Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition 8

Although I am neither the most eloquent of writers nor the most qualified on this subject, and I do not have much time to get my many thoughts down, I have been recently inspired by Elder M. Russell Ballard to use technology to further the ideals that I feel strongly about. As this election is getting down to the big crunch, I would like to briefly add my voice in support of Proposition 8.
This issue actually took a while for me to come to terms with. On the surface, it seems like- hey, why shouldn't the gay neighbors next door be able to marry?- and many people are getting hung up on this. The thing is, that this is not a proposition with affects that are directly related to gay rights only, this is something that has the potential to limit the rights of all people. Isn't it the right of Catholic adoption agencies to only approve families with the financial stability, mental capacities, and who are legally married to adopt through them? Or is this anti-gay, anti-poverty, and discriminating against those with mental imbalances? Where do we draw the line? Being a homosexual couple will obviously not have the same impact on an adopted child that being detrimentally impoverished or critically mentally ill would have. However, heterosexual family relationships is something that the Catholic Church (and many other churches) hold as a sacred truth. These adoption agencies are not actively hating gays, but they cannot, according to their morals, support them in this way. It would be a logical fallacy according to all of their beliefs. And, I believe, it is our right to uphold our religious beliefs. Last time I checked, the freedom of religion was a founding principle of this nation.
And what about the LDS church's temples wherein marriages are performed? Isn't it their right as a religion to be able to marry those who follow the guidelines of their doctrines in the sanctuaries that belong to them? If this Proposition was passed, I feel that these and other such religious buildings of significance will be asked to compromise their standards and, since that would be impossible according to their doctrine, they must necessarily shut down, taking away the right of fervent LDS, for example, couples to marry in their own temples. What about their rights?
M. Russell Ballard discussed in his talk on Prop 8 a couple of weeks ago that people are judging proponents of this proposition as bigots, saying that we claim to follow Christ and yet we do not love others who are different than us. I really appreciated his reaction to this. He said that the tolerance preached today by modern politics is not the tolerance of the Savior. The world would have us not only accept the actions of others, not matter what they are, but also to celebrate and support them at the expense of our own values. The world asks us to embrace a relativism that is simply false and that leads to nowhere but confusion and lawlessness. The Savior, on the other hand, loved all people and yet taught that there are eternal and unchanging principles of truth on which this world is founded. It is our duty to love others, yet we cannot condone sin. We must love and respect our gay neighbors as children of God, which they are, and as people with feelings and needs and great abilities. However, we must follow our principles and stay true to our values because no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God.
It is my belief that fighting for gay "marriage" is a fruitless battle considering that, as I see it, gay couples can already enjoy the benefits of civil unions that give them all the rights of a married man and woman. This is not a battle of rights that the opponents are supporting, because most of these rights are already in place through civil unions, this is a battle of terminology. And who are we to change the meaning of "marriage"? Isn't this definition already clear: the legal union of a man and woman. This is a heterosexual institution. Civil unions are the homosexual version of it and as long as they are getting the same tax and other benefits as straight couples, I think that we are alright. May we embrace our homosexual neighbors with love and respect, but not try to undermine the rights of others or the sacred institution of marriage over an unnecessary battle with expansive consequences.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Clinton/Palin Skit

Looks like election fever is getting to me! It is my first presidential Election after all! Check out this SNL video if you have not watched it a million times already like I have. It is a riot! The best part is that I got to show it in my Women Studies class during my presentation on women in the modern political arena. It was great! At first I was a little weary of everyone making so much fun of these female politicians, but heck- the men get it just as bad! It's all in good fun, I suppose. (This clip is TV 14, be aware.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Motorcycle Ride!

