Monday, February 21, 2011


I’m going to just run a bunch of ideas and connections that I’ve seen here in the course of my adventures…I hope they’re not too disorganized.

            Some of the language and motifs here are so incredibly unified. The Hebrew word “Adam” means “man” (the species, not the gender). “Adama” means “ground/earth”, thus connecting man to the earth. “Adom” means red, both the general color of the dirt here and the color of blood. “Dama” coincidentally means blood—the life force of humans, and the fluid that is ultimately required as payment to cover over human shortcomings for Jews and Christians alike.
Thus when Paul writes that Jesus is a “new ‘Adam’” (1 Corinthians 15), he is connecting all these ideas—of blood, of mankind, of the earthen Man vs. the heavenly Man. Jesus essentially restarted creation; he is the first of a completely new race of beings. This concept is so much more powerful now that I am aware of the connections in the Hebrew language.

            I was thinking about the color red last weekend too as I witnessed a rally in Ramallah. There, Palestinians celebrated the fall of the dictator Mubarak and connected it to their hopes for freedom too. Red flags, shirts, scarves (some with Che Guevara on them) covered the square. It was very powerful—these people were drawing upon the symbols and colors of Communism. Because the major complaint at this point in time of the Palestinians is economic. They are hindered from jobs by checkpoints that take hours to get through. Additionally, in Israel, jobs are preferentially given out to soldiers—which Palestinians are not allowed to be (as a side note, there’s also no room for Israeli pacifists-if you refuse to serve in the Army you have to sit in jail for all 3 years). Bureaucratic hurdles are also much more difficult for Palestinians than Israelis—for example, building permits are much more difficult for them than for Jews in Jerusalem, forcing more and more Palestinians out. The largely middle class Palestinian Christian population has been able to leave, and all that are left are the poor Muslims.
The rally in Ramallah's main square
            So it was impressive to me to see the unity and hope at this protest that they, too, could free themselves like the Cubans and Egyptians had from their economic chains. Whether that would translate into true freedom or just a different form of tyranny (like we saw in Cuba) is yet to be seen. I was able to take home a red flag with “Palestinian People’s Party” written on it in Arabic. It now hangs in my room-a reminder of the economic justice that so many long for around the world. As citizens in nation after nation in the Middle East rise up demanding freedom, I feel that I am present in the making of history.

             Thirdly, I’m realizing how near, local, and dynamic politics are here. Today, I ate lunch in a cafeteria that less than ten years ago was a bloody mess from a suicide bomber. The road on which I walk to school was subject to attacks from Arab snipers during the War for Israeli Independence. One professor recalled being subject to random beatings by British soldiers before Israel existed (yet is grateful because he knows any other colonial power would have been much more harsh).
            How things have changed—barely 65 years ago, it was the Israelis who essentially were terrorists against the British in their fight for independence. Afterwards, they were to wage small-scale battles against Arabs where the results could hinge on things as minor as a couple radio lines being or a well-placed artillery hit or Molotov cocktail. It’s interesting to compare the wars here to the massive ones I’ve learned about in Europe—they’re so small but had such a huge impact. Like Mount Zion, which is a hill by American (and certainly Ecuadorian) standards, everything in Israel exerts a paradoxically large influence that is belied by its size.

            One last story based on the theme of red. My favorite professor here, Alick, as a teen was horribly beat up by some neo-Nazi skinheads. Five years later, he was in the Israeli army and present during the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising). To crush the rebels, someone had the idea of waking up every Palestinian male that night, transporting them to a stadium, keeping them awake, and sending them back home “too tired” to protest and fight the next day. Yeah right.
            Anyway, the next morning as they released the detainees back home, Alick was ordered to beat them each as they left, sort of a warning: “Don’t go and join the Intifada now!” He was being nice and barely tapping them with his truncheon, and so his commander showed him how—viciously the commander smacked a few up and kicked them as they lay on the ground. Alick, having to try to make it look good, stepped up the blows upon their backs as they ran past him, but one youth got scared and hesitated just as Alick’s truncheon was raised. Misplacing the blow, Alick smashed the baton into the Palestinian’s face. As the blood pooled on the ground, Alick recalled his own experience scarcely five years earlier, and wondered at how he could have fallen so far.
            He is now my professor of peace studies. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Streams in the Desert

Last weekend I spent a couple days at Masada and Ein Gedi, 2 hours southeast of Jerusalem and along the Dead Sea. Here I was able to see three separate ecological regions, each with Biblical significance. (Hey and apologies to my readers who could care less about religion; I'll get into politics and culture more with future posts. Stay tuned.)

Masada is the ancient fortress of King Herod, the Roman collaborator whose fear of overthrow led him to kill his own sons, wife, and massacre all the babies in the little town of Bethlehem. Perhaps fear led him to choose Masada for a fortress—it is mountain in the middle of the desert, overlooking a dead sea with no communities for miles. He chose personal security over engaging with people. Probably smart, since people hated him.
Decades later, around the time of the 70 A.D. rebellion, a group of Jewish rebels would use Masada as their own fortress against the Romans. But the Romans built a massive ramp and system of forts around Masada (the foundations of which I could still clearly see), and soon the wall was nearly breached. Fearful of Roman captivity, nearly every single of the thousand Jews there committed suicide. Masada is kind of place with negative connotations (except for Israelis, who empathize with their last stand. Many military induction ceremonies are held at Masada).
View of part of Herod's palace at Masada
            Thus when I went to Ein Gedi the next day, it was a remarkable contrast. Ein Gedi gets several of mentions in the Bible, for example in I Samuel 24:1. Here, quite unlike Herod, David chooses to trust God and spare King Saul’s life, despite the fact that Saul was hunting David down in this desert region. But how was David surviving here? Because Ein Gedi is the site of natural freshwater spring! Waterfalls and pools gather in a narrow valley, allowing trees and animals to thrive year-round. The imagery was intense, and reminded me of cool things God has shown me, Liz, and F&M’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship about “streams in the desert” (for starters, see Isaiah 43:18-20 and Jeremiah 17:7-8). It’s incredible how just a tiny bit of water can transform a landscape.
Ein Gedi spring
            And thus it was really cool when I was flipping through my Bible I “coincidentally” found another mention of Ein Gedi. It was in Ezekiel 47. Here, there’s another trickle of water that transforms the land. In a vision Ezekiel sees a future Temple in Jerusalem, one in which water mysteriously flows out from under the sacrificial altar and miraculously grows exponentially until it’s so large that “no one could cross”. Ezekiel sees that the river flows down to the Jordan Valley, joining the Jordan River and then pouring into the Dead Sea. But then something cool happens: this water transforms the Dead Sea into a Living one. “Where the river flows everything will live. Fisherman will stand along the shore, from En Gedi to En Eglaim.” Along the banks of this freshwater river will grow fruit trees that always bear fruit, regardless of season, and whose leaves will be for healing (all of this is just like Revelation 22:1-2).

Thus the Dead Sea, so salty that nothing can live in it and can make my thin frame float effortlessly, is one day prophesied to be made alive again. And it all starts out from a small trickle of water from the altar in Jerusalem.

Now I’m not sure whether all these prophecies are to be taken literally or not. But there is certainly symbolism here. Jesus, the sacrifice upon the altar, shed both blood and water upon his death in John 19:34: blood for our redemption, and water for our transformation into truly living creatures. The trickle of water from him refreshes all who accept him.

So before I left the Dead Sea, I took my green water bottle and poured my freshwater into the brine. “May the dead come to life” I said, echoing the prophecies spoken before. All that I can do is to pass on the living water that I have been given; trusting that one day, all the deserts will become forests.