Why Are Prominent Evangelicals Denouncing Christianity?- My View

Just in the last week, I have seen two different headlines of religious news that I have found shocking but, in many ways, not surprising. What am I talking about? Former Desiring God contributor Paul Maxwell leaves the Christian faith published in Christianity Today April 10, 2021 and A Pastor’s Son (John Piper’s son) Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok published in the April 12, 2021 edition of the New York Times. What these two people have in common is that they are connected to John Piper. Paul Maxwell wrote for his website and of course, Abraham is his son

So who is John Piper? According to his website, Desiring God, “John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.”

Here is a more personal look at who John Piper is according to Roger Olson, on his blog Patheos,

I first became aware of the Young, Restless, Reformed Movement (YRRM) before anyone thought to give it that moniker. I was teaching theology at Baptist-related Bethel College and Seminary (now Bethel University) in Minnesota. John Piper had left the faculty to take the pulpit at nearby Bethlehem Baptist Church about a year before I arrived. He was still much discussed by students and faculty alike and seemed to have been a polarizing figure on campus. People tended either to love him or despise him. I had read his article about “Christian Hedonism” in HIS magazine (the now defunct publication of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) before then and had met Piper when I first visited Bethel a few years before joining its faculty…

Not long after taking my teaching position at Bethel I began to hear colleagues calling certain students (mostly males) “Piper Cubs.” It wasn’t long before I could identify them myself. They tended to quote Piper a lot and be passionate about Calvinism. One told me I wasn’t a Christian because I wasn’t a Calvinist!

Over the following years (approximately 1984 to 1999) I witnessed the beginnings of the YRRM. It was born and then grew and coalesced around Piper’s pastoral conferences at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

John Piper, in my opinion, has been one of the major factors in instigating and teaching a newer, more radical form of Calvinism that has swept the evangelical churches of America. Fifty years later, we are seeing the damage and the backlash of this movement in some people very close to this man.

Of course, it is not the man himself, but what he taught that can lead to total spiritual confusion if one really thinks about what he is saying. I would like to mention a few of his teachings that resulted in my husband and I personally stumbling from the faith we held into a land of questioning and doubt, struggling to regain a foundation for a faith that is workable.

I first came face to face with John Piper’s foundational teaching position through the use of his videos while participating in a Sunday School class at our church. One Sunday morning while watching a video, Mr. Piper, was talking about how everything is pre-determined in life and that we are just nails being used by the hammer of God. “Yes, I am a Calvinist,” He declared. What’s a Calvinist? I had never heard that term.

As soon as we got home from church, I proceeded to look up Calvinist. Whoa! I was shocked with what I found and more shocked to realize that something I had hoped to never encounter was in the midst of seemingly the most evangelical of churches. It is the belief that “every single thing that happens has been rendered certain (ordained) by God because there is nothing God does not either directly or indirectly cause (including sin).” More specifically, for those of you reading this who have no idea, from this belief springs several principles outlined in Calvinism by an acronym -TULIP. T stands for Total depravity which most Christians would agree with. We are totally sinful and cannot save ourselves. What would be in dispute would be the belief that goes along with this that we are also totally unable to believe the Gospel message (dead) without God making us believe (or regenerating us before giving us salvation). U stands for Unconditional Election or the belief that God arbitrarily chose, through no action or attribute of the creature (us), before the world was formed, who He would give the gift of salvation to (predestination) and who He would “pass over” or damn to hell. L stands for Limited Atonement or the belief that Christ died only for those who God pre-elected and not for the whole world. I stands for Irresistible Grace or the belief that if God has chosen you to be one of His “elect” that you cannot resist His saving you. P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. In other words, since it is already pre-determined who will be saved, one’s salvation (if so chosen) is guaranteed.

The most often voiced justification by evangelicals for Calvinism that I hear is that “God is God,” “God can do whatever he wants,” and “we all deserve hell so any one God choses to save is receiving his grace and mercy.” First, the overall problem with the Calvinistic viewpoint, as I see it, is that the premise from which the whole doctrine is built on is faulty. I do agree that “God is God” and “God can do whatever he wants.” I also agree that if God decides to save some and send others to hell that is his prerogative but who does that make God into? Why would a loving God make creatures with the whole purpose of throwing most in hell and selecting some for heaven? Is that a God of Love? The response of John Piper is that it is to show God’s glory. What….?? If one can’t know if they are one of the “chosen elect,” than what is the purpose of living a life of honor – you will go whichever way you are supposed to regardless? Also if this teaching is true, then what was the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross to save us? Everyone already has their pre-determined stamp on them, so Jesus dying for our salvation would make no difference. This whole teaching raises so many questions about the Christian faith and what does the Bible really say?

The response of so many people to these articles recently about prominent evangelicals who are renouncing Christianity is Cluck, Cluck “They weren’t really ever Christians in the first place.” I am not sure if that makes them feel better about their own salvation or what. I don’t have to wonder why Paul Maxwell, Abraham Piper, Joshua Harris, Marty Sampson and others are angry and confused. They have finally realized that the teachings they have been exposed to are false and unworkable for a life of faith that is meaningful.

