Saturday, August 6, 2016

I Swear I Lived!!!

What a week! It started with an incredible bang! I got up and worked on getting moved out of the apartment. Then I went with the Smiths, Skinners, and Phil on a really cool trip with a guy named Nir. He runs four-wheel-drive tours around the country. We went to Azazel, the mountain where it is thought that on the Day of Atonement they drove the scapegoat off a cliff. We had to go on some pretty crazy roads to get there, if you can call them roads. We stopped and looked at Bedouin cisterns as we went, and I came to understand them in a way I never had before. 

A Bedouin water gathering field and cistern

Bedouin sheep and goats
Azazel was really cool also. From there you could see the Dead Sea and Moab, Hyrcania, and yet the entire Way of the Patriarchs like I never had before. I could see Herodian, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nob and Gibeah all at once. From that perspective they were further apart than they have looked from any other perspective I have seen. It was cool. We took some time to stop and talk about the meaning of the scapegoat and how the practices of the ritual changed a bit over time, and some of the symbolism. It was beautiful, invigorating, enlightening, stimulating, and bonding. We loved it.

Mount Azazel

Dead Sea Area from Azazel

Way of the Patriarchs as seen from Mount  Azazel

On the left is tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, then the tower of Augusta Victoria on Mount Scopus then the Hebrew U tower on Mount Scoups, then the two sky rise buildings on biblical Nob, then a hill that is Gibeah of Saul

Nir showing the Smiths, Phil and Andy some things
Nir has a degree in Geomorphology, and he helped me understand the geology, topography, climate and ecology in a way I never have before. It was fantastic. He drove us on some even rougher roads until we got a fantastic view of the largest monastery of the Judean desert, the Mar Saba monastery. It is gorgeous. We had a tiny bit of a picnic there. Then we asked him to take us in. He doesn’t do it often, but he took us in. It was a bit of an arduous drive, but not for Nir, who seems to revel in going in crazy places.
Mar Saba Monastery
Mar Saba Monastery in Wadi Kidron (or the Kidron Valley)
So, off to the monastery we went. Poor Joyce couldn’t go in because they don’t allow women inside. But we went in, and I am so sad they wouldn’t allow pictures. The narthex of their church had the coolest Greek Orthodox paintings ever. It was all Old Testament stuff, as a narthex typically is. They had scenes of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel (which I never see), the flood, Abraham and Isaac, etc., that were just so cool. Then we went further into the chapel and saw the body of Saint Saba, and some other holy icons, and a depiction of the Savior with the all Seeing Eye over him, which is their way of depicting God the Father. We had with us a monk whose English was good and who did a fantastic job of explaining the church to us. They gave us some nice treats, and we had a great time.

The Kidron as it flows through the Judean Wilderness 

Nir and I with Mar Saba in the background

Inside the Mar Saba Monastery
Then we tried to hurry to make it to Ein Perat on time. Sometimes we were on the road, sometimes off. We were close to not making it before they closed, and we hit a traffic jam caused by a huge, slow truck at the front of a very, very long line of cars. So Nir went off the road and we went at about 40 miles per hour on some pretty rough terrain going up and down and over rocks and hills. We were booking it, and it was so fun. We got to one place where we could turn onto the road, and we were just a few second too late to get in front of the truck. So we kept going, and at the next place we could get on the road we barely got in front of it, and then scooted to our turn off for the spring. We had just gone past Anathoth, where Jeremiah was from. Ein Perat was the nearest spring, and I am sure Jeremiah went them from time to time. We got there four minutes too late, and they wouldn’t let us in. But now we knew where it was, and it is close enough we decided we would go on our own.

Seeing the rain shadow near Ein Pratt
It was a wonderful, absolutely wonderful day. That evening I cleaned out the apartment and got it all ready to move out early the next morning, and I got ready for my field trip as well.

Here is what I wrote to my children in an email that night, on 7-31-16:
My dear, sweet children,           As I get ready to go to bed during my last night in our apartment, I am filled with memories. I walk in each room and remember something. I remember Jacob and Kaleb playing with legos or making forts in their room. I remember Tashara and Sabrina having such fun in the double room, or Tashara and Alexia playing games when they shared that room, or Tashara and Sabrina being twins. I remember Alexia reading in the single room, and singing to Sabrina in that room, and Tashara working on history in that room. I remember watching Merlin and White Collar and Pac Man and Yellowstone in the front room. I remember playing cards and Dominion on the kitchen table. I remember talking with BJ at that table about college, and BJ giving us the best Christmas gifts ever when he wrote such nice notes and we opened them in our front room with its little Christmas tree. I remember so many wonderful meals at the kitchen table, and talking about school, the gospel, and reading scriptures at the table. I remember each of you cooking and all of us cooking together in the kitchen. I remember about 50 or more nights of making pita pizza there together. I remember every child sleeping in our bed with Mom and I. Sadly, I remember Tashara taking two hour showers in both bathrooms ;). I remember getting field trip stuff out of the drawer of the bed in the single room so that we could go have so much fun together. Today I sat and stared for a while at the last “remember harmony” sign left in the house.

