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Express 3

21 Feb

Feb. 21, 2008

Last night as I lay in bed, my mind racing in typical midnight fashion, I wished desperately to turn off the faucet of my verbal outpouring. My mind doesn’t shut up as well as my mouth does. Sometimes, I think that I stay so busy during the day in order to block out all of this thinking. Maybe it’s why I avoid going to bed at a decent time. The night hours are so noisy and overwhelmed with my thoughts. Thoughts that I don’t always like, or want to acknowledge, or that are absolutely fabricated by my skewed world view; trying to sleep only reinforces my perceived madness. Peter, my little deep thinker, who complicates the simplest idea all through out the day, seems to fall asleep within seconds at night, it seems he’s done all his roughest thinking already. This, his ease of achieving rich, instant sleep, irritates me. He, in his throes of deepest sleep and then me suffering with restless leg syndrome, tossing from side to side, and add to that my leaky faucet of my brain drip, drip, dripping away. I try and concentrate on my breathing. Slow, deep methodical breathes. In and out. I concentrate on the muscles in my face. Are they tense? Yes. I relax. I un-furrow my brow. I let my mouth ease out of a tight line. I allow my shoulders to drop back. Think green, think shalom, think rest, think quiet…no, no, dammit, stop it, don’t think anything at all. Just breathe. In and out. You see how it goes. I’m a gerbil running in my cerebral rat wheel.

Sometimes, I count sheep. This has helped a few times. I imagine fluffy, little, white cartoon sheep smiling at me as they leap over their brown log fence into safe pasture. I am their good shepherd and my responsibility is to make sure each one is accounted for. One and two and three little sheep…four and five…wait, two sheep leapt over at the same time. That’s not good. Now I need to reorganize the sheep. This starts to get tedious. The sheep in my head won’t jump over the fence in single fashion. My undisciplined sheep. My undisciplined mind. At this point, I give up reaching sleep and I just let my mind run, eventually I get so bored with my thoughts even I fall asleep.

Then they haunt me in my dreams. Can’t you thoughts just leave me alone! I don’t mess with you, now you don’t mess with me. Right? Wrong. My thoughts don’t play fair. So there they are in my dreams, like the neighbors annoying dog with incessant nighttime barking. My thoughts unfold themselves in a dream as a daughter that I have, named Adeline, who I can’t seem to find anywhere. The name Adeline, I learn, means noble. Is my psyche telling me I can’t find my nobility? Or in the next dream I have a beautiful, infant daughter, who smiles at me in the most charming way. I’m enchanted by her and so proud of her, but when I go to buckle her in her car seat, I allow someone else to sit with her in the car, even though I desire to be with her. But because I feel I am not polished looking like the people in the car I don’t make a fuss. What does this mean? Am I afraid of good things, and do I let other people have better things, even though rightfully their mine, because I don’t feel I deserve it, or because I’m not good enough? If so, why am I punishing myself? And did I even know I was doing this? No, I didn’t, because I don’t think about stuff like this.

I used to put a lot of faith in my dreams. I valued them. I handled each one with unique care. I felt each one was a special message for me, and that I could gain understanding of myself and even God through my dreams. However, after a while I let much of that go. I think I grew weary of deciphering messages. I also grew weary of people who deciphered messages, particularly, in the Church, they tend to be creepy and out of whack. I do not want to be like them. I am NOT like them. So I reject them and I reject this part of myself. Why does everything need to be in code? I shake my ignorant fist at the sky. I don’t need to understand the depths of my psyche. And for that matter if God wants to speak to me, He should do it in a way that isn’t so complicated or strange. So I let go. I let it go. I let them go. I let Him go. I stop chasing my thoughts. Ignorance, is, after all, bliss. And I am ready to have mine.

But bliss only lasts so long. Perhaps, in my case, only during the day, but at night, knowledge pounds on my heart. I began to ask the questions that my busy mind doesn’t have time for during the day. As soon as you stop chasing your thoughts, they start chasing you. Like a dog after a criminal and your doing your best to hide your trail.

I once heard someone say that our conscience is another word for that tiny small voice that resembles and sounds just like God’s. God is our conscience? What? In running from my thoughts, my conscience, my knowledge of right and wrong am I running from God?

I am praying more – more directly, more honestly, more authentically. And I’ve noticed as I allow the vulnerability of these thoughts that I have pushed down for the last few years to pour out of my heart to God’s ears as prayers, I’m starting to feel more in touch with myself and also, more in touch with God.

