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Israel's remarkable beauty: 4-30-12

CAESAREA, Israel -- One of the things that most surprised the people who traveled with our just-completed Jewish-Christian study tour to Israel was the beauty of the country.

Dead-Sea-1Oh, for sure, there are places that lack beauty, incuding the wall of separation Israel has erected between itself and territory governed by the Palestinian Authority. To say nothing of parts of the Kidron Valley, which has a trash pollution problem.

Sea-Gal-2But a lot of Israel is simply gorgeous, and its geography is widely varied, from the snows on Mount Hermon in the north through the lush hills of the Galilee to the stark desert of the south.

Jordan-River-1Today, starting with the top photo here that I took at Caesarea, I want to share several of my photos with you -- pictures that reveal that beauty.

Top left: The Dead Sea

Top right: The Sea of Galilee

Next left: The Jordan River

Next full shot: The Mount of Olives.

Then: The snows of Mount Hermon.

Then: A flowering bush in the Golan Heights.

Then: Two photos from the Tel Dan nature preserve.

Finally: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem, with a dove of peace looking for a place to land.

Tel-Dan-2 Temple-Mount-1

* * *


At one point on our trip to Israel, we talked a bit about the fact that as soon as Israel declared itself a state in May 1948 President Harry S. Truman recognized it. But a bit of new research by a Jerusalem Post columnist now suggests that Truman's call wasn't quite as simple as that. Indeed, there apparently was waffling and there were threats from Truman's State Department in the weeks leading up to Israel's creation. To read the Post piece, click here.

Israel's new future: 4-28/29-12

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Almost from the beginning, when God called Abram (later Abraham) to pick up and move to some unknown destination, Jews often have had an adversarial relationship not only with God but also with the world around them.

Thank God. They have thereby taught the rest of us how to struggle against not just evil but also against what should be good but -- at least as far as we can tell now -- isn't. This attitude has led to such important questions as: Where was God in the Holocaust?

The Hebrew Scriptures are full of stories of how the people of Israel were persecuted but also how they sometimes brought trouble on themselves by not holding to the standards God called them to when God first entered into a covenantal relationship with them.

And, of course, in the Christian era the Jews often have been treated as parasites, with the horrific result being the Holocaust in World War II, in which six million of them were murdered.

After helping to lead a recent Jewish-Christian study tour to Israel, I am no expert on the modern state of Israel nor on the state of modern Jewry. So what I am about to say here may be misguided. But I think not.

Caesarea-P-8After nearly 4,000 years of this adversarial relationship with the world, Jews -- especially those living here in Israel -- are, I think, at a crossroads and are rapidly moving to a position in which they can make peace not just with the still-stateless Palestinians but also with the whole world and even with themselves and their history.

Modern Israel is just entering its 65th year and is a marvel. The Jews have created a miracle on this wildly varied land and now Israel stands as a major military, industrial, economic, educational and religious power. The Jews who dreamed of this land -- starting with Theodor Herzl and other Zionists more than 100 years ago -- planted seeds that have led to amazing things here in the Holy Land.

But now it is time for the idea -- the quite historically justifiable idea -- that Jews are always and everywhere victims to give way to the idea that Jews can set that aside and become effective instruments of peace in ways that may not have been possible until now.

In an excellent recent New York Times column that I read here in the International Herald Tribune, Stephen Robert, former chancellor of Brown University, asked: "Can the Jewish people segue from deeply ingrained victimhood to the moral and practical dictates of being a major power?"

He thought so, though "there are risks for Israel in allowing a Palestinian state. But as Jews, we cannot tolerate a Jewish state that ignores its own Declaration of Independence and the teachings of our sages over thousands of years. A state that persecutes, deprives and denies its neighbors in a manner so similar to what our tormentors did to us cannot be acceptable."

Yes, Jews have longed for and worked for peace here for a long time -- against long odds -- and they have been the targets of many people near them who wanted them to disappear. But I sense that today the balance of power has shifted so that it is highly unlikely -- barring a nuclear attack by the theological thugs who run Iran -- that any of Israel's Arab neighbors can or would destroy it.

