The Digging Begins

30 centimeter deep trench from first day of digging.
Our day started at about 5:00 am this morning with a two-hour walking tour of the surrounding area, where we explored tombs from the Mid-Bronze Age (Abraham’s time) to present day.  One of the most fascinating was a tomb, from the time of Jesus. Modern workers dynamited the rear of tomb to create more agricultural space.  This allowed us excellent access to the tomb without having to crawl through the tiny opening at the mouth of the cave. After the tour, we rested in a cool oasis at the bottom of a valley and had breakfast.  Afterwards, we hiked to the dig site and broke ground on this year’s dig.  My sub-site uncovered a few flint tools, pieces of mosaic material, and a small Arabic coin.  As the temperature approached 100 degrees, we packed our gear and headed back to the Kibbutz, ate lunch, and later helped catalogue the artifacts discovered earlier in the day. We finished the evening with a lecture about the history of the Jezreel Valley and surrounding areas.

Inside of Jesus era tomb. If the rear was intact, the only entrance would be the small opening a the mouth of the cave.
Rear of Jesus era tomb. Tomb was damaged during an agricultural clearing project.

Roman era tomb. Grooves around opening kept rain water and debris out.

Naboth’s Vineyard

We arrived at Kibbutz Yizrael at about 4:30 am local time after about 27 hours of traveling.  Tired but exited about the coming events.  After a breakfast and brief orientation, we travelled by van to the dig site where we helped prepare the dig site by clearing brush and erecting sun shades.  Afterwards we toured some of the discoveries from earlier digs.  One of the most fascinating was a winepress located atop a hill in the fertile Jezreel Valley.  Its central location allowed easy import of grapes from adjacent fields and facilitated quick transfer of the finished product to nearby housing complexes.  The press is similar to the one Naboth the Jezreelite would have used in 1 Kings 21. Workers placed grapes into a large square recess and then stomped them to pulp; allowing gravity to carry the juices to a fermentation tank further down the hill where it stayed until bottling. Afterwards, the remaining grape mush was mixed with water and fermented to make cheaper lower quality wine.

Fellow Wesley students and amateur Archeologists examining the wine press.

For You Were Strangers

Traveling to Israel, via a layover in Istanbul, Turkey, was fascinating and slightly disorienting.  English and American culture were no longer the default reference point for everything from announcements to cuisine.  However, English subtitles and the wide acceptance of American currency allowed us to reasonably navigate the environment without speaking the local languages.  While serving in the U.S. military, I didn’t realize how much of an “American bubble” we took with us, during international travel, and how this bubble sometimes insulated us from having to adapt to the new cultures we encountered.  My recent experiences are helping me better appreciate God’s guidance on how to treat strangers; “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers…” (Deut. 10:19).  Should we re-examine how we feel about and act towards those struggling to become acclimated to our communities?

Israel Archeological Dig

In May and June, I’ll travel with classmates from WesleyTheological Seminary to participate in the Jezreel Expedition on the foothills of the Gilboa mountain range in Israel, where we’ll sift through remains of civilizations from late prehistory through the 20th century. Jezreel is the former residence of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel whose conflict with the Prophet Elijah is recorded in the Books of 1 and 2 Kings.

Answering The Call

As a child, I knew all was not right with the world and felt I had some role in changing it. I eventually recognized this feeling as God calling me to the Gospel ministry. As I explored and tried to faithfully answer this call, I felt myself simultaneously pulled toward serving specific communities and engaging the governmental and social structures that so affected them. In the midst of this tension, my relationships within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship along with insights from Advocacy in Action conferences helped me forge a personal theology that both allowed and demanded that I serve in both capacities.
The Advocacy in Action Conference struck the perfect balance between providing theological rationales for engaging policy makers with pragmatic hands-on advocacy experiences. The superb theological work of Dr. David Gushee and other CBF scholars provided sound biblical models and principles to guide public advocacy while allowing conference participants to make their own decisions about to which side of a particular issue they fell (we are Baptists after all).
Once participants where on sound theological footing, the conference moved from the theoretical to the practical. Visiting CBF partners such as Bread for the World, The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the White House Office of Faith-based Neighborhood Partnerships granted us up-close views of real world advocacy work from community and government perspectives. Afterwards, we took our new-found theological understandings and advocacy skills to Capitol Hill where we met with our members of Congress and/or their staff.  During these interactions, we were able to clearly articulate our understandings of how the biblical mandates to love neighbor and care for “the least of these” translated into specific public policy stances.
On the final day of the conference, we met with Rev. Kasey Jones, CBF Moderator and Pastor of National Baptist Memorial Church. During the visit, we were introduced to ways she and the congregation partnered with others to meet the needs of the local community and the uniqueness of public advocacy in a city so influenced by the federal government but lacking the full representation of statehood.
On March 26, I traveled to Richmond, Va. and joined members of local CBF congregations and CBF staff in participating in a Consumer Financial Protection Agency hearing about predatory practices within the Payday and Auto Title Lending Industry. Within this industry, interest rates as high as 700 – 900% are routinely charged to individuals in desperate need of financial assistance. During the hearing, we added our voices to the chorus of leaders from other faith communities, business owners and concerned citizens to speak out against abusive practices designed to exploit those most in need (the least of these).
We urged state and federal officials to implement legal safeguards, such as interest rate caps, that would help ensure those seeking credit would not find themselves trapped in an ever-tightening spiral of oppressive debt. While far from being resolved, this issue seems to be moving in the right direction in part due to the actions of CBF, its partners and like-minded organizations. I’m thankful for the opportunity to add my energy to this cause and am convinced that the resources and experiences provided by CBF and the Advocacy in Action Conference helped prepare me for this and future opportunities to live out my faith and answer God’s call on my life.
This post first appeared on the cbfblog