Finding Jesus in Israel: Through the Holy Land on the Road Less Traveled

Finding Jesus in Israel: Through the Holy Land on the Road Less Traveled

by Buck Storm

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683971405
Publisher: Worthy Publishing
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 172,243
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author


Buck Storm grew up in Yuma, Arizona -- a true son of the American Southwest. He is a critically acclaimed touring singer/songwriter and the author of two novels -- Truck Stop Jesus and the Selah Award finalist The Miracle Man. His short story, A Waffle Stop Story of Love and Pistols was featured in 21 Days of Grace: Stories That Celebrate God's Love. Whether lyrics or prose, Buck writes about this mixed-up, out of control, beautiful cacophony we call humanity -- about life as he sees it and sometimes just how he'd like it to be. Buck and his wife, Michelle, have a happy love story, a hideout in Hayden, Idaho, and two wonderful, grown children.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Please Exit through the gift Shop

Think what you will about the Old Testament prophets, but Zechariah nailed it 2,500 years ago when he predicted Israel would one day be a thorn in the world's side. It's hard to imagine a country that could take a bath in Lake Michigan being a constant in news headlines. And yet it is. Israel is nothing if not polarizing.

Over three million people visit this little chunk of geography every year, most of them joining tours specifically tailored to their particular worldview. Bus routes crisscross: these careful bubbles of contained culture pass each other on the road. Jewish tours enjoy the modern mayhem of the beach cities, and they visit Masada, the Jerusalem synagogues, the Western Wall, and Yad Vashem — the Holocaust Center with its museum and memorial. Catholics track the shrine-topped sites deemed historical by Constantine's mother on her pilgrimage to trace the steps of Christ. Protestants and evangelicals ride tour boats on the Sea of Galilee and sing songs at the Garden Tomb. When sites are important to more than one group, people generally stick to their bubbles, astronauts on a space walk gathered around the tour guide's flag as if it is a lifeline to the mother ship.

Now don't get me wrong! These tours are amazing, even life changing. Israeli tour guides are without a doubt the best in the world, highly educated and truly passionate about the land and its history. Still, how do you see a whole country, even a small one, in just a week or two? How do you get a feel for the people — for their struggles, dreams, and passions? So much of Israel is bypassed simply because of time limitations, the number of tourists, and even (sometimes especially) the particular lens of your worldview glasses.

And with those glasses on, we can miss a lot of pearls while we rush to pick up stones.

One particular pearl, hidden for the most part from tourists and locals alike, is the Ramparts Walk, which is exactly what it sounds like: a trek that takes you around the narrow rampart of nearly all of Jerusalem's Old City wall. Just inside the Jaffa Gate you can duck into the information office, grab a ticket, climb some narrow stairs, and there you are, standing on top of parapets rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent, a sultan during the Ottoman Empire in the mid-sixteenth century. The bullet holes that pock the walls are reminders of the generations of soldiers who've guarded this place. This is a path of ghosts, my friends, and it's well traveled.

Old Jerusalem itself is divided into four general sections — Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian. Depending on which entrance you choose, you either head south past the Armenian and Jewish Quarters toward the Zion and Dung Gates, or you go north past the Christian and Muslim Quarters. Either way is fascinating. Birds flit in and out of the wall. The air smells of sunbaked stone, diesel fumes, and baking bread. On the street below, a busker sings a Dylan song in broken English. With this interplay of the old and the new, time seems to both roll by and blend into itself, giving you the impression you're part of something bigger. The thing I love best about this land is ... you can't help being pulled out of you.

God spread a warm blanket of deep blue over Jerusalem on the day when a few friends and I took the northern route of the Ramparts Walk. I looked out across the Old City at the red-tiled rooftops of the Christian Quarter and, beyond them, at the domes and spires of the three religions that consider Jerusalem holy. The energy of the city was palpable. On a patio below, a woman lounged on a deck chair, reminding me of Bathsheba waiting for David to show. On my left, as I looked through a narrow slit in the wall, I saw modern Jerusalem sprawled over the hills, the city's white Jerusalem stone shining in the afternoon. A grassy park butted the wall below, and a man raced by on a beautiful, white Arabian mare. Where they came from I have no idea.

