Holy Land Tour: Day Three

Today the landscape looked much more like what I imagined when I envisioned the middle east.  All of our stops were taking us toward Jerusalem.  We stopped in Jericho which was underwhelming.  It was mostly a shopping / souvenir trap.  We saw a tree that is celebrated as the tree that Zacheaus climbed.

Then we spent quite a while at Qumran which was fascinating.  They think they have found evidence in the past year that John the Baptist might have spent time here.  Could it be that the Essene ritual baths would make way for John the Baptist’s famous baptism of Jesus?

Ending our day at our destination: Jerusalem.  We stopped at an overlook and got some photos.

I really didn’t have another stop in me and just wanted to come to the hotel, but we had one more place: Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. It is built upon the site which is celebrated as the home of Caiaphas the high priest and the dungeon found below it may just be the place where Jesus spent the night before he was put to death!

I know I haven’t written much on these blog posts, especially today, but by the time I get to the room each night, I am completely exhausted. This is all I have in me!  Check out my Facebook timeline for a more interesting tour.  On Facebook I upload throughout the day!


Holy Land Tour: Day Two

This is the scene that greeted us early on day two.  We left our hotel and drove to where a boat met us to take us across the sea of Galilee.  It was beautiful and, surprisingly, moving.  The stories began to come to live in my mind and my eyes were transfixed upon the water.

I am also lucky enough to be experiencing this with my best friend and the love of my life, which makes the scenery all-the-better 🙂

We got off the boat and went to a site that was my favorite church, so far: the Church of the Beatitudes.  This is thought to be the site of the sermon on the mount where Jesus proclaimed the beatitudes.  It is celebrated that, on this hill, Jesus fed the multitudes.

Not too far away was a beautiful greek orthodox church: The church of the Seven Apostles.  Though I don’t have great photos, we also stopped at Tabgha and the Chapel of the Primacy.

The highlight of the day, though was Capernaum.  Something happened to me as a stood over this ancient town.  I think I felt closer to God in that moment as I considered a God that would choose a home and live among his friends.

“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them”. -Mark 2:1-2 (nrsv)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem & his family was from Nazareth but capernaum was the place he chose as home…the place at the center of his ministry.

After Capernaum, we went to the River Jordan and had a renewal of our baptismal vows where we could touch the water.

And our day ended with trip up to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights where one can see minefields.



Holy Land Tour:  Day One
The view from our hotel room as we woke up!

Yesterday we arrived in Tel Aviv and traveled to Tiberius a city along the Sea of Galilee/ Lake Galilee / Sea of Tiberius.  It was startling to think that we are in Galilee where Jesus lived and did most of his ministry!

We loaded up on the bus and headed out.  Our first stop was Caesarea.  It was fascinating to see the ruins, especially of Herod’s palace, but I’ll be honest I’m really excited about some other stops and this just didn’t hold much appeal to me.

This aqueduct, though, was impressive.  They built this city, here, to be a port on the Mediterranean Sea.  It connected Judah with the rest of the Roman Empire, but there was no water source, so water was brought to the city with massive aqueducts.  This one survives, in part.

After the ruins at Caesarea we headed for Armageddon.  Yup, that’s right.  I stood on armageddon: the ancient site of Megiddo.  It was interesting to see the ruins and learn about the history.  It is the prophetic end of the world according to Revelations, but something else which our guide pointed out caught my attention:

Judges 7 says, “Then Jerubbaal, that is, Gideon, and all of the people with him rose early and set up camp beside the Harod spring; Midian’s camp was north of theirs, in the valley by the Moreh hill.”

In this photo the site of  Judges 7 can be seen:

We went to Nazareth and toured the Basilica of the Annunciation.  The site celebrated as the site of Joseph’s home.

The last stop on the tour was Cana.

The church which sits on the supposed site of the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee where Jesus turned water into wine.

I Have this Feeling…In My Gut, part 2

I guess I should continue where I left off, huh?

I went to the GI specialist on Tuesday.  He was pretty sure it was appendicitis.  He thought that the appendix may have even burst and I’d been walking around with a burst appendix.  He sent me for scans on Wednesday morning.  Upon seeing the scans I was sent straight to the Emergency Department at BroMenn for surgery.

If you are wondering how a person walks around with a burst appendix, it is a good question.  Here is the story of Martha Little, news director for WBUR.  She lived with a burst appendix for weeks!

The appendix had not ruptured so they were able to do the surgery laparoscopically and was in the hospital overnight.  I cannot praise the nursing staff enough.  They took good care of me…and got me home quickly where my wife could continue caring for me.

I’m doing well, now.  I’m in some pain, but I have medicine to help with that.  I’m being well-cared-for and my church is in good hands.  My wife and other clergy are covering for me while I recover, but my congregation is amazing and I can also count on the people of the church to make sure everything and everyone is cared for while I am gone!


