Thursday, June 7, 2012

Return of the Jedi Revenging the Phantom Empire Striking Back...

On March 15, 2012, I updated my Facebook status.

This is noteworthy for two reasons.

First, I agree with "Columbus" when it comes to status updates:


So, I update mine about once a year.

Secondly, this update was special. Here's the scene:

I was just about asleep in my less-than-comfortable Turkish dorm room bed, which was a feat in itself in that place. Suddenly, my eyes snapped open, and I rushed to my computer. I had been hit by a philosophical conundrum like a freight train. My mind was instantly, and from out of nowhere, assaulted with this question:


I mean, honestly, what is a good dad to do? I want my kids to be idolizing Han Solo, I want them to be able to tell you why Boba Fett did not die in the Sarlaac pit, and of course, I want this:


But I also want my kids to think that Qui-Gon was the stud he is, and I want for them to see how Anakin turns to the Dark Side, and I want them to want to punch Jar Jar...

Little did I know that this question would create a great debate among the students on our trip and would be by far the most commented upon thing ever to appear on my Facebook. 

It was fantastic. People gots serious. This turned into a full-scale debate.

Some people were logical,

Others appealed to emotion...


 Some layered their good points in appropriate humor...

Some were controversial...

 Others were just plain funny...
 Or snarky...


This was the closest I got to an answer I could settle upon...

Despite the excellent responses, and the less-than-excellent ones, I still didn't feel at peace. I would still freeze up during that pivotal parenting moment. I couldn't decide. Quickly subject my kids to Jar Jar Binks and the Clone Wars before they could completely understand the butchery, or risk them losing interest in 45 year old special effects.

I was doomed to spend the rest of the nights in that dorm room restlessly tossing and turning; unsure of my to-be-parenting-skills. 

The question would fester until I just learned to live with it. I would forget my identity crisis...

Until.

A light from Bespin came beaming down in the form of novelty... and magazine print.

I opened this month's issue of Wired and gasped aloud!

They had tackled my Lucas-inspired dilemma.

Wired wrote up an article describing their perfect viewing order. It maintains the integrity of the original series AND allows for integration of the prequels.

To her credit, I had a friend who pointed this order out to me on that very status:

See that? I have friends who are months ahead of professional journalists.

I'm still not 100% sold, but here are the morals of the story:

1.  It will be absolutely fascinating to see where the profession of journalism will be in 10, 15, and 20 years.

2. Social media is the new way in which news is broken. People will find out about worldwide events because of their own personal accounts - not because of news anchors or paper writers. Which is incredible - and kind of scary. People will increasingly become aware of world events - a sorely needed quality. But more and more of the world will get their news in silos. People will simply filter out anything they don't like. The legacy of 24 hour news networks will be that people will be able to dismiss sources as irrelevant just because they have a different narrative of every story.

3. Star Wars is awesome. During the year of its 35th anniversary, this series is still creating and fueling debates. Most importantly, these movies are gaining new fans in every generation. Even now, in this generation, which will be the first without a Star Wars movie in theaters (if you count the Special Edition screenings). That is simply stunning.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fault Line: More of a Generational Shift than a Culture War

I don't usually write about politics and religion on the internet.

Why?

Because the intersection of the two topics is a quagmire section of the information superhighway frequented by those who want to shout their opinions and those who want to read their own opinions written by other people. It's most frustrating because authors continually posit themselves as experts in fields in which they have no formal training. I am all for voicing one's opinion, especially if that is a deeply-held conviction or moral. But what we're often shown are ill-constructed, poorly-written articles disguised with political jargon, semi-academic wording, or religious underpinnings ripped from their contexts.

Finding articles that espouse a well-thought-out, researched, and logical argument regarding the cross-roads of politics and religion is... well... difficult. However, when Rachel Held Evans' How to win a Culture War and Lose a Generation was pointed out to me, I had to take note.

Apparently, I wasn't alone.

Evans' article has caused all sort of backlash. From scathing criticism, to not-so-scathing criticism, to criticism veiled as rising above itself. To be frank, these articles all miss the point.

Andrew Haines' "Integral Ethics: Why 'Social Issues' are the Only Sort that Matter" is a case study in problematic internet expertise (despite the fact that he's getting said formal training). While Haines tries to  hide behind his verbosity, his inability to see how contradictory his statements are (see: cognitive dissonance) isn't lost on John "Fitz" Fitzgerald, who rightly calls Haines on the carpet.

The problem that all three response articles suffer from is that they all speak as though they represent the entirety of Christianity. They pretend that there is one voice on the issue of LGBT rights with which every sect of Christianity agrees. I know quite a few Episcopalians and Anglicans who would take issue with this idea. Which leaves Haines et al with the uneasy prospect of declaring other Christians to be not just wrongly convinced on an issue, but unChristian altogether. Fitzgerald sees this, and his closing paragraphs nail it.

