along with the gentleman who was blind in Nazareth, his curled hand collecting alms. I bought humus last night at Harris Teeter just to remember the taste, though missing the meat and pine nuts.

The culture lingers in me. It has entered the marrow of my existence.

Pilgrimage continues onward...salaam and shalom...B

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Voices of Israel: A Pilgrimage of Voices

In one of my books I write about pilgrimage being sometimes over land (Santiago de Compostela), sometimes over time; and some times over people. This pilgrimage to Israel was over and among a people, which makes it all together a different pilgrimage. There are many voice in the land of Israel, each expressing their view point and opinion, the way they understand what is true and right, fact and reality.

This was put in the flesh when I boarded the airplane from Tel Aviv to Newark: my flight attendant had just been having discussions with the folks who are Messianic Jews, a.k.a., Jews for Jesus. They understand that the Messiah has already come back in the person of Jesus, and are out to persuade other Jews to understand this truth.

Later that night, when entering a restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC, I encountered a friend and his girl-friend, who I met for the first time. She was excited that her daughters had an opportunity to live in Israel and get to know their home-land as Jewish young girls. When I countered that it is a land with many claims on it, she retorted that those who are Jewish have every right to the modern land of Israel because of the biblical claims.

There are many voices in Israel. Perhaps this was a pilgrimage of voices. Clearly there is not a homogeneity among those voices, but a heterogeneity that borders on cacophony.

Shalom and Salaam,

Buen Camino,


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday, October 5th: the Day After

Today I saw a woman wearing a hijab at a Target store in Durham, NC, a kind of Muslim dress for women covering the head and the rest of the body on women. It is not as restrictive as a burqa, which also covers, the eyes, but it covers the body, and is usually black. I was suddenly whisked back to JLM, which was only a day earlier.

The processing has begun.

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen Camino, Brett

If it is October 4th, then it is time to go to North Carolina!

After a great night discussing and processing the pilgrimage, we had an early morning getting ready to go to the airport. Henry met Jaqui and I for breakfast at St. George, and then we took off in a Palestinian cab. The driver wasn't sure if we were going to get stopped at the airport, but we were all surprised by the relative ease of getting to the departure area.

After a beauiatfultime of sharing some more , Jaqui and I left one another, and I was soon off to Newark. I got into a great discussion on pilgrimage with Kevin, a flight attendant, who told me about the Messianic Jews he's met on flights. The home was smooth sailing.

Now the real work of pilgrimage begins: processing pilgrimage! Stay tuned!

Buen Camino!

Salaam and Shalom, Brett


We woke up this morning at 5 in order to get a ride with Henry to Wadi Qelt. Wadi (a place of water) is located just outside of Jerusalem. It is a high ridge, letting us see the tallest buildings from Jerusalem to the west, and the Moab mountain ridge to the east. Last year we easily drove to the Wadi Qelt, but this year the gate was closed near the entrance to the Wadi, so we parked the car and walked half a mile. Once we were on top of the ridge, you could see the lights of Jerusalem, the lights from Israeli settlements nearby, and the contours of the mountains around us, in which Jesus talked about how much he loved Jerusalem like a "mother hen." By 6:30 A.M. the sun rose, and the light on the mountain sides changed the very color of the texture of the hills.


Climbing down from the Wadi, we then drove to the nearby restaurant/drive-in and got some coffee, waiting for the national bus--the Greyhound of Israel--along with other Palestinians from nearby Jericho. It took forever for a bus to come, which frustrated Henry and us, so he took us to nearby Masada! We passed by Qumran, site for the discovery of the Essenes collection of Dead Sea Scrolls. The nationalistic flavor of Masada starts with the film, in which there is no discussion of how Herod built Masada and why, but the defense of Masada, in which a renegade group of Israeli Jews took over the place after the fall of Jerusalem (after Jesus' death and resurrection), and Rome's conquest of the hill fort, which precipitated the suicide of those in Masada. As the film narrator said, it was a matter of "death or freedom," with Peter O'Toole playing the Roman commander charging the hill and finding everyone dead. We then took a cable-car to the top of the hills with a carload of Colombian Catholics. The site--a world heritage site--is clean and pristine, with little of the sense that it is an antique site, feeling like it could've been a movie set. We met Augie from Israel, who was born in Portland, OR, along with his family and friends from Portland who were visiting the site. We talked about Portland, and about his trip to New Zealand with Jaqui.

