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From Despair to Hope Sans Seraphim


Published originally February 2009

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ " Isaiah 6:1-3

“In the year King Uzziah died. . .” Remember the year? It was an awful year. For the people of Judea, it was the year King Uzziah died. King Uzziah had been such a great king. During his reign, they were prosperous and peace ruled in their land. But when he died—well it felt like all hope died with him.

What year was it for you?
“In the year the shuttle crashed. . .
“In the year of September 11. . .
“In the year of the Virginia Tech Tragedy. . .
Or is it more personal?
“In the year my mother/father/sister/brother died. . .”
“In the year of my divorce. . .”
“In the year my favorite teacher died. . .”

It’s the year hope dies. The year that what was, is no more. It’s the watershed moment: when everything before and after is defined by that moment. Everyone get’s it when you say it. They nod, knowingly, as if to say, “Oh, that year. Yeah. That was awful.”

“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”

I wonder what Isaiah was thinking when he went into the temple. Was he thinking, “I’m so great—righteous really—that I will lead the wretched ones out of their despair into God’s Glory. (amen)” That is, was he full of himself? Or. . .was he empty? Did he go to the temple thinking, “I’m not up for this. My hope is gone. How can I lead the people of God into his glory?”

We can’t know what he was feeling, but we know this: Isaiah went to the temple. Last Tuesday, I arrived at the divinity school to find out one of our professors, a man younger than I, had died. Soon after I learned of his death, I heard we would be having a chapel service in a few hours.

It was a terrible day. It was like the year the shuttle crashed. It was like September 11th. I felt shock, confusion, grief. It was that day. You know the one?

Like Isaiah went to the temple, I went to the chapel. By grace, I was not met by the fearsome vision that Isaiah beheld. But I did see God there. I saw God in the tear stained faces of my godly professors, struggling as we were to make sense of this tragedy. I saw God in the hunched forms of students, embraced by other students. I heard God in the stories, the testimonies, the music. God filled up that chapel last Tuesday.

In the year king Uzziah died, Isaiah went to the temple. And despite his despair, Isaiah saw God there. But Isaiah did not stop with that one visit to the temple. Isaiah kept going back. Sometimes, he surely felt the full presence of God’s glory. Sometimes, though, I bet he came away with little more than a meal plan for the upcoming week. Still, he kept going back to the temple, going back to worship. And somehow, I’d say miraculously, he found his way out of the darkness of grief; he found his way back to hope.

On the Day Dan Goodman Died

It was January 13, 2009 and I was on my way to the college when my cell phone rang.
"Where are you?" my GWU friend asked.
"On the way. What's up?"
 "Uhhh, nothin', just wanted to see if you wanted to meet Gary and me for coffee."
 "You're out of class?" I asked. It was only 8:30 and they had Dr. Cal Robertson. Doc Cal never ends class early. Never. "I thought you had Robertson."
"We do. . . we just . . . well . . . we're at the coffee shop."
"Is something wrong with Robertson? Is he sick?" There was something she wasn't telling me, but she said he was fine.  "Robertson is NOT fine if he let you out of class early."
 "No, really. Robertson is fine."
I'm slow on the uptake at 8:30 in the morning. I didn't hear the shock in her voice, the utter disbelief. I didn't hurry.  When I got to GWU, my friends met me, not at the coffee shop, but in the yard outside the divinity school.
"Aileen. Dr. Goodman died this morning," Donna told me.
"It's true Aileen," Gary said, "He collapsed in the shower. We don't know any more details right now."
"Dr. Goodman?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Are you sure?" (We ask stupid questions like that when we are in shock.) They nodded, while still disbelieving the news themselves.
"We're having chapel today, but they changed the planned service. Now the focus will be Dr. Goodman."
In a few hours, we all went to church. Here's what I wrote about that service.  

Mount of Olives

From the Mount of Olives

Reflections from my trip to Jerusalem in May 2008 with Gardner-Webb Divinity School. Original published May 21, 2008

Did you know that during Jesus' time the entire Mount of Olives was covered with olive groves? Further, it's a range of mountains not a single mount. Who knew? Not me.

