Israel Day 1 – Sea of Galilee

Our first full day in Israel started with a bang – fresh squeezed orange juice and honey dripping from a honey comb were a pretty nice way to wake up.

I should back up and say the day really started well yesterday. After I got off the plane 2, count them 2, people told me I looked “fresh” which is really about as good as it gets after an 11 hour plane ride. I should also add that this was part 1 of me realizing that Israel and my hair have a love affair and it’s beautiful. Not that it’s the most important or even the most noteworthy aspect, but let’s get real, it has been a definite plus.

After meandering to the Galilee region in the dark last night it was nice to see it in the daytime today. We started a top Mount Arbel which should really be called “Big Hill” Arbel. At the top of Mount Arbel we had a great view of the Sea of Galilee improved greatly once the sun broke through and cleared the fog.

From Mount Arbel we could see the “Jesus Triangle,” the region including Capernium, Chorazin, and Bethsaida where Jesus did most of his teaching. Even accounting for the walking culture, the area was muchΒ smaller than I ever pictured. From the top it looked more like large neighborhoods rather than cities. Sure, the walk would have taken some time, but nothing like I imagined.

One of my favorite moments of the day was our trip to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus likely delivered the Sermon on the Mount. We had an idyllic moment sitting under a few trees on rocks while our guide and Bill explained the historical and biblical significance and meaning of the text. In this moment, I could pictures the disciples sitting, much like us, listening to Jesus teach while overlooking the Sea. Unlike many of the churches built to commemorate the sites, our time under the trees felt authentic and simple. This is perhaps one of my biggest takeaways from day 1; though it feels incredible and a bit surreal to be in Israel, much of the sites and our time feel very ordinary.

I find myself taking more pictures of the hills, the Sea, and the trees (you’re welcome, Lindsey) than the churches or even our group. It is easy being here to imagine a small group of people walking around moving from town to town and a little incredible to think a worldwide and historical revolution took place here. There is not much remarkable about the area, much of it reminds me of Spain – especially the olive trees! Our guide continually points out the beauty of the region, and it is beautiful, but not in a take-your-breath-away-Grand Canyon type of beauty, but in a “I could raise my family here” beauty. Big hills, rocks, and olive and citrus trees are the main attractions. As are some beautiful red flowers – any botanists know what they are?

We were able to take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee today. Aside from the music selection from the WOW 1999 CD that played, it was calming and refreshing to have time on the boat to think and let the waves drown out all other distractions. I don’t say this in a romantic way, but in a simple, ordinary way the waves and rocking of a boat relaxes someone. It was the first time I was able to reflect and really imagine life 2000 years ago.

For lunch we ate “St. Peter’s fish” after visiting the likely site of one of the loaves and fishes stories and then we were on the shore near the site of Peter’s reunion with Jesus after the resurrection. We read from John 21 when Jesus questions Peter’s love for him. My favorite times at sites are when we are able to read Scripture aloud that pertains to the site. The combination of being gathered in a group at the site where the words were spoken and reading them together creates a heightened realization of the authenticity and again, the ordinary. It is much like standing on the shores of Lake Jocassee or around a campfire with friends and realizing you are standing in the place where Jesus taught. The sun fades into the horizon and then the group hurries home to beat nightfall and eat dinner.

Our final stop today was at the synagogue where Jesus taught in Capernaum. The synagogue was restored about 400 years after the original, but it was built on the same site and you could still see the foundation. We read from Scripture and I think everyone felt the tension of the moment. We were all standing on the very site where Jesus taught weekly for a while – no ostentatious church on a supposed Β site, but the very site. In a site excavated nearby there was Hebrew writing on the columns that I’m told can still be read today. Once again this emphasized the longevity and the ordinary reality of the story.