    WHOA!  I just went on my 1st motorcycle ride ever and it was AWESOME!  Yeah, at 21.5 years old I had never been on a real bike!  Knowing this, my good buddy Dave totally came over tonight and took me on a joy ride around P-town (Thanks!  Note our fierce faces in the photo, hahaha!).  I was seriously so scared, but I got over it and stopped screaming every time we accelerated after the first couple of minutes :) It was so great, you feel like you are going SO FAST!  Don't worry, I wore a helmet.  And I also wore my sweet Karbon jacket from Rae and Sandie, not just because it's awesome, but also because they are avid Harley riders and I thought they might appreciate it!  So I think that after my first year of being a lawyer (yeah, a while from now) that I will save up money and buy a hot scooter!  Who needs a BMW?  The US will probably be nearly out of gasoline by then anyway, so I am definitely planning on a Vespa in my near future.  Happy riding!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

whoa! being alive is amazing!

Wow, I am just so amazed and grateful as I put up these old blog posts and remember all of the great experiences that I have had this summer. I think that remembering will be the key to my making this summer a tangible part of who I am. Already I raise my hand all the time in classes and share personal experiences I have had in an effort to help my classmates better understand refugees, Muslims, the Old Testament, world history, archeology, and a host of other topics that I feel somewhat more expert on these days :)
How blessed my life is to have so many opportunities to explore the world and become educated. Having just taken the LSAT (Yikes! And Yippee!) I feel so empowered to make an impact on this world. I cannot even fathom how lucky I am in the grand scheme of this world- in the history of mankind, what percentage, would you say, of women have had the opportunity to attend an excellent undergraduate institution on scholarship and have had the ability to pursue extensive travel and to be able to apply to law school and just to become whatever she wants to be? What percentage?! So few! I rejoice at my God-given opportunities and capabilities. I just pray that someday I can give back at least a little bit of what I have been blessed with to others in this world and make my education worthwhile.
I hope that you guys will not forget to click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of this page because stuff from earlier in the trip is over there since there are apparently too many to fit on one page at once- so don't miss them! I plan to put up some more photos soon, so get excited! Thank you!

Tel Aviv 8/8/08

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Today a small group of us students rode a sharute (spelling? It means a taxi-van) from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv after our morning classes and spent the afternoon and evening exploring there. We saw some historical sites like Independence Hall where Israel was signed into statehood, and so forth. We also toured the most crowded street market I have ever seen and it was so exciting! Being among hundreds of people with Arabic, Hebrew, English, and Russian being thrown around everywhere with food and merchandise absolutely packed into every nook was, to me, just exhilarating. A friendly fruit merchant saw me trying to take a rare artistic photo and beckoned for me to come behind his counter to get a photo with him. I happily ran right over and got Peter to get a photo of us and although language barred us from much communication, we could smile and thank one another, shook hands and he even gave me a kiss on the cheek! Among the masses, two strangers found friends in one another and I loved it.
Later, as I swam in the Mediterranean, I overheard some Spanish being spoken by two men. My ears immediately attended to their conversation and I mustered up enough courage to squeak out to one of them a shy, “De donde eres?” and they were so happy to respond! My weak Spanish appeared to be almost a comfort for them to hear so far from home and we conversed for quite a long time and by the time I left there were “Viva Espana!” and “Viva los Estados Unidos” flying in the air with broad smiles attached. It was a great day in a diverse and fascinating city. I only regret that I will soon be leaving my beloved Near East and I hope that my purposes in travel here have been accomplished.

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Galilee 8/8/08

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I have been privileged to spend ten days in the Galilee area with trips to tells and ruins and churches of all sorts, of interest to both the historian and the scriptorian. It was most definitely an unforgettable adventure wherein I think that the most important things I learned revolved around my company. I have been in classes, on field trips, and in church with around ninety of the most bright and giving students, professors, and service couples that live here at the Center, for many weeks now and we have become incredibly close. You could definitely see the seeds of oneness when we all shared Immodium without shame in Petra, and now things are even better! We have seen one another sweat right through every piece of clothing we own and we still can’t get enough of each other! We had a smidgen more time to catch our breath while in Galilee and between homework and fieldtrips, we had many fun afternoons together on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and of course, right in the Sea itself (which after a miserably hellish experience in the Dead Sea, seemed like absolute paradise).

