Don’t worry. We are ok.
Haaretz

It is an event, but things are still pretty calm around here.

If this had happened somewhere else in the world, it wouldn’t have made your news.

A forever summer ended last night.  The still, dusty air gave way to a cooling Mediterranean breeze, surmounting the western watershed and bringing the first of winter’s chill.  It’s true, though it be the sixth day of December; the summer’s days have finally come to an end.  In one weekend, shorts have been put away and winter’s clothing unpacked.  For the first time in seven months I have felt a temperature that falls below 50 degrees.  This morning I awoke to storm clouds in the west and sprinkles of rain at my doorstep.  The prayers of all in this land have been answered.  The driest season this land has ever known has finally found its first respite…and I put on my flannel.

These last weeks have seen many last things at JUC.  The semester has nearly reached its end.  In a last minute scramble of papers and final exams, students scattered across this city to say their last farewells and relive their favorite moments.  Most are now either home or on one last adventure to Egypt.  I have grown close to many and will miss them dearly.  It is the bittersweet nature of this position to say a thousand hellos and give a thousand hugs goodbye.  Great memories from this semester include:

  • ridiculous Twilight nights
  • never-ending games of Spades
  • Dr. Wright’s Christmas stories
  • Robyn’s swan dive during our hike in the Golan
  • Dan & Paula’s culinary masterpieces…Mexican food has finally made it to JUC
  • my first Kindle purchase
  • chocolaty brilliance for Megan’s birthday
  • Ultimate Frisbee Fridays…and the occasional Saturday
  • The great night-time search for ice cream in Beersheba
  • Zullis
  • Fiery garlic-infused green olives at the Golani Brewpub
  • Late night antics with the Canadians
  • Man night
  • sprite and arak
  • Cookie night
  • First weeks of Settlers of Cataan
  • al-beit in Bethlehem
  • swimming at Ashkelon
  • coffee house!

I will miss you all dearly.

Here are a few of the scenes from the past four months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12:30 am…goodnight.

3:45 am… alarm bells ring.

Wash face. Load car.  Fill Starbucks travel mug from Singapore with Starbucks Via Ready Brew coffee.

4:30 am in the rental car and on the way down the road.

 

Blinking away the sleep and sipping on the deep, dark coffee, I hesitate at turning on the radio.  I pull out of Jerusalem and head down the Descent of Adumin.  Rolling my windows down, the dry desert air from the wilderness flows through the car.  With no one else in sight, the silence of this desert wilderness seeps into my consciousness and…I am still.  Gravity continues to pull the vehicle downhill as I pass the Inn of the Good Samaritan.  Descending below sea level the first hints of gray begin to fade the stars over the Transjordan hills just twenty miles ahead.  Passing Jericho on my left, I take a right on Road 90.  The air continues to warm as hints of sulfur let me know that I near the Dead Sea.

Every few minutes twin pinpricks of light followed closely by  a car comes my way, but for the most part this southerly adventure is taken mostly alone.  Qumran slides by up the hill on my right.  Ein Gedi comes and goes.  Masada soars above the cliffs on the right.  The cutoff for Arad comes soon after.  Following the valley and the lay of the ground, I continue straight south.  Deep in the Negev, the stillness continues.  Friends from home will cross the border from Jordan later in the morning.  I will meet them near the Red Sea and begin a three-day whirlwind tour of the Land of Israel.  After picking them up, we would drive back north all the way up to Galilee where we camped for two nights.  So many sites and not a few adventures were had, but those are stories for a different day.

 

The sun finally surmounts the horizon across the Jordan Rift Valley to my left.  A single ray arches through the dusty air and burns into the hillside outside my passenger window.  Inching higher, the sun causes my car’s shadow to grow and shrink as the hills move closer and then further away.  Though I have seen this landscape a dozen times, it is with a different perspective that I view the sand and scrub brush.  Always before I have come with friends, students, or family.  These desert scenes were only caught as a group…and what group of people, even when it is only two, ever allows for silence and stillness?  As my mind wanders across the limestone formations, a panoply of biblical images and world changing events comes to mind.

 

Following the seasons and their flocks, the Patriarchs moved in and out of these areas.  The great Lawgiver led a nascent nation to water through these wastes.  Elijah sought God somewhere in this vastness.  So did Paul.  The Christ fasted for forty days.  His cousin, the Baptist, was beheaded just across this salty lake.  Far up the hillside I cannot see it, but I know there sits a castle left behind when the Crusaders fled this place.