Maybe tonight I will stop counting sheep, and just let my running verbal faucet pour into a well of prayers for God’s ears.

Silent night, Holy night.

Express 2

20 Feb

Feb. 20, 2008

The sunsets here are spectacular. Like a brush swiped the sky with watercolors of orange, blue and lilac – and in the center of it a burning orb that is too magnificent to look at. It’s funny, how I tend to pass right by it without a second glance. Something so spectacular seems to become mundane. Peter made mention of the sunset this afternoon and asked me to come see it, I pulled myself away from emptying the dishwasher to give it a glance. It seemed average to me, but Peter took the time to point out details that I barely noticed. And those details where as rich as needle work on a tapestry. It takes time to notice the significance.

One of the things I love about Peter is that he always seems to notice beauty in the seemingly unspectacular. I’m not sure if this speaks about his attraction to me, but I’ll not self deprecate here. No need to uncover my own identity issues. When Peter has the camera he takes pictures of things that I would never be inclined to photograph. I like faces, happy people with arms linked, goofy poses with slap jawed grins. Those are the pictures I love. Peter takes pictures of paintings and cracks on the floor and shadows on walls, or random signs that have funny graphics. Maybe I want to remember happiness and Peter chooses to remember moments.

Today I let Peter read something that I wrote late last night. I lay in bed, typing away with him sleeping beside me. Like I said, I’ve felt the need to express, and have finally decided to write in order fulfill this need. Last week I tried painting, but I was continually disappointed with my “art.” Maybe writing will help fill this need I’ve had. Anyway, after he read it he came to me and said that he appreciated learning some of my thoughts, and indicated that some of the ideas I expressed were new to him. I wondered how that could be and asked him. He told me that I’m not always that verbal with what I’m feeling. I was surprised, I thought I did a good job of letting him know what I’m feeling, where I’m at with life in general – of being open with him. I guess not. As much as I like to pretend Peter can read my mind, I guess he can’t. Well, at least I’ve still got some mysteriousness. (amen – peter says.)

Sometimes Peter says something to me, and my mind starts racing in response. I’m thinking scenarios, and words and whole ideas that leap out of what he said. And after a few moments, I haven’t said a single word, and I don’t even realize it. Peter does. He waits patiently for a response and even though my mind is flooding with ideas born from his words, I blurt out, “yeah, that’s a good idea,” or “wow, that’s interesting.” Is this because I don’t know how to say what I’m really thinking? Or is it because being inside my head is a safe place? Even though true relationship requires words spoken, ideas shared, even the crazy ass stupid ones. Everyone needs a safe place that’s not just within themselves. Peter is my safe place. I need to learn how to communicate more – and for me that equals vulnerability – which is just plain hard.

Lately, I’ve been pushing myself in my watches to pray out exactly what I’m feeling. It’s pretty darn liberating and equally scary. I’m trying to let go of my “this is a good prayer” filter and just say the words that are clogging up my brain. Sometimes the prayers are so stupid that I feel embarrassed. I say things that don’t really make sense…and worst of all I’ve just said it into a mic. What am I, 12? Who prays like this? Why do I have some religious ruler that I use to judge myself with when I speak to God? Is it because people are listening, and I want to seem deep and mature in my faith? Well, I’ve decided I’ll be authentic for a while and see what happens. I’m giving myself permission to say what it is that I really want to say and not couch it in religious terms or put the yoke of maturity around my prayers. And I think to myself, maybe I’m finally starting to really pray now. Without a mask. It’s pretty vulnerable, I tell you. But being a follower of Christ requires authentic vulnerability, and that takes time to learn.

When Jesus came into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, the people shouted out hosanna, which means in Hebrew, save us. As they cried out to Him they laid palm branches down and even their own clothes for Him to walk on.

Clothing was and still is a sign of position and identity. To throw the very clothes that you’re wearing off of you, in front of God and everybody, is surely a terrifying thing, and a costly thing. Perhaps in that ancient culture they understood something that I’m still learning. In order to welcome Christ’s saving grace and acceptance in my life I must be willing to be vulnerable, with Him and just as importantly, with others. In doing so I began to realize what a desperate case I am. This vulnerable heart is the real me, and the real me understands how pathetic I am. The real me knows I need safety but even more so I need saving. And so, this vulnerable me that hides inside my safe place is learning to cry out, “save me.”

