Archive for the ‘islam’ Category

Dear Jesus,
I’ve been kind of down lately. Been thinking alot about the plight of mankind, and our obvious inability to not continually smash our heads into a concrete wall. Meaning, our inability to not make the same stupid mistakes over and over. Wasn’t WWI supposed to be the war to end all wars? Great marketing, but poor execution on that concept. Why is it that there are living breathing people just outside my door who not only dont have a place to live, but dont have anything to eat today. And why am I not tripping over myself to go out and help them. Am I that calloused? Is my heart that hardened? There is a voice inside of me that tells me that everyday I go to work and make my little bit of money and come home, I am being duped by the ways of this world; that I am accepting a less meaningful life. Of course now there is added meaning to it since i have an 8month old but still, there is a part of me that says I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. That I should be doing something to help people, that I should be being more like Jesus. That reminds me, I dont get all these “Christian” right wingers who are violently opposed to healthcare reform. They are spitting such virulence about how Obama is going to make this a socialist country by introducing social health care yadda yadda yadda. All I have to say is wouldnt Jesus want you to help your neighbor? Even if the bill was socialist, which it isnt, whats wrong with that? Whats wrong with helping those who need it? You say you follow Jesus right? then do so. Hate to break it to you guys but Jesus was rather socialist himself. So follow him, or not. Dont pretend to be one thing and do another. Thats what I hate about America and why i dont go to church. Because its phoney, sleight of hand, bumpersticker theology, with wolves leading the sheep through fear and hate. Mainstream American “christianity” bugs the shit out of me because I dont see the “christ” in it at all. maybe i’ve just been to the wrong churches, but I feel more at home with honest to goodness, devout muslims and truth seeking buddhists than the self professed “christian nation”.  Anyways, back to the subject. I dont think this world will improve it’s situation without divine intervention. It’s nice to think about everyone getting all Star Trek like and the world uniting under knowledge and science, but it wont. as long as there are humans, there will be greed, unmet desires, and ultimately atrocity committed upon each other. God help us all. God help me.


A Day Off….Sort Of.

Posted: December 9, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

Saturday is a day of rest for the Jews and so it was kind of for us as well, being that travel was shut down, so we just kind of hung arod  town. I snacked in the morning and discovered this awesome Arabic delight. It was a cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup. It was SOOOO good. and SOOOO rich! On Zohar’s recommendation we went to a suburb of Jerusalem called En Kerem. It’s a beautiful hillside town tucked away in a green corner of a mountain. It reminded me alot of the old European towns. Beautiful, tranquil, with old euro style architecture. Apparently Mary the mother of Christ lived in this area as well and so on the hillside there lies the Church of the Annunciation, where it is said that the Angel Gabriel gave her the good news. The church is the most beautiful Marian church I have ever seen, replete with an enormous portrait of Mary on the back wall of the church. I really love Mary themed religious art. Like most Mexicans, I have a special place for her in my heart, just maybe not in the same way they do. Sundown was coming on so we thought we’d catch a movie. I was tired actually but consented to Rafa’s idea anyway.

Our cabbie was an Arab who, on the way, asked us point blank if we believed Jesus was going to come back. We said yes and the said he did too and that he hoped he could live to see the day when he returns. I asked him if he was a Christian and he said no, that he was a Muslim, and that Muslims believe that Jesus will return to bring peace as well. I think that’s something alot of people don’t know about Muslims, that they believe Christ will return too. We ended up having a nice chat with the cabbie about religion, David Copperfield, and ghosts then he left us at the cinema. Kind of funny how sometimes the lines of our perceptions and prejudices get blurred….and how you never know where you will find another believer. Which reminds me, while we were seated at breakfast at the sidewalk cafe this morning, a young Muslim man came up to us and asked if he could give us some literature. We said yes and he asked us if we knew about Islam and I replied yes, that my brother has been Muslim for over 20 years. We spoke briefly but I definitely sensed an earnest spirit and desire to see and experience God in life. It made me glad for him and I even felt a sense of brotherhood with him, even though we are not of the same race or religion. I felt the same kinship I feel when I meet anyone who is looking to grow in God. It was a positive experience.

So anyways, back to the movie. The cinema was closed because shabbat wasn’t over so Rafa ends up finding out that the mall is going to open at sundown and that they have a theater too. We catch a bus for Jerusalem Mall. This was the worst mistake of the trip.