If that's the case, now is the time for Israel -- unilaterally at first if necessary -- to create the conditions in which a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is possible. If the Palestinians continue to live next to Israel without finally having their own state but existing in a state of frustrating suspended animation, then Israel will give up any claim to moral high ground, as Stephen Robert argues persuasively.

As we traveled this country (smaller than Vermont, by the way) from the Golan Heights, where we could look down into Syria, to the Dead Sea and its surrounding desert land, we could not help but be impressed with modern Israel's story, its loveliness, its power, its determination and even its diversity.

But all of that cannot last if there is no peace. It's time for the creative, restive, ingenious, argumentative Jews to move from an adversarial relationship with their neighbors to a relationship built on mutual respect and peace.

Are Israel's adversarial neighbors willing to help? I think so, hope so, pray so. But now they must prove it.

If they aren't willing to help, then the fault will not be Israel's, which, like Abraham, is being called to move into a future it cannot yet know, but a future into which it must trust God to lead it.

(I took the top photo here today from the 15th floor of my Tel Aviv hotel looking at the Mediterranean and the photo on the right at Caesarea.)

Marriage vows at Cana: 4-27-12

CANA, Israel -- As we came back up the steps from the lower level of the Cana Catholic Wedding Church here, which celebrates what the Bible calls Jesus' first miracle, I said to our guide, "When do you think the first same-sex marriage will be celebrated here?"

Cana-1He took it as a joke, and, indeed, I had meant it that way, at least mostly, given the reality that the Catholic and Orthodox Christian world are not yet close to approving gay marriage.

Well, in my view, that's too bad. Marriage is such a wonderful, creative institution that it should be available to all couples willing to live up to its responsibilities in exchange for its privileges. ( And for my essay on what the Bible really says about homosexuality, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)

Cana-2Several of the already married couples (including my bride and me, pictured here) on our Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel used our stop at Cana -- where the New Testament says Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding -- to renew our wedding vows.

Fr. Gar Demo, an Episcopal priest who, with me and Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, helped to lead our tour, led us through the ritual as found in the liturgy of the Episcopal Church.

Because several other weddings were in progress in this busy old church, we found a corner in an adjacent lot for our ceremony.

My question about gay marriage here to our guide led to a brief discussion about that subject, though of course we didn't solve the matter. But I suspect that if we were to return here in say, 100 years, gay marriage ceremonies will not be terribly uncommon.

After all, the arc of history, no matter how many painful detours there may be, bends toward justice -- at least as long as people treat others the way they wish to be treated. Now there's a religiously worthy idea. In fact, it's such a valuable idea I'm tempted to call it golden.

* * *

P.S.: The annual AIDSWalk Kansas City event, in which I'm walking with members of the AIDS Ministry from my church, is tomorrow. If you haven't yet made a donation but still want to, click here. And thanks.

Home from Israel: 4-26-12

Dear blog readers:

If there's nothing here today except this note, it's because I got home very late last night from a 10-day trip to Israel and had no time to prepare anything sensible.

If, however, there's a brilliant entry below here, it means I had some time on the road to write it, so read on.



* * *

We arrived home last night after midnight. Watch for a few more Israel trip thoughts in the days to come.

The Israel trip, Day 10: 4-25-12

I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. on April 15. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.


Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.

Today our group splits up. A few of us head back to the U.S. while most of the folks move on to a three-day visit to Jordan.

I wish I were part of the group going to Jordan to see, among other places, Petra, but I have to get back to head to the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual conference in Macon, Ga.

So we'll bid farewell to the Holy Land and begin to imagine what this trip has meant to each of us.

* * *

JERUSALEM -- I saw him walking toward us down a long hallway at the archives section of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum and authority.

The last time I had seen Fr. Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel was in 2007 in Lublin, Poland, when Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I had interviewed him to be able to tell his astounding story in our book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. (He's holding the book in the photo above of, left to right, me, him and Jacques.)

