Friday, April 25, 2008

Innocents Abroad, Part 1

My wife and I embarked on a once in a lifetime tour of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel with a personal side stop in the Netherlands. I have done some traveling in the past but NOTHING LIKE THIS and here I sit, less than a week after returning home and sill feel the after-effects of the trip. One book in our list of “suggested reading” before the trip was “Innocents Abroad” by Mark Twain where he took a similar trip, lasting MUCH longer but journaled about it in this book. While the experiences were different I can’t help but believe the title fit my impressions of the trip and over the next few columns I hope to take you with me as an innocent abroad.

“And then we buried it”

The phrase that sticks out in my mind which became an amusing catch phrase for us to kid our guide was “and then we buried it!” Our guide was an American archeologist who worked on digs in Jordan and Israel. These digs led him to research into Egypt as well because of their influence on the nations as the area superpower for so many years.

Our guide would take us through ruins and point out what they once were. We would look at a stone with a few carvings on it and a square edge but is no bigger than a Rubik’s cube and he would determine that it was once a temple to the god such-and-so along with the date and what the pharaoh ate that day for lunch. All from a Rubik’s cube sized stone. He would point out a mound covered by scrub grass and a stony sand and tell us that it was a temple built by the Egyptians where they would prepare bodies for burial, which was taken over by the Romans and used to house troops, which was taken over by Coptic Christians who used it for a church, which was taken over by the Byzantine Christians who made it a monastery, and now was a large pile of scrub grass and stony sand. Everyone in our tour group would stare in wide-eyed amazement at the mound of dirt trying to grasp and picture what was just said. Finally a brave soul would crack into the awed silence and say, “Umm, how the heck do you know that?”

He would take a deep breath and then “Well when we started digging we found mosaics of the Byzantine monastery, then we went a little deeper and found iconic paintings on the walls that matched those of Coptic churches in Egypt, then as we went wider and found stone that had grooves in them that Roman soldiers would use to sharpen their knives on and matched that with similar grooves from Roman troop shelters, then as we looked at those original stones we found hieroglyphics that show the embalming process and we also found tools that were used in that process, the deeper we dug the more we found out and could date the time periods and found that they embalmed Pharaoh Tutmosesaknotaminohapchetsuit III here in 2436 BCE, on a Thursday afternoon at 4:37, after a light lunch of dates and fresh bread.”

In awed silence the whole group turned again to the mound of scrub grass and stony sand and stared. After about fifteen minutes of mental processing another brave soul turned to our guide and said, “But it’s just a mound of scrub grass and stony sand!”

“Yes, I know, but I got great pictures of the dig, the mosaics, the icons, the stones and hieroglyphs!”

“But it is just a MOUND! Where’s the stuff!”

Our guide looked at the trusting tourist and said with confident understanding, “Well, sure its just a mound, we buried it.”

You could have heard everyone’s neck snap as we all turned to our guide in undisguised confusion. “You did WHAT?”

All of that time and work on a dig to uncover everything, painstakingly documenting every square centimeter, removing tons of dirt and debris with a pickaxe smaller than your hand and a toothbrush, taking pictures and then what do you do? You BURY it!

We would drive by “tells” or mounds of dirt in our bus and our guide would talk about what that mound represented and was then he would end by saying, “and then we buried it.” This would happen to the point where our group would complete his great description of dig sites by chorusing together: “and then you buried it.”

It seems that exposing ancient tiles, paintings and even stone to the normal elements will degrade and even destroy them. So it is common practice on archeological digs to find out everything they can, removed any pottery or other artifact, photograph it and then bury it again. This protects the site until someone can come along with the money to preserve and maintain it for tourists to see. If the money to buy a safe, protected environment is not there, it remains buried AND protected.

As I write this it reminds me of a few hearts I know. This precious artifact is buried away in a lot of people until it finds a safe, protected environment that will allow it to be exposed without destroying it. Sometimes it never happens and it stays buried and eventually forgotten but sometimes, just sometimes that heart is given a save environment for all to see and enjoy. That would make all of us archeologists. We must work on ways to get a safe environment for all those precious artifacts to be exposed to the world and enjoyed by all.

Captain Obvious

Let me give you a list of some of the studies that are being done right now according to Popular Science Magazine:

“Why do teenagers drink?” is a study in the by Prevention Science and what do you think there conclusion is? After years of studying and millions of dollars they have come to the conclusion that teenagers drink to “have fun.”

“Are vacations better without cell phones?” is a study being done by US university professors along with Tel Aviv University. After another million or so they have come to understand that vacations ARE BETTER without cell phones.

“Are un-athletic kids unpopular at school?” is a study in The Journal of Sports Behavior. There conclusions after their million dollars is YES they are more unpopular.

“Do long ambulance drives make you more likely to die?” is a study by Emergency Medicine Journal in September of 2007. YES, they found, in fact you are more likely to die the longer the ambulance ride.

Another study found out that “Loneliness sucks” and still another found that “You can catch the flu more likely in winter” and the king study of them all is that “Sleep will cure sleepiness!”