The flip-side of this problem is what Evans gets right. She doesn't once state that she's speaking on behalf of one denominational sect of Christianity, let alone the whole of the Christian world. Evans is voicing what her (and my) generation are saying. The evangelical youth are surprisingly vocal about LGBT issues - and they're speaking out in contrast to what they're parents' generation is saying.

Haines snidely asks:
"As an aside: where on earth is Evans meeting young Christians that 'all' of them say these sorts of things?"
While every single one might not be saying this, I know exactly where Evans is meeting these young Christians. She's meeting them on the campuses of the top Christian colleges across America.

She's meeting them here, and here, and here, and here. And those are just four examples of a growing list of LGBT organizations at Christian colleges, which are gaining courage to speak, and momentum with their peers.

Even if we take David Sessions' smart advice to question the idea of "Culture Wars", and eliminate the idea of this being a culture war from our thinking, we are left with something monumental. We are left with a striking generational shift. We are left with, as Evans puts it "Christians over 40...celebrating. Christians under 40...mourning" when political happenings such as Amendment One occur. This generational shift has immense potential.

Potential to either reform Evangelical Protestant America, or potential to rip the American church in two - cleft right down the generational tectonic fault line.

Sessions is right - Christians should ditch the culture war paradigm. But before Christians begin to talk about some sort of "united stance" on LGBT issues, Generations V and W should figure out how they are going to deal with Generations X and Y. Because pretending like there is one solid and universal Christian view on this topic is farcical.

It is no longer acceptable - in fact, it's no longer the norm - for Christian communities to suggest that Christians feel one way about LGBT rights. It should never have been acceptable for Christianity to become equated with "anti-homosexuality" to the vast majority of American youth (as quoted by Evans). This stereotype, and the reality it is based in, need to change.

It's shaping up to look like young Christians want to change this stereotype. The question now is whether this generational shift will become accepted and embraced by "Christians over 40", or whether that generational fault line will start cracking.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Alabama, Arkansas, I Sure Love My Maw and Pa...

And so, for the first time in over four months, the post will originate from the left side of the Atlantic.

I headed home early. 

What a trip it was. What a time. 

I've only faced it a few times, but when I'm asked, I revert to the tried-and-true: "It was fantastic."

"Spectacular."

"Incredible."

It's strange, I wasn't expecting to be unable to describe my 2012 like this.

I've gone through "re-entry", I've done this before. Besides, it'll be easier for me to recount my trip because I was partially leading it.

Wrong.

It's more difficult for me to describe all this than 2009 was. 

Meh. You see, that's not a big deal. Why? Because I'm home.

Entering the US again was like exhaling the largest sigh that your lungs are capable of holding. It was as though weight was being sloughed off my shoulders with every step. It's not that I disliked what I had done, or felt burdened by it at all. It was just time to come home.

Man is only capable of living out of a backpack for so long.

Beautifully, and ironically, the Wanderlust eventually turns on its head. It still says "GO!", but it just adds another word:

Go home.

Yes. Please.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Partings: Such Sweet Sorrow...

... And just like that...

It's over.

Keep breathing, that's the key.

After spending ten days in the Old City of Jerusalem - exploring its nooks, ancient and religious spots, and shops - we returned to our lodging in Bethlehem.

What is there to say about Jerusalem? The city is an enigma. There is certainly no place on earth even remotely like it.

"What's a typical Jerusalemite like?"

I'm not sure there is such a thing as a typical Jerusalemite. They one thing that I can say is that people here are convicted. Religion runs thick in the blood of the people, and leaves its marks on walls.

The three monoliths of monotheism stand tall here. So tall, in fact, it's nearly impossible to escape their shadow.

Most of the time, it's refreshing. There is nothing like being immersed in piety to jumpstart your own beliefs. Not to mention putting a landscape, a scene, or a picture to the stories.

Jerusalem syndrome is a very real thing, indeed.

Some of the time, though, Jerusalem is suffocating. Some of the time, the enveloping is all-encompassing, and this religious Adventureland is just too much.

In a word, the city is overwhelming. I am convinced that people need twice the amount of time afterwards to processa and comprehend what they experienced in the city.

All that said, there is some extreme beauty here: the smells are amazing, the sounds mesmerizing, and if you aren't pushed to tears at the majesty of the tombs or the Dome of the Rock, then you need to check your pulse.
(Note to self: see the inside of that building. Some time, some how.)

--

After those ten days, we spent a three-day whirlwind back in Bethlehem... and then, it ended.

Wow. What a trip. When looking back, I have an incredibly warped sense of time. It feels like ages ago that I boarded my flight to IST via LDN - but really, that was only four month. Four incredible, jam packed, solid, challenging, eye-opening, exhilarating, life-altering, paradigm-shifting, lovely, amazing months.