Since then this Jewish-born Catholic priest and Holocaust survivor has left Poland and moved to Israel to try to better understand his Jewish roots.

The story of his life and his recent decision to come to Israel is told in a compelling new documentary called "Torn." Google it. (I'm having trouble inserting links here on the blog while I'm on the road.)

He greeted Jacques and me and we introduced him to the Jewish and Christian members of our traveling party.

We gave him not only a copy of our book (the one we'd sent to him in Lublin after publication never arrived, he said) containing his story but also a substantial monetary gift made possibly by sales of the book. Fr. W-W is not a wealthy man and Israel is not a cheap place to live. So we hope our gift will make his life here a bit easier.

Fr. W-W speaks only halting English, though he's fluent in French and Polish and is learning Hebrew. We used all those languages to communicate.

Fr. W-W, born a Jew in Poland, was given away as an infant to a Catholic family and eventually became a Catholic priest. Only 12 years after his ordination did he learn that he was Jewish. For the full story, see our book.

This has been a wonderful trip, and having a chance to see this priest again was a highlight for me.

As we all parted we promised to pray for him and he, in turn, promised to pray for all of us, Christian and Jew alike.

And as one of our trip leaders, Fr. Gar Demo, has reminded us, prayer is one way that people of faith prepare to meet whatever comes along.

Farewell, Israel. I hope to return. (I'll have later blog entries and columns about the trip after I get home.)

The Israel trip, Day 9: 4-24-12

I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. on April 15. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.


Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.

Today we are scheduled to journey to the Bet Guvrin region through the Haella Valley where the battle between David and Goliath took place.

Then we'll take part in a hands-on experience at the archeological dig in the caves of Tel Maresha.

Next we continue to the Ayalon Institute and see the underground ammunition factory that played a pivotal role in Israel's fight for Independence. Then we're off to enjoy the entertainers, artists and craftspeople at Nachalat Binyamin and in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.

* * *

BETHLEHEM -- The last time I was here -- believe it or not, Christmas Eve 1957 -- the car trip from Jerusalem was not easy. My family left from the American Colony hotel on the Jordanian side of the divided city.

And because we next were going to Egypt, we could not go into Israel because Egypt would not let anyone in who was coming from -- or, apparently, had just been to -- Israel.

So our trip was a round-about route to avoid going into Israel, and every few miles Jordanian soldiers stopped our car (a cab, I suppose, though my memory on this point is fuzzy; after all, I was not quite 13 years old) to make sure we weren't up to no good.

We finally arrived and packed into the Church of the Nativity to observe the Christmas Eve service.

On this current trip, we started at our Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem, Israel, and had to go through a border checkpoint into the Palestinian Territory on the West Bank.

Clearly all kinds of things have changed here in 54-plus years but the political situation still is distressingly unsettled.

The Palestinians don't yet have a state. The Israeli's havebehalf now a wall of separation (most of it just a fence, except in crowded areas) and Palestinians have filled it with protest words and art.

And inside the Church of the Nativity, the approved guides move the tourists through and bribe guards here and there to let certain tourists skip the 90-minute wait to see the grotto identified as the exact spot where Jesus was born nearly 2,000 years ago. You can see that spot in the photo here that I took.

The tourism business is difficult in that it depends so much on the political and security situation. Things have been calm in Israel -- on the surface at least -- on this trip and, thus, we have been able to move freely from north to south and even into territory ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

But it's hard to imagine that this is the dream the boy born here to Mary and Joseph (born here according to the Scriptures; some scholars have other ideas) had when he spoke of peace and love.

And yet, in truth, things are not all that much different politically now than they were then, when the Jewish people chafed under harsh Roman rule in a land that over the years has been conquered and ruled by many people.

Will there ever be true peace here, ever a solution that satisfies Israel, the Palestinian people, Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims! Druze? I spoke in the old Jerusalem market the other day to a Muslim shopkeeper who has been in business there since the early 1970s. His view? It will never be settled. Never.

