The Other Side of the Pilgrimage

 In Art, Community, Culture, Duty, Faith, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Inheritance, People, Photography, Theology

As a new teacher at a New England boarding school I asked a long-time administrator about the rules. I had not seen anything in the faculty handbook about rules and I was, like everyone in a new place, anxious not to start out by breaking them.

“Rules? Well, we don’t have rules as much as we have traditions.” I asked how I would know what those traditions are and he smiled: “When you break one of them you will know.”

He was right. It took me some time to discover the difference between the two, but when I did I had a new appreciation for the distinction.

Rules multiply and become more specific. Rules are especially good at addressing particular situations, but they proliferate.

On the other hand, it only takes a few strong traditions to set the boundaries or, like a deep keel, keep a ship steady. Traditions allow for some innovation while rules typically lead to greater and greater specificity that eventually quashes all creativity.

However, breaking rules is almost never as traumatic as breaking traditions. It takes a long time to establish a tradition – like always vacationing in a certain place or opening one gift on Christmas Eve. The upheaval over breaking an established tradition is long lasting. I suspect Jesus made far more enemies over offending traditional thinking about the Messiah than he did for breaking a few rules.

I’ve just returned from my first trip to Israel, and I suppose that is what has me thinking about rules and traditions. There were plenty of both – especially in Jerusalem where the concentration of Orthodox Jews is much higher.

I had no compelling desire to go to Israel, but it was a good opportunity to travel with friends and family. I did not have great expectations or, frankly, look to have the Bible come alive and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. In fact, I’m not sure what my expectations were. Like most pilgrims and tourists to the Holy Land, there was the thought in the back of my mind that going there would have an effect, but mostly I was simply intrigued. I read a couple of books suggested by friends to give me a sense of perspective, but there is no way to prepare for the complexity of the situation.

While at the Western Wall praying for close friends, I realized the wisdom of N.T. Wright’s words. We do not come to the Holy Land to have a deeper experience with God or, as he puts it, “to look for selfish refreshment, to top up our own spiritual batteries while forgetting everyone else. We are called to discover the other side of pilgrimage: not only to go somewhere else to find God in a new way but to go somewhere else in order to bring God in a new way to that place, not by tub-thumping evangelism or patronizing, well-meaning but shallow advice, but by our presence, our grief, our sympathy, our encouragement, our prayer.”

Of course, I took pictures, and that is what I want to share with you today.

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Showing 9 comments
  • Mona

    Amazing insight and so thankful for your thoughts.

  • Jeff Pope

    Great insight in your post, Fred. Thanks for sharing it. Jeff Pope

  • Greg

    Thanks for the thoughts and the great pictures! The picture at the top took me right back to an Israel experience of my own. The building at the top of the hill in the first picture (opposite Mt. Zion), is the Scottish Hospice. My parents took me to Israel when I was 11, and we stayed at the Hospice. Having jet-lag, I was up early and ran around outside all over that hill. I went back to Israel at age 21 for study and we visited an archaeological dig in that same spot. Later I read about how they found a priests amulet in a grave at the dig, that is currently one of the oldest scriptures ever found. Last year I took my own kids to Israel and we found the amulet in the museum. I ran right over the top of that as a kid, never knowing it was there. I think there is much we miss in life like that, but God blessed me by allowing me in that instance to know a bit of what I so easily missed the first time. There is much we will not know in this life, until God lifts the veil in heaven.

  • Jeanie

    I have never been to Israel, but your thoughts before going have been exactly mine. So I was especially glad to read your “after thoughts.”
    The pictures are outstanding. Really, truly outstanding.

  • Colleen

    Thank you, Fred, for the gift of your sharing!

  • Keith Cobell

    Your pics transported me back to my college days when I studied in Israel for a semester. I also left there with a greater appreciation of the complexity of the place, and after four months having only scratched the surface of it.

  • Jim Bell

    Fred, you are an artist. I knew you facility and power with words, but not your amazing talent as a photographer. Thank you for brightening my day. Thursday’s are always a favorite. Jim Bell

  • Michele Dillon

    Fred, Love the pictures (you capture your subjects so well!) and thoughtful blog. Never thought of rules and traditions that way, but you are on to something.

  • Mary lee jennings

    Fred. I am in awe of the way you capture images with your camera… What an eye you have and how provocative the subjects are. Going to Israel has been one of the most impactful trips we ever have taken for any number of reasons. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and insights. Blessings Lee Jennings

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