I Have this Feeling…in My Gut.

For a few days I had noticed some pain in my abdomen, but they were fleeing.  On the twenty second of December, I began having more severe pain on my left side.  My doctor’s nurse practitioner had a last-minute cancellation and I left work early and went straight down to my doctor’s office.  The pain had subsided a bit by the time I got there and the pain was on my left side.  The nurse diagnosed me with diverticulitis and gave me a prescription for antibiotics.

I started feeling better and within a week I was feeling pretty good…until I finished my antibiotic regimen.  On New Year’s Day I began having some pain, again.  We went to an urgent care doctor.  Because of the diverticulitis diagnosis, they suspected it was probably something I ate. They sent me home and told me to see my primary care doctor.  After a few days I got in with my doctor and he sent me for a scan.  My appendix was mildly inflamed.  The antibiotics from the misdiagnosis of diverticulitis had reduced the inflammation, and he recommended a more aggressive course of antibiotics for the appendicitis.

If you are like me, you haven’t heard of treating appendicitis with antibiotics, but it is a real thing!  Here is a WebMD article that shows 80% of patients may find medicine effective rather than surgery. Apparently, this has been a standard practice in Europe for some time, now, and America is just coming around to this standard of treatment.

I consented to trying the more aggressive course of treatment and got started right away (Friday).  At 3:30am on Saturday morning I woke up intensely sick.  I got to the bathroom, somehow, but I was nearly incapacitated with nausea, intense pain, and my head was spinning.  Though my wife had left town for the weekend, luckily, I was not alone! My mother drove up to stay with me because my wife was concerned for me.  Carrie is so wise!  I yelled for my mother to call an ambulance.

Thankfully, the ambulance was quick to respond.  They were great.  They got me down the stairs, out of the house, out through the cold and bright flashing lights, onto the gurney and rolled me into the back of the ambulance.  I thought to myself, “the whole neighborhood is awake watching this.  How embarrassing!”

I was rushed to OSF Saint Francis and proceeded to sit in the Emergency Department for hours.  Good thing my appendix didn’t burst!

Once I got to a room in the Emergency Department, the doctors didn’t know what to do with me.  They would not or could not look at scans done by another hospital system and the doctors wouldn’t call to consult with my primary care doctor.  It just so happens that the doctor on-call for my primary care doctor’s office called me to check-in.  I put him on the phone with the doctors at St. Francis.

One doctor came in to say I had appendicitis and was going for surgery and then another doctor came in to say that I didn’t. Then a surgical resident came in to talk to me about my ‘pending’ surgery and then a GI doctor came in to tell me that there would not be surgery and it was not appendicitis.  I felt like a ping-pong ball.

I was admitted to the hospital and they kept me off food and ran some tests.  Worse than boredom is boredom with a completely empty and loudly growling stomach!  They never sent me for scans, but instead they watched my vitals, ran blood panels and tested my urine.  I’m so frustrated that they haven’t really consulted with my primary care doctor, as far as I know, or even looked at the scan taken on Friday.

I was discharged by the hospital on Sunday with instructions to come back and have an appointment with an OSF GI specialist.  I already have an appointment tomorrow with a GI specialist over in Bloomington (that appointment was set up when I saw my primary care doctor on Friday).  I just hope this specialist can figure things out and give me a diagnosis.

It’s bad enough that I don’t know what’s wrong with my GI tract, but on top of it all: I was hospitalized on a Sunday morning.  But it is worse than that, even.  This was the week I was supposed to preach a sermon for my doctoral program!  Luckily, I have an advisor who will understand and colleagues that made sure my pulpit was covered.  Rev. Lori Bultemeier immediately offered to preach and lead worship so that I didn’t have to worry about anything!

Thank you, Lori!

Holy Days


Yesterday was a special day.  It was our anniversary…of sorts.  Three years ago, yesterday, I was wheeled into surgery to remove a brain tumor.  It is, ironically, a day of which I remember very little…yet it is a day that I will never forget and a day that redefined my life and relationships forever.

Our lifespans are each filled with many special days.  Days of discovering a terrible illness, surgeries, births, deaths, and weddings.  If that weren’t enough we often find ourselves commemorating these special days year-after-year.  Yet, our lives are not only made up of “special days.”  A birth of a child is special, sure, but so is the next day as you hold that child or watch a grandparent hold the child for the first time.  A lost tooth, first crush, first day behind the wheel:  these special days begin to grow together.  We begin to realize that every moment of life is a celebration of that first breath and how we live our lives will give meaning when we come to our last breath.