Who am I to doubt him?

The Israel trip, Day 8: 4-23-12

I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. on April 15. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.


Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.

Today we are to visit Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust. Yad Vashem is the agency that designates non-Jews as "Righteous Among the Nations" for helping to save Jews from the Holocaust. You can read about it in a chapter of my last book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.

Next we continue to Mt. Herzl and the new Mt. Herzl Museum.

Then we'll stop at the Knesset, Israel's parliament building.

* * *

JERUSALEM -- Here's the thing about the religious sites here to which pilgrims (along with not a few of the disinterested, though not uninterested) come:

In many cases, no one knows if what happened here really happened right here or somewhere else. And, beyond that, never mind the debates about whether what happened really happened at all.

Take, for instance, the two sites at which Jesus was crucified and the two sites of his burial. Several blocks separate them, along with considerable theological distance.

One location for Calvary and the tomb is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This puzzled-together old building is under the control of six different branches of Christianity (each of which keeps its own space and its own schedule and rituals), though, in fact, some Muslims hold the key to the place so there's no breaking into fisticuffs about who has the right to lock the place up at night.

It is in this church(es) that the Catholics and various Orthodox branches swear you can find the place where Jesus met his death and where, on that first Easter, he rose to life.

Then, by contrast, there's the Garden Tomb. It was discovered in the 1800s and many Protestants think it is Golgotha (or the hill that looks like a skull) and that it contains the actual tomb in which Jesus' door-knob dead body was lain. (You see the entrance to the Garden Tomb in the upper photo here today.)

We went to both sites and, especially at the Garden Tomb under the guidance of a volunteer who showed us around, were given the case for why this site or that was the correct one.

It may not shock you to hear from me that no one really knows the exact spot on which the cross of Christ was raised or where Christ himself was raised.

And, in the end, it doesn't matter. Well, it matters, but not nearly as much as people think it does. What matters is that there is in all three Abrahamic faiths something historical and that it is possible to be reasonably certain about some things.

Beyond that, what matters is that because all three faiths -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in chronological order -- believe in an invisible God, it is important for people to have something concrete to hold on to, whether that is the Tomb of Rachel, which we visited yesterday (is Rachel buried there? Who knows.), or the site of the crucifixion.

And, in my view, there is nothing wrong with people needing concrete things. After all, each of the Abrahamic faiths teaches that God created matter and called it good. So why should I be the one to argue about this point with God?

* * *

JERUSALEM -- You may think of the Holy Land as desert territory. And you would not be completely wrong. Once you get south of Jerusalem a ways, you run into particularly arid land and, eventually, the Dead Sea, surrounded by what looks like, from a distance, dead land.

But the truth is that Israel is a wildly varied land, from Mt. Hermon in the north (on which we saw snow the other day) to the desert of the south, with much hilliness and verdant plains in between.

One of the things that has especially struck me on this trip: flowers. Whether carefully cultivated or wild, they seem to be everywhere this lovely time of year. So today I want to give you just a taste or two of what I've been seeing in bloom as our group of Christians and Jews have wandered the country.

Thus, the lower two pictures here today.


The Israel trip, Day 7: 4-22-12

I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. a week ago today. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.

Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.

Today we are to begin with an optional Christian Worship service, perhaps led by one of my co-leaders, Fr. Gar Demo.

Then, security arrangements permitting, we go to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and to Rachel's Tomb.

Next we'll be off to King Herod's fortress and castle atop Masada to see the remains of the walls, palaces, synagogue and the bathhouses and to learn about the Jewish Zealots' last stand against the Roman forces.

Then it's off to the salty waters of the Dead Sea.

* * *

TEL DAN NATURE PARK, Israel -- Here in northern Israel, away from the political tensions, the religious disputes and all the rest of life that constitutes this astonishing country, there is a sanctuary.

It allows visitors to walk among plants and trees, among flowing waters, amidst peace, in quiet. The Tel Dan nature reserve seems like a gift to the soul of a restless nation.