I don’t know if it was a special day or what, but it seemed like the whole city was there. All the stores were selling off of tables in the mall aisles and it was jam packed with people. I mean JAM PACKED. And it seemed like everyone was rude, pushing and pulling. We still had like 2 hours to kill before the movies and I was dead tired so I went to sleep in the food court surrounded by hyper 14 years olds. It was a nightmare. When we finally got into the movie, the screen was slightly larger than my TV, the sound was horrible and the seats were crappy. We also didn’t know that they assigned seats so we got kicked out of our chairs. Then I slept through a terrible movie. How can a Morgan Freeman/John Cusack movie be bad? but it was. I was so happy to finally get out and back on the bus going back to my bed at the convent. On the way I called my wife and told her I loved and missed her then got to my bed and slept like the dead.  

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Into the West Bank

Posted: December 8, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

I had a strange dream last night. I was at my old Catholic high school and they had installed what appeared to be giant iron doors in place of the old regular ones. When I touched the doors they seemed to turn to putty and I ended up turning them into hanging ribbons of putty. When people at the school saw it they were up in arms about it so I went to the principals office and told them I’d buy them new doors. Then I woke up. weird.

Today we went to Bethlehem, and becasue it lies in the West Bank and is under the Palestinian Authority, we had to take an Arab bus. Israel has two bus systems, one Arab and one Jewish. After a quick bite to eat Rafa, myself an Brenda the Canadian head over to the Arab bus station and pay the 3 and half shekels for the trip.

After a few minutes of driving I see a really tall concrete wall reaching about 40 feet into the air and an even taller security tower. I thought it was an IDF base. It was Bethlehem. The bus let’s us off and we have to go through this security fence and show ID’s and the whole 9 yards till we finally get through the wall. It’s a little disconcerting when you see a wall erected through the middle of a street and buildings. On the inside, the wall is covered in graffiti and stenciling. It’s mostly politically oriented. When we got through the checkpoint were are immediately hit up by cabbies offering tours etc., but I just kept walking, not knowing where I was going, but not wanting the barrage of people. One cabbie was persistent however, in letting me know that the Church of the Nativity was too far to walk to and he showed us on a map where we were in relation to it. He was right, so we agreed to hire him.

His cab was quite nice. A Benz wagon. He introduced himself as Walid. Along the way, he pointed out various sites of interest and I began to ask him about the wall. He said it has been there since 2002, and it’s there because the Islamists and Hamas caused too many problems for Israel. Apparently the IDF still does raids on places there as well and will call in a curfew an hour before the raid. He also told me that there were many Arab Christians in Palestine and that they have always co-existed peacefully with the Muslims.

After some more small talk we arrive at Manger Square and duck into the Church of the Nativity. This is the oldest church in Israel and you can tell. It has the remains of these beautifully ornate mosaics depicting angels and people. The support columns in the church were some sort of reddish-brown marbel or granite and show their age with very old carvings of crosses and script. I take my photos and then leave.

Outside I saw a vendor selling the traditional Arab head dress. I buy one since I’ll be heading out into the desert again in a few days time. The street vendors here are extremely pushy and demanding, and if you don’t know how to deal with it, you’ll find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. That’s what happened to Brenda. She had accepted a “gift” from one of the vendors and was being pressured into buying 5 other things from him. I figured that at her age she should know better than to accept any “gifts” but she ended up getting yelled at by the guy. While I was waiting for Rafa to finish his photos inside, I got to witness the Friday noon prayers across the square where the mosque was. Hundreds of men were lined up in the street, the square and sidewalks to do their ritual. It lasted a few minutes then regular life resumed. Rafa finally finished his pics and we then took Brenda to lunch since it was her Birthday. After we called Walid to come take us back to the wall.

One the way back we spoke some more with Walid about the situation between Palestine and Israel. I asked him if he thought there could ever be peace. He was optimistic.

He dropped us off at the wall and we shook hands. He gave us his crd and told us to let him know if we wanted to come back. I noticed his email address and chuckled. it was He was indeed a big guy. We parted ways and began the walk back through the security checkpoint. As I was walking along, looking at the graffiti, i noticed something. On the wall spray painted in black were the words “Walid the beast”.

Back in the old city I decided to split up with everyone. Rafa had met a girl and I felt I needed some quiet time. I realized that this whole trip so far has had me going non-stop with no time to think about or reflect on what I’ve experienced. I decided to go walking through the city and ended back at the wailing wall. It was almost sunset on Friday; Shabbat was beginning and the area was packed. It was all black suits and hats and yarmulkes. There was a crowd away from the wall in the back of the courtyard area of these happy singing and jumping Jews, while the wall area was mostly solemn. They were swaying, reading the Torah or praying out loud. After people watching for awhile I wandered back through the bazaars and ended up running into Rafa and his new friend Zohar.