If you are interested in a more detailed understanding of our faith story and how Calvinism affected us, you can buy my book, Once an Insider, Now Without A Church Home by Amanda Farmer on Amazon. It is available as an old fashioned book, a digital book, or an audio book.

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=once+an+insider%2C+now+without+a+church+home+by+amanda+farmer&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Educated” by Tara Westover – A Review

A Mama Swan and her cygnets (young)

            I am always looking for new books to read. I especially love non-fiction novels about the lives of others. I want to know how they dealt with the experiences in their lives and how it worked out for them. I came across a book entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a New York Times best seller. My curiosity was triggered, and I bought the book.

            It is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon family in Idaho. Even by Mormon standards, her father especially, is an outsider in his own faith tradition. Eccentric might be another term that one would use. Tara and some of her other younger siblings are never sent to school and their so-called “homeschooling” is basically no schooling. Her father believes school will contaminate his children to the world- a world in which he sees himself as God’s prophet.

            There are so many psychological and religious issues in this story that I can relate to on so many levels from my own personal experience. Although, I grew up Mennonite and not Mormon and the religious beliefs are different, the cultural dynamics are similar.

            First, Tara grows up in a family where the father is the ruler and women are seen as needing to always be submissive to men. This is a standard Mormon belief as well as one of many evangelical Christians, but her father uses that belief to control and to manipulate his family into a separate kind of lifestyle ruled by paranoia of everything “out there”, religious superiority, and an expectation of family loyalty. He does this through demanding an adherence to a distorted preaching of his faith as the one and true faith, by shaming his children if they so much as show any interest in how others live and attempt to copy that behavior. I couldn’t help but make that connection to my own father. Though my father was not nearly as off-center as Mr. Westover, I recognized the same behavior from my childhood. The result is the child feels alone and unable to connect with anyone often for life.

Socialization is important for all

            Tara finds herself alienated from everyone in her world except her family. She sits alone in Sunday School and of course, she has no friends for two reasons. She feels different from everyone else and her father makes sure that she has no time or opportunity to cultivate friendships with others. He stresses that girls she meets are not good enough for her. Her father uses his faith to condemn them as not living the way a person of God should live. She, therefore, feels guilty for even wanting to associate with such “wicked” people.

            Tara, even after she leaves home and goes to college, finds herself unable to fit in and at odds with pretty much everyone. I don’t think she, for many years, recognizes that this is a result of the socialization or lack thereof from her home life. It is deeply and complexly rooted in the emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural dynamics of her early years. I find it interesting that she titles the book, “Educated,” as if obtaining an education is what moves her to a place in society that she is accepted as “normal” by others. The lack of education is a handicap and with certainty will keep her a captive in her father’s strange world, but it is not what makes her feel alone, strange, and like she doesn’t belong in the new world that she explores. Getting educated will not fix what is broken inside of her from her childhood. It only gives her a better platform from which the self can say, “Now I am somebody.” I did the same thing. I went to school and got a master’s degree and a job that is viewed with respect and awe. And while working in it, I feel strong, accepted, and like I have worth. But outside of it, I still feel friendless and different from everyone else. I watch Tara as the story progresses feeling this total alienation from others and struggling with it. From my own experience, I have learned the feeling never goes away. One simply has to learn to be comfortable with being alone and knowing that this is who I am.

            A part of her psychic also does the same thing that I did with my family even after leaving. It longs for the love of one’s parents and siblings. Tara, like me, keeps coming back to the family trying to convince them of reality and what is right. Even though on a logical level, one comes to understand that one’s family is mentally unhealthy, there is this deep seated need to stay connected to them. Afterall, if those who bore you and nurtured you in childhood don’t love you, then why would anyone else especially God. Tara loses herself and becomes mentally unstable for a year after she realizes that her family does not want to know the truth that one son has been viciously abusing other members. Her parents are not interested in addressing the problems in the family and the highest value of loyalty makes everyone choose to accept “the delusion that they are one big happy family” which will allow them to remain part of the family. Tara realizes that the family “truth” and loyalty are more important than loving her. This is devastating to her.

What really destroys her is that her mother betrays her in this battle to expose evil. Her mother one minute acknowledges to Tara that she knows about and will speak to her father about Shawn’s unacceptable behavior. But when there is an actual confrontation, her mother turns against her and sides with her father. Her mother tries to destroy Tara’s reputation and character.  For the mother to stand against the patriarch of the family requires too high of a price. It reminds me so much of my own mother who swung from seemingly being rational to total denial and perpetrating vicious attacks on my character. It leaves one very confused and in the case of Tara, she cannot concentrate enough to even study. She falls into a deep depression. She had this deep-seated hope that her family would change because of her speaking the truth. But her family, like mine, was incapable of changing. Denial is a powerful substance that keeps the system stable no matter how dysfunctional. Only the individual has the power to change and often doesn’t because of these pressures from different aspects of society to conform, especially the family of origin and one’s religious community.