All of these studies spent millions of dollars and hours of research to tell us what all of us already know. But now “it is quantified and can be quoted” the professors tell us. Okay, it is time I apply for a grant too. Here are a few of my grant funding request ideas:

“How watching Basketball on TV and eating blueberry tort effect my midsection” I propose to sit during the who March Madness and NBA finals season in my Laziboy and eat blueberry tort to see if my midsection grows.

“How vacations effect relaxation” I propose to use the grant money to vacation all year and measure my stress level periodically.

“See if people are really happier with money” I propose to use the $10 million dollars per year of grant money to see if it makes me any happier or not. This might take a few years of research.
What do you think? I should be able to get mine funded with what the government is already funding. Sometimes you just want to give people a V8 bump on the head don’t ya?

Decision Making

How do you make a decision? I am asked a couple of times a month how to answer that question. How would you answer it?

I know some people that make decisions like they jump into a pool; they just hold their nose and close their eyes and jump. Others will check out the depth, check out the temperature, check the prevailing wind, go buy a nose plug, and then finally jump.

The fact is: we make decisions every minute of our life, we just forget we do it. More than “what do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “I don’t care, what about this?” “Nah, we did that yesterday” and so on. Every step you take involves a decision, literally. Try getting around with a bum leg or twisted ankle and you will remember what I mean. You mind makes decisions subconsciously ALL THE TIME. I have always been fascinated watching people negotiate a crowded mall, hallway or airport. Whether they gracefully glide from one opening to another to get ahead or whether they simply follow the crowd. Whether they worry about bumping shoulders with oncoming traffic or just bum and move on. Decisions, decisions and more of them.

First: Decisions are based on experience. Your body knows it and reacts to it. If you step on ice YOU KNOW IT! How is your experience in the area you are making a decision? Have you been here before? What worked and didn’t work last time?

Second: Decisions are based on education. If you haven’t been there before then learn about it as much as you can. Get informed. Do you know everything you can know about both horns of the dilemma? Have you asked all the right questions? It is better to ask now than after you decided.

Third: Decisions are made in the “gut.” Does it feel right? Does your body resonate with either one or does it make your gut cringe to take that step? Test your gut reaction.

Fourth: Decision are made with close friends. This may be part of your educational process but; what do your close friends and trusted advisors say? Often they see parts of you other do not see.

TRUMP CARD: I believe in all of this there is a spiritual trump card. God may be making this decision for you. Even though you experience tells you no, your education says no, you gut is uncomfortable and you friends are calling you crazy; you still are called to do it. Fortunately if you stay close to your God you will find your decisions easier.
I find that God doesn’t eliminate all possible doors and give you just one. What God does, depending on your closeness to him, is start dropping doors one at a time so you have less and less doors to choose from. He will rarely give you just one door to walk through because that will eliminate freedom but he will take it from 100 potential doors down to a handful for you to pray about, research, and discuss with friends. Decisions are made all the time by you so don’t be afraid of them. Look at all your decisions as an opportunity to grow and get closer to your dreams and goals. I’ve decided to end this column here.

Trip of a Lifetime

So I prepare to go on vacation. I leave tomorrow morning and I have not even BEGUN to pack. I will be gone for three weeks; so what do you take for three weeks away from home. My wife and I will be going on a trip to Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and ending in Northern Europe for a few days of bum-around-time.

I study. I took a CD class on Egyptology and got all the recommended books for the tour. I even bought a few extras for good measure. I looked at maps of where we are going and I checked online for temperatures. Clothes are a problem, normally I go to Walmart and buy some cheap golf shirts and then leave them there so I have more room in my suitcase for trinkets on the return journey. My wife and I did some experimenting with underwear, believe it or not. There is “special” underwear out there that washes easy and dries quickly so we only need to take a few pairs. As we get close to leaving I will pack to airport standards: carryon size, no liquid, not overweight, get there early, have passport and ticket in hand, take off shoes and belt, and so on.

We have been planning for a year for this trip, the trip of a lifetime. But packing only a few hours before and I know I will forget something important, like my camera or my special underwear. Planning for trips take time and energy.

How is your planning going? Are you ready for your trip of a lifetime? I mean really THE trip of your lifetime. We spend all this time and energy on going from the US to another country, even another state or even grandma’s house but what about THE trip of our lifetime?
The greatest journey you will ever take is the one that begins the second you close your eyes on this earth for the last time. You will breathe your last breath as if in anticipation of this great journey. Shakespeare called it “The Undiscovered Country.” But most of us don’t spend anytime preparing for this journey. We spend no time studying about where we will spend eternity. We spend little time packing the things that are going to last in this country. The Bible calls that storing up treasure in heaven, meaning that we can actually send “stuff” ahead to be there for us when we get there. We don’t even worry about the monetary exchange rate there. Oh yes, there is a use for money in heaven but you have to exchange it for the currency you can take with you. So before you head off on that journey you need to exchange all your money and possessions for the one thing that you can take: LOVE. Exchange your dollars for love of your neighbor and love of God and you will not only lighten your burden on this world but you will find bags and bags of love waiting for you on YOUR trip of a lifetime.