Man, I'm gonna miss this.

A bitter end? Maybe, but there's sweetness in the mix.

--

These next 7 days will be filled with joy, as my mother has come to Israel/Palestine. Her presence is so very welcome. I have been eagerly anticipating this day, and it is immeasurably good to have a tangible, breathing, loving piece of home here.

La Seigneur est très bien, mes amis, vraiment très bien. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

And We'll All Float On Anyway...

Here's the thing.

Keaton Hudson is a wonderful photographer. He's been documenting the entire trip, and doing a great job.

Please check it out here: manylook.tumblr.com

Keats, thanks for the new profile pic.

Just floating in the Dead Sea.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dual-Blogging...


Here's an excerpt from the official blog that I am keeping for the Westmont in Istanbul program.

For the full thing, please check out:


Please ignore the bit about me being home in 10 days, that ain't true. 

I'm staying aboard this crazy train for a few more weeks...

                                                                                                

April 10-15    Bethlehem, Israel/Palestine

  • These five days were a welcome change of pace as we entered our last country. We settled into our digs at the Tantour Ecumenical Center, and began looking at the incredible land around us.
  • About twice a day, students would pass through Bethlehem checkpoint to enter the city itself. Some of the time was spent looking at the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the marks it has/is still leaving on Bethlehem; and part of the time was spent visiting some of the historical and traditional sites of Christianity. 
Looking at the Church of the Nativity...
(c) Kurt Walker
...And the Conflict. (c) Kurt Walker





















  •  We snuck into Jerusalem for a remarkable day on Friday, April 13. Eastern Orthodox Good Friday coincided with the last day of Passover this year, and the amazing city of Jerusalem bustled with excitement. We managed to successfully maneuver through the winding streets - and even into the Church of the Holy Sepluchre in the middle of a procession - and come out the other side full of unforgettable stories. 

April 16-17    Galilee, Israel
  • We spent an amazing day and a half up in the Galilee. 
    • Visiting Campernaum, we were able to walk in the ruins of a synagogue similar to the one that Jesus would have preached in.
    • Floating on the Sea of Galilee, we felt winds like those that Jesus' words quelled.
    • Upon the Mount of the Beatitudes, we reminisced on the incredible words of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The next day, we were honored to hear from Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian who preaches a message of reconciliation based around the events of his own astounding life.

April 18-21    Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine
  • The past three days have been a blur of site visits (the Western Wall, Garden Tomb, city rooftops, Southern Steps, etc.), street-side interactions, lectures (on topics like Jewish history and sects, Christian Zionism, and the Jewish roots of Christianity), and religious ceremonies (churches and synagogues). 
Heck of a way to end the semester, eh?

Parents, family, and friends - we'll be home in 10 days... Are you ready?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good Friday Indeed...

Stress. I felt a lot of stress.

The plan for the day had been laid out and I was supposed to be responsible for 5 college students as they walked around a city I don't know on one of the busiest days of the year.

We got on the number 24 bus just outside of the Bethlehem checkpoint.

I just needed to pray and clear my head. 

When we arrived at Jaffa Gate, I collected our team and smiled - it was gonna be fine. We were gonna enjoy every bit of today, no matter where we ended up and how long it took us to get there.

So, I took a big breath and walked through the threshold of Earth's holiest city: Jerusalem.



We headed East. 

I had no idea that the old city is basically just a giant bazaar, but found out quickly as the small shops continued to go on for the entire street until I stumbled almost headlong into the sign that said Western Wall.

We walked down the steps and I reveled at the place. What majesty was here. It is an incredible testament to the buildings that once laid on this foundation.

You see, today was particularly special, as it is the last day of Passover. There was a large group of orthodox Jews gathered in front of the last remaining piece of Soloman's great temple. 

I found myself in the middle of said crowd who were all reading, bobbing, shaking hands, smiling, praying, and worshiping. 

There is a sort of sublime surrealism to the place.

It's humbling to say the least. 

Western Wall below and Dome of the Rock above.
After trying to process just where I was, we turned and headed North.

Our plan was to park somewhere along the Via Dolorosa and people watch. This didn't really happen.
A Russian pilgrim prays against his cross...

We found our way to the Via, but it was blocked off by Israeli Defense Force officers. So, we tried another road. Fortunately, this one was open. However, it was a tiny little alleyway absolutely swarming with people, crosses, incense, and singing.

You see, today was particularly special, as it is Orthodox Good Friday. There was a large group of Orthodox Christians processing down the road over which Jesus' carried his cross.

We were planning on just watching, but got sucked into the stream of people and before we knew it were lead directly into the church of the Holy Sepluchre.

I can honestly say I have never experienced anything like this before. It was a flash-bang grenade of sights, songs, scents, and spirits.