If you enjoy exploring the complex dynamics of families, “Educated” is a compelling read. My books “If You Leave This Farm” and “No Longer a Child of Promise” also explore many of the same dynamics. My third book, “Once An Insider, Now Without a Church Home” explores the same dynamics and pressures within the evangelical church as found within the family. One is only a friend and a member as long as one follows the dictated expected behavior and norms.

I appreciate all those who have the courage to write their stories. It helps me to know that I am really not alone and that I don’t need to be ashamed to share my own story.

                                                                                                Amanda Farmer

www.farmgirlwriter.com

www.calvinism-faith-crisis.com        

Does a GPS system operate like Our Heavenly Father?

085May 20, 2017 marks 30 years of working for Mayo Clinic. My how time flies. Part of being honored by Mayo is being allowed to choose a gift from an on-line catalog. There are thousands of choices for consideration. As I scroll through the countless pieces, I realize that there isn’t really anything that I need. A bicycle would be nice but I already have a bicycle, albeit it doesn’t always shift so well. Finally, I settle upon a Global Positioning Device. My hubby and I have never owned one and have always laughed at those who use such things, sometimes to their detriment. Does no one think anymore? Now, I shall see if I can join their ranks. Maybe it will help to lessen our total frustration of trying to navigate together when we go traveling.

I open the box when the device arrives. There are no directions. The manufacturer must think that everyone is capable of figuring out electronic boxes. After finally getting it mounted in the car on the only place that the suction cup will stick (right in the middle of my radio screen), I decide to see if it can find my hubby’s apartment or shop in town. “Unable to find address” is the only response I seem to elicit from it. Oh, great. The next day, Sunday, we decide to drive to the Bluegrass Gospel Music session, part of the Bluegrass Festival, being held at Houston, MN. This is the perfect opportunity to try out this device. I soon realize trying to type in the address while we are driving is impossible. I am getting more and more frustrated as the car bounces just a little each time I hit a letter. Finally, I am able to input the street address but it has no place to enter the city and state. Fifteen minutes of failing at getting correct input, then having it tell me no such address exists leave me fuming and agitated.

Alright, I say to myself, we are just trying to have a nice day and I am getting totally bent out of shape over a small box that talks to us. I take a deep breath. Finally, I am successful in having it recognize where we are trying to end up. It does faithfully lead us to the right destination. Going home is much easier. Since I previously entered our home address, I just need to hit “Go Home” to start the little brain thinking. We soon discover that we can mess with its little computer brain. Each time we turn the wrong way, it patiently recalculates, and tells us to turn again and again in an effort to get us back going the way it thinks we should be going.

105All of a sudden, it hits me. A GPS system is like our Heavenly Father up above. Once we decide we want to follow Him through life, He plugs in the “home” address. He gives us the steering wheel to the car (free will) and tells us to drive towards home. All along the way, He guides us with his calm gentle voice. If we turn the wrong way, His voice keeps talking to us, trying to get us back on the right road towards home. He doesn’t condemn us. He doesn’t scream at us. He doesn’t scold us. He just gently recalculates each time we make a wrong turn and instructs us again and again until we finally turn back in the right way. And unlike the GPS that has no instruction manual, God has given us an instruction manual. We just need to remember to read it.

The Final Day – Traveling Home

11-17-2016 Thursday

Today is our last day in Israel. It is chilly and only partly sunny. Our first stop today is at an archaeological dig site to shift through debris from the temple mount. The temple is occupied by the Muslims and apparently, they decided to expand their mosque without contacting the antiquities authority as required. Truckloads of artifacts and debris were hauled away in the night and dumped on the Mount of Olives.

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Lecture with Directions

Sifting through buckets of stones is not really my cup of tea but we are here so participate we do. We are assigned to a sieve kind of thing in groups of four. Son-in-law, Daughter, Hubby, and I are a group. We are to dump a bucket of the debris on our wire sieve, wash it with a garden hose and then sort through it. Things that we find that are old metal, pottery, mosaic, glass, bone, or unusual stones are to be picked out and put into a muffin tin. The whole mess looks like regular old stones to me and what little interest I had is soon gone. Hubby sticks with it.

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Sifting rocks

Picking up pretty stones is more his thing. Other groups have some success with finding valuable items. Our picking is mostly a failure.

We board the buses again about 10:30 to make our way to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. It is a somber experience as we remember the many lives lost through the cruelty of the Germans. The sad reality is that world leaders are now trying to tell people that it never happened. I cannot understand this phenomenon – how educated people can deny this tragedy. It is also unfathomable to me how men can be so depraved and heartless on one hand and on the other, there were those who risked their own lives and futures to save as many Jews as possible. What I am most shocked by is that Christians in the early centuries after Christ returned to heaven (200-400AD), considered the Jews subhuman and persecuted them for not accepting Christ as the Messiah. We eat our noon meal at the Holocaust Museum then relax for some time standing in the sun until everyone is ready to go.