Express 1

19 Feb

Feb. 19, 2008

I’ve wanted to write some thoughts for a while, not under the pretense of an update, or with an agenda to inform, but simply to express. Express newness of life, my life. I’m 30 years old and I feel as though I’m starting all over again. Rebirth has always been equated as a good thing, but sometimes it’s just damn hard getting out of the chute and landing on your feet. Six months later, I’m still disoriented. I’ve heard it takes a year to acclimate fully. I’m so worn out, though, I’m not sure if I’ll still like myself after another six months of this, let alone, finally liking and accepting my new life/living arrangements.

Last week I experienced my third earthquake. And I do mean literal earthquake – registering 5.3 at the epicenter. I was sitting in a 10th floor penthouse when the leather couch I was on started to shake away from the wall. Needless to say it scared the hell out of me, and my first thought was, darn, I don’t have my bra on if this thing goes down, I’ll be braless in the rubble, and then I thought of Peter, wishing that he was with me, and wishing that we hadn’t just had a really rough fight. Funny how looming disaster helps you forget and forgive. In a few moments the shaking stopped. Life returned to normal, I went and put a bra on and gave Peter a genuine smile when he came home.

That earthquake was the worst of the small tremors since we’ve been here. Scientist say we need to get ready for the big one, I’m hoping last weeks was the big one. I keep thinking of the earthquakes Turkey experienced in the late 90’s…since much of the homes are designed the same way here, in the darkness of my imagination I believe it would be the same detrimental disaster that Turkey experienced, but that’s only when I’m not being a positive thinking christian American.

The prayer vigils are stretching me. It’s a love hate relationship. Part of me wonders what good could possibly come from doing what we are doing here, it’s the ‘carnal’ part of my mind, some would say. The part that says, I believe God but forgive my unbelief. Yes, that part. I grumble and complain about how I feel like we entertain for two hours, guest who choose to come in and sit in the farthest back row and stare out the windows and if your lucky, they’ll sing a line or two of the song your playing when their spirit moves them. How could this possibly be fruitful for the kingdom I ask myself? And what is the Kingdom of God anyway? Does it look like this, this prayer room situated in the tip of Jerusalem’s old city? And with me playing my guitar alongside peter playing his lap steel and us singing songs hoping that the words are touching God’s ears. Words that plea for peace, and justice and good news, and love between ancient brothers. Yet when I quiet my heart, and I let go of the stresses that keep me noisy inside, I sense I am different. I believe in prayer again. Like a bird set free from a cage, my heart is praying prayers that are far more courageous than my timid soul. As if, by grace, the heart of Jesus is being expressed through my prayers. I confess, It feels good to pray like that. I’m toying with the idea that all this excruciating change might just be worth it, my spirit is beginning to stretch out its broken wings. I believe, but forgive my unbelief.

It snows on average in Israel, once every seven years. We had our seven year snow two weeks ago. That night we went to sleep in our room, an upper loft, without insulation, and I could feel the wind blowing through the wood slots of our walls. The gusts of blistery wind cried out as it pushed its way through the wooden panels of our room. The next morning Jerusalem was covered in snow. The wind was still pounding when Peter and I led our watch at the prayer room that afternoon. I couldn’t help but sing that Waterdeep song, “when the cold wind blows all around will you still love me?” It seemed appropriate.

Maybe the seven year cycle is broken because it snowed again today. Thankfully the city didn’t shut down this time, buses still running, markets still open. Oh but this wind, this wind that cries all day and all night. I wonder if when Elijah was hiding in the cave and the fire came, and then the wind, and then finally the still small voice, if the wind was anything like this. Maybe I should start listening for the still small voice.

God must have known that I was at brinks end and so He brought Kristen Cote and my sister, Alysa Little, here. They were here for the first snow. We played hours of monopoly and talked and talked, and watched downloaded movies, and ate rice cakes and toured everywhere and made up irreverent nicknames for some of the guests that were staying here at the time. They were, for me, grace poured out. A little piece of home brought to me, it was exactly what I needed.

A Star in Bethlehem

27 Jan

Shalom y’all and Mar Haba,

This update might be of a slightly different flavor. We have a few recent experiences to share with you. They are kind of miracles and it is worthwhile to consider what they might mean (rather than us trying to interpret them).

Some thoughts on peace apart from politics:

Joy and I led worship at a conference in Jerusalem that was attended by Internationals,
some Arab and some Israeli believers. Reread that last sentence and please allow it to fully sink in. Only in certain local worship gatherings you will spy Abraham’s children facing the same direction (upwards) in unity and love, even though there will likely be some significant political differences in how they view the region.

