Monday, May 1, 2017

This Kentucky Garden

So, blogging hasn't been a huge priority for the past couple years, but I'm thinking it might be time to get back into it.

We recently moved to a much warmer climate, so instead of plowing our way through snow in March, we started rototilling the dirt for a garden. 

Tilling the garden
Andrew tilling away.
We planted some in March as well.  We planted a couple small blueberries in the far planter, and you can maybe make out some peas coming up in the near planter. 

 Its been fun watching it grow.  About a month later you can see beans and onions...and other things are coming.
small raised beds planted

I started a few other things in little planters on the deck, trying to keep them a little more protected.  The cherry tomatoes were the first up.  
tomato sprouts
 And then they took off. (Above they are just sprouting, below, one week later, they are getting secondary leaves
Week old cherry tomato plant, dirt, garden, plant, young, leaves
 About a week and a half after that, here they are, ready to transplant into the "big" garden Month old tomato plant

The beans are coming along as well.

Then there are the vines - the pumpkins, the zucchini, the cucumbers.  They have cute first leaves.  

new pumpkin sproutgrowing pumpkin

On the fruit end, everyone need their own vine (which has perked up a lot!)

...and fig tree (with a new leaf).

Plus, the blueberry has new leaves!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dear Christian, do not be afraid!

Dear Brothers and Sisters, dear followers of Christ,

My heart has become more and more burdened over the past months.  So many things have happened, and as I have read many Christian's reactions to events of this last year, it has brought me great sorrow.  Word have been forming in my mind for months now and it is time for me to write them out.

Before I begin, I must admit that there has been no scientific polling of opinion on my part.  Most of the opinions that I have seen have been because a friend posted them on facebook.  That said, I have friends in (almost?) every state and in several different countries.  I have friends who are extremely liberal, friends who are extremely conservative, and everything in between.  Friends who are atheists, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox.  Basically, if there is a facebook war to be had, I am likely have friends on both sides.

Even with all these different friends I have noticed an alarming trend in the types of posts I tend to see, and, unfortunately, many of these alarming post are from people who fall more into the "Christian" and often "Conservative" part of the spectrum.  As I would consider myself to be loosely in that category as well, I would hope I could expect better things.

The posts range in subject.  This week the attacks in Paris and the refugee crisis star as the topic.  Last month maybe it was concern over the LGBT agenda or government mandated vaccines.  They all are prone to the same problem though.  Fear.  Oh, the fear may be covered by a fine veneer of outrage ("They will destroy our country!"  "They will destroy our churches!"  "They are trampling on our rights!") but it really all comes down to fear.  We are afraid that we will lose our rights.  We are afraid we will lose our comfortable lifestyle.  We are afraid we will lose our lives.  As Christians, it seems, we are very afraid.

We are exactly the thing that Jesus repeatedly commanded us not to be!  From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is filled with God's command to His people, "Do not be afraid!"  Here are a few references: Matthew 10:26-31, Mark 5:36, Mark 6:50, Luke 8:50, John 6:20, Acts 18:9, Acts 27:24, Hebrews 13:6, Revelation 1:17.  There are many more.

Dear Christians, when did we start believing that we deserved lives of safety and ease?  When did we buy into the belief that because we were American and Christian, we had certain rights that must be defended above all else?  When did we forget that following Christ means taking up the cross?  When did we become so afraid?

May I offer an alternative?  It's not original.  It comes from 1 John 4:18: "Perfect love drives out fear." I think if we were more concerned about loving God and loving our neighbor than about preserving our rights and our way of life. fear would no longer be an issue.

So love the Syrian refugees.  Most of them are also victims of terrorists.  Some of them may be terrorist too, but that doesn't matter.  Jesus didn't dump his disciples because he knew one of them was going to betray him.  He loved them and built into them - even Judas.  And if we are truly going to follow Jesus, then we must accept that sometimes betrayal and death follow, and God can use even those things.

For that matter, love the members of ISIS.  Don't forget the way God transformed the life of a murdering terrorist on his way to Damascus (in Syria) and used him to change the world.  (The Apostle Paul, in case that wasn't clear.)

Love the LGBT community.  You may disagree with them, but don't let that stop you from welcoming them into your life and loving them.  So what if they take away what you think are some of your "rights as an American"?!  In the light of eternity, does that really matter?

Love the people and politicians who threaten to disrupt your way of life or your rights or whatever.  They too are made in the image of God.  And as Christians, really, we have no rights.  We are simply called to lay down our lives.

Dear ones, there are many risks.  We may ultimately lose our lives.  But isn't it better to lose our lives than to lose our souls?  This is our choice, for if we chose to live in fear, we effectively deny the Lord who bought us, the one who told us, "Do not fear!"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rising smoke

Smoke provides a direct link between the earth and the heavens.  With modern technology, it may not be the fastest way between the two, but it’s the simplest and the oldest.  When a column of smoke arises from earth toward heaven it sends a signal to everyone who can see or smell it, whether mortal or god. 

Sometimes the smoke calls warriors to victory. (Joshua 8:20-21, Judges 20:38)

Sometimes it weeps its defeat. (Nahum 2:13)

Sometimes it holds the stench of death. (Isaiah 34:9-10)

Sometimes it carries pleasant aromas, promising life and love.  (Ezekiel 8:11, 2 Corinthians 2:15)

At times the column of smoke symbolizes the Lord’s presence with his people. (Exodus 13:21, Isaiah 4:5)

Perhaps most significantly, it carries man’s attempts to communicate with the gods.  The smoke of sacrifice, the smoke of incense - it would rise to heaven, bearing the prayers of the people with it. 