The church is so beautiful - and so complex and fought over - it hurts.

I need to go back so that I can actually experience the place.

The Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre.
Then we headed out of the city as we were going to go to the Mount of Olives.

We didn't quite make it the way we had planned.

We happened to be leaving the city right at the wrong time.

We tried to make it through the Lion's Gate at the same time as hundreds of Muslims who had just finished praying.

You see, today was particularly special, it's Friday, the Islamic holy day, and Muslims use this day to go pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque atop the Temple Mount.

We were pressed up against a crowd of men, prayer rugs in hand, all leaving the Old City to return to their families.

What should have taken us a minute took a half hour as the crowd bottle-necked out of the city.

But frankly, I didn't mind.

I was in awe of it all.

What a day.

I later realized that in the span of one day, I was completely surrounded at three different times by Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the middle of their pilgrimages.

Now that puts this city in perspective.

Welcome to Jerusalem.

On the Banks of the Jordan...


Goodness.

What a trip.

Are there even words to describe Jordan with?

We spent our first three days in Amman. The capital city of Jordan was mightily unexplored by our group. We spent most of our time in the residence we stayed in. We did manage to at least walk around every night, and got out via taxis on two nights. However, I feel as though I know nothing of Amman.

Although, on our way out, we did get to visit the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque. It's obvious contrast to the mosques of Turkey piqued my curiosity and made me enjoy it's architecture perhaps more than is warranted.
That's a lot of little blue tiles...
As we packed up from Amman, there was something of a weight lifted off my shoulders. Dana and I had panned the entire 10 days of our groups' time in Jordan - which of course made me want to deliver the best product that I could. The lectures in Amman were definitely the part that was most on our backs. They went so well - the students all appreciated them and the speakers enjoyed talking.

But after Amman, it was basically all on the tour company's back.

And man did they deliver.

The Dead Sea
OK... This place is crazy.

I have never felt like I did wading in the waters of this sea. It's completely inexplicable. I spent most of my time on my back, and laughing. It's just such an absurd feeling, you can't help but laugh!

Naturally, it took about 1.5 minutes for the guys to lost their trunks.

Yup, I'm proud to say that I carried on Chris's legacy and swam nekkid in the Dead Sea.

Petra by Night

We drove from the Dead Sea to Petra and got in just at dusk. The valley - Wadi Musa (meaning Valley of Moses) - was lit in deep reds and browns as the sun set.

At 8:30 we made our way into the Petra complex, following only the light of candles laid along the pathway.

It made the whole experience so mysterious - climbing through a canyon complex that you have never been to, only by what's visible from small candles and the full moon's light.

Epic is the word.

Petra

I have wanted to see Petra since I first discovered that it was a real place after watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I had imagined riding down the canyon on horseback into a vast opening with the Treasury exploding into view in all of its glory.

I wasn't disappointed.

Well, minus the horse. There were none of those.
Choose Wisely.
What I didn't know was that this is only one small small part of Petra. We got here by noon and hiked the rest of the afternoon throughout the massive Petra complex. This is by far the most massive and impressive archaeological site I've ever been to.

When you think "meh... that's the least impressive four-story-high-ancient-tomb-carved-into-the-canyon-wall-two-thousand-years-ago I've seen today" you are spoiled.

Wadi Rum

The next day we drove to Wadi Rum to spend two nights camping with the Bedouin.

Come. On.

This is the section of the desert that T.E. Lawrence settle down in and explored/fought for in the early 1900s.

I'm not sure it's changed much since then.

We began our Bedouin adventure witha two hour camel ride. Yup. I've become a master camel rider in the past week.
The Caravan...

Our Fearless Leader



What I Saw.

No Problem for Dana.

Happy Joe Young.
 We arrived at our camp after those two back-numbing hours and then spent the next day and a half wandering, jeeping, and climbing around Wadi Rum.

I felt so at home in the desert.

Who would have thought?

I already miss the feeling of sand, the Bedouin tea and music, the awe-inspiring sunsets, the way-too-dangerous rock climbing, and the pace of desert life.

See you soon Wadi Rum...

Biblical Sites

After leaving the desert, we made it to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan.

Where John baptized Jesus.

Woah.

Not sure I can capture what it felt like to dip my feet into the Jordan where Jesus' (probably) dipped his, other than to say that it was mysteriously amazing.

Then, to Mt. Nebo, where Moses caught his glimpse of the long-awaited Promised Land and finally rested his weary feet forever.

It was so chilling to look into Israel from where Moses did and know that I was going to complete the journey he never could.

Which is exactly what I did the next day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Making Drake Proud...

How do you chart your travels?

This is my new favorite technique.

:)



Cyrillic is a really fun script. I love it.



Mapping the journey...







