Every year I mean to post something once a week, and it seems that every year something happens to keep me away from the blog. This year it was the discovery that a large stone we’ve seen peeking out of the ground for two seasons is in fact a heart-shaped column, which meant that we had almost assuredly found the remains of Shikhin’s synagogue. You can read about it here: http://www.samford.edu/Media_Releases/2013/Samford_Archaeological_Dig_in_Israel_Uncovers_Unfamiliar_Jewish_Village.aspx#.UfzvTKxyxvp.
As it is almost impossible to get enough sleep during the dig, one of the joys of spending three days in Jerusalem at the end of the season is the slower pace. I get up at 6 rather than 3:30 am, I sit on the front porch of the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem and drink cappuccinos, I go to sites in the Old City and bookstores in the New, and visit with old friends, most of whom are shop owners.
On the way to the Western Wall yesterday afternoon we stopped by the shop of an old friend who, because he takes Ramadan seriously, did not serve us water and tea. But he told me that he would come by the hotel on his way home, when he and other observant Muslims break their fast, and bring us sweets. Since we are not observant Muslims, we are eating them today (with cappuccino, of course). In any case, I appreciated the gift. In our conversation last night I learned that he recently paid for someone who needed surgery on his knee to avoid losing his leg. The man was a Christian. My friend paraphrased to me the by-now famous verse from the Quran (5:32). “The Quran says, ‘To save the life of one person is like saving the life of all the people, and to take the life of one is like taking the life of all the people,’” reversing the clauses, but he did better than many who quote the Bible.
Tomorrow my father and I will lecture to a group of Palestinian Christian teenagers on the topic of Christian values. We are doing it for other long-time friends who are doing their part to stop the hemorrhage of Christian youths out of Israel, and out of the West Bank in particular. Remember, Palestinians are not citizens, so they do not know democracy unless they move away or study the subject. (Boy, a reminder like that can sure instill an appreciation for democracy—warts and all—in this American.) These youths also do not know the Bible. I have decided to talk about love of enemy and gratitude by pointing them to Bible passages.
As I prepared, it struck me that from the Christian perspective, these values are not virtues in the normal sense, for I cannot enact them on my own. I cannot produce them through effort. I must ask God for them, and if I do love my enemy and thank God for all the good in my life, I become more like God.
In any case, I’m trying to make a distinction between saying thank you to someone for doing something nice for me, and being grateful to God for the person—any person. Paul is helping. We’ll travel to Bethlehem in the morning, have our talks, and attend an Arabic worship service.
Speaking of gratitude, I always spend my days on the dig grateful for our volunteers, who produce impeccable archaeology. They pay a lot to come here and they work hard once they’re here. I told someone, “It’s as if they themselves built the structures they’re uncovering.” This dig thrives on that kind of generosity. Sepphoris National Park will provide fencing for us and not charge us for the labor. An expert in locating coins will conduct a coin-finding survey of the site at no charge. A man who works for the Survey of Israel will produce a map of our site that will include our archaeological finds, also for free. Another old family friend came this year and, as Abuna said, “Was just golden,” which means he worked tirelessly at too many tasks to count. The dig receives support from both Samford and Kinneret Academic college. Laura and Sarah suffer my long absence with grace.
That’s the regular kind of gratitude. I am also, of course, grateful to God for the gift of this dig, which is really the gift of people.
Thanks be to God, the Father of Lights, for every good and perfect gift.
Until next year, pray for the peace of Israel.