Our last stop of the day is in the garden which contains one of the places believed to possibly be the burial site of Jesus. Our tour guide is a Swedish gentleman who talks to us about the garden and about Jesus sacrifice for us on the cross. As he is explaining about the Hill of the Scull

where Jesus was crucified, a booming loud speaker blares out the Muslim call to prayer. It is so loud we cannot talk above it and need to wait for the call to be over. Often, we are told, the Muslims call their people to prayer more than the 5 times required by their law just to interfere with the Christian activities such as this. Trying to protest or stop this kind of behavior would result in WW III so the behavior is quietly tolerated.

We make our way to the garden tomb and each one of us gets a chance to take a look into the empty tomb. Then we gather together on some benches to sing hymns and worship. Pastor Mark brings us a short message and then communion is shared together. The communion cups are made of olive wood and we can keep them as a remembrance. The wind has started to pick up and it is quite chilly as we sit there. It is 4 pm by the time we wrap up the service and head back to the bus and the hotel.

Several people, including Daughter and son-in-law, want to get off at the Jaffa Gate to do some last minute shopping so the bus makes a drop off stop there. The rest of us go back to the hotel to rest until the 6:30 drop off time for taking our suitcases to the bus. Then it is time for the last supper. A gourmet meal it is.

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Bus 2 Group Photo

We board the buses at 8:30 pm for our trip to the airport where we say Good-bye to our bus driver, Shalom, and our guide, Eli. Our excursion through the airport turns out to be a stressful challenge. We are first told to get our boarding passes at the many kiosks designed for such purposes. Brother, his wife, Hubby, and I are successful at doing so. However, by that time, we realize that all the other 100 some have been told to just get into line and we are left at the end of the line. Son-in-law and Daughter have left us in the dust. They are far ahead at the front of the line. I keep thinking having our boarding passes and luggage already checked should allow us to bypass some of this line but it does not seem so. My stomach muscles are getting tighter and tighter as this line progresses with the speed of a turtle. I keep looking at my watch and thinking that we are going to end up missing the plane. As we are all standing in line, we find out that El Al Airlines have overbooked the flight by at least 15 – 20 people and they are asking members of our group to stay. Apparently, the pilots have also been on strike since Sunday which we knew nothing about. Just last evening, all flights were canceled.

The clock has ticked away an hour and a half before we finally reach the first security point where they compare our passport with our face and ask numerous questions. This one we zip through. Then we are told to get into the line for checking our bags in.

“Can we check our bags in somewhere faster?” I ask “since we already have luggage tags.”

Of course the answer is, “No, you need to get in that line.” As the man points to the line that snakes around 3 rows of slowly crawling snails. I am starting to feel somewhat panicked as we wait again for 30 minutes. Finally, we head for the next stop which is the physical security checkpoint where we need to go through the metal detector. We are allowed to keep our shoes on which makes this line move at incredible speed. As we leave the metal detector, I look around for the signs pointing to the D concourse. I see nothing like that. Confusedly, I lead my pack of four around in circles. Finally, I decide to ask. The TSA agent I ask is visibly irritated by this ignorant idiot, “You have to go through passport verification first,” she snaps. I have no idea what that means but head towards a line marked “foreign passports.” Another official looking lady waves toward some strange machines on the wall,” You can use those automatic ones over there.”

OK, I have no idea what to do with those things but I wander over and read the directions which say, “Put passport under scanner.” Amazingly, it likes my approach and prints me a little ticket. Feeling confident that we are now on our way, I tuck everything away and we are funneled through 1 small opening towards the boarding area.  No wonder I could not see it before. We have not gone more than 20 feet and we come to more machines that indicate we need to scan our pink card to get through. “Pink card? I don’t have a pink card.” Then I realize this must mean the little slip of paper we just got. It has a faint ting of pink across the top. Finally, we reach the boarding area. Are there any more hoops to jump through I wonder? We have about a ½ hour wait before boarding the plane. They make an announcement that any liquids we have bought cannot be brought on the plane and that they will be going through our carry-on bags looking for liquids. You can’t be serious! Again? This line moves quickly as the search is not terribly thorough. The last straw awaits me on the plane. We realize Hubby and I do not have exit seats as I paid for and we are stuffed into the middle of the plane with someone between us. I make myself at home in the middle seat regardless. It makes no sense for someone to want to sit between us. When that person finally arrives, she is fine with our arrangement as it will put her husband just across the aisle from her. In all the confusion of the Airline’s overbooking and moving people around, we are left to stuff ourselves in the regular seats for 12 hours and the money I paid extra for exit seats has been swallowed up in the mess.

Other than being unable to breathe or move properly for 12 hours, all goes well with our flight. We land in Newark, NJ 45 minutes late but safe and sound back in the US. Our connecting flight to Minneapolis is uneventful. We break through the heavy clouds into light rain. By the time we retrieve our bags, it has started to snow heavily. Welcome to winter in Minnesota.