I don’t know if you remember, but Mom and I once told you that the biggest reason we came to Jerusalem was to grow closer together as a family. I feel like we did that. I want to thank you for being such wonderful children, and for providing me with such wonderful memories of our time together here. I believe I will leave a piece of my heart here in the apartment tonight because everywhere I look I see you. You made this the best time ever! Thank you! Thank you for being a wonderful family. No Dad ever had better kids, and no dad ever had more fun with his kids.

I love you all, and I am so proud of you! I miss you, but in a way you are here with me.  Love you! ----Dad

The kitchen of our apartment

The dining room of our apartment

The front room of our apartment
It was hard to move out. It has been a wonderful place for us and wonderful things have happened and I will miss it.

The next morning I got my stuff together and ate a breakfast that I enjoyed eating, and I moved out. Then I went on the field trip. I was able to immediately start using some of the things I had learned from Nir the day before. We had a lot of fun on that field trip. Andy taught them at Qumran all about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then we went to Ein Gedi, and he taught them about David and Saul, and I taught them about Book of Mormon imagery. It was fun, and I think they enjoyed it. Ein Gedi is so beautiful, I think everyone loved hiking and having fun there. It was supposed to be crazy hot, but it didn’t end up being too bad.

Andy teaching at Qumran
From there we went to Masada. It was over 100 degrees on top, but it really wasn’t terrible. Because of problems with his knees Andy didn’t come on top, so I did that part by myself. I moved along quickly because of the heat, but gave them all of the pertinent information. The place is impressive, and the story is crazy. I tried to wrap it all up with a spiritual thought, teaching them about the destructive nature of secret combinations. I also read to them from the Savior’s prophecies about the destruction of the Jews and the need to flee from it, and told them about how the Christians who listened to the early church leaders did flee Judea to a town in the Decapolis and thus escaped destruction. A great lesson in listening to church leaders. I also read from Amos where he says that people cannot climb high enough or dig low enough to escape God’s judgment. I tried to teach them that rather than trying to escape God’s judgment we should remember how much he wants to help us, and turn to him so we can look forward to God’s judgment. I think it went fairly well, but it was hot enough that no one could completely focus.

My students in the hanging palace of Masada

The Dead Sea from Masada

My student Chloe Bray contemplating at Masada
From there we went to the Dead Sea, where the students floated and had a great time, despite the water being so hot they were not very comfortable in it. I think everyone had fun.

floating in the Dead Sea

Students in mud at the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea
My student Kayenta Ryan floating/relaxing in the dead Sea
My student Michaela Proctor studying in the Dead Sea
Students floating in the Dead Sea
I taught them on the bus ride home just a little bit, and then I handed back papers and asked them about things they had been learning that made a big difference to them. It was a nice time.

I came home to my new apartment, which is a bit of a weird thing to say. It is nice enough, and I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed eating with friends in the Oasis. That night we had a guys’ night out, since Phil, Dave Heiner and I are all apart from our wives. We watched one of the Jason Bourne movies. It was a lot of fun.
I also emailed BJ a bit. It is always a bright spot of the week for me when we can communicate with him. He seems to be doing so very, very, very well. I am very happy about that!

My new apartment at the Center
The next day I taught my last class. It was bitter-sweet. Here is what I wrote on that day: 8-2-16
Today I taught my last class here. Since I don’t imagine I will be back within the next decade, it was a somber moment for me after it was all over. My students left and I sat in the classroom and looked at the chairs. Images came to me of many, many students who had sat in this wonderful classroom and with whom I had incredible experiences. 
My students on the last day of my last class
Face after face, conversation after conversation, feeling after feeling, moment after moment came flooding to my mind. I pulled out my computer and called up the picture roll for every class I ever taught in there. 6 semester, 12 classes, about 225 students. I looked at every face, and recalled something from each one of them that happened in that room. I didn’t want to leave, and in fact I stayed there for a long time. I stayed there with my students who were with me, whether they knew it or not. I was awash in my love for them. I am so grateful for the Spirit I have felt so often in that room. I am so grateful for the questions and conversations I had in that room and how much I learned and grew and came to understand in that classroom. It has been a great ride! Thanks to all my students, it has been one of the great privileges and pleasures of my life to have been in that room with you! Honestly, a privilege and a pleasure, a blessing that is beyond what I will ever deserve. Thanks to God and my students!
My class as I sat in it empty
It was a crazy day, but it was a nice feeling to know that so much good has happened in my classroom. I will miss teaching there.

That afternoon and evening I did some organizing, packing, and working on papers, etc. I am trying to get all my loose ends tied up. That night the Branch Presidency went out to First Station for ice cream. It was our last meeting, but mostly we just enjoyed being with each other rather than doing much of a meeting. It has been good to serve with these brethren. We also watched another Bourne movie together.