Today the Mount of Olives includes (at least) Hebrew University, a convent, Augusta Victoria Hospital (started by the UN Relief Organization in 1949), a Crippled Children's Hospital, a Nurses School and a girl's school. When we passed the girls' scho0l, we saw some girls about 13-15 years old dancing in the school yard. How lovely to see so much delight in the midst of such an anxiety-ridden region.

At the crest of the Mount, we visited Dominus Flavis, the Chapel of Tears. Tradition reports that it was from this site that Jesus looked down on Jerusalem and, thinking on the sin in the city and the pain he had experienced there, Jesus wept. The small chapel is shaped like a tear drop with small vase-shaped forms at each corner where the roof meets the outer walls. These vases symbolize vases that were used to catch the tears of mourners. The altar in the chapel overlooks Jerusalem; a glass window looks out on the city. From the pews in the chapel, you can see Jerusalem. Beautiful.

Next we visited the Garden of Gethsemene where olive trees grow that would have been there in Jesus' time. They still bear fruit. "The olive tree never dies," our guide says.

Later in the day, we visited the site of Caiphas' house. We went below it to where Jesus would have been lowered to the dungeon. Striking is that his cell was the lowest cell. There were cells above it. His was the lowest.

I was walking at this point with Dr. Anthony Negbenebor, the dean of GWU's Business school who has visited Jerusalem 17 times. He narrated for me. He said as we exited the dungeon area, "There would have been lots of people out here. They would have been making a lot of noise. And somewhere here, Peter would have been hiding. Until someone said to him, 'Hey, you were with him weren't you?' And then Peter said, 'No I do not know him."

Then Anthony and I turned and walked up the sacred stairway.

These stairs, discovered several decades ago, would have been here 100 years before Christ. Scholars believe Christ would have walked on these steps at least five times. The walk is amazingly difficult, the steps uneven, rugged, and very steep. So Anthony and I walked them, slow and carefully, huffing and puffing, grateful to be following the footsteps of Christ--if only literally.

You see, as I walk these sacred pathways, I'm reminded that it is not walking where Jesus walked but living as Jesus lived that is the real challenge, the real blessing.

Holy Ground Sans Sis

Holy Ground, sans Sis.

Another of my earlier posts from back in 2008, written about my trip to the Holy Land.

I've said over and over today: Ooooh! I wish my sister could see this. Or, "I wish my sister were here to translate that." You see, my sister Dawn is a Latin teacher extraordinaire and there are few things she likes better than Roman ruins and a good line of Latin text. So when I was standing in the hippodrome in Caesaerea where chariot races entertained 11,000 onlookers, I couldn't help but think about how much my sister would love to see it all. This hippodrome (which bordered the Mediterranean Sea--so blue today that you wouldn't believe me if I could describe it) is only one of the well preserved ruins of this Roman town mentioned in the book of Acts. In Acts, Peter goes there on account of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10). But more importantly, Paul is there, defending himself and his faith. (You'll find this story in Acts 25:23-26:32.) Today, we stood in the theater where Paul probably pleaded his case. We saw the box seat (there is only one in this theater) where his accusers set. We listened as our professor spoke from the theater floor, his voice carried up to us on the winds of the Mediterranean. And I thought, I wish my sister could be here to see this.

We drove just down the rode to a Roman aqueduct. Now if you've not heard of such a thing, open another window and do a quick wikipedia search. Basically, Romans created a massive plumbing system that would enable them to build cities in little remote places like, I dunno, Israel. The aqueduct that we saw stretched more than seven miles. I climbed atop it and walked in the trough where the water would have flowed. I sat under the arches and smiled pretty for a picture. I walked in the Mediterranean and looked back at it thinking, my goodness, I surely wish my sister could see this.