The same is true of Christ.  His Easter resurrection could not have been without the last breath of Good Friday.  Good Friday’s meaning was amplified by a triumphant re-entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate as Palm Sunday.  None of the events from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday could be celebrated without a small child born in a manger.  But these special days would not have held so much meaning without the daily work of Christ: healing, loving and community building.

Too often, I think, we focus on Easter and Christmas to the detriment of Christ’s daily works. Christ’s life was not primarily about one or two days or moments.  These special moments shaped our relationship with God, certainly.  These days were pivotal in human history, absolutely.  Yet, these times are inexorably tied to the daily life and acts of Jesus the Christ.  These “special days” lack specialness without the daily work of the Messiah.

In fact we don’t have high holy days in the Christian tradition.  Each Sunday is an equally important Holy Day because we remember not just a Jesus on a Cross but also a Jesus by a well in Samaria, healing a man at the pool of Bethsaida, raising Lazarus from the dead and calling fisherman from their nets by the sea. Each sunday celebrates the specialness of Jesus Christ on Earth:  his birth, death & resurrection, of course, but also his life of love and message of peace & justice.

I pray that as we approach each new day of faith we would model our lives after Christ:  living each day in pursuit of love, peace & justice.  That we would strive, each day, for a closer relationship with God and celebrate that relationship week-after-week on Sunday mornings!

In January of 2011 we went to pick up a little West Highland Terrier puppy which we named Charlie.  Little Charlie quickly became a part of our life (and like a child to us, in some ways).  Early in 2014 we began to look for a sibling for Charlie.  Rather than a puppy, we began to search with Cairn Rescue to see if we could find the right dog.  We found a little bridle Cairn in Milwaukee.  He had been found homeless on the streets of Kankakee.  Because of food aggression, the shelter thought he needed special attention and called Cairn Rescue USA.  Fast forward to Valentines Day (February 14) 2014.  We made a long drive to Milwaukee to pick up “Gizmo,” we arrived home around midnight after a very long day.  Two dogs together for the first time was a little overwhelming, but we thought we’d be able settle them in.  No way.  Eventually I had to take the new dog, which we named “Jack” to the guest room and Carrie stayed with Charlie in the master bedroom.  It was a sleepless night.  Over the next few days we couldn’t leave them together.  They fought often and fierce.  I was beginning to doubt  and wondered if we had made a terrible mistake and whether there was any hope the situation would improve.
It turns out that these dogs, over just a couple of weeks, would come to be best friends.  They are seldom in a different room from one another and they love to play.  It turns out that two very different personalities -enemies nearly, when forced together, actually became friends.
There are too many people with which I have failed to become friends and many more with which I have been rude or grouchy.  I wonder what I’ve missed out on with those people.  I wonder how many fruitful and life-giving relationships I have lost because I failed to see possibility.
My relationship with God was almost a non-starter.  I was hostile toward God and wanted nothing to do with faith.  Yet, I ended up at a campus ministry and, so, like these dogs:  stuck in the same house with one I didn’t want to be near.  Like Jack and Charlie, though, I came to appreciate God and grew in relationship.
Have you noticed that God is in your midst calling you into relationship?  Have you opened yourself to the possibility to growing deeper-in-love with God?  You may find that it changes your life for the better.
The Easter Vigil

Meet Dr. Jim Papandrea

Dr. Papandrea is an assistant professor of Church History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary He is also an accomplished musician and brings Church History to life as a storyteller in the classroom.  He received his BA from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, earned a certificate in Classiscal studies at the American Academy in Rome, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.  I now welcome Dr. Jim Papandrea to my blog!

Think back to some of the parables Jesus told – parables about waiting, and watching. In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, for example (Matthew, chapter 25), the wise bridesmaids were the ones who kept their lamps burning through the night, and were ready for the return of the groom. The foolish bridesmaids were the ones who fell asleep, and let their lamps go out. In parables like this one, Jesus is teaching about his own return, the so-called second coming, and encouraging all of his followers to live in readiness, and in anticipation of the time when the Groom would return to claim his bride, the Church.

This concept of watching and waiting is embodied liturgically in the vigil service. Based on the Jewish tradition that a new day begins at sundown, the first worship services for a Sunday can actually be held Saturday night. There’s something special about an evening service – coming to the close of the day, with the sky darkening to twilight – it can heighten the sense of mystery in worship. And the liturgy that is arguably the most sacred and mystical is the Easter Vigil. This is an ancient tradition in which the first celebration of Easter begins late the night before, on Holy Saturday.

But the Easter Vigil doesn’t start out with celebration. It actually begins in darkness, with a small light, that expands to many candles, including the lighting of a new paschal (Easter) candle, and finally to the brightness of Easter. An Easter Vigil can last three or four hours, beginning in the late evening on Holy Saturday, and ending around midnight. It’s long, in part because there are many Scripture readings, telling the whole story of salvation history, from creation to redemption. By the time the vigil ends, the assembly has moved from the mourning of Jesus in the tomb to the joy of resurrection (Psalm 30:11).