 

They have all come and gone…and are mostly forgotten.  This land still remains…and I zip through it at 120 km/hr on my way to the Red Sea.  I live in Jerusalem—a holy city, a modern city, a busy city, a noisy city overflowing with people from every nation and language.  Though it is not always thought of as such, it is a center of humanity.  Wars and peace have been found and lost here.  Far from those holy places, I revel in the silence of the desert and the vastness of this space.  My heart climbs with the sun.  No sublime thoughts come my way, but a joy is rekindled.  How often we forget to escape the noise of everyday life to rest in peace.  The monastics of many faiths have often made retreat to these deserts.  Though that is not my intention, I can see the beauty in such a life.

An Arabian poet penned these words and with these I leave you this night.

 

How many a desert plain, wind-swept,

like the surface of a shield,

empty, impenetrable,

have I cut through on foot,

joining the near end to the far,

then looking out from a summit,

crouching sometimes,

then standing, while mountain goats, flint-yellow,

graze around me,

meandering like maidens

draped in flowing shawls.

~Shanfara

 

As the campus is quiet right now and most of my to-do lists are checked off, it is time to write a few more thoughts.

It has been almost three months since I left home and landed back at JUC.  So much has happened, so many lessons learned, and too little time to reflect.  It’s too much to write it all, so here are a few of the highlights…

-New friends.  This university tends to always bring in great students and amazing staff.  This semester is no exception.  It is never easy being far from home, but the community here makes it much more bearable.  My life is daily enriched by the friendships and interactions I have with the staff and students here at JUC.

-Hummus!!!  I know the Pita Pit and a few store brands make decent hummus back home, but nothing compares to that which is found everywhere over here.  Oh gosh, and pitas hot out of the oven!  This could be the manna sent from heaven.

-Kindle.  That’s right, I gave in and bought the latest e-reader.  It has revolutionized my life.  Though I’ve had it for only three weeks, I have read 5 complete books on it so far….Gulliver’s Travels; The Jungle Book; Pride and Prejudice; The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights; The Great Hunt, Book Two of the Wheel of Time; How to Tell a Story and Other Essays.  You can probably notice that I love the free books from Amazon, all those published before 1923.  Woot!

-Oregon.  Two current students are from Oregon, both from the Portland area.  We often reminisce about the beloved state we left behind.  I’ve also met up with three different sets of friends from home.  Jerris and her daughter Katie from Albany were here at the beginning of September.   Carley Kendrick and Jesse Rodli from Salem Bible came in October.  Right now, Melissa and Lindsay from Starbucks are here on a Holy Land adventure.  We’ve trekked all over Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  On Sunday we will drive a rental up to Galilee to try our hand at walking on water.  Oh, and the football in Oregon is as fun and tragic as ever.

-Endless sunshine.  The Middle East is hot.  That is no surprise, but rarely has Jerusalem ever had a fall that has been this warm this late.  It is still climbing into the mid 80s every day.  I’ve had to use a sweatshirt exactly 4 times since I landed here.  At this time last year, David, Kelly, Sam and I were rained on everywhere we went for almost two weeks.  At times I don’t like it, but in looking at pictures from home, I am glad that I’m still in a t-shirt and shorts.

-Al-Beit in Bethlehem.  Every Thursday night I get to join something special that is happening in the West  Bank.  A group of Palestinian Christian young people come together to worship Jesus and just hang out.  Al-Beit is Arabic for ‘the house.’  It is somewhere between a cross of a coffee shop, youth group, and community center.  There is an energy and depth in this group that surprises me every time I can join in with them.

-Successful short-term group!  Perhaps the most satisfying thing I have done so far has been connected to the Pastor & Parishioner group that came through a couple weeks ago.  There were 32 students, ages 16 to 78, but most in their 40-50s.  Half the group was from Canada and the rest were from far-flung scattered states.  They had the most amazing attitudes, endless energy and abundant enthusiasm.  They loved to learn and were so excited to see this land where God touched down.  For two weeks they used their Bibles as maps to explore this land. They reminded me so much of my family at Oak Creek and First Assembly.  You guys would love a trip over here.

-Office plants.  Need I say more?

-Unexpected trip to Jordan.   Because of an expiring visa, I had to make a quick trip to Jordan.  I was able to see many places that I hadn’t been to in almost three years.  In one afternoon, I saw the ancient capitols of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites.

-Bacon & Pepperoni Pizza.  Oh how you have changed my Jerusalem life!

-Stars & Bucks Café.  Good espresso is nearly impossible to find in the Middle East.  This last Tuesday, though, I finally found a spot in Bethlehem that can bring out that perfect flavor in every shot.  Although this café has stolen its name from my alma mater, I am not ashamed to buy their coffee mugs.