After that, we went to a chapel near a shepherd's field--a field like the one where shepherd's would have been abiding their flocks by night. . .The chapel is tiny, and is domed. The dome creates beautiful acoustics. One of our group, Dr. Cal Robertson who was one of my profs last semester, is a gifted and talented tenor. While we were in the chapel, he sang O Holy Night. Around the dome of the chapel were the words from Luke 2:14--in Latin. This would have been a great day to share with my sister.

psalm 22

Praise God Anyway*

Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Have you felt as if when you cried out to God, you heard only an echo of your own voice in response? Maybe, during those times, you did what the Psalmist did and reminded yourself of who you knew God to be. Today, the conversation might sound like this:

“God? Pick up the phone! I’ve called your home, your office, your mobile. I’ve texted you. I’ve emailed and IM’d you. Have you blocked me? What is the deal? Are you just ignoring my messages?  I know you check your voice mail. You keep your cell phone on and with you at all times. You check your emails hourly and everybody talks about how great you are at taking care of their needs right away. You always listen to other people and respond.”

psalm-22I’ve felt like this, have you? It’s a horrible, desperate feeling. But I’m not alone in having felt this way. In fact, this cry, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” should sound familiar to the New Testament church. We heard it from the voice of Jesus at his crucifixion. We hear it again at our Good Friday services. And we Baptists may only faintly remember that part of the story as historically we rush past the cross straight to the resurrection. It’s important, though, to hear Jesus cry out, lonely and abandoned. Jesus was, after all, not only fully divine. He was fully human, just like the psalmist. Just like you. Just like me.

Our psalmist quickly turned his fussing inward. I do that too. Do you? Do you ever think, “Wait, maybe it’s me. Since God is so good, and I feel so forsaken, it must be me. Maybe it’s not God, maybe it’s me.”

Of course, that’s partly true: certainly God has not forsaken us, and indeed, it is our own humanness that makes us feel forsaken. But God made us human, so we can’t be all bad. Rather, I think it is our focus on our humanness that creates the problem. I’ve been there. Some mornings, my husband greets me with, “Good morning. How are you feeling this morning?” Too often I respond, “UGGH! I’m consumed with self-loathing, how about you?” My response is my attempt at humor to deal with the difficulty I have of coping with my humanness. Sometimes, I feel like a worm. And all I can think about is my worminess.

The psalmist felt like that too. Take a look at verses 6 and 7: But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;” The Hebrew word for “worm” here means the same as our English word “maggot.” And look, the psalmist’s maggot-like feeling is only reinforced by his not-so-loving acquaintances. What an animated picture of a taunting crowd: snarling, angry, face-contorting busy-bodies. Poor psalmist—he already feels abandoned; then his neighbors go and make it worse for him.

But the passers-by did not just make faces at our guy, and they didn’t just hurl empty insults. They insulted the psalmist’s religion. And it’s like when some know-it-all tells you something you already know—but you have been trying not to think about it or even admit it. “Commit your cause to the Lord,” they sneer, probably high-fiving each other like a gang of adolescent bullies, “let him deliver—let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” Can’t you almost hear the psalmist shouting back, “I tried that, okay? I tried that. And here I squirm, a maggot in rotten flesh, undelivered. My God has forsaken me, okay?  Back off.” But that’s not what the psalmist records. Instead, he says something like:

“You know me God. You’ve loved me since before I was born. Remember me? I trust you, I do. I know I can’t do this alone, God. You are my only hope.”

I think he’s right: I know I can’t live this life alone. I can’t do it alone because there are too many difficult circumstances in my life that divert me from my true purpose of glorifying God. Plus, the minute I mention that I can’t do it alone, I find myself distracted by me again. And then all the things that worry me fill my mind, and I somehow lose sight of God as I try to figure out how to manage all my problems.

What would be on your list of worries? Your boss and her lack of integrity or your co-workers cheating on their expense accounts and the pressure they put on you to do the same? Your career that’s going nowhere or your career that has not yet begun? The fear that you’ll lose your job or the fear that you are stuck in this one forever? Would you think about how much you want another cigarette, drink, or piece of cheesecake—because that always makes it better, always. Maybe you struggle with depression. Maybe you’re lonely--in a new town or neighborhood, in your marriage, or maybe you’re lonely and for the life of you—you don’t know why. Or perhaps you are battling a life altering or even life threatening illness. Maybe someone you love is. Maybe you have lost loved ones and you can’t imagine facing another day without them. Our parents are getting older, our siblings don’t get along, gas prices are going up and the commute just keeps getting longer. Our kids get sick, get in trouble, get behind and get confused. Sometimes it feels as if we are being pulled apart by troubles. Don’t you just want to scream?