Zohar is from Tel Aviv and was just passing through Jerusalem. She doesn’t come often, in fact she says most Israelis in the rest of the country don’t like to come to Jerusalem because they think it’s too dangerous. Her mom was apparently worried that she was here. And it wasn’t even necessarily due to the Arab/Israeli conflict. According to her, the Orthodox Jews have been known to get violent if they don’t like the way a lady or man is dressed in their area, and they apparently have infighting between their own sects. She says they don’t work, have huge families and that the reason the taxes are so high here is because of them. They have strong pull in the government so they get what they want. She was quite opinionated about them, and about eh Arab Israeli conflict as well. In fact she explained that in Israel there is a difference between Palestinians and Arabs. Arabs are Arabs that live outside of Palestine among the Israelis, and Palestinians are the Arabs in Palestine. The Arabs and Israelis apparently lived together for a long time peacefully outside of the Palestinian territory, but then when things got hot in the late 90’s and 2000, the Arabs showed up to protest in favor of the Palestinians and by doing so, they harmed their friendly ties with the Jews. She said she used to have friendly neighbors that were Arabs then after the demonstrations she felt they betrayed their trust. After a good hours talk, she had to get back to Tel Aviv so I said goodbye and Rafa walked her to the bus station. I was tired by now and thought I’d relax and call my wife. By the way, hummus here is spelled homos.

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Video from Church of the Nativity

Churchbells from Church of the Nativity

Sabbath Celebration at the Wailing Wall

Allahu Akbar….

Posted: December 6, 2006 in islam, Israel, jerusalem

The call to prayer woke me up too early and after a while of tossing and turning, I decided to go out onto the terrace and watch the sunrise. First light was just peeking over the Jordanian mountains. Brenda the Canadian lady was already out on the roof top, so we shared a pot of tea and chatted for an hour or so. She said this was her third trip to Jerusalem and that she was recently divorced after 20 years of marriage. She is here to begin writing a book or something. Our conversation was interrupted by a church group singing a hymn at the station of the cross on the street below us. Their song was the only sound that broke the silence of the dawn.

After a breakfast of eggs, cheese, and pita with jam, we headed out the Lions Gate and down through the Kidron Valley to the next hill over, the Mt. of Olives. It’s a steep climb, but it makes sense that Jesus would have come here to both get some solitude and also teach. It’s separated from the city by a valley with rather steep slopes. Close to the city, yet far enough to be away from the chaos. The hillside is covered with olive trees and when you get to the peak there is an observation point that shows you the whole city.

On my map I noticed a point close by that said “Tomb of the Prophets” so we went looking for it. We found it located somewhat off the beaten path and it was being overseen by a French Christian Monk named Pierre. He was a young guy and his duty was to upkeep the tomb and interact with its visitors. He showed us the map, and explained its history then sent us off with a flashlight. We descended into what was really a series of subterranean catacombs dating from 100 AD or so. Rafa and I were the only ones there so we had the whole place to ourselves. We crawled through tombs, climbed into other chambers and took lots of pics. It was all very Indiana Jones. After about an hour we went back up into the land of the living and talked with Pierre for awhile about France, fishing, the Virgin Mary, and our trip so far. We had a nice time and he was truly a nice, gentle soul.

While up on the Mt. we also swung by the Chapel of the Ascension, which is just an empty old chapel with a section of bare rock framed and coated in the floor where it is said Jesus ascended from. Funny thing is at one point it was also converted to a Mosque and had all the tell tale markings still.

After that we went to the Pater Noster church which was a byzantine or Crusader church that was never finished. Upon entering the courtyard you see the stairs going up to the Altar, but no roof, and instead of support columns along the aisles, you have Pine trees. this is called Pater Noster because it is said this is where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.On all the walls of the building are tile work mosaics containing the Our Father in different languages. I found one in Nahuatl, one of the native tongues of Mexico. That made me smile.

Next we went down the hill to the Church of Mary Magdalene. It’s a big Russian Orthodox church with these big golden onion like domes that make you think of something from Disneyland, or a golden Kremlin. It was closed but i took a chance and opened the gate anyways, only to have some old Russian nun start yelling “Nyet! Nyet!” at me. Sorry Sister Helga!

It was about noon and the other sites were closing for lunch so we thought we’d head back to town and eat. We decided to walk though the Kidron Valley where Absalom’s Pillar, Johosaphats Tomb and Zechariahs Tomb are, then go up through the City of David. The tombs were huge and impressive. Sandstone pillars about 30 ft high carved into the hillside. The were imposing but sadly, in disorder. There was alot of litter around them. Very unkept. I forgot to mention that this hillside is also the place that houses the old Arab and Jewish cemetaries. Imagine hundreds of broken tombstones filling the side of a hill and that’s what this is. We followed the path at the bottom of the valley and found a horse tied to a barrel. We also found a dead horse close by as well. And soccer ball. And more garbage.