This was one heck of a day (see below).
Oy... Massive task ahead. I'll get you yet Arabic!




April 1, 2012

3:30 AM  - Wake up. Groggy. Smile, cause this is the last time I will wake up in the annoying dorms at Yeditepe University.
4:00 AM  - Get on the bus. Run around herding the students into the bus. Feel terrible as it is breaking hearts on both sides of the car doors.
4:15 AM  - Cross the Bosphorus Bridge from Asia into Europe. Frown, because it hits me that this is the last time I will be in Istanbul until who-knows-when. Recognize that I love this city.
4:45 AM  - Get to Atatürk airport and try to check-in. There is no one from Turkish Air at group check-in. Uh oh.
5:25 AM  - Still no one. Don't Panic. Where's my towel?
5:45  - Finally she shows up and tries to expedite our check-in. This technique kinda works.
6:05  - Get passport stamped.
6:10  - Begin running to gate.
6:20  - Still running.
6:30  - Gate in sight. Still running.
6:40  - Get on plane for our schedules 6:45 take-off. Phew.
7:15  - Plane takes off. Birds on the runway keep us taxiing for far too long on the tarmac.
7:20  - Watch the sunrise over Istanbul. Officially miss it for the first time. That didn't take long...
8:45(Egyptian Time)  - Land in Cairo, Egypt, Africa (counting the continents?)
9:00  - Get passport stamped (#2).
9:45  - Hop on tour bus.
10:05  - Cross the river Nile. Think: 'Woah... I'm in Egypt.'
10:15  - Realize that Cairo isn't at all how I imagined it. Officially give up on thinking that I can try to transliterate any of the signs.
10:30  - Get to the Great Pyramids at Giza. Say "This is SO surreal!" for the first of at least 100 times that day.
10:45  - Climb all over the stones. Obligatory. Get caught in sandstorm of epic proportions. Perfect setting.
10:50  - Get back on bus, drive to panorama shot. Remember to get in a few photos. Proof.
11:10  - Take a bunch of pictures at the Sphinx. This is pretty awesome.
11:35  - Herd cats...er...students back onto bus. 
12:00 PM  - Cross back over the Nile. Still can't believe where I am.
12:20  - Start to process Cairo. Fail to understand the terrain - so much sand.
13:00  - Return to airport. Easy and successful check-in.
13:05  - See Sarah Iskander. Talk separated by glass wall. Feel particularly like I'm incarcerated.
13:30  - Get passport stamped (#3).
13:50  - Get told that since we put together Jordan, we are calling all the shots. For the next 10 days, we are the Program Directors. DON'T PANIC. Start clutching said towel...
14:30  - Take off from Cairo. Watch as we ascend in the sandstorm. Surface from the storm at about 20,000 feet. It was this serene picture of a horizon created by the sandstorm, dotted with huge clouds on top of it, and a stunning look at the full moon in broad daylight. It felt kinda like this:
That said, I have never in my life felt like Keanu Reeves. 
16:00  - Land in Amman, Jordan, Middle East, Asia (full-continental-circle).
16:30  - Drive through a city that feels how I imagined the Middle East would feel. 
17:15  -  Check into our residence for the nest four nights. 
19:00  - Mind melts from complete overload.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

General Will...

So what if it's a little sappy?

This is how the people can share their voice with their governments. It's movements that will shape the future. Don't believe me? Take a look at how many Congressmen and women are suddenly aware of who Joseph Kony is.

Government's do listen.

The people finally have the tools to make their words echo in the halls of politicians.

And this is just the kind of thing that should be shouted:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Life is Good Today (Part 3)...



... And that was just Saturday...

On Sunday we went out to celebrate Jenna Fikes' birthday.

Her and I had both been really excited to try this bar that we had found on spottedbylocals.com.
The place is called Karga, and it looked cool.

Little did we know that we had found the best bar in Istanbul.

Of course, the first requirement for a gem is that it is advertised very little. Check. This place doesn't have a sign, an ad, or even writing letting you know you've found it.


Instead, there is simply a little logo above the door:



It opens up into an old, converted four-story bar. At the entrence is a DJ booth lined with CDs from a huge variety of genres (Radiohead was the choice when we were there). Every floor has it's own mini bar, and is pock-marked by random assortments of tables, chairs, artwork, and unique lighting.

It's simply fantastic. It's what every bar should aspire to become.

And they had Guinness on tap. Got my St. Patty's Day in, after all.

Sláinte.

Life is Good Today (Part 2)...

...And that was just Friday.

Obviously, after that day/night we all slept in a bit for a later start.  

We got going and again took the long trek from our dorm to Sultanahmet. Today, we were going shopping.

See, normally, I'm not a big shopping guy. But there's this place in Istanbul that makes the act really fun. This place is called the Grand Bazaar.