Making it down from the top of the hill before 11:30, we raced to catch the bus to Jerusalem, which is a 90 minute drive through the Negev, with the Dead Sea on our right, which is not only "dead," but dying, as in shrinking in size. The air conditioning in the bus felt great. We picked up people from Dead Sea resorts and kibbutzes, making it to downtown JLM in no time flat. Once we were at the bus stop, which is a mall, we spent time shopping, eating, and enjoying the modern life of JLM. Two soldiers--two young women--found a wallet in search of an owner, in which Jaqui helped them find the owner. Making it down Jaffa St., we went to a wonderful bazaar of a largely Jewish group of people, with all kinds of things for sale: flowers and fruits, vegetables and fish. Meanwhile, the rest of the town (West JLM) was closing up because it was Shabbath.

For old time's sake we made it to the New Gate of the Old Town, walking the alley ways of the Christian quarter, buying a few nick-nacks, winding our way to the Damascus gate. At Jafar's Sweet Shop near the entrance of the Damascus gate we had one more taste of kanafeh. We strolled back to St. Georges and got ready to go out to dinner: one more time at Azzahra's!

Slowly but surely, the pilgrimage was coming to an end: Matt left on a 9:00 shuttle service to the airport, and Jaqui and I went out to process the pilgrimage with a few glasses of wine at Azzahra's. The next day we would both find our way to the airport, winging our way to our next stop: London for Jaqui, and North Carolina for me.

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen Camino,


Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Old and the New in Jerusalem

In terms of architectural spans, this was a long one on today's pilgrimage: we started the morning off looking at Herodian, Byzantine, Crusader, and First Temple period ruins on the south side of the Dome of the Rock area. We walked among massive blocks of the wall which had fallen down throughout the year after one invasion or another.

This was followed by a visit to the Citadel of David, which is in a more modern (13-14th or 15th century) building, explaining the history of Jerusalem.

We ended the day in the very modern building of Yad Vashem, which literally means "memorial of names." It is a memorial to all those who died in the Holocaust in WWII. Incredibly powerful.

Right now I am absorbing all the images, sounds, stories, smells, and feelings, and will process them throughout the coming days as I figure out what is happening in this complicated land, culture, and people.

Salaam, Shalom, and Peace,

Buen Camino!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Rosh Hashanah Changes the Schedule of Pilgrimage

We were all ready to go out and explore the Israel Museum, the museum to the book (Dead Sea Scrolls), and Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum), when our schedule was changed by the fact that most of Jerusalem was shut down because this is still Rosh Hashanah today until 7:00 P.M.
After failing to get a tax quickly, we had to ask if both museums were open, only to find out that one (1) was open: the Israel Museum. So after a lengthy delay of waiting for buses (they don't run today), going to shuttle buses (they only go to Palestinian territories), and waiting for taxis (who liked to charge extra), we made it to a place for lunch, and found a Palestinian taxi who charged a set rate to the Israel Museum.

The Israel Museum had an excellent "floor plan" or city scape of Jerusalem in the 2nd Temple Era (Herod ruled), in which we could see the various places mentioned in the Bible from both Old and New Testament.

In the area of the museum which housed the Dead Sea Scrolls, part of the Isaiah text was on display from the Essenes writing of the Hebrew Texts from before Christ, as well as giving an excellent presentation on the Essenes life.

Attached to the Israel Museum was a great art exhibit as well, with beautiful art from the larger museum that is all under renovation.

We then walked back to the Old City and dawdled among the sellers, especially with Ayman, a wonderful Palestinian Muslim who studied at Northwestern University in Chicago for 2 years. We learned lots about rugs, Suzani fabrics, and jewelry while sipping hot tea. By the time we left, we rushed over to E. Jerusalem for dinner, and then finally made it home by 9:30.

Tomorrow? The Temple Mount, the ruins on the south side of the city, Citadel of David Museum, and Yad Vashem.

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen Camino!