Bloom where you are planted, or . . . move!

Vine aThere is a beautiful vine growing on our farm.  It grows and blooms like crazy and it is beautiful, but it hasn’t always been beautiful.

We got a start of this plant years ago when there used to be a little Greek restaurant in Volcan.  The owner gave us a start and we had it this struggling little plant in six different places for about four years.  It never died, but it never grew.  Now my horticultural philosophy with plants is to try a plant in a few different places and if it decides to grow, fine, if not . . . it’s history.  Not only did it not grow, it barely hung on to life.  Many times I almost tossed it.  When we first bought our coffee farm, before we started building or redeveloping the coffee farm, tired of seeing this sick thing around, I just stuck it in the ground on the farm.  I told it . . . I do talk to plants . . . and to myself . . . and to God . . . “Plant, it’s now or never!  Grow or die!”

And it has grown!!!  Wow, has it grown.  I admit that it’s grown so well that it requires a lot of trimming and we stick the trimmings in the compost pile and they start growing!  All producing spectacular purple flowers.

Now if I were still preaching, I would have a sermon “illustration” here.  For those of you unaccustomed to pews, a sermon illustration is a little story stuck into a sermon to wake people up and hopefully make a point.

Yes, generally I think the “Bloom where you are planted!” is a good strategy.  But there are times in life when you find yourself “planted” in the wrong place, in a place where you can’t grow, where whatever it is that you need to grow and flourish just isn’t.  And it’s at those moments I think when you need to have the strength and courage to pick up and move and try growing in a more conducive environment.

Growing is what life is all about!  I think it was Bob Dylan who said, “When you stop growing you start to die.”  If he didn’t say it, whoever said it, it was a good thought.  If you aren’t growing through life, then something is wrong.  You can just sit there and take it, or you can do something about it.

Thus endeth the lesson of the vine.


Where It All Began

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903) of Philadelphia, wrote the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem”following a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He was inspired by the view of Bethlehem from the hills of Palestine at night and wrote the words and his organist, Lewis Redner (1831-1908), for the church children’s choir.

Well since Brooks visited Bethlehem in 1865 things have changed.

It’s not quite as peaceful as it seemed to Brooks, especially since the first thing you see entering Bethlehem is the ugly Israeli Wall erected to keep suicide bombers from Bethlehem out of Israel.

Bethlehem, now officially the capital of the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian National Authority, is honestly a rather crummy [next to Jerusalem] little town of around 30,000 about 40% of whom are Christian and most of the rest Muslim. Here’s downtown Bethlehem today . . .

Manger Square is the center of tourism, where all the action takes place, and the focus of world attention on Christmas Eve.

Traditionally on Christmas Eve Manger Square in Bethlehem comes alive with security forces and tourists from all over the world who want to be here to celebrate what probably wasn’t exactly the actual night of Jesus’ birth. We know that December on the hills outside of Bethlehem can be cold and windy and it is unlikely that “shepherds would be in the fields keeping watch over their sheep by night” in the midst of winter. More likely they would be hunkered down in a cave or barn in town to keep warm. Because the Romans celebrated their pagan festival of Saturnalia on December 25th, the early church, burdened by persecution, decided that when the Romans were all drunk and whooping and hollering, it would be a good time to hold their celebration of the Savior’s birth, and nobody would notice. And so it came about that the western Christian church celebrates the birth of Christ on December 25th.

The sprawling Church of the Nativity covers the tiny cave where tradition says Jesus, the Christ was born. “tradition” might be the most common English word on the tourist route in Israel and sometimes it amounts to little more that tourist hype. The older the tradition the more credulence it has, so because already in 150 AD or so this cave was being attested to by none other than the early Christian apologist – an apologist not being someone who made an apology for Christianity, but someone who explained it to non-Christians – Justin Martyr who lived 100-165 AD. this may actually be the place of Christ’s birth. This site is also a holy site for Muslims who see Jesus as one of the prophets. It is continually being referred to as the birthplace of Christ by many disparate ancient writers.