Credit where it is due: Anadolia.com
I mean, when that: 
<---
is one of the over 20 gates to your mall, you're doing something right.

We were smart enough to limit our time in the bazaar to an hour and a half, because if you don't do something like this, then you're lucky to leave that place with anything left in your wallet.

In my three visits to the Kapalı Çarşı this trip I have come away with: gifts for my entire immediate family, a new meerschaum pipe, a  handmade turkish coffee set, a gorgeous framed Iznik tile, all of that ancient money from previous posts, and my show of devotion for one of the Istanbul football clubs.

What a perfect segue way.

We left at a certain time because we didn't want to miss the start of the game.
On Saturday, two of the three soccer teams located in Istanbul played each other.  
 Normally, there are giant crowds of rowdies collected at spots in their neighborhoods. 
Normally, the city slows to a halt in the neighborhood where the game is being played.
Normally, this is a big deal.
But, this was no normal game.
Oh, no. You see, the two teams that were playing are also the number 1 and number 2 teams in the Süper Lig standings.
This was a HUGE deal. 
Which meant that despite starting our search an hour and a half before game time, we couldn't find a single bar on the European side of the city that had seats for all nine people with us. 
We walked around until just before game time.

Then, crunch time came and the four of us who truly wanted to watch the match decided to camp outside one of our favorite spots and watch the game through the windows.

It was awesome. 

We ended up standing on the street cheering with about 30 other diehards from both clubs - going to the corner store for a can of beer, or getting a bag of popcorn from the street vendor who came by with his cart.

I've never had this much fun watching a soccer game. Add to it that the game was spectacular, with three of the prettiest goals I've ever seen, and you've got a perfect night.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life is Good Today (Pt. 1)...

Sometimes you just have to archive a weekend. Because it's that fantastic.

This is what we call a good old fashioned update.

Friday, March 16 2012

-We finished up our last day of classes and I rejoiced. Lectures done. We made it. 
I've left these days full of classes utterly exhausted. I'm not entirely sure of why.
Perhaps is the length or type of lecture.
More likely it's due to the strange chi that envelopes our dorm building that makes true and actual rest impossible.
Sleep is uncommon enough, but rest? Well that's just out of the question.
So, per usual, I spent the walk back from class debating, do I go into town with some people, or take a nap?
I was so tempted to take a few hours off. 
I am SO glad I didn't.

-Hopped on the bus/ferry into town with Peter, Joe, Keaton, and Sam (boys night out?) just in time to see this:

Ferry with the silhouette of Sultanahmet in the background (Ⓒ Keaton Hudson).
COME. ON. 
How gorgeous is that view?
I'm already missing this city. And I haven't even left. I wonder what the implications of that are...

-We spent the whole ferry ride tossing bits of bread up in the air and watching the gulls catch them in their mouths. Some things to learn from this:
-Birds would make unbelievable wide-receivers/outfielders.
-We are far too easily amused. And that's just fine with me.

-Immediately we headed to the New Mosque. New... as in finished in 1663. 110 years before America was founded, and they call this place the NEW mosque. It's true what they say, Middle Easterners have long memories.
An excellent Ottoman mosque, the Yeni Camii offers a fantastic break from the supremely touristy Blue Mosque while still showing off Mimar Sinan's incredible style. Observe:

Boy. I wish that Istanbul had some pretty things to see... (Ⓒ Keaton Hudson)
-Then, we raced through the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and up the hill to the Suleymaniye Mosque. You see, we were really worried that we wouldn't make it before the call to prayer went off at sunset and we would be barred from entering.
Well, we made it in time. 
And I didn't catch my breath for an hour.
This is, by far, the most amazing, reverent, wonderful mosque I have ever seen. It's daring in its architecture, and yet surprisingly simple. Maybe that is what made it so spectacular. Here's a "doesn't-do-it-justice"still photo and video clip:
video
Please forgive the shakey-cam.

Not only did we make it in time, we were allowed to stay for the entire prayer. Talk about an experience. That's something that every person should get a chance to witness. We didn't say a word for a half-hour, and that was absolutely A-OK.

-After the prayer, we walked outside. And it just kept being breath-taking...

Can you ever imagine something like this just becoming "normal"? 'Oh that? That's just my mosque, no big deal.'

Mükemmel. 















 There was also this:

Nothing special, just an extremely vivid shot of Jupiter and Venus highlighting one of the minarets lit-up in dramatic fashion.
-We left the mosque and headed down the hill for a bite to eat and then to a nargile cafe. Oh, but not a typical nargile cafe.

As we walked down a street for the second time, Keaton said 'I know it was on this street!' Just then, one of the restaurant hawkers, whom we had been ignoring brazenly, got even bolder. He approached us trying to get us into his joint. Finally, we asked him if he knew where the "Cistern Bar" was.