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We are not all from the same BYU campus, some are graduating and moving on, and our dear Caryn from South Africa will be home for the next semester, and I think we are realizing that we will soon be inevitably split up. It is strange to get to close to so many people so quickly. Several people have commented that it is as if we are all cousins since we don’t keep hardly anything back in our conversations and we seem to know all about each other and we are so comfortable around one another. I guess that happens in close living proximities and when you share experiences that are simply beyond imagine nearly everyday. We have been shocked as we learned together about the plight of the Jews as well as when we became more informed about the intrusion of the world into the state of Palestine some 60 years ago. He have had moving experiences in chapels and synagogues as we learned from locals and also taught each other in holy sites from the Bible and from historical texts. We have lived and learned in the Holy Land as a unit, and our experiences with one another have most definitely colored our overall understanding and feel as we have traveled side by side.

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I guess that my pitch to the world is to examine the sort of presence that you bring to a group. Do you help and contribute, or do you distract and demean? Christ’s presence was undeniable in the Galilee as many, even thousands, followed Him to hear His teachings and to see His miracles. His works caused those around Him to marvel over these amazing things and try to fit them into their view of the world as they knew it. He encouraged people to “love one another” and laid a foundation of how mankind can achieve happiness and fulfillment through righteous service and meekness, a shocking doctrine in this land of war and conquest.
Do groups flock to hear your words as they once surrounded to Good Shepard? Of course, we cannot fairly compare ourselves to the Christ, but we can certainly try to be one who lifts others, loves others, and acts with service and charity. We can be the kind of person that others want to be around and that can have influence in a positive way through their daily interactions. A favorite hymn comes to mind “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad, made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed.” Seems harsh, but honestly, what better way to earn your keep in this world than by reaching out to others on their way. Even just a smile, a greeting, or assistance in some small way can help. I hope that I will come home with a more giving hand towards those around me; I am definitely no saint in this regard, but there is room for improvement and recognizing this gap brings me one step closer and I pray to not let my good intentions fall without action.

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Kibbutzim! 7/25/08

Well, as promised, I would like to discuss kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz). As I have learned, this phenomenon arose during the second aliya (waves of immigration of Jews to the Holy Land before World War II), which comprised of primarily young, secular, socialist Jews who created what are now lovingly known as kibbutzim (“collective gathering” in Hebrew). So these amazing Jews were somewhat the hippies of their day, but with amazing work ethics! They incorporated work as literally a part of their worship. Everything was based on efficiency for them, even to the point that they would have all of their children stay in a “children’s house” to be raised by just a few of the kibbutz members so that the rest of the parents would be free to get more work done, particularly the mothers since ten moms at home with one kid was, to them, less productive than having nine mothers working and one at home with ten kids.

Definitely logical, and not too different from the babysitter/day care lifestyle that many live today. However these parents were not motivated by being known for their great careers, or having more money, or even had a need to work to make ends meet. Rather, all that they did was for the benefit of the community. And all members of the community, without exception, were paid the same salary, whether they were the babysitter or the accountant for their kibbutz. Everything had a role to fulfill according to their abilities and all were equal partakers.

Now, this may seem a little like a real life practice of the satirically proposed society by Socrates in Plato’s Republic wherein children are raised communally, not knowing who their parents are in order to be trained as effectively as possible. Now, Socrates, I believe, was not saying this with 100% seriousness, and of course, the children of a kibbutz do know their parents and have meaningful relationships with them. You may get the impression that this is just like every other Socialist idea, that is, great and idealistic on paper, but tragic and horribly flawed in practice. And, yes, I admit, what I saw of them was definitely a little bit strange according to my tastes. The kibbutz I visited was out in the Negev, the harsh desert area in the south of Israel, and it had a cult-like appearance with a settlement out in the sticks that relied solely on itself for sustenance, but these people were pretty great! They value work and they work together wonderfully. Think about it, there are no poor among them. Crime is nearly nonexistent. Could the City of Enoch that scripture talks about being raised up to heaven because of the perfection of its people been based on a similar model? And David Ben Gurion, arguably the man who single-handedly held the young state of Israel together, after his initial retirement from politics, actually moved to a kibbutz- maybe they are not just for the socialist hippies after all.