This time the hare beat the tortoise as we get home before my brother and his wife who drove home from the Newark airport.1313

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 4

11-16-2016 Wednesday

 

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Sunset over the desert

Clouds darken the sky today for the first time since we have arrived here. The temperature is chilly and I surrender my belief that it is still summer by putting on a sweater. We are on the bus by 8 am and headed for Masada.

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Bedouin sheep

The drive south along the Dead Sea is beautiful in its own way. We pass areas of what they call “desert farming.” They drip irrigate using the sewage water from Jerusalem to save water.

As we go further south, the land becomes more barren with huge hills of wasteland to the west. Masada is the ruins of an ancient city built upon the top of a 1000-foot-high flat top hill. King Herod, the Great, first built one of his fortresses high on this hill. Later, it became a place for the Jews to flee for refuge around 70 AD when they were defeated by the Romans in a crushed uprising. After 3 years of refuge, the Romans are able to breach the hill and all the rebels there die. It is an awesome sight to look up at this hill high above our heads as we drive into the parking lot. If one were young and ambitious, he could hike up the Snake Trail to the top of Masada. None of us are either of these, so we board a cable car/Tram to be hoisted to the top. We are told it holds 80 people and they are serious about this as they jam pack us into the car. I am starting to feel the rising panic of claustrophobia when I find I can’t move.

It is a beautiful day here – not too hot and not too cold. We spend about an hour and a half at Masada exploring the ruins and viewing some of the great inventions of Herold the Great. Probably the most remarkable invention is the water collection and storage system.

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Israeli flag over Masada

The one or two huge rains per year are the only source of water. As we stand listening to the tour guide, I hear a clatter of something on the stone. It is Hubby’s glasses lens. He has lost the screw to hold the frame together. We brainstorm as to how to fix this but can do nothing about it at the moment.

Around 12 noon, we head back down on the cable car and board the bus for the Qumran Caves Museum. This is where we will eat lunch. It is the usual chaotic scene getting through the lunch line. We see a group of Mennonites who instantly make contact with Brother and his wife. That is how it is with Mennonites. They recognize each other anywhere and feel a bond. We exit through the gift shop to wait for our tour guide. I notice a bunch of sunglasses and we decide to buy a pair in the hopes that we can use one of the screws to repair Hubby’s glasses. Getting through the checkout line is a bit of a challenge as people are everywhere and buying the skin care products manufactured from the Dead Sea. I finally am able to get outside into the crush of people there. Our guide today, Bruce, finally is able to get us away from the masses to explain the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We make a short tour of the Essene ruins and then head back to the bus.

Our last stop is the beach of the Dead Sea.

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Dead Sea

I do not plan to float but simply to wade. The Dead Sea is 33% salt so the water is toxic if taken orally or gotten in the eyes. We receive our towels and make our way gingerly down the steep hill that once was the banks of the Dead Sea. The use of the minerals and water from the lake for commercial purposes has caused the shores of the Dead Sea to recede several hundred feet over the last 40 years. The mud is a dark gray color. I step gingerly into the water. As I move one foot ahead of the other, it drops over the edge into a hole. After several attempts, I decide to move to a different location and am able to enter the water. As I stand there watching others smear black mud all over themselves, a man holding a cell phone steps into the water in the place I formerly tried.

His leg disappears into a hole and down he goes, cell phone and all. Now why would someone take their cell phone along into a salt bath? Is my question. After wading about for approximately 15 minutes and getting splashed by others falling down, I decide it is time to get out before I end up totally wet. After washing off my feet, Hubby and I find some ice cream to enjoy at a small picnic table under a spreading tree. Hundreds of chirping birds seem to be perched in its branches. I am just about done when I feel a wet drop on my forehead from above. Gross! A bird has just pooped on my head. It is time to move on back to the bus.1226

We are back at the hotel by 5:45pm and catch up with Daughter and Son-in-law who did not accompany us today but decided to wander around by themselves and relax. I spy the pipe cleaner on our suitcase and use it for the repair so badly needed on Hubby’s glasses after we can’t get the screw out of the new sunglasses we bought. It works. Only one more day before it is time to head home again.

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus Part 3

11-14-2016 Monday

 

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Overlooking Jerusalem from Mt Scopus

Today hands us another beautiful sunny morning to greet us. We are on the bus and heading for Mount Scopus by 8 am. Here we spend a few minutes having photos taken of our bus and of the whole group. Winding through the narrow, hilly streets of Jerusalem is quite the experience. Buses sometimes miss each other by inches. This morning, because we are going to Bethlehem into Palestinian territory, we have been asked to bring our passports and we need to exchange our Jewish guide for a Palestinian one. Israeli citizens are not allowed to cross into Palestine. A change in plans is made because of the number of people and the times of mass at the Church of the Nativity and we are taken first to a shop in Bethlehem where Arab Christians make beautiful decorations using olive wood. I wander around the shop and am somewhat disillusioned by the prices. There are some beautiful praying hands with the last supper carved on the palms. It is almost $3000. Well skip that. We finally settle for a small camel, a shepherd, and a sheep for $85.