-Group skype conversations.  Thank you Ian, Alana, Ada, Seth, and Emily for entertaining me this night.  Here’s a sample

[9:17:34 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: Take that to the back

[9:17:39 PM] Emily Thomassen: haha seth is shorter than me

[9:17:42 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: take that to the bank

[9:17:42 PM] Ada: the back?

[9:17:47 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: the bank

[9:17:51 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: the bank

[9:17:53 PM] crsimon: I saw the gnarliest back hair the other day

[9:17:54 PM] Ada: well, I do enjoy the occassional head covering..

[9:17:54 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: the bank

[9:18:00 PM] crsimon: you could have corn-rowed it

[9:18:10 PM] Ada: EW!

[9:18:11 PM] crsimon: mullet straight into back hair corn rows

[9:18:18 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: Ada… I have a secret…

[9:18:23 PM] crsimon: you’ll never top that one

[9:18:24 PM] Ian Garrett: oh no

[9:18:26 PM] Emily Thomassen: umm i rocked the corn-rows so dont hate

Thank you all for the office suggestions from the last post.  As of now, I have only made a few adjustments…

Life is always so much more fun when you can make a friend out of a weary plant.

These two were needed for their green.  I miss Oregon.

Yes, I did make that coffee mug warmer purchase, but….I tend to drink the coffee before it needs a warmer, which means I end up with an uber-hot empty coffee mug.

While looking for office inspirations, I came across this post at positivesharing.com .

In other news, my first short-term group arrived two days ago.  There are 32 students, about half are from Canada and the rest come from across the states.  Jet-lagged and weary, they stumbled into campus yesterday.  After a quick intro and campus tour, I handed them over to their instructor for two weeks of intense adventure in the history and geography of the Holy Land.

This is one of the videos I often show to demonstrate America’s influence in the Middle East.

Yesterday also saw the delivery of my first geeky purchase in years.  I am now a proud owner of a kindle.  My first read has been The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights by Sir James Knowles.  Those of you in the e-book world, what have been your favorite reads?  For those who still turn the paper page, what is a book you’ve read recently that is worth the money spent on it?

We had our first raindrops of the season this last week.  It was nice to hear the slight pattering on the outdoor umbrellas, but more than anything I think it just made the summer angry.  The first part of September had unseasonably cool temperatures for this time of year—around 80 in the afternoon and mid 60s at night.  After those couple dozen drops of rain, the sun came out and sent its rays through the clouds in a near perfect imitation of the Death Star obliterating Alderaan.  It hasn’t let up since.  These past several days have topped 90s in the afternoon and with a crazy high humidity to boot.  This has led to several experiments in homemade iced coffee.

Just in case there are any Star Wars non-geeks out there, here’s the visual for that reference.

When in a hurry, I steal from my stash of Starbucks Via, but when there is time to be had, I use some of my coffee beans from Florence to make an overnight cold brewed press.  The real question that has been bothering  me this week, how do I savor this iced coffee all afternoon without watering it down by continually adding ice?  Vat 19Purveyors of Curiously Awesome Products has come up with a perfect solution to my cold beverage needs.  You’ve heard of USB cup warmers right?  Well, this not only can heat your cup up…but it also can cool it down!  All with just a flip of the switch.  Thanks Vat 19 for introducing me to the USB Cup Warmer and Cooler.

Here is an excerpt from the product description

This product could save your marriage

Yes, that’s a bold statement. In fact, it’s bold and orange. Here’s the point: With the flick of a switch, you can go from heating a beverage to cooling a beverage. This can have serious impact on your life.

Imagine the following scenario: Your spouse yells, “Honey, the neighbor’s cat is scratching little Johnny’s leg!” You grab a piping hot cup of coffee off your USB Beverage Cup Warmer & Cooler and toss it on Mr. Jinx. He runs away, a little shocked, but not injured. This is good, but not spectacular. Your son has sustained a few nasty scrapes.

So, you grab a bottle of water (which you smartly put on the USB Beverage Cup Warmer & Cooler after grabbing the cat-dousing hot cup of joe) and rinse out those scrapes. Your son is feeling better, your spouse is reminded why they married you, and Mr. Jinx will have a nice coffee surprise the next time he licks himself clean. Everyone’s happy!

A thought just hit me, not a heavy thought, so don’t worry too much, but it is a thought nonetheless.  My office is mostly made up of white walls and a beautifully arched ceiling, but it is lacking in anything that makes it particularly Cameron-esque.  I like it, but it needs something to add a bit of spice to the decor.  I may shell out the $9.95 and get the coffee warmer gadget, but I need something more.  Do any of you have some office personalization recommendations?  Here a few pictures, so you know what I have to work with.

from the computer

from the desk chair

from the outside looking in

from the door frame

from the corner

I do have a pretty sweet window and couch/mattress thing

…and looking through these, perhaps I should clean and straighten up before the next round of photos.

from the window

So whatcha think? What else do I need?