Now, I’m not about to move to one- a few of their policies were rather odd to me, such as the required psychological testing of all applicants and the 2 year trial period where you actually give up your life and move in only to have your fate of being a permanent member of the kibbutz up to a vote of your fellow community members. Can you imagine? Quitting your job, selling your house, beginning a new communal life and living happily for 2 years only to be turned away because you’re not popular enough! So interesting, though! I enjoyed my stay and learned a lot about sharing, something that I am not always so good at, and working for the benefit of others as much as yourself.
Well, now that I have probably unintentionally convinced my parents that I am a new Junior Commie, I will throw in another lovely sideways photo from the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Shalom!

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Worship 7/23/08

Last night I had a chance to be able to go worship at a synagogue in Jerusalem. I went to an liberal Orthodox synagogue (I know, seems like an oxy moron, but it’s not.) which was housed in a Boy and Girl Scout building filled with plastic chairs and a makeshift curtain separating the men and women’s seating made of PVC and simple cloth. In the front of the room was a podium facing away from the congregation with materials on it for reading Torah and singing psalms. It was unique to me to see the canter’s back to everyone up there, pounding his fists on the podium in order to keep time as everyone sang with vigor psalms taken from the ancient scriptures and set to their own beautiful minor-keyed tunes.
A woman walked in late and took a seat to the right of me and I guess that she didn’t notice my struggling to keep up with the Hebrew words to the hymns, because she turned to me and asked in Hebrew where we were in the prayer book. Unable to affectively respond, I just told her in English that I wasn’t sure. After a few moments and a few fluttered pages, she turned to me again and, this time in English, pointed me to the psalm currently being sung. I immediately felt welcomed and understood.
I can imagine how amazing it must feel to be surrounded by your brethren, singing the ancient words found in the Torah, in the tongue of your fathers, as well as in the land of your fathers and to just soak up the richness of tradition that you are a part of. It was a great experience. They did not need a fancy building to worship the Lord and they are working diligently to lay a solid foundation of faith for their posterity while looking to the ways and works of their predecessors constantly.

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On the other hand, I have also recently been to the Mohammad Ali Mosque in Cairo as well as the King Abdullah Mosque in Amman. The architecture and d├ęcor of these structures were magnificent. I loved the domes and the nearby minarets and inside there was beautiful Arabic writing calligraphied around the dome as well as stained glass and great wood carvings. Interesting that the women typically worshipped in a separate place, which makes sense considering the huge importance of modesty in Islam and since they all pray prostrate on the ground with many movements up and down, propriety nearly demands that men and women pray apart from one another. In the mosque in Jordan all of the women, even of our group, wore scarves over our hair and long robes. I have a whole new appreciation of my Muslim neighbors wearing black layer upon layer everyday in the hot sun. Even inside the mosque and in the morning with this on I was quite uncomfortably hot. I respect these people and their beliefs in doing good and reaping the rewards of it, a concept that is noble, admirable, and a common thread consistent among the religious sects.

Jordan 7/23/08

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After a successful trip to Jordan, I am safely home in Jerusalem. Apparently there was an incident in the city while we were gone of an Israeli police officer shooting a Palestinian dead who had injured 15 people with a construction vehicle, but things seemed to be settled down and we are hoping it hasnothing to do with the fact that Obama is here right now, since we are still scheduled to go to Bethlehem tomorrow-which is considered to be in the West Bank. As for Jordan, I was really impressed with the pride that they take in the many Biblical sites within their country’s borders. This is clearly a Muslim part of the world, but Christianity is much more accepted and respected in Jordan that in other surrounding counties, as far as I could tell. As far as these such sites, my class and I went to the baptismal site of Christ, Mount Nebo where Moses saw a vision of the Promised Land, and the Jabbok River where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. I also had the opportunity as we passed through the land of Moab to do a little student teaching about the Biblical Book of Ruth. Whether you subscribe to the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Old Testament or not, there is a great story presented in this book and it is also really interesting to actually get the story of a woman thrown into the Bible. I especially hold a special place in my heart for Ruth since I bear her name as my middle name with pride, as do both my mother and grandmother. I was able to tell my class how the decisions of my mom and grandma to live virtuous lives have led to the fact that I have been raised in a home blessed by covenants with God, much like how Ruth’s conversion and service led to her marrying Boaz and beginning a lineage that would produce Jesus Christ.