We were walking hoping to find the City of David and ended up in one of the surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods. Poor and dirty. Kinda like poor parts of Mexico. I asked a passing lady where City of David was and she only spoke Arabic. I pointed to the name on the map and she pointed us to some stairs in the hill. I thanked her in Arabic and we went up the stairs and found the City of David excavation site. It’s the ruins of the Royal City and is still being excavated. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is also in this area, as well as the Pool of Siloam. We wound our way over the where the Pool was being excavated. I recognized it from a Discovery Channel show I saw this year. The pool was discovered about 2 years ago by accident. What’s cool is that they are still excavating it and have these prospector type guys washing rock and dirt on an excavators table to see if there is anything to find. The pool was huge and they had only unearthed one side and it was about 60 ft. long at least.

We decided to forgo lunch and instead go through Hezekiah’s tunnel. We had to buy sandals and flashlights for this excursion. This tunel was built when the city was under siege by the Babylonians and was built to divert water to the inside of the city. It was dug with two teams digging on opposite sides of the mountain and by miracle, their two winding paths met in the middle. Its about 2500 feet of dark and wet. To get to it we had to descend deep into the mountain and when we hit the bottom, the water was flowing like an underground river. We were the only ones down there and we began trudging through the water that at times was almost waist deep. The water was cold, but clean. The only sound was that of the water and our voices bouncing off the stone walls. The tunnel was snakelike and at times so low you had to duck down and so narrow you had to move sideways. It was both creepy and exhilarating. We made our way through it for about an hour. And by then your’e ready to get out. Still this has been a highlight of our trip, experiencing a piece of history so up close is unforgettable.

After the tunnel we head back down the valley through the Palestinian neighborhood. We were walking down the street when a group of Palestinian kids cae running up screaming “Allahu Akbar!” and throwing up teh victory sign nd also making some obscene gestures. one or two picked up rocks but didnt throw them while we were looking. I guess their training was already under way.

When we got to the valley we saw a little old Arabic guy coming our way. As we passed I greeted hm in Arabic and he responded accordingly then turned around and said “American?” I said what I always say now. “No…Mexican”and he comes up to us speaking in Arabic. we dot know what he is trying to say until he stops and “God” and “One” and points up an all around and then at us. Then he teaches us to say what i think is “there is only one God” using phonetics. In turn I try to teach him to say “Dios te bendigo” (God bless you) in Spanish but he didn’t get it. After a warm smile and handshake we parted ways. I forgot to mention that it looked like 3 of this front teeth had grown in as one tooth.

From there we went up to the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s on the grounds of the Church of All Nations, run by the Franciscans. The garden was quite humble, nothing fancy (for once!). Just a few flowers and olive trees. One interesting fact though was that the current trees are growing in the shell of much older trees that have been dated back to the time of Christ and before. While we were there we got to talk to a Franciscan monk from D.C. but who has been living in the Holy Land for 20+ years. He was explaining to us that the rainy season is 2 months late this year and that they need the rain. We asked him about his clothing and why the knots in his rope belt. They stand for poverty chastity and obedience. One thing he said was interesting, that the more time he spends living with God and without material stuff, the less he wants or needs that material stuff. He says he tries to love simply but can still do more. Then he laughed and said he imagines that those who live for and love material stuff probably wouldn’t like heaven much and may not want or need God in their lives. Then we shook his hand and left.

Our last stop for teh day was the Tomb of the Virgin Mary. This was one of myfavorite places so far. It’s right at the bottom of the valley between the Lions Gate and Gethsemane. On the outside it looks like a litle old chapel, but when you go in you find yourelf descending a set of worn stone steps down into the earth into a cross shaped chamber.

At the bottom on the right underneath much adornment is an old stone crypt with a tomb in it. Above the tomb were paintings and a place to put candles. I felt compelled to light a candle for my Pops. First time I’ve lit a candle this whole trip. I think it’s because my Pops has a special place in his heart for La Virgen and I grew up with that as a part of me too. It was a beautiful, ancient place with an air of solemnity. It was close to closing and so we left and went back to the convent. We ended up having dinner with Brenda and then calling it an early night.

Nights here are hard sometimes becasue I miss my wife the most then. It’s in the quiet times that it really gets me. I wish she could be here too. I think she’d like it.

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Pre-Dawn Hymn from The Rooftop Terrace