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Machine making multiple olive wood figurines at once

A short trip to the basement workshop finishes out the visit to this shop. We are informed that our bus has a water leak and we will need to divide out onto the other two buses to make the trip to the Church of the Nativity. We feel like foreigners on this other bus. We need to walk awhile after exiting the bus. The walking trip feels chaotic with all the people on the street. “Use your horn liberally” seems to be the expectation of the day especially when the American tourists are in the way. Masses of people resulting in long lines are at the church. The church is under re-construction so leaves something to be desired for picture taking. We do not have too long of a wait to get into the cave with the Star of Bethlehem and the areas where baby Jesus was laid. I am saddened by the shrines built to commemorate everything. I just want to see the simple cave in which Christ was born.

We attempt to get back on the same temporary bus after we leave the church but we must be confused as Hubby can’t find his camera bag and the lady in the seat that we think is ours, thinks we are deranged. We finally get on the right bus and are headed for Shepherd’s Field which is a preserved site showing what the cave might have looked like that the shepherds lived in and the field where the angels proclaimed that good news of Jesus birth to the shepherds.

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Inside shepherds cave

We all gather in the cave for a reading from the Bible about the angels coming to the shepherds and we sing Joy to the World together. By now, I am getting extremely hungry and irritated due to a lack of bathroom stops. I am going to the bathroom whether we have time or not. Our bus is repaired by the time we are done at Shepherd’s field and it is back to the correct #2 bus. This feels right and comfortable.

Lunch is at a kibbutz that now caters to guests because the city has surrounded them and taken their fields. It is the same mass confusion getting through the lunch line but we finally do it. We keep losing either Brother and his wife or Daughter and Son-in-law in our lunch lines’ confusion. Our next stop is the upper room where Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples. It is not the actual room which has been destroyed and rebuilt but the actual place. This room is also believed to possibly be the place where the disciples waited and received the Holy spirit at Pentecost.

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View from Caiaphas house toward Jerusalem

Hiking through the upper room, then up the steps to Caiaphas’ house gives one the general idea of the distance and site of these important events in the Bible. Our last stop is to see the dungeon or prison cell where Jesus might have been imprisoned and tortured the night before his crucifixion. This is something I have never thought about before. We sing an old hymn here.  As we walk up the hill to the buses, it has grown dark and a huge moon is just rising over the horizon. It is supposed to be a super moon, the biggest one since Israel became a nation in 1948.

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Moonrise over Jerusalem

11-15-2016  Tuesday

The day is a little cooler today. Breakfast is the usual time of 6 am and we are on the bus by 7:45 am. We are headed today to explore the old city of Jerusalem. Our first stop of the day is to view a 15 minute 3-D film of the history of Jerusalem. We emerge into the bright sunlight and sit on a bench while Eli, our guide, talks to us. Eli is an entertaining and informative guy for a guide. He in mild -mannered and always has a joke to share or is laughing at himself for his own foibles.

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Eli’s cap “I am their leader – which way did they go”

Maneuvering steps going down to an archaeological dig of David’s Palace is the next order of business. We then make our way through the City of David and enter the old aqueduct system of many years ago that has been re-excavated. It is 2 foot wide by approximately 5’ 10” high. It is bordered on both sides by stone walls. We file through the tunnel single file. I am somewhat claustrophobic and have to keep telling myself I am fine. At one place the tunnel is so narrow, Hubby has to go through sideways.

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Narrow passage

We squirm our way through what seems like hours of walking until we come out under the newer excavated western wall and emerge again into the light. After some more education, we circle up around above the Western Wailing wall and come in through the metal detectors. The Western Wall is all that remains of the temple and visiting it brings the visitor as close as possible to the Holy of Holies. Men and women go through the metal detectors separately and then are expected to visit the wailing wall separately. I point out to my brother that the Western wall section for men is longer than for the women even though the women’s side is packed. Brother points out that the men have podiums to stand at and the women have chairs to sit on.

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Western Wall – Men’s side

In other words, “the men are to preach and the women are to be quiet.” We both laugh. This is reference to the beliefs of our upbringing.  I do not wish to leave a prayer on the wall as I believe God hears me equally from wherever I pray. However, we do make our way to the wall and touch it. I feel no zing, no electric shock, no special revelation from heaven.

We leave the western wall and walk through the Jewish quarter and into the Armenian quarter for lunch at an Armenian restaurant. We have a relaxed hour and then it is back out to walk through the various quarters of the old city. We stop at the pools of Bethesda. Our last order of the day is to walk the stations of the cross or the Via Dolorosa. I think the most touching part of the afternoon is acapella singing in the chapel of the only church left from the era of the crusades.

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Singing

A lady who grew up Mennonite leads us in the traditional way of singing Amazing Grace and It is well with my soul. Wow, how I miss that singing and those old hymns.