We walked through the park, but we were alerted to nearby military installations, which serve as a constant reminder that though this land may be at peace at the moment -- a cold, uneasy peace, to be sure -- the threat of violence is always present.

What I noticed most is that the birds of Tel Dan sing relentlessly, heedless of the bloody history overwhich they fly. They seem to know a peace that the land hasn't known for thousands of years, if ever. And they are happy to know that peace -- so happy they can't help but sing.

The photo here shows one of several small waterfalls at Tel Dan, and I find almost nothing as peaceful and centering as moving water.

* * *


JERUSALEM -- Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath, was to begin at 6:30 p.m., and we wanted to get to the Western Wall (seen in the photo above) before it started. So we hurried through some things and managed to get here about 6, on a cool, breezy evening when it felt good to wear a windbreaker.

The large plaze in front of the wall began to fill up with young and old, tourists and religious Jews, pilgrims and the merely curious. Closer to the wall, many of the ultra-Orthodox in the various traditional dress of their several sects, already were busy reading and praying (and, it seemed, trying to ignore the rest of us).

I had written a small prayer on a sheet of paper that I folded and placed into the crevice of the wall. As I moved down to do that, I ran into another Kansas City rabbi, Scott White of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Prairie Village, the very congregation where Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn's congregation, Temple Israel, rents space. Scott is leading a small group on a tour, too.

We wandered a bit, taking in the remarkable collection of humanity -- hundreds (but not yet thousands) of people who had come to pray at the wall or simply to look at the last remains of the Second Temple, destroyed in the year 70 CE (or AD).

Then we retreated up the plaza a bit and simply watched, as guards came around to remind us that Shabbat had arrived and that now we were not welcome to take pictures.

Here and there one could hear small groups of men singing a bit and even dancing. But on the whole it was a quiet evening. Then a few hundred Israel youth gathered in a large circle and danced in a way that reminded me of a homecoming bonfire dance from my high school days in Illinois.

Then, as if arriving from another dimension, we began to hear the evening all to Muslim prayer from the nearby mosque on the Temple Mount. The call was enchanting, rhythmical and a reminder of how the three Abrahamic faiths all consider Jerusalem holy ground.

And as a Muslim shop keeper told me, all three religions simply must figure out a way to live in harmony or we will dishonor those religions.


The Israel trip, Day 6: 4-21-12

I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. this past Sunday. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.


Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.

Today we have the option of attending morning Shabbat worship services at Hebrew Union College. Later we'll enter the Old City and do a walking tour.

We'll visit the Church of Saint Anne and continue along the Via Dolorosa, viewing the Stations of the Cross, finally arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There we are to tour the many chapels and visit the Hill of Calvary and Jesus' tomb.

Next we'll walk through the Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter and Arab Quarter and then view the Tomb of David at Mount Zion and the Last Supper Room.

* * *

ON THE RIVER JORDAN -- In traditional Christianity, Baptism is a one-time event. Once it's done, it's done forever.

So what happened here with three of our tour members on the banks of the River Jordan, in which Jesus himself once was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist, was not a rebaptism.

Fr. Gar Demo, an Episcopal priest who, with me and Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, is helping to lead this trip, was nothing but clear about that.

Rather, it was a ceremony in which people remembered their Baptism (often done to infants, so they in fact have no memory of it) and/or rededicated themselves to their baptismal vows to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

And yet the people who experienced full immersion in the chilly Jordan said afterward that it was deeply moving to them.

Later that evening at dinner, one of the Jewish women on our trip was asking my friend Grant about the experience. (You see Grant being immersed in the photo here today.)

Grant said that although he was raised in a Christian household and has been a member of Christian churches in his life, he has some differences with the teachings of traditional Christianity. Nonetheless, he said, he simply could not pass up the opportunity to experience what a full-immersion Baptism would feel like in the same body of water where Jesus Christ was Baptized.

The longer he and the Jewish woman talked, and the more I spoke to the others who had gone through the experience, the more it seemed as if somethings are simply beyond words to describe.