Perhaps a membership to this gym?

On the occasional hike near Galilee, we sometimes find showering waterfalls.
Hi All,
JUC people have established a long tradition of random life updates. So with the sun filtering down behind the windmill overlooking Yemen Moshe, I begin my tale.
From where I sit now, Yom Kippur will come to an end within 90 minutes.  Although the day has been quieter than usual, the ever-present chatter of the courtyard birds have tried to make up for this afternoon’s stillness.  It has been a typical Day of Atonement in this land.  The streets are quiet, the bicycles are out, white is worn by all, while crocs adorn the feet of the Orthodox.  I ventured out into town with our new volunteer chefs, Dan and Paula, right after lunch.  It was a good, quiet, and overly warm walk.

Some may call Dan and Paula cooks, but I deem they are worthy to be called chefs.  Not in living memory have JUC students ever eaten such consistently varied, creative, and delicious cuisine.  Gone are the days of rice and beans.  Now are the days of fajitas, pancake bars, American-tasting dinners, and homecrafted lemon bars that will cause you to shift your thinking of heaven to include this citrusy fantasy.  With such great kitchen skills, they also make wonderful neighbors as we share the highest floor of the tower, right at the top of the rickety wooden staircase.  Perched atop the JUC campus, this area has naturally been dubbed ‘The Treehouse.’  They are here for the entire school year, and are greatly appreciated by all.

So yes, I am back here at JUC.  Tomorrow will have made it one month since the plane touched off from my beloved state.  It was a rough goodbye.  If possible, friends and family became even more dear to me during the eight months that I was home.  During those months, I was refreshed, rejuvenated, and revived by hitching my star to the wandering path of Starbucks.  An environment was created where I could speak into many lives, and many lives could speak into mine.  This third parting from Starbucks will most likely be my forever goodbye with the company.  For all its faults, they were always good to me.  Why do I linger on this experience?  For two reasons.

Foremost, I share this to show the swirl of emotional pulls that came with this return to JUC.  Yes, there were all those goodbyes, and yes, there was the excitement of a new adventure.  Yet, a huge cloud of anxiousness surrounded my thoughts and actions during my last months at home.  I’m not sure where it all came from, but there was a great amount of mental unease (if that can even be a word).  With all this hovering somewhere between heart and head, I flew out of Portland back to the Middle East.  Never has travel been so easy.  There were no problems in Portland, no issues in Atlanta, and when landing in Ben Gurion, I walked through customs with just a look and gathered my waiting bags from the carousel.  This was a far cry, from the four overly-meticulous strip searches that happened last December in TLV.

In many ways, the ease of travel and entry into Israel has been typical of this month in Jerusalem.  I was expecting a bit of culture shock, but while walking through town in those first days, I felt…well, welcomed.  I’m not sure how else to say it.  Things felt right.  Despite the utter craziness of this part of the world, at this point it is right for me to be here.  This welcome was only extended as I began to work with Diane and Dr. Wright on the campus at JUC.  Initially we set out to prep the dorms and facilities for the arrival of the long-term students.  After they came and settled down, we began diving into the world of Short-Term programs and operations.  The details are not exciting to relate, but the environment and culture that has been created at JUC is perfect to work in.  The Wrights are my heroes and now I get to join them in serving an eager and excited student population.  They are the reason I have returned to JUC.  Which brings me to my second point of highlighting Starbucks.

Most of my fellow coffee lovers have departed from Israel.  Spontaneous coffee tastings in Abu Tor and Diane’s kitchen are but a fond memory of a time gone by.  Yet, with the quick visit of the Wright’s daughter and future son-in-law, we were given a rare treat.  Raw coffee beans from a Ugandan farmer were part of the gift that Kenny gave his future mother-in-law.  An evening of roasting occurred and the next morning Diane made a fresh French Press of deeply satisfying only-12-hour-old dark roasted Ugandan awesomeness.  The darkness of the roast was reminiscent of a French or Italian standard, but it had such a smooth and mellow finish that I’m not sure how to classify it.  There was no bitterness and very few acidic or citrus tones.  It was close to perfect.  So although Starbucks has been left behind, I have found a few other ways of satisfying that jones for a decent mug of home brew.  I will just let the pictures do the rest of the talking…


In wrap-up, this month has been short, but the days have been long.  There is a never-ending list of details and to-dos, but I am finding my stride.  An enjoyable and satisfying routine has loosely settled around the weekly activities.  I am gaining new skills and creating new friendships.  This is where I am supposed to be for this moment…few things are more deeply satisfying than knowing that.