The psalmist did. He cried out to God. I think it sounded something like this.

“Help! Quick! I’ve locked all my doors, but I’m still not safe. I’ve turned on my home alarm, but it’s not working. God! You’ve got to come immediately! My life is on the line!”

And in that moment, when the psalmist cried out, naked with need, aware that nothing in his power could save him, everything changed. The psalmist stopped focusing on circumstances, and started focusing on God.

Now here’s the thing. I don’t know if the psalmist really meant what he said when he started praising God. Maybe—we’ll never know for sure, but maybe—he really didn’t mean it. Think about it. Have you ever smiled when you didn’t mean it but then found that before long you felt happy anyway? Have you ever laughed when you didn’t feel like it then kept laughing until you did feel like it? Maybe, when we don’t feel like praising God, maybe we should praise God anyway. You know, praise God until we do mean it.

When we are faced with suffering that surpasses our limits, sometimes praising God is the only answer. It helps to say it aloud—to tell people that we believe in God, that we are in awe of God's love. It helps to say how God has blessed us in the past, and to proclaim God's goodness to our loved ones. Whatever caused the psalmist to start praising God, what resulted from his praise is remarkable. Depression redesigned as delight. Trauma transformed into triumph. Extraordinary.

“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Never in Psalm 22 does God answer the question. When the same question is asked from the cross, no answer comes. Yet Psalm 22 ends in joy, and the crucifixion resulted in the resurrection. The problem then, or at least one of them, is how do we move from the question to the joy? How do we get from the crucifixion to the resurrection? It seems like one way is to keep talking to—or screaming at—God. (I think God can handle it when we get mad at him and wrongly accuse him. We may not fare so well, but God manages just fine, I think.) And somehow, we are transformed. We move out of the pain and into the praise. We go from raging to rejoicing. I don’t understand it; but it happened to the writer of Psalm 22. And It happened to Jesus.

“Praise him, you servants of theLord!
    Honor him, you descendants of Jacob!
    Worship him, you people of Israel!" Psalm 22:23 (GNT)

*This piece is a portion of my very first sermon. I wrote it in Spring 2010 for Intro to Preaching class with Dr. Danny West at Gardner-Webb University, M. Christopher White Divinity School

GWU Divinity School

Lessons from the MDiv

Delicious and Beautiful!

Speech at Annual Gardner-Webb University Graduate Luncheon
May 12, 2011
Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore

I was asked to speak today about what I’ve learned in my three years at Gardner-Webb University Divinity School. And I’ve been asked to do that in five minutes. So hold on: here we go.

I’ve learned that the 77.2 miles from my house in Asheville to the Divinity School here in Boiling Springs gets longer and longer over the course of 3 years.

I’ve learned that coffee tastes better at Broadriver Coffee Shop and that the grilled chicken salad at Italian Garden is big enough for two meals. I’ve learned to eat in The Snack Shop. But I haven’t learned to like it.

I’ve learned to format my bibliography and footnotes as I do my research. I’ve learned reconstructing a bibliography after a paper is written is nearly impossible.

I’ve learned never to take Old Testament, New Testament, and Greek I in the same semester. I’ve learned you can get a lot done in the last minutes before a paper is due.

I’ve learned what the inside of an Egyptian Pyramid looks like. I’ve learned it’s a long, long, long way from Egypt to the Promised Land—even in a motor coach. And I’ve learned that skirts don’t look too bad on Docs West and Robertson.

I’ve learned that David killed Goliath. But so did Elhanan. I’ve learned that 1st Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament and that the gospel writers did not have laptops or even voice recorders.

