Friday evening Rebekah and I had a lot of fun with a segment of our wonderful church family. The “JOY” group (Just Older Youth) are a gathering of “seniors” who meet once a month for food, fellowship, and some kind of a program.
So, after an amazing covered dish buffet dinner, I presented a lecture/slide show from our trip to the Bible Lands. The challenge was to distill what had once been a five-night travelog and Bible study into a sixty-minute talk featuring just 220 photographs.
I pulled it off in an hour and fifteen minutes, mixing a constantly moving stream of photographs with stories, scriptures, and interesting facts. The presentation – according to all accounts – went well. And – surprising to me in a crowd of forty – only two other people had even been to Egypt or Israel.
Chatting afterwards, a couple of people asked a version of this interesting question. “So, if this was a stripped down version of a five-night lecture series, then what would you show us if you only had to tell the story with just two photographs from each segment of your trip? What would you choose?”
Hmmmm… that’s a tough one! Athens; Cairo; Sinai; Petra; Galilee; Jerusalem. Leaving out another dozen or so important points of interest, how would I select twelve images that collectively capture the flavor of our traveling experience?
So with it fresh on my mind I’m going to give it a try. First, some words, along with one photo for each place. Then I’ll include all 12 in the slides at the end:
Our twelve hour layover in Athens was not wasted. Of course we headed to the Acropolis. And there I grabbed an image of Rebekah on the Acropolis, looking out over the teeming millions who live in the city today. Paul – standing on Mars Hill in that very place – introduced the Greek-thinking world to the idea that God existed beyond their limited understanding of the cosmos. It’s an idea that drives my creativity and my mission today. We think we know so much, and with such certainty, yet God constantly challenges the parameters of our understanding, always inviting us to know more, and to trust more, and to grow in our faith.
Cairo, for me, was such a study in contrasts. On the one hand there is the touristy wonder of the Great Pyramids – travel glam in its highest expression. Then, the other side of the metropolis, is Garbage City, where a sub-class of Egyptians eke out a living – barely – literally from garbage hauled out there day after day after day.
Garbage City is where we met the children of Mother Maggie’s Mission. One child only per family, because resources are limited and the need so great. The hope is that the light, and the education, planted in that one child will seed hope and opportunity and promise to the others in each family.
So my images for Cairo must include both the glamor and the garbage; past glory and present reality; picture postcard moments and desperate poverty.
On to Sinai, probably my signature moment of the journey. Click here – Destination God – for details of my predawn pilgrimage to the summit.
The wilderness where Moses led the Children of Israel for such a long time is an unforgiving wasteland; it’s no wonder the Promised Land looked to be flowing with milk and honey! But it was there, in the day by day struggle, that God carved out the identity of his people.
I can’t help but be inspired anew every time I think about Sinai. I can’t remember my encounter with God on the top of the mountain without considering my responsibility to bring that light back into the valley. I can’t do anything other than thank God for my blessings when I consider the long story of God’s faithful love as told through the Biblical narrative.
Then, crossing over into Jordan, we experienced the overwhelm of Petra. The magnificent archeological site, strewn over several square miles of rugged terrain, remains one of the most remarkable places Rebekah and I have ever witnessed. A flourishing civilization inhabited the valley until it was finally abandoned after one more crushing earthquake in the Middle Ages.
Of all the places we were exposed to on this tour, Petra surprised me the most.
- If you want to be amazed, then you absolutely have to visit Petra.
- If you want to see everything, be prepared to walk miles and climb hundreds of feet.
- If you want to wait for the Middle East to be safe… then you’ll never go!
- If you want to limit your exposure to the world to a gentle stroll around Disney’s Epcot Center, then – well – I can’t adequately express my disappointment.
All – absolutely ALL – of Israel is worthy of a million photographs. But this post is limited to Galilee and Jerusalem. Galilee is where Jesus spent the majority of his public ministry, all within the parameters of a day’s walk. That fact alone is worth mulling over. Jesus is the single most impactful teacher in the history of the world, and – other than his years as a refugee in Egypt as an infant – Jerusalem is likely the farthest he every traveled from home.
Galilee literally resonates with the echo of Christ’s life. His words, his love, his belief, his faithfulness, his mercy, his grace. All this seems to hang in the air and inhabit the hills, and the water of the lake, and the very stones we walked on. I chose the picture of me at the Sea of Galilee, thinking about the ripples of faith over time, and then the image of our group walking the road from Nazareth to Galilee, pilgrims ourselves on a path Jesus took many times.
Jerusalem – the place where Jesus shared some of his most powerful words and where he gave his life because of his complete love for each one of us – cannot be reduced to two images. But I guess I have to try. I have to begin with the view of the city from the Mount of Olives. It’s a bucket-list photograph, but it holds so much of the story.
Then I’m settling on the picture I took of Rebekah at the pool of Bethesda. The story – from John 4 – is one of her perennial “top-five” scriptures (there are, by the way, upwards of 50 references in Rebekah’s top five!). It’s the simple sentiment of the question Jesus asks; “Do you want to be healed?”
I think it’s probably the most important question Jesus is still asking – asking of his followers, asking of those on the periphery, and asking of those people who don’t believe they want anything to do with faith.
The question is still on the table: do you want that kind of healing?