Friday, May 29, 2015


With the exception of three years in Salt Lake and three years in San Diego, I've spent my life in areas dominated by orchards. At the young age of thirteen, my very first job was picking cherries in orchards a few miles from my house. We were paid five cents a pound, and on a good day we could pick 100-120 pounds of cherries. ($5.00 or $6.00 for a half-day of work. Hmm, that's about the same as I get paid to teach college-level writing if my grading time is factored in.)
In my teens, I worked in the cherry-sorting plant in the summer, picking branches, leaves, and disgusting green hornworms off a conveyor belt loaded with pie cherries that had been shaken off the trees and were destined to become cherry pie filling and maraschino cherries. After three forty-hour weeks, I was paid what to me was the amazing sum of about $500. I was definitely moving up in the world.

When I was a college student at BYU, we had occasional apple-picking activities at a church-owned welfare farm. We worked for free, and yet somehow that was ever so much more fun than my cherry-picking days.

Then I got married and lived in two cities without an Orchard Presence. After a six-year hiatus from fruit orchards, my husband and I moved our little family to Redlands, California. The first orange grove was planted there in 1882, pretty close to the time the city was founded, and by 1930 there were 15,000 acres of orange groves in and around Redlands. Today only a few thousand acres of groves remain, but we still consider ourselves an "orange city." My husband and I, like many of our neighbors, have navel and mandarin oranges, lemons, and limes growing in our yard.

Redlands orange grove, May 2015
A half-hour up the mountain from Redlands is Oak Glen, a small farming community full of U-Pick orchards. We used to go there to pick fruit with our kids in the summer, and we especially loved the raspberry patch. I confess that my kids ate at least every other berry that they picked.
I give all this background as a possible explanation for why I was so taken by the Mount of Olives. I am drawn to orchards and groves. They are part of my past and my present. In my life they have been places of hard work, friendship, and peace.

I had always envisioned the Mount of Olives as a large, stand-alone hill covered with trees, something like the avocado groves of Southern California that are often planted on hills, or like the olive groves we have seen in Italy. However, the Mount of Olives is the middle of a three-peak range, with Mount Scopus on the north and the Mount of Corruption (which I had never heard of) to the south, and while groves may have once covered its slopes, the trees are more limited now. For the last 3,000 years, its other major use has been as a Jewish burial ground, and the cemetery today contains as many as 150,000 graves.
View of the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives
as seen from the southern wall of the Temple Mount

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


At the beginning of the last week of his life, Jesus returned to Jerusalem in what is known as "The Triumphal Entry," a day that is now celebrated throughout much of the Christian world as Palm Sunday. The event is one of the rare stories actually recorded in each of the four Gospels.

When I was growing up, the painting below was the image I had of this event: Christ riding on a little white donkey, men and children waving palm fronds, women reverently placing their cloaks on the ground in front of the procession:
Christ's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem by Harry Anderson (a devout Seventh-day Adventist painter who
was commissioned by the LDS Church in the 1960s to paint this and at least two dozen more paintings
of Christ, many of which hang in just about every chapel and temple owned by the LDS church)
When we were in Egypt later on in our trip, on several occasions we saw boys riding around on donkeys, and what struck me was 1) how feisty the donkeys were, and 2) how bouncy the ride was. Riding a donkey is not like riding a horse. 
Egyptian boy on a donkey
The traditional telling of the nativity says that Mary rode a donkey into Bethlehem, although that is not scriptural. (However, my husband says it is in the Protoevangelium of James.) If it is true, it could not have been a comfortable ride. And yet, there is something symbolically symmetrical and touchingly ironic about a pregnant Mary entering Bethlehem on a donkey just before she gave birth, and Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey just a few days before his crucifixion. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Rather than follow the chronology of our trip for the next few posts, I've decided to follow the chronology of Christ's life, at least the part that was in Jerusalem. I've already covered the healing of the blind man at the Pool of Siloam. Another one of Christ's healings also occurs at a pool--the Pool of Bethesda. 
I had several "Aha!" moments in Israel, and one of them was about why water is such an important image in the Gospels. Israel is essentially a desert climate, and Jerusalem itself had (and has) a fairly limited water supply. Water certainly wasn't piped into homes during the time of Christ; it was brought in by hand in containers. It was an effort every day to get enough water to sustain life. When Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life," he was using a metaphor that would have had significant meaning in such a dry country. Similarly, performing two of his miracles at pools of water would have powerful symbolic meaning.

But I'm jumping ahead.

The Pool of Bethesda is located in what is now the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, just inside the Sheep Gate, also known as the Lion's Gate. It was through this gate that lions and sheep were brought to the Temple for sacrifice. Later, it would be this gate that Jesus--the sacrificial Lamb--would enter on his way to his crucifixion.

The pool is part of a walled complex that includes a large, beautiful, peaceful courtyard and the 12th century Church of St. Anne. Our group arrived when the courtyard was essentially empty.

Friday, May 8, 2015


In the afternoon of our very full first day in Jerusalem, we hopped on the bus for a little drive to Bethlehem.  It doesn't look that far--it's only four or five miles--but it involves a border crossing of sorts to go from Jerusalem into the Palestinian West Bank region. It took at least an hour.
Map from here
It was a shock to see that a wall has been built around the West Bank. We Americans talk a lot about the Berlin Wall and the wall between the United States and Mexico, but I had never heard of this wall in Israel. It is 26 feet high, compared to the 12-foot-tall Berlin Wall, and four times as long. There are 272 finished miles, 36 miles under construction, and 132 additional miles planned. Our guide Inan, an Israeli Jew, acknowledged the controversial nature of the wall, but said it has drastically reduced Palestinian terrorism.
Photo from here
Most Jews are not allowed access to the West Bank via the checkpoint we passed through, but tour guides are given special privileges, and so Inan came with us. He was not, however, allowed to act as our tour guide in Bethlehem. Instead, we had a rather hyper Palestinian guide who met us in the bus station.

The clothing styles in the shops in the station told us we were in an Arab area:
(Pardon the poor quality of this photo. I was trying to be inconspicuous.)
KFC is big all over Israel and Egypt, no matter the religion or culture:
KFC in the bus station
Muslims believe in and respect Jesus as one of God's greatest earthly messengers. They also believe in the virgin birth, and they actively promote the birthplace of Jesus, welcoming tourists while at the same time promoting their own Palestinian state:
Welcome to Bethlehem /

Monday, May 4, 2015


Because it is "a city set on a hill that cannot be hid,"  Jerusalem has a thousand viewpoints, both looking at it and looking from it. I know I sound like a broken record, but being there, seeing those vistas, was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.  At one point in the tour, the song "The Holy City" by Stephen Adams got lodged in my mind, and I think I hummed it for about a week.  

So here you go. As you look at these various views of Jerusalem, have the song playing in the background. It is sung by the internationally famous tenor Stanford Olsen and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I'm warning you, however, that it has a way of getting stuck in your head.

One of the more unique views of Jerusalem is found at The Shrine of the Book, a museum that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in caves near the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956.
First a word on the Shrine itself. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside this museum, but it was dimly lit anyway, presumably to protect the ancient texts. I have seen a traveling exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, so while the scroll exhibits were interesting, the unique building with its terra cotta striated walls was just as intriguing:
Picture from here