I’ve learned that God is too big for a pronoun. I’ve learned nothing is too big for God.

I’ve learned always to take extra money to buy books. I’ve learned that books take up a lot of space and may just need their very own room.

I’ve learned that Martin Luther wasn’t exactly a saint, but Oskar Romero just may have been; That the Catholics got a whole lot right in Nicaea, that the Protestants will probably always protest something, and that Jesus was Jewish, not Baptist.

I’ve learned that I’m an ENFJ and my husband is an ISTP. I’ve learned my conflict style, my ministry type, my leadership style, my communication preferences. I learned all that about me. And so infinitely more about God.

I’ve learned to sing the Hebrew Alphabet and to recite the Greek one. I’ve learned that neither language translates into American English without interpretation. I’ve learned that Jesus spoke Aramaic and I’ve learned what the Lord’s Prayer sounds like in Jesus’ own language.

I’ve learned that Jewish people leave little stones on headstones as a sign of respect and that one visit to DC’s Holocaust Museum will last me a lifetime. I’ve learned that even a fraction of 6 million pairs of shoes is a lot of shoes.

I’ve learned that Rosa Parks wasn’t so much worn out as fed up, that Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extraordinarily ordinary man and that George Washington Carver was probably a genius. I’ve learned that Denzel Washington occasionally attends commencement at Morehouse College. I’ve learned when commencement is at Morehouse College.

I’ve learned that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is the African American National Anthem. I’ve learned to listen to U2.

I’ve learned that Roger Fuller* can drive to Alabama and back and never complain. And that he can endure unspeakable loss and still testify to God’s glory.

I’ve learned that loss lingers, that children die too young, and so do parents. I’ve learned that God remains.

I’ve learned from famous speakers: Jimmy Carter, Charles Adams, Carlotta Lanier, Anthony Campolo, William Shaw, Fisher Humphries, Julie Pennington-Russell, Marva Dawn, & Fred Craddock.

I’ve learned from books by Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, Roberta Bondi, Elie Wiesel, Frederick Buechner, Glenn Jonas, St. John of the Cross, Henry Nouwen, Joan Chittister, Clarence Jordan, Barbara Brown Taylor & Joseph Webb.

I’ve learned from professors who give beyond the limits of their paychecks, love students & like them too, and read their Bibles not just for academic gain but for deeper devotion.

I’ve learned from colleagues who were raised in the church and those who weren’t, ones who worship like I do and those who don’t, ones who have pastored churches for decades and from ones just starting out; from ones who vote differently or dress differently than I. I’ve learned from colleagues who have experienced grief beyond measure and joy beyond reason. I’ve learned we often take different paths to the same destination. I’ve learned that’s ok.

I’ve learned that God keeps calling. I’ve learned the joy of answering. I’ve learned that God’s calling may not make good sense. I’ve learned not to question someone else’s calling. I’ve learned people will often question mine.

I’ve learned that three years is a long, long time. I’ve learned graduation really is bitter sweet. And I’ve learned that God was right: GWU really was the perfect place for me to become.

*Roger Fuller graduated a semester or two ago. My first semester at GDub, his beloved son, a college student himself, died suddenly, tragically, of an undiagnosed illness. Roger is one of my heroes.

Baptism Sister Style

baptism“And on March 9th, we’ll have a lab experience,” my professor said, “to practice baptism by immersion.”

Practice baptism? Shoot, I’ve been doing that all my life. No, I’m not an ordained pastor. In fact, I’ve only been in a baptismal pool once, for my own baptism 38 years ago. But, I’m a Baptist preacher’s kid and I’ve been baptizing folk ever since I started swimming, maybe even before then.

“I get to be the preacher first!” My sister, the oldest, raced me into the water. Whether we were vacationing at White Lake, NC, or playing in the local swimming pool, we spent much of our summers immersed. We could get pretty creative with water games and since our lives revolved around the church, it was to be expected that our experiences there would be reproduced in playtime. (Some kids play cowboys, firefighters, cops and robbers. We played Baptist.)