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Besides religious history (even the Muslims loosely believe in the morals and stories of the Bible with a few revisions, such as Christ being merely a prophet, Ishmael being nearly sacrificed by Abraham instead of Isaac, and so forth- for your information) there were incredible ancient ruins of a Greco-Roman style as well as these amazing Nabataen structures carved right into the mountains with breathtaking facades (see Indian Jones and the Last Crusade for an example, we saw the place where the Holy Grail was filmed as being hidden in). There is obviously much more money in Jordan than in Egypt and the big cities remind me of Jerusalem- gleaming white buildings all crammed in next to each other. Between cities are miles of desert with slightly more foliage that most places around here and just tons of Bedouin tents scattered throughout. I was actually able to have a fascinating conversation, along with my friend Peter, with a Bedouin man whose name was Roq (spelling unknown). He told us how he had family in Australia but that he would never think of moving there because, to him, that would be giving up his freedom. As a Bedouin, he loves how no one needs to worry about money or really any influence from the outside world. He said that he loves living and free and simple life and that he is always happy. So interesting. These people literally sleep in tents and caves and have not much else but the clothes on their backs and yet they describe themselves as “always happy”. Peter and I agreed later that sometimes we feel that we have a monopoly on happiness because we feel that we have so much and that we are blessed with rights and abilities, but that is just not always what leads to happiness. These Bedouin have none of those things and we decided that nearly anyone in any situation can find happiness with the right outlook. We see movie stars that seem to have everything committing suicide and abusing drugs right and left, and here are these humble people with nothing that would never consider abandoning their way of life- definitely some food for thought.

Amman 7/18/08

This may be my last post before going to Jordan on Sunday. I am hopeful, that everything will be just fine, but I must admit that I was quite shaken when one of our professors delivered some shocking news. Last night in Amman, Jordan, there was a shooting. Now I have been here long enough to see that nearly everyone carries guns and there have already been at least two terrorist incidents in Jerusalem where I live within the last few weeks. But this was different. I am usually not too afraid of attacks because, although the vast majority of my classmates are Americans, we are typically labelled by locals as students and as young Mormons. We walk by shopkeepers and they can recognize us from 20 feet out and shout out "BYU! BYU!" and "Hey, Mormons- I give you good deal!" (I still haven't quite figured out how we are so recognizeable! I suppose that a bunch of white kids who know there way around the Old City like locals, and are obviously not just backpacking through, may be a bit of a giveaway.) At any rate, I am clearly neither a Jew nor a Muslim and I am usually not treated as an American around here too much. As such, I have little fear of being targeted in Jerusalem. However, those who were shot last night in Amman have been identified, as of now, as tourists getting on a charter bus after a concert. This sounds identical to a large portion of my travels- romping around on busses with my classmates and going to cultural events and historical sites. And I am scheduled to be doing just that in Amman in just a few days. Those tourists could have very easily been me and the other students here at the Center. In Jordan, I will not be known as a student from the Jerusalem Center for Near-Eastern Studies. I will simply be a Western tourist travelling by bus in the eyes of the Jordanians. My heart beats quicker thinking about my friends and professors being attacked as we travelled, just trying to learn about our world. We are still planning to go in a day or so, and I am trusting our security officials to have everything checked out for our safety. I have faith that, if we are wise, we will be protected.

