The story is still unfolding in Jerusalem

by Mac Lacy 1. July 2010 18:55

What can be said about this city that has not been said?  It is a cauldron of culture and religion.  It holds the secrets of eternity and it draws pilgrims from the world's three monotheistic faiths like other cities draw fans to a game. 

We stood on the Mount of Olives and looked across thousands of tombs, chalky white and baking in the sun, the graves of all three faiths, of those who want to be here for the resurrection.  It's interesting to me as a Christian that Jesus taught that place is irrelevant and that faith is personal.  This city is all about place and for centuries people have bled and died because its Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and Old City are so sacred to so many. 

Here, the Garden at Gethsemane moved me, as I thought about Jesus's last hours and how those he trusted most betrayed and denied him.  And on the Via Dolorosa, the path he took to the crucifixion, I thought about how he made one last plea to his Father to spare him the agony this city held for him. 

He was a rebel, a revolutionary, a peacemaker and a man who ultimately made a conscious decision to die when he could have saved himself.

And, what is most remarkable about this man is that all three faiths here agree on his existence.  On this, there is no dispute.  They treat him as a historical figure who lived and taught across this region before he died here.  As a Christian, this corroboration between these faiths that clash so frequently, gives me a lifetime's worth of questions to ponder.


The Dome of the Rock is one of the most photographed structures in the world



Jews gather at the Western Wall to pray



A member of our group (right) asked a Jewish man how to pray at the Wall



The Garden of Gethsemane today has been beautifully restored and is thought to be the place where Jesus was arrested

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Traveling Through Palestine

Ancient Jericho remains an oasis

by Mac Lacy 29. June 2010 23:14

Driving down from the Sea of Galilee into Jericho was a study in topography.  The Sea of Galilee is refreshing in itself, bright blue and dotted with boats.  As you drive toward Jericho and the Dea Sea, you descend steadily toward some of the world's lowest elevations and windswept deserts that are so reflective of the sun thas it's a bit blinding.  A swim in the Dead Sea provided a fun diversion, but I was more mesmerized by the desert itself. 

We visited Hisham's Palace, an archaeological site that offers a fascinating look at an ornate 8th century ruler's retreat.  Above us in the distance was a Greek Orthodox monastery, Quarantul, that is built into the mountainside and also dates to the 8th century.  This mountain is traditionally thought to be the Mount of Tempation, where Jesus rebuffed the entreaties of Satan. That evening we rode the Jericho Cable Car up to that site, where we had a wonderful outdoor dinner on a terrace restaurant just beneath that monastery.  Several of us walked up the steep incline to its gate before dinner.  The sun set, a nearly full moon took its place,and a breeze blew into our perch on this high cliff face. As the lights of Jericho and distant Jordan gradually appeared, this meal and evening took on a distinctly Mediterranean feel.  One of our hosts pointed out Amman, Jordan's capital--from here it was a bright glow far beyond the mountains across the Dead Sea.

The following morning, we made a brief visit to a desert overlook that displayed some of the Wadi Qelt, a hiking area that I would have loved to had more time for.  This is Bedouin country, and there is a half-day walk down into this area from the mountain where we dined that would be time well spent.

Our guide said something the next day that I did not forget: "The desert is a very spiritual place."


A member of our group joined me and another for a steep walk up to the monastery gate


A Bedouin's camel took a break as we surveyed the vistas of the Wadi Qelt near Jericho


Our perch for the evening was high on the Mount of Temptation


The ruins of Hisham's Palace date to the 8th century

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Traveling Through Palestine

A new look at turning the other cheek

by Mac Lacy 27. June 2010 19:00

Wisam Salsaa was our guide for most of this trip.  He is Palestinian and works out of Bethlehem.  He is a Christian.  On our way into Jerusalem from Jericho, he brought up an age-old teaching of Jesus, but added this caveat:

"When Jesus said 'if someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer them the left', he was talking about the Romans.  The Roman soldiers would not use their right hand against you because the right hand is their best hand.  They would use their left hand to strike you because you are not their equal.  So when Jesus said to turn the left cheek to them, he was talking about rejecting their superiority.  This forces them to use their right hand to strike your left cheek.  In doing so, you force them to treat you as an equal.  You were refusing to acknowledge their superiority by doing this."

It made me think about his teaching on forgiveness.  If you forgive someone who does something against you--how much can they hurt you?  Forgiveness becomes a powerful act of overcoming a transgression against you. In a way you are refusing to let that person harm you. On this trip, you begin to realize what a revolutionary figure this man Jesus was and how the downtrodden must have been drawn to him.  And how the powerful must have despised him.

These three girls reside in Nablus, a conflict-scarred town that is almost exclusively Muslim. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet and will return for the resurrection.

This chairmaker works in Nazareth Village, a very authentic reconstruction of life there in Jesus' time.

Mosaics from throughout the world adorn the courtyard at Basilica of the Enunciation in Nazareth, which is built at the site of Mary's home. This mosaic is from Spain.

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To each his own

by Mac Lacy 27. June 2010 15:57

To anyone who comes here, there may be a moment of personal epiphany or revelation, I would guess.  Many are most moved by the historic sites--the place of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, or his passion in Jerusalem.  The Garden at Gethsemane, or maybe Nazareth, where he grew up and was eventually shunned.

For me, it was Galilee.  Specifically, the Sea of Galilee.  We had moved from land that is brown and dry, with mostly olive trees and terraced hillsides, into a valley that became vibrant and green.  For me, it was easy to imagine Jesus teaching the multitudes here on these hillsides surrounding this beautiful lake, or sea, if you prefer.  There was a breeze that came across the Mount of Beatitudes and relieved the heat that is so prevalent here in summer. To sit and listen in this realm makes a lot of sense to me.