“Fine,” I told her, “But you only get to baptize me once. Then it’s my turn.”

Assuming a solemn expression and a preacher voice (which my Daddy never had but we’d heard our share) my sister placed one hand on my back and raised the other skyward. “Aileen? Why have you come?”

“Because I have accepted Jesus as my personal savior and I want to be baptized.” My voice sounded funny. I was holding my nose prematurely as my sister had been known to dunk me before it was time.

“Then,” she said, pitching her own voice down to sound more like Daddy’s, “Upon your profession in him, I baptize you my [giggle, giggle] little sister, in the name of the father, the son and in . . . the hole you go!” Before she got the last word out, I was under.

“Okay! My turn!” I said, wiping my dripping hair out of my face and taking my place behind her.

Now that I think about it, I suppose our little game was a bit disrespectful, maybe even borderline sacrilegious. (I won’t even tell you about our Eucharist tea parties.) But mainly, looking back at those days, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that my faith traditions were so familiar to me that they became a very literal part of my everyday life. As a child, that meant I baptized playmates. As an adult, it means that I continue to follow Christ. And I’m not even playing.

I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Mark 1:8 NRSV

Olive tree

Aging Gracefully: A Tale of Timelessness

“The olive tree never dies,” Zach told us gesturing to the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. “These trees are thousands of years old and yet they still bear fruit.”

Zach, the Palestinian who guided our tour of Israel, knew a little something about aging gracefully. A grandfather who had been considering retirement for months, Zach was hard at work, leading our group of 34 American tourists through his homeland. He walked all over Masada and Qumran in 100° heat. He hiked through Megiddo and strode up and down the ancient streets of Old Jerusalem. All the while, Zach shared his knowledge with us: telling the history of the area, quoting scripture chapter and verse, and recalling vignettes particular to the sites we visited. As far as I know, he never once sat to rest; he walked every step I did.

A month after my trip, my family and my sister’s headed to North Myrtle Beach, my parents’ hometown, for our annual vacation. My brother, Hal, and his family were already there. A few weeks earlier, they had moved back to the area and purchased a home right down the road from our parents.

Unfortunately, things were not going well. Because of a series of complications and botched repair jobs, Hal was still not in his new house. For six weeks, his family of five had been living with our parents while my brother became increasingly frustrated with the work crews he’d hired to make his home safe for his family. As we sat around Mother’s dinner table one night talking over my brother’s predicament, the doorbell rang.

“It’s Mr. Rothman,” Mother announced.  “Come in Dick; have some supper.”

Mr. Rothman has been a family friend for 25 years (he watched my brother grow up). He passed retirement age at least 15 years ago. Since that time, he has nursed his beloved wife through Alzheimer’s, becoming her daily visitor when he made the gut-wrenching decision to place her in a nursing home. In addition to spending hours with his wife (who long ago had stopped recognizing him), he visited the other residents of the home. Mr. Rothman brought sunshine to the lonely, even when he was heartbroken with loneliness himself. More than ten years after she became ill, Mr. Rothman’s wife drew her last earthly breath, while her devoted husband looked on, weeping.

Also during the last 15 years, Dick Rothman has been running his own business. An electrician and an expert in air conditioning repair, Mr. Rothman has plenty of opportunities to stay busy. So by 9:00 every morning, Dick Rothman is out making his rounds, visiting customers who’ve relied on him for years.

“Hey, Hal,” Mr. Rothman began that night, “I’ve been thinking about that job you’ve got going on over there at your house.“ He had been over helping my brother with odd jobs while a larger company had replaced all of the duct work in the house and then worked to get the air conditioning running again. The company, though it had come highly recommended, seemed to be botching the job.

“Here’s what they’ve done,“ Mr. Rothman said, taking a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket and drawing on a table napkin. Hal nodded in agreement.  “And here’s what they should have done.“ He drew a different diagram.

“Uggh!” my brother groaned, “I knew it! I knew they were not doing it right.” Dejected, Hal slumped as he propped his elbows on the table and covered his forehead with his hands.