We continue our trek along the “Way of Sorrow” through the narrow over-crowded streets. The weather has turned and a cool chill breeze has sprung up. It is growing dark by the time we leave. The bus in not waiting as we are told it will be and we spend at least ½ hour wondering if we are going to be picked up. One last stop of the day is at a shop for us to shop. I see nothing new and/or that I can afford. They have swapped buses again because ours is needed for a trip to the airport. We get on the wrong bus before we decide that this doesn’t make sense and get back off.  (to be continued)

 

 

Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus – Part 2

11-12-2016 Saturday

 

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The Shepherd

An early breakfast is served and we are on the bus by 7:30am. Our first stop is the village of Nazareth. It is a restored area designed like the original village of Nazareth. I really enjoy this stop. There are characters acting as the shepherd with the sheep and our guide explains passages of scripture such as “separating the sheep from the goats” that Jesus talked about and “going through the narrow gate”. This refers to the smaller door into the house so the animals couldn’t enter. We visit the carpenter shop where Son-in-law, as the youngest man, is chosen to try the rope run hand drill.

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The olive press

From the village of Nazareth, we move on to the Church of the Wedding of Cana. Due to double booking of the church, we wait almost an hour to get in. Once we get in, we sing “How Great Though Art” and then have a short devotional by one of the pastors, Pastor Mark. There is no dearth of pastors in our group.  I have counted 4 in this group of 120 people. Pastor Mark then leads those of us who want to through a reciting of our marriage vows.

We leave the church about noon and drive to the south side of the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan River leaves the sea. We drove from Cana across farmland spread in both directions. One could look to the left and see farms and then towns on the hill and to the right, farmland spread out away down into the valley. Just above the south side of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped and got off the bus. We could see across the valley to the Golan Heights, to Jordan, and where the border of Syria traversed those areas in the middle.

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Looking down at the Sea of Galilee where the Jordan exits

We re-boarded the bus to travel down to the restaurant at the Jordan River. We order our lunch in a large open room. Today, I chose the chicken and rice.

After lunch, those who want to be baptized, got their baptismal gowns and towels, and made their way to the area reserved for our group. There are steps going down into the water for those being baptized. There are concrete steps for us who are not being baptized to sit upon and watch.

There must be at least 100 people who line up to be baptized. All 4 pastors help with the baptisms (Chris Page, Steve Chupp, Mark Lantz, Paul Begley). Son-in-law chose to be baptized though none of the rest of us did. It was a warm, sunny, beautiful summer day for November. It was 4pm before all the baptisms were done and we wandered around for a short time before getting back on the bus and heading for the hotel. Hubby and I bought ice cream cones as we are getting goodie deprived.

There are 5 buses unloading when we get back to the hotel. I take one look at that and decide to walk up the 11 flights of stairs to our room. Hubby is puffing behind me and convinced I am trying to kill him but it was so much faster than waiting hours for an elevator. Supper is at 6 pm and then we can relax in our room. People just love to blow the shofar on the street below. I think it is potential customers trying out the instrument before buying it.

We were told to have our suitcases out between 9:30 – 10 pm. Hubby and I put ours out early (maybe 9pm) so we can go to sleep. I guess Son-in-law and Daughter put theirs out earlier (around 8pm) because they want to go to sleep too. It isn’t long before there is banging on their hotel room door. Son-in-law is already asleep and ignored the banging and Daughter was in the bathroom. She finally was able to answer the door.

“These your bags?” demands security.

“Yes.”

“You can’t leave them here.”

We had just been educated by Eli, our guide, today about the importance of not leaving any baggage lying around unattended and that such things were cause for the police to be called and the bomb squad to blow them up. So much for trying to put bags out before the allotted time so that one can go to sleep early.

Today is Sunday. We eat breakfast at 7am and are on the bus by 8am. Our first destination is a stop to help plant trees on public land.

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Planting trees

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Planting trees

Each one of us receives a tree and then we walk across a dry, thistle infested, rocky field to place our tree in a pre-dug hole. The soil is red in color, dry, and hard. It looks like all living plants need irrigation in this land. Everywhere one looks, there are hoses strung with small holes in them to water each plant. From there we board the bus and drive along the Jordan River valley to the excavated ruins of the Roman city of Beit She’an.

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Beit She’an

We explore the ruins of a Roman bath house, the amphitheater, and the remains of a Roman brothel. The temperature is warm, probably in the 80s and I am soon hot and sticky. By noon, it is time to get back on the bus and head to our dinner spot. It is at a hostel in the modern city of Beit She’an. There are not nearly as many people as other days making for a more relaxed time. The meal is served café style.

After we get back on the bus, we head south through the West Bank. The land is mostly barren and hilly. Where there are crops and trees, the farmers are irrigating with the small hoses that run everywhere. The closer we get to Jerusalem; we start to see herds of goats on the hillside with run down homesteads. These are the Bedouin people that no longer are nomads.

It is going towards 3:30 pm when we roll into Jerusalem. We are taken to the top of the hill above the Garden of Gethsemane.