We passed the Latin Patriarchate, the Vatican's official presence in Israel, and then over the New Gate that connects the Old City's Christian Quarter with more modern West Jerusalem. The bells above the Church of the Holy Sepulchre pealed, competing with the voices of street vendors and traffic noise. Below us, courtyards resting in the shade offered a unique glimpse into the private lives of the people who call this place home. Farther on, steep steps climbed up and over the Damascus Gate. It was here a couple thousand years ago the apostle Paul began a journey that would change not only his life but the course of world history. The Damascus Gate edges the Muslim Quarter. This is obvious because of the altitude you gain hiking the Ramparts Walk. As I moved on, low domes began to top the buildings. I imagine there are very few places left on the planet devoid of those cosmos-beam-sucking and seemingly ever-present satellite dishes.

The aroma of spices delighted us, and we heard raised voices haggle in the market. Armed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers patrolled the streets, assault rifles at the ready. A large group of them gathered in front of Herod's Gate. I didn't stop to see what the ruckus was about. Sometimes in life — and sometimes in Israel — it's better to keep moving.

As we moved past a playground where the narrow walkway widened a bit, three young Palestinian boys laughed and shadow-boxed each other. I'd guess them to have been somewhere around nine or ten. As I approached, one of them flagged me with an outstretched palm. This guy was clearly the mouthpiece of the three. I took in his hole-riddled pants, worn sandals, and SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirt.

"Where did you come from?" he demanded in pretty passable English.

I motioned behind me. "Ramparts Walk. You a guard or something? Checking tickets?"

"What tickets? ... I mean, where? USA?"

"Yeah. I'm from the USA."

He moved his hand to his forehead to block the sun. He and SpongeBob peered up at me simultaneously. "New York?"

"Everyone asks that. You know there are other parts of the US besides New York?"

"Yeah, I know. Cali?" he asked.

I laughed. "Nope, not California. I'm from Idaho. You know where that is?" He looked me up and down like this was a stupid question. "Yeah. Iowa. Are you a cowboy?"

"Sometimes." I figured a little John Wayne street cred couldn't hurt.

As he considered what I'd said, I could practically hear the wheels turning in this little guy's head. He turned and pointed to his compadres. One of them held a skateboard that had seen better days. "You wanna see them ride that?"

I shrugged. After all, I was a guest here. "Why not? Where're they gonna ride it?"

He pointed to a narrow wall slanting at a steep angle toward the street.

I shook my head. No way. "Are you saying they're gonna ride down that?

They can ride down that?"

"You wanna see?"

I have to admit I was curious at this point. "And not die?"

He nodded, eyes serious. "Yeah, they're cowboys."

I could smell the con, but I couldn't help liking the kid. "What's the catch, Tony Hawk?"

"Who is Tony Hawk? A cowboy?"

"Kind of. What's the catch?"

"What catch?"

"I mean, why are they gonna do it?"

"No catch, Iowa. They're cowboys."

"Idaho."

"Okay. You ready?"

"Are you gonna ask me for money?" Stupid question. Of course he was.

"You ready?" Good dodge. Clearly not this buckaroo's first rodeo.

"I was born ready."

The boy gave the signal.

I'm still not sure how they did it. I am sure several laws of physics were broken. But, no joke, both those guys managed to squeeze onto that one skateboard at the same time, and off they went. They screamed all the way down that crazy narrow ramp and landed in a raspberried but laughing heap on the asphalt at the bottom.

"What do you think?" SpongeBob said.

"I think that was 100 percent crazy, amigo. Do you ride down that too?"

In answer he held out his hand, palm up. "Give me the money, Iowa."

"I knew it," I said.

"American dollars."

"American dollars? Who are you? Al Capone?"

"Yeah. Al Capone. American dollars."

"You take shekels?"

He grinned when I dropped a few in his palm. The Evel Knievel twins were back at the top now.

"You wanna see me do it now?" SpongeBob said.

"I'm out of shekels."

He shrugged and turned his back to me.

Go back to Iowa, sucker.

I passed on. A few minutes later I heard more screaming behind me, then laughing as the board hit the bottom of the ramp. Maybe the new mark was from Idaho like me. Or maybe Cali.

Such is Jerusalem. It's a hardscrabble place, a lot of pain for a little gain. You watch your back, and you do what you have to do. Like anywhere else — whether Singapore, Cairo, New York, or even Iowa — people need an angle to survive.

