My jetlag has subsided enough so that I am now able to write more cheerfully about my recent trip to Palestine/Israel. You all have many questions: My pious readers want to know how it felt to walk where Jesus walked. My scholarly readers want to know if I learned anything on the trip that alters how I might interpret various gospel passages. My political-type readers want to know how things are going between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The rest of my friends simply want to know what we ate, what we drank, whether the bathrooms were any good, and how much the trip cost. Last week's letter was for my more intellectual readers. This week I will address the rest of you.
The trip cost $3100: that included roundtrip airfare from Chicago, excellent hotels for 7 nights, site admissions, two meals a day, an expert guide, and luxury bus transportation around the country. We paid additonal for our own lunches. Other personal costs included souvenirs and tips for the bus driver.
I was the only one who had to pay the $60 taxi fare between Jericho and Jerusalem, so my Nook (electronic book reader) could be returned to me after I forgot it in the hotel.
And then there was the time that Jie and I missed our flight connection in Istanbul. It's always exasperating to miss a flight. But it's particularly creepy in Istanbul, where the government isn't on friendly terms with either the U.S.
. We ran into about a dozen airport officials who tried to shake us down for more money...threatening to
not let us out of the country. But we managed to board a plane the next day and make it home.
Back to Palestine/Israel: The bathrooms in the hotels were excellent, except for the one at the Sea of Galilee that didn't have hot water. Jordan (the youth pastor who works with me) solved the problem by not taking a shower. I solved it by taking an early shower to just wash my hair, and then taking a later one to just wash from the waist down. For everything else we had deodorant.
The only public bathroom that gave us any trouble was in the Garden of Gethsemane, where they wanted 5 shekels to get in the door.
We did have one outdoor shower: a cold one at the Dead Sea, where we quickly tried to get the salty film off our skin. As for swimming in the Dead Sea: weirdest swimming experience ever.
We ate lots of vegetables for breakfast: baked cauliflower, raw zucchini, tomatoes, and hummus. We ate chicken and beef for dinner, along with vegetables. And for lunch, we usually ate shawarma, a type of sandwich that has its origins in the Ottoman Empire. Palestinian shawarmas consist of a wrap stuffed with roasted lamb (or chicken), vegetables, pickles, and sauces.
Jordan decided that we should teach Dora (our office administrator) how to make shawarmas. I tried to explain to him that this might not be a politically correct idea. I also wondered how we were going to teach her how to make shawarmas when we didn't know how to make them ourselves. Plus, Jordan has been trying to teach Dora how to make coffee "the right way" for about six months now, with no success.
We did enjoy the coffee there, particularly the Arabic coffee and the Turkish coffee. Arabic coffee is very strong and the coffee is laced with cardamom. Turkish coffee is even stronger and consists of half coffee and half sludge. You are not supposed to ingest the sludge...we found out.
The Near East is the birthplace of coffee. When coffee beans were imported from East Africa to Yemen, about 500 years ago, the locals worked it out how to roast, grind, and brew the beans. The word, "coffee," comes from the Arabic word, "qaw-wah."
When you do the math you will conclude that Jesus missed a good cup of coffee by about 1500 years. Had it been discovered in his times, we might very well have had several biblical quotes, as the folks from the Near East are fond of emphasizing coffee's symbolic value: hospitality, generosity, and stimulating conversation. The world's first coffeehouses were in the Near East.
My own experience habit of coffee drinking began when I was a Junior in college. I had signed up for an early morning class entitled, "The History of the Middle Ages." And I reckoned that I would have no trouble staying awake at that early hour, especially since I would be regaled with stories of the Black Death, competing popes, bumbling crusaders, and Satanic inquisitors.
But on the first day of class, I discovered that I had accidentally signed up for a class entitled, "The History of Intellectualism in the Middle Ages." There would be no stories in this class. Each morning I would have to begin my day saturated in matters of medieval net-platonic dissertations and arcane theology. I started drinking coffee during that course, and never stopped.
Scientists report that coffee probably has mildly beneficial health benefits. I'll not go into those here, as some contrarian scientist will probably publish findings next week disproving everything I might write.
But I can tell you that when it comes to the future of the church, coffee is likely to be at the heart of the next denominational split. In my own beloved Methodist denomination, over half of all our members complain that French Press or Pour-over coffee is too strong to stomach. But a growing minority (perhaps 45% now) say that there is something demonic about those old fashioned 30-cup percolators. How else do you explain this: that the moment percolated coffee is finished brewing it already tastes three days old?
After the bishops get done unifying us around the homosexuality debate, perhaps they will take on our church's coffee polarization. And why is it that we seem to have the most vociferous arguments about those subjects that Jesus never even mentioned. Check it out: look in any red letter edition of the Bible and you will not hear Jesus bring up either of those subjects.
So, until the bishop comes to our rescue, I'm just trying to keep my congregation together on this difficult subject. I keep encouraging Dora and her hospitality crew as they haul out that 30-cup percolator each week for our traditional service. And I keep praising Jordan as he dreams of serving shawarmas and pour-overs at the contemporary service.
I'll bet Jesus is kind of glad they hadn't invented coffee in his day. Had he turned water into coffee, it probably would have just started an argument. Lord, have mercy. --Mike