It's not that we don't feel things marrow deep, it's that sometimes the only response that adequately covers what we've felt is silence, which, as we all know, can speak more profoundly than words.

* * *


THE GOLAN HEIGHTS, Israel -- Over and over we've all heard about this territory that Israel took control of in one of its wars with its Arab neighbors. But to be here in person is to get a moving sense of how close everything is, how near Israel, which is smaller than the state of Vermont, is to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan.

I could see Syria from the Golan Heights. Indeed, in the photo I took that you see here, the second body of water toward the horizon is in Syria. I could not have Syria hitting a golf ball (not the way I hit golf balls) from where I took the photo, but it was not outside the realm of possibility that if I teed off from where I was on the first hole -- Syria would not be terribly far off the 18th green.

Similarly, at different points along the road we've been able to look into both Lebanon and Jordan. And our guide told us stories of how Israel and its neighbors have made different border arrangements over the years because, well, they had to so order of some kind could be kept.

I have been to the Holy Land before and to other areas in the Middle East, but it's easy, from the distance of the central part of the United States, where I mostly hang out, to lose track of the limited space in which the contest for this land holy to so many faiths goes on. This is a dispute being carried on not on a continent-size platform but on a thin slice of the planet.

And here on the Golan Heights, as a chilly wind whips past us, we stare at Syria and wonder whether it is the next land to lose its terrible government to people who are tired of being badly governed. The land that disreputable government controls is, from here, a nice walk away.



The Israel trip, Day 5: 4-20-12

I am helping to lead a 10-day Jewish-Christian study trip to Israel. We left the U.S. on Sunday. My plan is to post entries about our trip here as I have the opportunity, but that may not be possible daily.


Even on days when I'm unable to post, however, I'll be giving you some links to learn about the places in Israel that are on our itinerary.

Today we are to visit the ancient Roman ruins at Beit Shean and the mosaics of Beit Alpha.

Then we head to Jerusalem. We're scheduled to visit the Mount of Olives, from which we should see good views of Jerusalem's Old City.

Tonight we are to welcome Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) with the people of Jerusalem at the Western Wall.

* * *

TIBERIAS, Israel -- Well, the truth is we didn't spend a lot of time here in this old biblical town, but we stopped in the center of it for half an hour or so at the end of a long day of touring the Galilee, starting with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

But while we were there my bride and I wandered by several quite old structures in the middle of modernity, which in many ways is a metaphor for Israel today.

There was an old Crusader building later taken over by the Ottomans. Today it is a tourist center. And there was an Ottoman-era mosque -- slowly disintegrating, surrounded by modern shops. You can see it here in the photo at left, with the new motorcycle in the foreground.

Everywhere you go in Israel, it seems, there are layers and layers of history and, thus, layers and layers of structures -- from excavated ruins to modern skyscrapers. And with each layer comes a history of a people who created that layer -- and an attachment to that history.

Indeed, that attachment often is so deep that anyone who thinks his or her layer of history is more important than anyone else's layer gets defensive and intolerant -- and, sometimes, violent. This land is piled with Jewish, Christian, Islamic and other kinds of history in ways that often clash and burn. In some ways, Israel is a marvelous treasure -- a beautiful, mature woman with a history -- that everyone wants.

And so we see archeological digs uncovering the past next to construction equipment ready to bring in the future.

And over it all hover the spirits of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael, Rachel and Jesus, Paul and Muhammad, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, each with cheerleaders and critics, all crying to be heard.

(I took the photo above the Tiberias dateline here today from a small boat on the Sea of Galilee. The sea gull floating above the water is not the Holy Spirit as a dove, but if you wish you may think of it that way. The photo below shows me planting a tree at a Jewish National Fund site -- a tree I planted in memory of the late Stanley Morantz, the father of the friend in Kansas City I've known the longest. Before my trip, my friend gave me some information about trees in Israel that his father and mother had arranged to have planted in Israel.)