A couple thousand years ago, just a few blocks away from where the SpongeBob gang worked the pilgrims, Jesus cried out, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37). The joint hasn't changed, but neither has He. Blood and history flow ankle-deep here, but love runs even deeper.

CHAPTER 2

Kerouac, Starlight, and a Curly Haired Dog

After a long day the sun sinks into the Negev on tired wings. Nothing comes easy in the desert....

The beach city of Eilat hangs on the very southern tip of Israel like a drop of dew about to fall into the Red Sea. Egypt stretches to the west and Jordan to the east. South, across the water, the mountains of Saudi Arabia loom. The town itself is a modern place, but like everything in this part of the world, its foundations rest on hard-packed layers of history. Moses wandered here, for instance. In the Timna Valley just a few miles to the north, King Solomon mined for copper. The Queen of Sheba traveled through this area on her biblical journey to Jerusalem.

With access to both the Red Sea and the major trade routes of old, Egyptians, Nebateans, Romans, and others all have deep history here. Eilat is also Israel's jumping-off point for visiting the mind-boggling ruins of Petra across the border in Jordan. The small group I was with booked themselves a tour to do just that, and I drove them down, planning a couple of stops along the way to see some other ruins.

It's only a one-hour flight to Eilat from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but by car it's a long, hot grind through the desert. We left Jerusalem early and headed south. The day shone clear and beautiful. Have you ever seen the desert? Well, my friend, that is desert. A hard, lifeless place. We drove hours of empty highway. Once we saw a young Bedouin boy herding goats on a hillside. Miles later, a couple of Israeli tanks out on some military exercise kicked up a tall pillar of dust. An hour after that we passed two men on camels. One waved; the other never even looked our way.

The highway rolled on.

City lights shone along the Red Sea waterfront, and the sun died completely as we — hot, hungry, and roadweary — finally pulled into Eilat. I'd booked our overnight at the Sunset Motel, a place that sounded more like Route 66 than Israel. I'd never been there, but after circling several blocks — GPS can be dicey — we finally found it. A concrete and plaster wall with a heavy wooden door hid the building from the street. I went in to make sure everything was cool while the others grabbed bags and belongings from the van.

Now, if you're ever in Eilat and have some money in your pocket and want a nice hotel experience, there are plenty of great places, believe me. Try something down by the water — it's beautiful there. But, if you're on a serious budget and don't mind rough-around-the-edges and a good dose of adventure off the tourist path, then the Sunset's your place. The only word I can think to describe it is trippy. Think David Lynch meets Jack Kerouac, and then toss in a little Indiana Jones for flavor. Stepping into the courtyard, I found myself in another world, far removed from the dusty, desert-town street. Tree branches stretched overhead. Orange, purple, green, and blue lights splashed everywhere. The sculpted, cavelike walls had shapes molded over them — tree roots, branches, and tribal stone carvings. Low, builtin couches and tables bordered the wide patio with hookahs lining a shelf behind them. A big, curly haired dog cracked one eye open at me from its place on a wicker chair. Water dripped. I half expected to hear the theme song from Twin Peaks waft out from somewhere.

To my left, thick, varnished beams held up a shade structure. Beneath it, a young African girl manned a bar. She just stood there with arms crossed, leaning against a post, watching me. Her dress hung loosely from the straps over her thin shoulders. I smiled at her and said hello. She offered a bored blink and said nothing. I tried again, telling her I'd emailed ahead for a reservation. She said something in Hebrew. I asked her if she spoke English. She sighed and gave a shout toward the back. A male growl replied.

Enter Avi — owner, designer, and builder of the Sunset. He emerged a bit disheveled, hair askew, sandals, baggy pants, and an old tank top. He barked at the girl and, with a wave, shooed her scurrying away. Then he turned to me.

"What?" he snapped.

"Hi, I booked a reservation online —"

"I don't know anything about it," he interrupted, turning as if to head back into the shadows.

All I could think about at that moment were my tired travelers outside. "No, I'm telling you I booked online. I paid for four rooms on the website. My group is outside with our bags."

Looking doubtful, he weighed the situation. He shouted, and the African girl came back. He said something in Hebrew. The girl sighed, gave me a look as if I'd insulted her family, then disappeared again.

He sighed and shook his head. You'd have thought I'd asked him to cure the common cold or help me move. "She'll get some rooms ready." He held out his hand. "Cash or credit card?"

