It turns out that Lutheranism prepared me really well for being a tourist. See, Lutherans believe that humanity is essentially broken, and that we come to wholeness not through our own means, but only through God’s grace shown to us through Christ. So while we try to avoid actively being bad people, we know the old Adam drowned in baptism is a good swimmer…and that’s why we have confession every Sunday to kick off worship. So while “missing the mark” doesn’t make us happy and doesn’t make us stop trying to do justice and love kindness, we take it as part and parcel of being members of a fallen race.
Folks, I was a bad tourist today. I was tired. I was cranky. I couldn’t pay attention to what the tour guide was saying. I was sniffly with what looks suspiciously like an oncoming cold (noooooo!). And I really wished at times that all those other dang tourists weren’t crawling through Jerusalem, talking and coughing and sneezing and lengthening lines in big echoing stone buildings. And I must confess–I was downright bitchy to some of those aggressive street vendors. Have you ever growled “NO!” at a seven-year-old who won’t stop trying to sell you banana-flavored gum? I did that right after visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre this morning. There’s nothing like yelling at small children right after visiting the place where the Son of God made the ultimate sacrifice on your behalf to make you really touch base with the essential brokenness of the human race.
And by the way, banana-flavored gum? No. Just no. That has to be the official snack of the outer darkness. It explains the gnashing of teeth.
So anyway, I had to once again come to grips today with the fact that I’m a horrible person, but Lutheranism has given me a lot of practice at realizing that while this is true, Jesus didn’t come to die for whole, happy, nice-to-annoying-children people. He came for people who clearly need the help. That’s strangely comforting.
So anyway. This morning started with a visit to St. Anne’s Crusader Church, which was a nifty history that I ignored almost entirely because a couple of people asked me to sing inside because the acoustics were supposed to be fantastic. Let me be clear: I love singing. I hate singing in front of people I don’t know. (There were some traumatic auditions for high school musicals that I have not recovered from to this day.) So instead of learning about the lovely history of that lovely building, I was on my mental hampster wheel thinking, “Who can I get to sing with me? What songs do they know? Do I know them too? Can I remember the lyrics? What if the starting note is too high? Or too low? How intense is the reverb? What kind of tempo do we need? What was I think agreeing to this?”
Effectively hiding this small meltdown, I grabbed a couple of the Mother Schmuckers who are on this trip–members of an all-female a capella group named for my seminary’s founder–and we sang a couple of Taize songs. The acoustics were as beautiful as advertised. The starting note was fine. The tempo was also fine. We remembered all the lyrics. Some of us even knew harmonies. Whew.
St. Anne’s is also where the Pools of Bethesda have been excavated, which is super nifty. This is the site of the healing miracle described in John 5. Those pools are really deep, friends.
After St. Anne’s, we walked up to the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Sorrow, the traditional route Jesus followed from the Praetorium to Gethsemane, bearing his cross. There were stations of the cross all along the way, and we also learned today that the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer walks this route on Good Friday. That is so cool.
The Via Dolorosa finishes that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a compound type church that is said to encompass both the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and the site of his burial. I have my personal doubts about this, but tradition and tourism have carried the day for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I have to admit that this was the least spiritually reflective I have felt at a site so far, when I kinda expected it would be the most. It’s the site of the crucifixion and the resurrection, for crying out loud! It’s the geographic center of Christianity! But it was dark, and somewhat dingy, and there were people just about everywhere. I waited in line 20 minutes to see a bench where tradition says Jesus’ body was laid, knelt to say a one-line prayer, and immediately the guard/priest poked his head in to rumble, “Hurry up!” It was not very contemplative, to say the least.
After the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we had free time. Oh, hooray for free time! We haven’t had free time during daylight hours since our trip started! What to do?? There were restaurants to eat at, museums to explore, sites around the city to check out–but me and my group, we went shopping. We had shekels to burn, friends–tomorrow we head to Jordan and a different currency.
If you have ever gone shopping with me, then you know that I suffer from chronic indecision. Yesterday on the Mount of Olives, a guy selling scarves out of the back of his car was holding this one that I absolutely loved, in shades of pink and gold and lavender, and I nearly got it, but there was just a part of me that didn’t want to be a person who buys things out of the trunks of cars. Sketch-tastic.
But today as we were walking by dozens of stalls, I thought maybe I could find the same scarf. Having a very specific mission in a bazaar turned out to be quite helpful, permitting me to bypass merchants who were trying to distract me with pomegranate juice, jewelry, a full service Turkish coffee set, and thousands of scarves that were not the scarf I wanted. I was briefly distracted by the sheepskin for sale (my dog would have a field day), but focus, for once, prevailed.
Usually this search for a scarf would be an object lesson in futility, but we got lucky. We found a shop where the salesguy spoke amazing English and knew exactly the scarf I was talking about, or at least acted it convincingly. And the prices were prices that we did not have to haggle over. (I hate haggling almost as much as I hate banana-flavored gum.) At this shop I underwent the most wonderful scarf-buying experience I’ve ever had. The guy fruitlessly tried to find the scarf I wanted, but when I finally let go of the dream and told him I wanted to look at some of the other ones, he happily obliged, also teaching us along the way four new ways of tying scarves I’ve never seen before. And he kept saying things I’d never expected to hear from a bazaar merchant: “No, that’s too expensive. Let’s try something else.” “You don’t have to buy this.” “Don’t feel pressured.” So of course, he won all the shekels. Good job, guy.
At four o’clock we had another Q&A with the fabulous Zimmans, Lutheran pastors working in the Holy Land, and they shared some pretty amazing perspectives. I plan to reflect more on those later, possibly in those flora-themed posts that I’m falling desperately behind on. Oh dear.
But for now, dear friends, it is dinnertime here in Jerusalem, so I’ll be bidding you au revoir. Tomorrow, Petra!