In addition, the known site of Peter’s house was nearby. We were able to see the ruins of the town, again much smaller than I anticipated, and the ruins of Peter’s house from the side and above. Most of the houses, including Peter’s, were square with 3 rooms, 1 large and 2 small. I would guess 100 square feet total. Peter’s was a little bigger, maybe 300 square feet, but still not big. At these ruins, the neighborhood feel of the city of Capernaum was very evident. Paths between houses and neighbors sharing a wall were all clear. It was also clear that the synagogue was THE city center. It was much taller and much much larger than the other structures. Still, it was smaller than I anticipated. We learned the synagogue was the center for not only religious life, but also town hall meetings, school, and other community functions.

We ended the day with another great meal – the Mediterranean diet is definitely a favorite of mine, and a brief history lesson from our guide. Tomorrow we visit the Golan Heights, Megiddo, Nazareth, and Dan. It should be fun! I’ll try to post a recap tomorrow.

ps – I’m posting from my iPad so no pictures, but you can follow me on Instagram (@taylorelizabethbeard). I’ve tried to post pictures from each site, but sometimes I leave my phone on the bus which means no pictures. Either way, you’ll see more pictures than you’ll see here πŸ™‚

Keep Out! Christianity in the Public Square

Keep OutRecently I’ve noticed a lot of attention given to the claim “Christians are being forced out of the public square.” Whether it is an evaluation of Tony Dungy’s remarks, opinions on the Israel/Gaza conflict, gay marriage, Hobby Lobby, or any other issue; the claim is loud and widespread, and so it seems, Christians are not welcome here.

I think this is absolutely true. However, my concern is we as Christians will see this more as a threat to be afraid of than an opportunity. Yes, Christianity is not as ubiquitous as it once was. Yes, overt Christianity is not as prevalent as it used to be. Yes, there are people who want to shut down the voice of anyone who disagrees with them all in the name of “tolerance.” At the same time, I don’t think this is either all bad or all true.

First, through “persecution” and suffering we are refined (for the record, I do not think Christians in America are experiencing persecution and to claim so, I think, is a slap in the face to our brothers who are being persecuted). Our true beliefs, our true faith is revealed when our idols are exposed. For many years, what was claimed to be Christianity was a version of the prosperity gospel mingled with Christian ideas. To become disillusioned from these falsities – even if it means exposing a deeper lack of faith is a good process; without a clear understanding of where we as a society are we will not be able to see the contrast between Truth and falsehood.

Second, church growth is often spurred in trials. Early Christians faced death for converting and yet we see numerous examples of thousands of people committing their lives to Christ in one day. In a fully depraved society, the light and hope of the Gospel shines that much brighter in contrast. Believers must be equipped, prepared, and courageous to speak the truth in a winsome way to anyone who questions. Then we can rest knowing it is the Holy Spirit who moves people, not our eloquent words.

Third, much of the hostility towards Christians is a result of an inability to communicate clearly and truthfully the “why” behind our beliefs. Why do we, as a society, have laws against murder? Because we believe murder is wrong–>Why is murder wrong? Because it harms another person–>Why do we protect against harming another person–>1. It is good for society, 2. People have value. Why is it good for society? Because God established us to live in community – we thrive together. Why do people have value? Because we are created in the image of God an derive our worth from Him.

As Christians, we must be prepared to reason and articulate our beliefs – by finding common ground “Murder is bad” we can begin a dialogue about ideas of significance: not “are corporations people?”, but instead, (why) do we believe people have value?

Fourth, when faced with hostility we must respond in recognition of our status as aliens and sojourners. Our hope is not in this world. Our eyes are set on a future when all wrongs will be righted and all injustice will be made true. As representatives of Christ, we can expect the same treatment Jesus faced as he walked this Earth; including mockery, hostility, betrayal, and death while learning from his response speaking the truth, righteous anger, self-sacrifice. In the midst of great agony, Jesus displays greater compassion both through empathy with his torturers, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” and ultimately through his willing death for rebels, murderers, betrayers, and liars. Like me.

Lastly, though our freedoms may come to an end, though we may be forced out of the public square, though we may experience persecution one day our hope is not in our voice, our freedom, or our our likeability, but in God who created our voice, who gives ultimate freedom from sin and death in Him, and who sees us both as we truly are and as we will be fully redeemed and loves us through it all.