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Garden of Gethsemane

The road is narrow, steep, and winding that we walk down to the garden. We spend a few minutes in the church of All Nations before re-boarding the bus for our trip to the hotel. The sun has pretty much set and the lights are coming on around the old city of Jerusalem. It is beautiful and old and distinguished. Our arrival at the hotel goes rather smoothly compared to the last hotel. We have our luggage within 5 minutes and then are off to the elevator that is fast, efficient, and sports no waiting lines. Supper is way more than I should eat and our group is the only one competing for spots tonight. This is the Dan Panorama Jerusalem hotel and it is a step up from our last hotel.

 

 

Walking Where Jesus Walked

11-10-2016 Thursday First Day in Israel – Sleep Walking

 

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View from Tiberius hotel room

We had a fairly smooth 10-hour flight. I think I phased out for maybe an hour but never really slept. Hubby and I had good seats in the exit row with lots of room but it also tended to be the area people wanted to congregate to talk. There were also 3 babies close by that spent a good amount of time crying. We arrived in Tel Aviv around 6:30am. I went to get Hubby’s camera bag out of the overhead bin. As I was doing so, a coat flopped out too. As I tried to catch the coat, the camera bag got away from me and flipped back over my head, landing right on the 7-8-month old baby. Thankfully, he wasn’t hurt but I was horrified and his mother, I’m sure, thought what a careless person.

011Getting through customs actually went well but then, there was trouble with the belt bringing out the luggage bags. An airport worker finally came crawling up through the luggage chute and started throwing bags around. We soon had our luggage and gathered in a group. There are about 120 people. We are assigned to Bus 2. Even though we are dog tired, we set off on our tour route for the day. We start by visiting Caesarea

by the Mediterranean Sea. The huge coliseum is our first stop. We trail along looking at the different areas of the destroyed city. The sun beats down on us. It must be over 80 degrees and I feel like I am going to fall over. I am not dressed for summer and my sweater soon comes off. After a couple hours of walking, we get back on the bus for a trip to

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View from Mt. Carmel

Mount Carmel where Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his offering. This was to show the prophets of Baal who the real God is. We climbed to the top of the roof of the Catholic church built on the spot and look out over the Valley of Jezreel where the battle of Armageddon is to take place. It is an awesome view. It is 1:30 pm and we are getting very tired and hungry, grouchy, and have little stamina left. We board the buses one more time for our trip to the destroyed city of Magiddo (or Armagadon) where we are told we will eat lunch at a restaurant there. I sigh when I see the long line at the restaurant. Serving is cafeteria style and the line creeps along slowly. It seems like mass confusion in the restaurant. I buy juice which costs $3 a glass.  We finally get food. Everyone is at their wits end. Daughter ends up in tears. Soon, though, we feel refreshed after we have eaten and head up the trail to the gate of the city with many ruins under it. The walk down 182 steps to the water source of the ancient city is like going into a cave. We climb back up some 80 steps and board the buses for the hotel @ 4pm. We have a chance to rest ½ hour before heading downstairs for supper. After supper comes a refreshing shower and a collapse into bed as I can no longer keep my eyes open. The biggest problem in getting to sleep is that I feel like I am moving and moving and moving. Outside, there is a shofar being blown over and over and a huge amount of noise from a party. That’s when the ear plugs I have brought along come in handy.

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Fireworks on Sea of Galilee

11-11-2016 Friday

Wake up call was at 6:30am with breakfast at 7. It is always chaotic in the restaurant with the hotel trying to feed masses of people in a short time. I had some fruit and yogurt that did not taste at all like I am used to. Daughter says she is hot and does not feel well. I dig out my small supply of Tylenol. Once a nurse, always a nurse. I am a walking drug store.

It is a beautiful, warm quiet morning. We walk to the boat dock and board a wooden boat built like the fisherman of Jesus day would have fished in. Hubby and I got the very front where the breeze touched our faces and cooled off our hot bodies. We have about an hour for our sail around the Sea of Galilee. They stop for a brief time of devotions and then some praise songs are sung over the loud system which is uplifting and beautiful. The boat is docked at the museum that contains the 2000-year-old actual remains of a boat from Jesus time at Nof Ginosar.

From there, we travel on to Capernaum where Jesus spent 3 years of his ministry. There is a Catholic church built over where Peter’s house was found. We explore the remains of a synagogue and basically the village of Capernaum.  We then drive around to the kibbutz at Ein Gev and eat our lunch at the restaurant known for “Peter’s Fish.” Hubby and I both have the whole fish, cooked without scaling and with even the eyes remaining. It doesn’t taste too bad if one can get past the eyes staring back at you.

The day remains warm and beautiful. We climb back onto the bus and head for the Mount of the Beatitudes. It is a beautiful spot with flowers and trees and another Catholic church built on the grounds. We have 15-20 minutes to walk around and enjoy the scenery. We make one last stop on the shores of Galilee where many people wade in the water. Another church, The Primacy of Peter, is located here. It has beautiful stain glass windows.

By 4:30 pm, we are headed back to the hotel for supper and rest. Supper is probably the most chaotic meal I have seen yet. The waiting line wraps around the cafeteria. Hubby & I get some basic food and then decide to give up trying to get more food.