The first basilica on this site was begun by Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine I in 327 AD. That structure was burnt down in the Samaritan Revolt of 529. The current basilica was rebuilt in its present form in 565 by the Emperor Justinian I. There are two churches here side by side: the older Greek Orthodox church, and a newer Roman Catholic church. The story is that when the Persians invaded their commander was so moved by the depiction inside the original church of the Three Wise Men wearing Persian clothing that he spared the building. The Crusaders made additions to the building and through the years the compound has expanded until today it covers 12,000 square meters making it possible for Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic traditions to share administration of the church and have monastic communities in the facility.

And this is it, after waiting in line an hour, and crushing in with tourists and pilgrims from all over the world, this is . . . supposedly . . . the spot where “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, glory as of the Only Begotten Son of God.”

If the place doesn’t inspire you, as it won’t, the EVENT can change your life!

As I spend this Christmas at sea, to my wife and  daughter Rebecca in Palmira, my brother in an assisted living home in Washington, and my daughter Noelle, her husband George and my two fantastic grandsons in Seattle, and to you, whoever you are, whatever you believe or don’t believe and wherever you happen to be in the world, I wish you a very blessed Christmas!

The Announcement

As we approach Christmas, I thought you might be interested in a repeat of a post I did a few years back after finishing a season doing the Holy Land & Egypt cruise.  Both the Holy Land & Egypt are off cruise itineraries right now which sometimes happens as world events unfold.  They were off before, then when I did several months of the Holy Land & Egypt right after the Egyptian Revolution, they were back on the schedule.  Both the Holy Land & Egypt have been around for a long time and lived through a whole lot of turmoil, and survived, so they’ll be back.  Anyway … The Announcement!

There are a lot of things we don’t know.

How exactly does a Virgin Birth work?

Why does Mary get all the credit in this story, when Joseph certainly deserves the “Boyfriend of The Year” award for accepting and going along . . . and following God.

How old was Mary? Through the years a Cult of Mary has developed and thrived. Half of the Roman Catholic churches you go into you would swear the religion was all about Mary, and not about Christ. In a lot of traditional religious paintings Mary is portrayed as a mature woman, when the reality was that she was a scared Jewish teenager.

Where did Mary live? Depending on the age of the painting she may have lived in a castle, or a Dutch canal house, a Moorish castle, a Roman villa, or a Chinese pagoda . . . all of which is OK, but . . . according the final authority, the Israeli tourist board, there are two places. Two? Right, both the Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox, by the way neither of whom were present at the “Event”, are certain they and they alone have the right spot where the Annunciation took place, and both have erected churches on the site. The tours tend to go to the most “tourist friendly” site and often the grandest, and so in this case the tours visit the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

The current church is a two-story building constructed in 1969 over the site of an earlier Byzantine-era and then Crusader-era church.  A larger structure was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I, who had directed his mother, Saint Helena – I mean she became Saint Helena much later and I’m sure that’s not always the way good old Constantine felt about Mom.  But Helena was commission by her son, the Emperor, to found churches commemorating important events in Jesus Christ’s life and she did. And it was probably a much better idea than having Mom erect monuments to “my son, the Emperor.” There have been several church buildings on this site, the present basilica was completed in 1969 and dedicated by Pope Paul VI and is under control of the Franciscans and is the largest Christian sanctuary in the Middle East.
Inside, the lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, believed by many Christians to be the remains of the original childhood home of Mary. The first shrine was probably built sometime in the middle of the 4th century, comprising an altar in the cave in which Mary had lived.
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.’  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.’

‘How can this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God’

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered.  ‘May it be to me as you have said.’  Then the angel left her.”  [Luke 1:26-39]

Just outside the Church of the Annunciation is a little mosque that choose to put up a billboard quoting the Koran reading, “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”

By a few cruises later someone had gotten to the sign and spray painted out the words “be accepted”, “losers” and “Koran”.

Now I know that a lot of the tourists on our tours were offended by the mosque sign.  However, I had to remind them that exclusivity is nothing new in religion.  After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.”