Like in Egypt, we will be traveling with an armed guard on our bus. When we crossed the Israel/Egypt border, we had to wait for nearly an hour even after passport control in order to get security clearance to leave the border. Then our busses were loaded with armed guards and a police car was sent ahead of us to lead the way and get us through the checkpoints that were placed every few miles on the road through the Sinai. It is definitely a different world. They combat the fear of terrorism in they only way they know how, fighting fire with fire and hoping to use their own sort of terror against their enemies by being ready to strike back at anyone who would come against them. It is sometimes frightening, to know that you are in a place where the necessity of being constantly armed is completely accepted, but I am adapting and I am learning that they are people too, with far different problems them me, that are being dealt with as best as they know how.

Separation Barriers 7/13/08

Since I got back into Jerusalem last night, I heard that there were 2 Israeli policemen shot a few days ago very near to where I am studying, namely the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, and this meant that the borders were on high alert as it has been labeled a terrorist act. Therefore, today my Islam professor was not allowed to come teach class because he is a Palestinian living only a few measly miles away in Bethlehem. This surprised me. This man is known for his books and research about the rise of radical Islam which have proved to be very valuable for the world in understanding where many of today’s terrorists are emerging from. He is an expert on the subject, not because he has leanings on their side, but because he wants to grasp the twisting of a peaceful religion that has led to an awful stereotype of the admirable Muslim people worldwide. And yet, even with an Israeli work permit, he was not allowed to come to Jerusalem. We hear about the walls being constructed between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and it is something entirely different to see how it affects the life of someone I know personally. There is a wall to the East of the Center that, upon construction, meant the termination of jobs of some other Jerusalem Center employees at the time because, as Palestinians, they were not allowed to regularly enter Jerusalem. According to the Clinton Parameters, Jerusalem was supposed to remain an undivided and open city, clearly this has not come to pass. The Israelis say that these walls are necessary security measures and that it helps fight against terrorism and illegal immigration and border crossing, keeping their Holy City as well as surrounding areas safer. Palestinians see is as a breech of their rights and it is true (as I have researched, at least) that some of these walls have crossed through Palestinian neighborhoods and extended the Israeli borders. Because of this, even the International Court of Justice has deemed these separation barriers as illegal, although Israelis may say that they had no choice, as Palestinians would not compromise and they did what they thought was necessary for the protection of their people. These walls are like scars in the landscape, disturbing the serenity of a holy land. But with terrorist events alive and well in the city, there have been 2 that I know of in the last 2 or 3 weeks, can you begin to see the agony of these people, manifest in walls and guns? As I see it, the ones making these decisions to either create barriers or to hurt others are the extreme minority. The real injustice is to the innocent on both sides who want peace but keep seeing events and falling prey to legislation that make it looks less and less possible. I pray that hope survives.
blog post photo(Top photo is of a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan and bottom photo was taken from on top of Nabi Samwel, which is just over the Israeli border into Palestine on the West of Jerusalem. This photo is facing north, along the Biblical hills of Ephraim which is currently cut up by the Israel/Palestine wall in the distance.)
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Egypt and Us 7/13/08