'That's my bar!' It's right here! We've done some construction recently...' He exclaims pointing at a newly concreted spot in the wall. Then, he leads us through one of the restaurants windows, because, obviously, the door had been sealed up for no apparent reason.

We hunched through the window and immediately found exactly what we were looking for:

The entire bar is a converted cistern, each room an ancient underground Byzantine water holder.

I don't often use the word 'epic', but, come on, this is epic.
Please note the ideal range of facial expressions.
-We hung around the bar so long that we missed the ferry back to Asia, and none of us cared. Nothing could get us down on this night.

You know, every so often (read: like once every two days) I have a moment that makes me stop and think 'this is my job!' And then I remember how incredibly blessed I am. 

This is our night-capping view. Hello, beautiful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Road Goes Ever On and On...

So, this is what happens when I get into a little creative frenzy and have a few hours on my hands...
Maps have always been something of a passion of mine, so I've decided to physically map out some of my travels. 

This one is pretty fun.

As I visit a country, I'm filling it in with it's flag.

Makes me feel super thankful for where I've been blessed to go,

and really hungry to keep on walkin'...

Upwards and onwards, I guess,
Please kindly ignore the random line of red in Romania, the phantom Krakow location, and the (I'm really embarrassed about this) misspelled Deutschland...
Next on the list?
⃞          Jordan
⃞            Israel
⃞       Palestine
⃞     Lebanon?
⃞          Egypt?
⃞     Hungary?
⃞     Romania?
⃞     Moldova?
⃞ Transnistria?
⃞       Ukraine?

Checks, please!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ivory Towers...

Yesterday, while heading to the Grand Bazaar, I stumbled upon extreme beauty.

"If anyone has a camera, the light is hitting that mosque perfectly right now" Keaton remarked while the rest of us were too busy looking at our shoes to notice the humongous place of worship straight in front of us.

As I looked up, my breath was actually held. Revealing my inner nerd, I quipped something about the mosque looking like it was straight out of Minas Tirith...

Honestly, though. This view was abnormal. It felt like we had discovered part of a book that had somehow slipping into our reality for just enough time to be photographed and then disappear.


Absolutely my favorite picture from the trip so far. 
No question.

I definitely wanted to share it somehow. So, when I got into a WiFi zone, I did what any good 20-something would do, and put it up on instagram.

I'm not the biggest fan of constant use of sepia, but I have to say. It made this scene look even more breathtaking.


If You Listen...

This was written in my journal 1 month ago. I do not mean for it to represent full truth, or even my opinion on the events in Syria. It was just so incredible for me to be talking to someone about what was going on as we were speaking. You see, Syrians are famous for being tight-lipped about their government and its current affairs. So, take my words not as gospel, simply for what they are. Words of the broken-hearted.

[Note: I have deliberately taken out any personal information about my contact out of respect for him, his safety, and the sensitivity of his words.]

Istanbul   February 4

 He was very nice and hospitable (as always) - and his English is impeccable. 
The most fascinating part was his willingness to discuss the current events of Syria. Once we asked him about it he wouldn't stop talking. There were tears in his eyes as he talked about 6,000 dead -

 "Not just a number. 6,000. That means 6,000 families, brothers, friends"

And his words were marked by the familiar Arabic questioning "for what?"

It was heart-wrenching to not be able to reply with any substance. Through his only-marginally-broken English, he spoke stirring words denouncing killing, demanding freedom, and asking for help. 

"Iran and Russia are friends with Assad. Why? They do not care about the killing. About our people. I don't understand."

What a difficult conversation to leave. I want to ask him so much more about his feelings:

"I know he should be tried - brought to justice - but in my heart I think he deserves the death of Qaddafi."

More about his family:

"Sometimes when I call them on my phone, I can hear guns firing."

And about the future:

"Civil war? Between who? Us Syrians make our country a good place because we look out for each other - not the police, not the government. We love each other."

It is incredible what you can find, if you listen.

Pray for Syria.

Quotable Quotes...

In an effort to relay the content of our classroom experiences here, I have decided to post some of my favorite classroom quotes from the past few weeks.

These are all completely out of context, and as such, even more provocative. Please recognize that they have all been said in measured and academic settings, as such, don't freak out about any of them. Take them for what they are and laugh at a few. Most of the speakers names have not been included, and only are when necessary for contextual purposes.

Regarding Religion
On Islamic Prophets...
"Allah tried Moses, and Aron messed it up. He tried Jesus and Paul messed it up. So this there was to be no human agency. Muhammed was going to get it right." 

On The Bible...
"Many churches/denominations treat the Bible as the Fourth Person of "the Quadrinity". It's a very good Islamic way to be a Christian."

"The idea that the Bible fell down from heaven is Islamic - not Christian."

"The Bible is a divine fusion of spiritual inspiration and human agency."