"Like I told you, I paid online. The rooms are already paid for."

He turned the volume up from three to eight. "And I told you! Cash or credit card!"

We squared off. "Look, man. I paid for four rooms. I don't know what to tell you."

Verbal sparring went on for quite a while, but we eventually worked it out.

Now, Avi — whom you just met — is what you'd call ... let's just say colorful. The poor guy gets a pretty bad rap in the hotel reviews. True, he yells a lot, especially if you want him to get out of bed in the morning to unlock the gate and let you out. (This request is apparently unacceptable.) But spend a little time with the guy, ask him about his motel, and he'll warm up. He loves the place. You get the feeling it's the guests he's not crazy about. I don't blame him. People can be a trial sometimes. Truth be told, I'd probably feel the same. Keep an open mind. He's an alright guy.

Bags unloaded, rooms settled and arranged, we climbed back into the van and headed for the waterfront lights and food. The city vibrated with life; it was a calliope of color. We were all a little falafel and shawarma-ed out, so the aroma of grilling meat coming from the Burger Ranch had us circling like sharks drawn to blood. Burger Ranch — the only place I've ever been where you can order a hamburger the size of a pizza. Brilliant. Let me tell you, when you're starving, the Sliceburger ranks right up there with the PillCam, USB drives, and Waze GPS. Never underestimate the genius of the Israelis.

Dance clubs, restaurants, and a waterfront midway — nighttime Eilat throbs with noise and energy, a playground for the young and young at heart. Out past the promenade the noise quieted to a dull, rhythmic thump as I stood in the dark, knee-deep in the Red Sea. Ships lay at anchor on the calm water. Across the way, the lights of Lawrence of Arabia's Aqaba winked from just over the Jordanian border. I dialed home on my cell. It felt like heaven to hear my wife's voice.

Later, back at the Sunset, no one felt ready to turn in. So we gathered some chairs and camped awhile beneath the patio lanterns, talking and letting the day slip away at its own pace. In a far corner, Avi sat on a worn couch chain-smoking and petting the curly haired dog. His cigarette glowed in the dark, faded, then glowed again. On a whim, I asked him to join us. I figured he'd either decline or ignore me altogether. Glow ... fade ... glow. At length he shrugged, lit a fresh one with the tip of his last, eased his lanky frame up, and dragged a chair over. The dog followed lazily and then sank to the concrete beside him.

Conversation, slow out of the station, gradually picked up steam, and Avi mellowed. We asked him about his motel, then about his life and history. He humored us, smoking and walking his mind back through the desert and the decades, his words laced with the struggles and joys of carving out a life in that hard land. I knew he still held his cards close to his vest — there were things he wouldn't give up to outsiders — but we took what he offered. After all, this was history unwritten, stuff you couldn't Google or watch on a PBS documentary. He talked through at least half a pack, and we lost track of time. At last, after the moon dropped beneath the patio wall, Avi stubbed out his last butt, saluted a goodnight, and headed for his room. The curly haired dog followed close on his heels.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Finding Jesus in Israel"
by .
Copyright © 2018 James Buckley Storm.
Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Israel: A Crossroads,
1. Please Exit through the Gift Shop,
2. Kerouac, Starlight, and a Curly Haired Dog,
3. Knocking on the Gates of Hell,
4. Broken Bread — and a Bad Day for Turkeys,
5. Parting the Black Sea,
6. The Beginning Is Near,
7. It Only Takes a Spark,
8. Elvis and the Hebrew Word for Diesel,
9. Bones,
10. The Garden,
11. Same Ol' Sun,
12. A Little Angel Offers Little Sins,
13. Just Lean Back,
14. Bacon Cheeseburgers and the Man of the Hour,
15. Bombs,
16. Found in Translation,
17. Down to the River,
18. Paper Prayers,
19. A Season of Constant Unbalance,
20. Confession Is Good for the Soul,
21. O'Toole Doesn't Sound Like a Roman Name,
22. Salad for Breakfast,
23. Horse Trading,
24. Going Down,
25. Two ... or Maybe Three ... Things,
26. The Fountain of Tears,
27. They Will Come,
28. The Conversation,
29. The Climb,
30. Looking for the Porch Light,
Acknowledgments,

Interviews


Hayden, Idaho

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