blog post photoHello, World. I have just returned to my new home in Jerusalem from an excursion to Egypt, and what an eye-opening journey it was. I had all of these visions in my mind before arriving there of the ancient tombs, memorials, and palaces that would surely dot the landscape and the feeling of grandeur that they would cast over the land. This was partially true. The Great Pyramids were literally breathtaking and loomed over the buildings in the distance. The temples of Karnak and Luxor with their expansive colonnades, towering statues, and massive obelisks that took hundreds of years to complete and have stood for thousands more were more amazing than any photograph could capture. They represent the power and the dominance of the Egyptian people in ancient times. Their architecture was superb, their zeal for their religion was consuming, and their world strength was indisputable. Going there today, however, one would see a very different society. This is a third world country. I did not actually realize that until I saw a donkey and a car going backwards on the freeway as we pulled in to Cairo. From superpower to scarcity.
The illiteracy rates, particularly among women, are tragic. Overpopulation is plaguing the cities and garbage fills the streets, alleys, and even the life-giving Nile. As we drove along we noticed that nearly every ramshackle apartment building looked unfinished. Rebar stuck out like needles in a pincushion atop the brick buildings. Upon asking locals, the explanation came that they did not finish these buildings because of lack of funding since, as they saw it, the roofs were something that would not serve to be overly functional, which clearly trumped aesthetics. Not to mention that having an unfinished building meant the evasion of some sort of property tax. So nearly every building had this incomplete and neglected look, and it was
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came into contact with have no roofs, their children follow tourists around begging with their dirty faces and clothes, many do not have electricity, families have moved into small buildings at cemeteries that were originally built only for mourners to come to in the heat while visiting graves but have been converted into miniscule homes among the dead due to overcrowding in the cities, yet there is their smiling, waving President in a suit and tie on every corner. It was a different world for me, not morally right or wrong, just amazingly different. I would gladly pay a few more Egyptian pounds at every historical site in order to raise revenue to further education, clean-ups, and modernization of this historically significant place in the world. This country houses 3 of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and I fear they will need help to preserve them and the other things there of incredible value to society at large.
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I was really feeling sorry for the impoverished of Egypt, but then I was reminded by a professor that I am not exactly an authority on judging who the ones are who really experience pure living. Does having carpeted floors, washing machines, and roofs make some people smarter and more correct than others? No, I do not think so. In fact, I think that the doing without the TV and other of our “luxuries” for many of us would prove to be an experience where we would learn more about ourselves and have more time to spend with those we love in more meaningful settings. That being said, are there things that can be done to improve the quality of life of many Egypt’s citizens? Definitely. The hard part about living in this world is that it is huge. Each of us is only one, and yet history is full of those extraordinary ones who have changed the lives of millions, for better or for worse. But whose job is it? And who can say if what I, for example, would want to do according to my biases and my background would really be what these people from a completely different culture would really need or want. America has been blamed as being the self-appointed big brother of the world. Do we protect others in the best way we know, with our obvious biases, or to let them go completely, saying we have no right to intrude? It is a difficult dichotomy that can go either way, in my mind with innumerable exceptions on either side. It is a difficult question with huge implications especially in our current world political climate. I don’t have a solution, but I think that on an individual level I will go forth in trying to share charity and service to those whom I can. Honorable nonprofit organizations rely on the funds and the time of people who realize that the world’s problems expand beyond their own city block. I hope to be able to contribute to this world in some way, and maybe even inspire others to do the same, if I am very lucky. I like to think in my silly idealist head that the regular people can do this for one another. That, as Goethe is credited with saying, if everyone swept his own doorstep, the whole world would be clean. Let us make it so.

Falafel 7/3/08

On a somewhat more lighthearted note- falafel. I lookedup the roots of this word and all I can find is that it is traced back to an Arabic word for pepper. I am sure that there must be a huge flaw in this entymology as it must have come from a phrase or term meaning something more like food of the gods. Yes, it's that good. So you take a delicious pita and put fried balls of a seasoned chickpea concoction, fill the rest of the pita with french fries (dead serious) and some cut up cucumbers and tomatoes plus a great tzatziki type sauce and voila- an amazing lunch for only 7 shekels. Note the
photo wherein I am about to enjoy one, if you are having trouble visualizing it.
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{It appears to be sideways, I apologize.} This just adds another facet to the question of when these people have something so great among them (the history of Jerusalem, the spirit of the area, falafel...) how could they ever not get along? In fact, as I have heard it, yesterday an armed man in his thirties rammed a tractor of sorts into busses and cars full of people. Three terrorist groups have since taken responsibility. Three? There is clearly some confusion here. So either they are forming some bizarre terrorist alliance (which doesn't really happen, they each have their own leaders and particular radical tenents) or someone is lying. There is a serious lack of unity here. The Old City of Jerusalem itself is strictly divided into Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quaters and now we see that even the terrorist groups are not all with it. Could the answer be falafel? I wish it were that simple.