We recently met and have been getting to know a Palestinian Pastor and his family in Bethlehem. They are remarkable people and have an uncommon degree of spiritual passion. They receive a one month pass each year to travel outside of the territories and we were honored that The House of Peace was the first place they came to visit. The following week, we went to their home and ministry (The House of Bread) and continued to deepen our connection getting to know each other and pray for each other.

We have an Israeli friend, Adam, who is a believer. Like everyone of a certain age, he did his time in the military and still does his work as a reservist. He is 30 and has 4 children, a four-year-old son, a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and two year old twin girls. He recently shared with me one of his most powerful life memories–when a former Fatah soldier, now also a Christian, who, while holding Adam’s newborn son, passionately prayed over the young child with much love…

Our eyes are scanning/straining to see what God is doing here and how we can partake in this, and if you are observant, it isn’t very hard. We want to acknowledge the light that may be dim at this point, but you can clearly see it. You probably won’t see it or read about it in the news because peace without conflict doesn’t make good copy. Outside the Kingdom, peace is more attractive as an unattainable ideal state.

All of this has us thinking about the contrast between the Kingdom of God and your government of choice. Voting is a privilege and democracy is a gift, but whatever our responsibility as believers in this area, our primary responsibility is to pray. It is easier to place our confidence in (or to curse) a governing power than to wrestle with our apathy or anguish in prayer. Participating in politics and having strong convictions doesn’t change that we are believers first and Americans second and contrary to popular sentiment these two things are not necessarily synonymous. Social justice is integral to the character of the Gospel, but not at the expense of pursuing it Jesus’ way.

And returning to our usual update format:

The Recording Studio.
The last time I wrote we had found our location and had received the finances to purchase the equipment and begin remodeling. This space was for rent and possibly for sale. Because of the need to do close to $70 grand in renovations, it was determined by the financier that buying the space was a necessity. Long term this will provide a greater security for this particular ministry. Short-term it is honestly frustrating, as we have all of the equipment here and no place to set up shop. Purchasing is typically a longer process than renting. The good news is that this project is fully funded, so it is a waiting game until the purchase process is completed. Pray that this happens without unnecessary complications and with straight-ahead negotiations.

Moments of Provision.
God met us financially last month in a way I hadn’t previously experienced. We are grateful for the gifts that came from people that we know and have relationship with. We were shocked when someone we had never met gave (and doesn’t receive this email) gave us $1000. This takes care of our first semester of Hebrew and more. As I have previously said, we endeavor to be self supporting and believe that “tent making” is how God wants us to do our work here. We welcome practical gifts, but continue with us in prayer as we continue to get situated .

Friends from Afar.
Joy’s sister Alysa has come to visit us and our friend Kristen from Austin. We miss our stateside framily often and thank-you for your emails, phone-calls (global 501.) and visits. Please come visit. Come and see what God is doing here and be a part of that in whatever ways you can.

With much love,
Peter and Joy

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Joy’s Parent’s with us at Bethlehem for Christmas Eve!

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Visiting with our new friends in Bethlehem.

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Peter with Bashir and Fadi – in Bethlehem. Please say a quick prayer for these two as they are away studying. Bashir is getting his masters in human rights and political science and Fadi is getting his doctorate at a Seminary in the States.

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(sunlight through the window) Church of the Nativity – Bethlehem.

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Peter standing in front of the wall that separates Bethlehem (and other Palestinian territories) from Israel.

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Graffiti on the wall.

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Large murals that are painted on the walls, directly next to the check point.

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“Know Hope” is an American born Israeli street artist. His art is beautiful and deeply provocative. As an Israeli, he is not permitted in the territories, but it seems he’s been to Bethlehem. Take a moment to check out his work, it’s worth your time: Know Hope Street Art

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Raphaela – a nun that was hitchhiking from Bethlehem to the Mount of Olives. We picked her up outside of Bethlehem. She has been working in Israel for 47 years. Has seen every war (or so she said) I believe her since she’s from Poland, and she’s a nun. She runs an orphanage at the Mount of Olives and makes frequent trips to Bethlehem to help an orphanage there. She was a beautiful soul and we enjoyed taking her home to her convent on a cold Shabbat night.

friends
Alysa and Kristen, visiting from Austin, with Joy outside of Succat Hallel.

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