On this beautiful day, I could see boats, probably fishermen, down on that water where Jesus found many of his disciples.  Our guide spoke of caravans of immigrants moving through this land as they have done for centuries.  This was a crossroads for many cultures, and many of these people were drawn to this man who spoke in parables and embodied peace.

"Almost 70 percent of Jesus's ministry took place around the Sea of Galilee," our guide said.  "It is here that he calmed the storm, and it is here that he walked on the water."

It was here, for me, in the outdoors, that I could imagine why he might come and spend so much of his ministry.  But then again, it's these waters and hillsides that seemed sacred for me--as sacred as a church or tomb might be to another.

It was in the panoramic landscape of Galilee that I was most able to conjure images of Jesus' life.

The Sea of Galilee was a resplendent contrast to so much of the arid areas of Palestine.

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Traveling Through Palestine

A priest with a passion in Taybeh

by Mac Lacy 27. June 2010 15:39

Raed Abu Sahlieh is as charistmatic a figure as we met in all of Palestine.  He is the priest of St. George's Church in Taybeh and he is an outspoken proponent of peace and justice in this beleagured region of the world.  He spent almost an hour with us and one gets the feeling he barely finds time to sleep.

"I am an Arab, a Palestinian, a Christian, a Catholic and a priest," he began good naturedly.  "It's complicated, but this is who I am.  I have studied violence because I want to understand it.  Because when you have peace in Jerusalem, you will have peace all over the world.

"This village is entirely Christian--the only such one in Palestine.  But our population is leaving to all parts of the world because of economic hardship.  Many go to your country, to other places.  Even if you go to the moon you will find some people from Taybeh," he laughed. "Every time I hear a family is leaving to the United States, I tell them to stay.  They say to me, Father, give us a job.

"Don't be afraid for us.  We've been here for 2,000 years ande we'll be here when He comes.  Here, you have to live a life that is not easy, but difficult.  We have no place here for weak people.

"My appeal to you is to come and bring visitors to Palestine--come in big numbers and don't leave us alone."

The ruins of St. George's Church in Taybeh are still used for worship and sacrifices by Christian believers.

Raed Abu Sahlieh is an energetic advocate for peace and reconciliation in Taybeh.

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Traveling Through Palestine

Microbrews come to Palestine

by Mac Lacy 24. June 2010 08:34

Dr. Maria C. Khoury and her husband have managed to build the only microbrewery in the Middle East.  The Taybeh Brewery was established in 1994 when she, of Greek descent, and he, a Palestinian native, returned to his homeland to live.  After managing to get necessary permits, they began brewing Taybeh Beer.  It is now served in Palestine in predominantly Christian areas as the areas that are Muslim do not serve alchohol. 

We attended a reception and dinner in Bethlehem where Taybeh was the only beer served.  Numerous hosts encouraged me to have one and were obviously proud to have a Palestinian beer to offer guests.  As the only microbrewery in the Middle East, this beer is one of a kind in 26 countries.  It is already being exported to Japan, Chile and parts of Asia.  They hope to export it to America in the future.

Dr. Khoury is also the proud organizer of the Taybeh Oktoberfest, to take place October 2-3 in Taybeh-Ramallah, Palestine.  For more information on the brewery, go to

I made a purchase while I was in the brewery--two shirts for my sons.  They will be the only guys in Lexington with those shirts on and maybe one day they'll be able to order a Taybeh Golden!

Brewery in Taybeh

Taybeh Beer

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Traveling Through Palestine

Don't miss this family institution when you visit Bethlehem

by Mac Lacy 23. June 2010 07:46

Elias Salameh Afteem is carrying on a very proud family tradition at Restaurant Afteem in Bethlehem.  He greets you in a bustling lunchtime crowd just off the market in this iconic pilgrimage city in Palestine.  I noticed him immediately when our group came in the door.  For all I knew he was just a server, but his eyes were friendly and full of life. As I soon learned, he is a young, engaging businessperson who loves to tell the story of his family's success here. 

"My grandfather came here in 1948 when the war started.  He thought he would be here ten days.  Ten days.  Now it's been 60 years.  We still have the key to our house in Jaffa Tel Aviv.  He always expected to return. 

"He knew Palestinian food and he opened a restaurant here in Bethlehem.  My father worked here and now I work here.  Today, we own this building.  We restored it ourselves in one month.  We moved here in 2000 and rented for three years and then bought it.  There are 65 family members who work here in all."

Lots of pita bread and dishes appeared as we sat down, as did pitchers of a beverage popular here that is basically made with fresh squeezed lemons and crushed mint.  I couldn't get enough of it on this very hot day in Bethlehem.

"Our food is for rich people and poor people.  Do you know Sarkozy, the French president?  He was here.  The princess of
Quatar ate here.  We serve falafel, hummus, masabacha, fava beans, fatteh.  The same food at dinner as we have here at lunch."

His eyes brighten as he tells me they were selected for an entry as "our choice" by the guidebook Lonely Planet. " Do you know Lonely Planet?" he asks.  I assure him I do.

I came back in as our group was leaving to get a shot of Elias.  He was sitting with an elderly gentleman just inside the door.  As I approached he rose and said, "this is my father!"  The older man smiled and shook my hand.  The pleasure of meeting this family was all mine.


A lamp against the window in Church of the Nativity

Food vendor in Bethlehem Market

Vendor's goods in Bethlehem Market

Our guide makes a point to our group in Hebron at the Ibrahimi Mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs


Elias Salameh Afteem with his father at Restaurant Afteem in Bethlehem

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