The next morning Phil and I went for a walk at 6:30 am. We walked down to the Old City and along the eastern wall, through the cemetery that is really only open in the morning. It is the most I have ever been able to study the wall and its construction. It was really cool and fun. More than that, Phil and I had a lot of fun just visiting with each other. I so, so enjoy him. He is such a good guy, and we had a great time visiting. We got back in time for breakfast, and I got a few things done. Then Phil, Andy, Janet and I went to Ein Perat, the place that we had almost gotten to on Sunday with Nir, but it had just closed. It was a cool place. The whole time I kept thinking how much my family would  have enjoyed going there, and I so wish I had taken them there at some point.

First we went on a really nice little hike up to a monastery. We were not able to get into the monastery, but we enjoyed exploring around it and hiking up the wadi. We found the spring, which is really three or four springs coming together. Then we changed into our swimming suits and hiked up the wadi stopping in the pools and cooling ourselves off. It was so refreshing, and so fun. What a wonderful time we have all had together.
The monastery at Ein Perat

The spring (or ein) Perat

One of the places the water flows out of the rock at Ein Perat

A frog enjoying the source of the water

fish at the source of Ein Perat

The beginning of Ein Perat

Ein Perat

a pool at Ein Perat

Me exploring the spring

Andy, myself and Phil enjoying Ein Perat
That night after dinner all the guys in the Center got together and went to the theater to watch the new Jason Bourne movie. It was pretty good, though the plot was not as original as some of the others. But it was a fun thing for all of us to go do. I enjoyed it.
At the theater after the watching the new Bourne movie

The next morning Phil and I went for another walk at 6 am. We went to the Holy Sepulcher, which is so quiet and beautiful that time of day. It is reverent, and I enjoy the feeling there. We explored a few places we aren’t usually able to explore, and then we went around the city just a bit. It is so quiet that time of day. It is nice.

Holy Sepulcher in the  morning

empty streets of Jerusalem in the morning
more empty streets of the Old City in the morning
entering the Holy Sepulcher in the morning
looking out from the unction stone of the Holy Sepulcher
entering the Holy Sepulcher in the morning
ritual at the Edicule, or tomb, in the Holy Sepulcher

We came back and had breakfast, and then immediately went out again. We traced through a lot of the field trip we are planning on doing next week. We went to Bethphage, and walked around to hills and views around there that we usually aren’t able to get into. It helped me have an even better feel for it. 
celebration of the Triumphal Entry at Bethphage

The towers of the Russian Church of the Ascension and Augusta Victoria, highlighting the Mount of Olives and Scopus peaks of the Mount of Olives

Augusta Victoria
Then we walked towards Dominus Flevit, but we found the tomb of the prophets open, and so we dropped by. A little service was going on there, so we listened, and then explored, going all around, more than I have in the past. It was great! 

a shrine inside the tomb of the prophets
Inside the tomb of the prophets
Me inside the tomb of the prophets (which are not the tombs of the prophets, by the way)
leaving the tomb of the prophets
Then we visited with the caretakers and a father at Dominus Flevit and got that all set up. Then we drove to St. Peter in Gallicantu and went through that together. It was fun doing this with Phil because we could ask each other what we usually teach in a certain place. We never get to do field trips together, so it was nice to get from Phil some ideas of how to make some of these places better. It was fantastic, and he gave me some great ideas. We had a lot of fun together.

Dominus Flevit
Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene as seen from Dominus Flevit
Tombs and Ossiuaries at Dominus Flevit
The Dome of the Rock as seen from Dominus Flevit
Then we drove to the other side of town and walked in to St. Anne’s. We got things set up for our visit there, and stopped by a bookstore, and in all had a wonderful time. We had lunch together, and I got a little bit of work done. That evening I was planning on working more, but I could see so many students were stressed out about finals that I just spent my entire evening going around and visiting with students and helping them feel better about life and putting things in perspective. It turned out to be a very pleasant evening.

The next morning I gave my final. After it was over I tried to help my students see how much I know they have learned and how satisfied I am with each one of them and what they have learned and become. I think it ended on a good note. For me, at least, it was a time I felt knit with them.

Then Phil, Andy, Janet and I took off. We drove down to the Negeve, to Maktesh Ramon. This is a huge natural crater. It is beautiful and strange and different. We saw several ibex, and explored the crater a bit. We also stopped and had a picnic along the way. Again, the things we saw were cool, the company was amazing. I had a great time, and am so glad to be with this group.

Maktesh Ramon

Maktesh Ramon

Mother and child ibex at Maktesh Ramon

naturally formed prisms inside Maktesh Ramon
Phil with a prism
More naturally formed prisms at Maktesh Ramon
Phil and Andy inside Maktesh Ramon
an ibex at Maktesh Ramon
Church was great. I was released. During the sacrament I turned and looked out to the places where the events we were commemorating took place. I am not usually able to do that, but today I just really wanted to since it was my last opportunity, so I turned way around and looked for a while. All of our church meetings were very nice. I have enjoyed fasting today, and taking some time to just really focus on the important things. Sabbaths are a delight! So has my time here been!

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