On the lack of an Armenian speaking congregation...
"It is not very godly to teach the gospel in a language the people don't understand." - Father Zakeus

On the intercession of Saints...
"The Miracle of Mary: When the wine ran out, Mary insisted on Jesus doing something about it. He replied, "it's not my time", but, he turned the water into wine anyway. Why? Because Mary insisted. This illustrates why we pray for the intercession of saints." - Father Zakeus

On Orthodoxy...
"If you want to understand Orthodoxy, come and join the Liturgy - the Eucharist."

On Salvation as a transformational process...
"God became man, so that man can become God."*
 (*Don't take this as a blunt instrument, even though I've presented it as one.)

"The Courtroom Mentality: 'There was a verdict. You are guilty, but you have no money, so Jesus paid your fine.' This does not exist in Orthodoxy."

On Sufism...
"Sufism at the beginning of Islam was a reality without a name and it has become a name without a reality."

Regarding Politics
On Politics...
"Coffeehouses are still the center of politics in Turkey. The unemployed/retired old men get together and gossip - about politics. When we drink coffee, we talk about politics; when we drink Rakı, we talk about politics; when awake, we talk politics; when drunk, we talk politics."

On the Ottoman Empire...
"Under the Ottoman-Constitutional rule (1908-1909), Syrians and Egyptians actually had their first free and fair elections."

"The Balkans were the real heart of the Ottoman Empire. Anatolia is a leg or arm."



On Coups...
"Why have you never had a coup d'etat in America? Because there isn't an American embassy in Washington, D.C."

On Civil-Military relations...
"The State does not exist without a form of military."

On Turkey Joining the EU...
"I'm pro-EU. But I care most about the process, not membership. The idea though, is that we need to become more 'good', but they need to be more 'fair'."

"The EU needs to decide: does it represent the Renaissance (Christian Club) or the Enlightenment (based on universal values).

On Atatürk...
" There is a pathological love affair between the Turks and Atatürk."

Regarding Society
On "Turkishness"...
"As minorities have stressed the diferences in ethnicity, the idea of Turkishness has become increasingly ethic."

"[A Turkish general said during the 1980 coup] They are not 'Kurds'. There people are Mountain Turks. They live in the mountains. And when they walk on the snow, their boots make a sound that sounds like 'kurd, kurd, kurd' and that is where they get this name." Note: highly controversial and widely unaccepted view in the present.

"To be a Turkish citizen is to be a Turk" - Constitution of the Turkish Republic (since altered)

On Shanty-towns...
"If oppression is invisible, it wan be maintained."

On interviewing people in the Gecekondu (shanty-towns)...
"No trust. There was always the police. Undercover police. Plain-clothes police. Or the ghost of the police."

On Youth...
"Every society sinks or swims depending on what it does with its 20 year old men."

Quotes from a guest lecture by Dr. Feroz Ahmad
"[Nasr] was knocked off his perch in 1967 and the Arab world has been in decline [since]." 

"All US wars have been Far Eastern wars."

"The tragedy for Armenians is that they found no supporters for their national movement."


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cофия, България

So, it took me two years, but I finally ended up back at an Eastern European speakeasy. Thank God.

That was about two years too long. 

"So, if you have it in you for one more, I know of a fantastic spot."

That's how it started.

Then we walked another two blocks talking about Sofian architecture and the similarities and differences between Bulgarian and Turkish cultural quirks. 

I would have kept going, but suddenly Eric said, "Turn here."

I looked up and to the left to see... a pitch black dark alley with a small light in the back. It looked like a garbage alley with an outhouse.

"Really?"

"Yeah, just go down."

I started down the alley, stepping in (I hope) snowmelt puddles, feeling my way by tripping on the uneven concrete tiles.

Made it to the light, turned right up the slight ramp, and pushed open a completely unmarked barn door. I was greeted by the sounds of thirteen different languages, the subtle sounds of mute trumpets and jazz pianos, and the dim lights of candles.

This incredible bar(n) is incredible. It is only lit by candles, no lights, there is no menu, you just have to know what you want, and you have to know someone who knows where it is. Honestly, it's the best bar I've ever been to.

Check out their article on the place here
I tried to take a photo, but the lighting was so dim, I couldn't get anything remotely visible. However, here is a photo taken by spottedbylocals.com

Here's the takeaway from their article:
"They say that in the past this was the place for the intelligentsia and you could only get in if you know the right person. The door was locked and no matter how hard you knock, unless you know the right words, they wouldn’t let you in. During the transition from Communism this place was open to the public but even nowadays the owner refuses to create an Internet site or promote it further."
I'm already excited to go back either tonight or tomorrow.

This city is amazing. I had no idea what to expect from Bulgaria, but wow. 

Just WOW.

This is a place to return to, no questions asked.