The Easter Vigil also includes baptisms. In the ancient rite, that still continues in some traditions, adults who wish to be baptized and join the church community have been going through a catechism class, in preparation for their initiation into the Christian life. They have been waiting, waiting until Easter, when they are “born again” in the waters of baptism. And with them, the whole congregation renews their baptismal/confirmation commitment to Christ and his Church. So the Easter Vigil is an opportunity for the Church, the bride of Christ, to renew her wedding vows to her Groom. It’s an opportunity for every believer to experience a fresh start, to turn over a new leaf (an image that goes nicely with spring!). In the ancient Church, the concept of conversion was not thought of as a one-time decision, it was seen as an ongoing process, and the yearly tradition of the Easter Vigil was everyone’s chance to be converted again, through the renewal of their baptismal vows and through the recitation of the Church’s historic creeds.

The Easter Vigil symbolizes the time of waiting. On one level, it’s the time between Friday and Sunday – when Jesus was crucified and was in the tomb, and his disciples waited for the resurrection. On another level, it’s the time between his first advent and his second coming – when we wait for his promised return. It symbolizes – and it allows us to experience – that very moment when the Church goes from mourning into joy, from darkness into light.

Whether you celebrate Easter by attending an Easter Vigil, or the traditional Sunrise Service, or the big main service with all the trumpets, don’t let this Easter go by without making a conscious effort to rededicate yourself to Christ and his Church. As you wait for him, he is waiting for you, and he wants to give you a fresh start – no matter what the past year has been like for you.

Jim Papandrea
Associate Professor of Church History, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Photo by Scott Carnes in France
Warm Weather & Raised Spirits

As I feel the longer days, the warmer weather, and the abundant life of birds flying and people walking their dogs I can’t help but feel…lighter, happier.  Even in the midst of miscarriage, Carrie and I were able to go camping one evening in mid-May and have been taking the dog on very enjoyable, long walks.  Although we found ourselves in the midst of a struggle, the season lightened our load, I think.
I suspect that it wasn’t just the weather.  It was also activity.  This is confirmed by the CDC, which reports:
…Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits….
When I’m feeling upset, depressed, or just a little bored or sad, my body tricks me.  My body ‘tells me’ that I want to sit in front of the tv or eat my feelings or mope about, but what my body wants will just make my mood worse.  I have found that if I get up off the couch and take a walk, even the shortest little walk around the block, my mood will improve and I will feel mentally, physically, and spiritually better than I did before.
My hope for all the people of this church is that we would take advantage of the beautiful weather, but not just watch it through the window.  Let’s find safe and age-appropriate avenues for holistically strengthening our health with a little bit of activity.

*This blog has been reprinted from the Normal First United Methodist Church’s June Newsletter.

Confused about Race.
I grew up in a small town which was very insulated.  It was a predominately white town in a predominately white county.  Actually, not just predominately…overwhelmingly: the county is currently a little over 97% white and I’m guessing that figure is down from when I lived there.  I am proud to say that my parents, in that environment, tried to instill tolerance for people unlike me.  In the process of attempting to instill tolerance, I heard statements like, “There is no difference between us and black people.”

When I arrived in Carbondale at Southern Illinois University I was confronted by  evidence that proved those statements fallacious.  For instance, the suitemates assigned to share a bathroom with me and my roommate were big, black guys from the South side of Chicago who sold drugs out of their room.  These people were not the same as me and they were reinforcing every stereotype that my parents had discounted.

During that first year of college I began to experience race in a different way.  It was uncomfortable and troubling.  At times, it seemed, the things I had been taught in childhood were lies told out of ignorance.  Fortunately, these uncomfortable new truths were not the only thing forming me.

During the course of that first year, and all of my college career, actually, I also met black folk and people of many other ethnicities/cultures who were different in good exceptional ways.  I became close friends with a strong black woman who was a single mother who had come back to school to work on her PhD.  Not only was she caring for her own daughter, but she had taken in her infant nephew who did not have a stable home.  She was a hard-worker, she was dedicated to her family, she was incredibly smart and she was compassionate: I could understand those things. Another friendship that developed over time was a man, about my age, who is also, now, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  But, unlike me, he was black, from the South, from an urban area, and had sweet dreadlocks.  He was so much unlike me in several ways, yet when together we could stay up half the night, with a group of friends, talking about culture, politics, church, and theology.

These relationships were teaching me that I could experience, and, even, celebrate cultural differences and find meaningful commonalities.  It isn’t about being the same or different, it is about growing in relationship and celebrating who we are and how we are in relationship with other people.