And then Mr. Rothman laughed aloud.  “Oh now, Hal,” he said, “I didn’t come tell you this to get you worried. Let’s worry about it tomorrow if they don’t fix it.” He folded his hands in his lap, smiled and shook his head, seeming to recall some distant memory.  “’Wait to worry.’ I’ve got that written all through my Bible. ‘Wait to Worry.’ I have to remind myself of that. But the thing is, we’ve got plenty of time to worry.” He patted my brother affectionately. “Let’s worry later.”

Hal knowing Mr. Rothman was right, laughed with his friend--a friend more than four decades older than he, a friend who had reached out to him and pulled him out of his despair.

“The olive tree never dies,“ Zach said. No matter what it has been through, no matter how old it gets, the olive tree keeps bearing fruit. Just like Zach. Just like Dick Rothman.*

On November 6, 2014, Dick Rothman celebrated his 90th birthday. Two days later, he passed from this world into the arms of his Savior, Jesus. Hal's air conditioning still works just fine.


Resurrection Day

Resurrection Day in Jerusalem

Soon I will be leaving Jerusalem and heading into Jordan to begin the journey back to my own promised land--Asheville, North Carolina. We leave the hotel before 7:30 in the morning and it is after midnight. (My mind seems to be unwilling to slow down for rest. . . )

Our guide and our lead professor told us that today's first two sites were not biblical sites per se but rather historical sites. But me, I'm a fool for a set of ruins so I couldn't wait to get to first Masada and then to Qumran. The plan was to leave Qumran after lunch and head to the Dead Sea for a swim before going to the Garden Tomb for our final worship experience in Jerusalem. It was an amazing day.

Masada, positioned off the coast of the Dead Sea, stands out from the rocky desert mountain landscape as fortresses are prone to do. The ruins there amazed me--towers, aqueducts, baths, a sauna, even an early version of a post office. Unbelievable. I got great pictures there.

Do you know where Qumran is? Well, it's right down the road from Masada, but that's not the important thing about this little mountain range of caves. I'll get to that in a minute. First, let me ask you this. Have you heard of Ein Gedi? What about En Gedi? (Same place.) En Gedi is a desert Oasis and we went through it today between Masada and Qumran. I don't have the scriptures handy, but you may remember the story of David pursuing Saul into a cave at En Gedi? Saul had gone in there to. . . well. . .you know. . .and then he fell asleep (note to self, never fall asleep on the toilet). David finds him there, decides not to kill him but just cuts a swatch of fabric from his robe (maybe to have himself a king's robe made?) much to the protests of his soldiers. En Gedi. That's the place. We went through it today and it is so plush and green in the middle of this rocky, sandy, ruddy desert. Beautiful.

Okay, so Qumran. Did you go over to Wikipedia and look it up? Well that was silly because I was getting ready to tell you. Qumran is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Remember I told you that Qumran is down the street from Masada and that Masada is off the cost of the Dead Sea? Thus the name. Dead Sea Scrolls. And I was there. Right there. Blessed Assurance.

Next we went to the Dead Sea itself where we floated and played in the water. We covered ourselves in the mud--supposedly it's good for the skin. Very refreshing.

We ended our day back here in Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb. As with much that happens here in the Holy Land, these sites are often disputed. Some believe absolutely that this site is the site where Jesus was laid. Our guide and our professor don't really think it is possible. Instead they challenged us to see it as the type of tomb were Jesus could have been laid. This was most instructive and helpful.

The Garden is lovely. The landscape includes ancient artifacts, blooming flowers and trees while small chapels hide here and there all around the garden. The Garden guide, an older man from the UK with a thick British accent, said before we went to our appointed chapel, "I don't know what you believe about this place being the place where Jesus was taken to be buried and I don't care. Because we who are Christians do not serve a dead God, we serve a living God. Our faith is not about where Jesus was laid when he died; It is about where he lives now that he is resurrected."

Our communion service will hold a private, special place in my memory forever. It was so sacred, so precious. And such a perfect ending. . . no beginning. . .to our Jerusalem story.

On my way back to God's Country,