Look a Little Deeper 7/1/08

Please take note of the photo. Yes, those are Israeli army members; they are everywhere. And, of course, never without their huge guns! But look again, the ones facing the same direction near the middle were actually praying together. I also saw many of them worshiping at the Wailing Wall that same day. I am very accustomed to them by now, but it was not always that way. My second day here, I was going on a walk through the Old City with my Old Testament professor's wife who is caucasian and about 5' and 115lbs. As we approached the steps of the Austrian Hospice, the doors were closed and about 5 Israeli army members were sitting and standing in front of the door. It was my first time being close to anyone with a loaded gun that large and I stopped immediately, frozen and wide-eyed. She, however, was undeterred and didn't even flinch as she approached them and asked, "Excuse us, may we get by you?" Then the real suprise came- they politely moved out of our way! I was baffled! There I was, being confined by the horror stories of the war-torn savage state of Israel, not to mention the rest of the Near and Middle East, just to find that those macho guys with glimmering extra ammo in plain sight were quite civil. Not just civil, but normal young adults like myself. Here's the take-home message, life goes on normally here and there are good people everywhere. I feel that most everyone is just trying to get by and are just doing the best they can. Everyone I have met here has been wonderful. Even the Biblical rougues called Money Changers aren't all bad.
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Aladdin, the money changer I met today, took the time to learn my name and even joked with me that he was "the most honest crook in the city"- hilarious! These people have good hearts and I hope to get to know them better.

Shalom 6/30/08

Twenty-eight hours of travel later, I am here. I have come from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA, to The Jerusalem Center for Near-Easter Studies in Jerusalem located on the Mount of Olives to study the religious, historical, cultural, and geographical significance of this amazing place. Civilization after civilization have claimed this land as their own and now I am working to know so well that after my time living here, I too will be able to claim it as my own.

I have been touring some of the sights sacred to millions that are literally right out my window and it had been so inspirational to see pilgrims from all nations flock to these places and feel of what they have to offer. Whether or not archaeologists have actually pinpointed the exact places that so many everyday worship at or not, they have been made sacred by the penitant and the sincere coming there for years upon years. I see the Eastern European woman crying in the Church of the Holy Seplechre, the Israeli young woman in military uniform taking time to touch the Wailing wall, the devout Muslim man praying at the back of his shop multiple times a day in response to singing from a local minnaret, the faithful elderly British man testifying that Christ lives as he point out to our group the hill called Golgotha, and I see why this is called The Holy Land.

It seems most come here for the same reason- pilgrimage. May we worship together in peace with neither walls of stone nor the intangible barriers of hatred and misunderstanding. Everywhere I see engraved on stones and sewn into fabric "Pray for Peace in Jerusalem" and I think that this is really what everyone here wants, peace. I live to the East, in the Palestinian area of the city and children and adults alike are quick to respond to my "Hello" and usually add "What is your name?" in greeting me. My professors here are Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, Jew- and the students respect each one and each has something unique to offer. Peace is possible and I am anxious to learn more about what has been called "the city of paradoxes" with millenia of history.

Friday, October 3, 2008


No, I didn't die in the Near East- I wasn't kidnapped, nor did I get too close to a suicide bomber (although there were several terrorist acts while I was there). The real enemy keeping me from blogging for so long was Hebrew! Yes, it's true! My Hebrew was not good enough to understand phrases like "Create New Post", "Publish", "Sign In" and so forth. Unfortunately, since I do not have a gmail account, I could not sign in through gmail, making things in English- I instead had to go straight through the world wide web of Israel which, oddly enough, is in Hebrew. But, never fear, I was undeterred and created a blog on the site of the newspaper from my neck of the woods, that's right, our very own Orange County Register. I will now proceed over the next few days to re-post what I wrote while in Jerusalem and thereabouts and I will try to include the original date it was posted. Then I'll probably stick up a few more photos since uploading pictures at the Jerusalem Center was excruciatingly slow. However, I will have to start on this grand posting session a little later since in T minus 16 hours I will be on my way to take the LSAT! Ahh!! My brain convulses at the thought of it all! Although, honestly, it will be great when it's over since it will be really nice to have my life back! Wish me luck!