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! (Psalm 141:2)

As smoke rises from earth today, whether its source is an explosion, a forest fire, or a small candle flame, may it carry our prayers to you, oh Lord.  Grant us Shalom.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Negev Day 3: Dead Sea Day

Andrew Sharp
Impression Report
October 14, 2013

[Sorry this is so belated!  I fell way behind and am finally getting around to posting the rest of Andrew's thoughts from the semester.  More to come! ~Alana]
It was a strangely misty morning in Arad and on our first drive.
            First we went to Masada. While there we observed the long climb up and sent two of our more physically fit members to try and break the school record by making the climb in about two and a half minutes. (spoiler: they didn't make a new record or come super close either) While we were walking up the long route to get to the top we had to physically face the facts of Masada. Masada is a desert fortress mostly built by Herod the Great (or at least one can say that what remains are there are chiefly his) upon a large rock outcrop, shaped almost like a cylinder. Sheer cliffs surround the mountain that has a rather flat-ish top. An immensely fortifiable position, it would take hundreds of feet of ladder to scale it straight up on the side that is most easily accessed, and over a thousand on the opposite side. Thankfully for us hikers, but not so much for the Jewish rebels that held it against the Romans, there was an easier ascent via a huge siege ramp built for taking the fortress. In brief, the Romans, being as utterly organized, patient, and persistent as they were, took months and months to pile dirt up against the cliff face until they could get to the top. This is what makes the site accessible today.

            While at the top we looked at the remains of Herod's palaces and went into one of the giant cisterns. In order to live at this mountain top without fear that the enemy could just lay siege to it and wait for you to run out of food and water, there were huge cisterns dug. Large stone caves designed to store water. All of the cisterns combined inside the top of Masada, when full to capacity, could hold about 40,000 cubic meters of water. That's a lot of water. Not only this but vast stores of foods that weren't easily perishable, dried fruits and veggies, fish, oil, grain, and the like were kept as well. On top of that there was a barracks up top as well. Herod could have likely lived up top with a formidable fighting force, waiting out a siege for many years. A fascinating place.

            In the way of interesting old technology there was something that stood out. A bath house. Not a surprise in itself, but in the heated room, I found what was used to make the hot bath hot. Ingeniously, the whole floor of the room was raised on many tiny pillars, (not visible from inside) making something almost identical to a crawl space under our modern day houses in America. Only made of stone. And at the entrance of this crawl space was a short tunnel, in which a fire was placed and stoked, so that the heat, and smoke would travel into the crawl space, then up and out clay pipes placed opposite the fire, and along the walls of the room. This heated the floor, and the bath house. Ingenious.
            Next in the way of neat things was the remains of a columbarium. A pigeon coop! Or more properly called a Dovecote or Pigeoncote, it was a place to store/raise/house doves and pigeons. They were raised for food, eggs, and in hard times even their poop sold for a price as food in times of famine (See 2 Kings 6:25). An interesting alternative to a chicken coop indeed!
            After Masada we took the Gondola down and went to Ein Gedi. A freshwater spring where David likely spent a lot of his time when running from Saul. It was pretty, scenic, and nice to get a dip of cool water on a hot day.
            After we left Ein Gedi, we got covered in salt all over again by going down to the dead sea. The lowest water
source on planet earth I think. If you can call it a water source. The water has accumulated so much salt over the years that it's crystallizing under the surface of the water. It also made taking pictures with our water proof camera blurry. The water was warm, and we had to be sure to keep it from getting into our eyes. It also was super buoyant because of the salt. One would be hard pressed to drown in it, but because the physics of swimming is so far off due to the level of buoyancy it wouldn't be hard to panic and flail, get super salty water in your eyes, and sputter around a lot making yourself very uncomfortable, especially if you cut yourself on any of the salt formations under the water.

            Lastly we went to see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The end.


The ice on my window collects itself, opaque and thick near the bottom, thinner and more translucent as it grows up the window, coldly reminding the sun trying to shine through that it’s winter here, thank you very much, and Snow and Cold are the only gods here. 

Resisting both the heat from inside and the slight warmth provided by the sun’s rays, the ice clings fast to the window, refusing to let any hope or warmth through.  This window is mine, it says, and I will hold it in my brittle, cold, beautiful embrace forever. 

It doesn't know that it has already lost.  It feels its strength increasing as the sun creeps closer to the horizon, its more and more oblique rays offering ever less resistance to the growing power of the ice.  The greedy ice climbs further up the window, grasping it hungrily, taking all it can.  Surely I have defeated that weak yellow ball of fire, it thinks, as the light fades to a pale gold, and now nothing can stop my glory from spreading to cover the window.  ALL the windows.

It doesn’t know that the sun will rise again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next.  It doesn’t know that even now the earth is spinning, orbiting, turning, to tilt once again towards the sun and that winter will then be succeeded by spring and summer.  It has only existed since yesterday.  How could it know the forces that march inexorable forward to ensure its defeat? 

It may win today, and it may win tomorrow.  It may think it has won forever.  It doesn't matter.  Dawn will follow dawn until Spring comes to dethrone the gods of Snow and Cold.  The window will be released from its icy shackles at last and will again be free to bask in the warmth of the sun.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Negev Trip Day 2: The Biblical Negev

Andrew Sharp
Physical Settings
Negev Day 2 

[Notes and additions in brackets by Alana.]
We set out early in the morning to see Arad. [I have to add that it was one of the most beautiful mornings I've seen at Arad - the sun rising on the Judean hills with the clouds and mist still clinging to them - spectacular.]  A temple complex sits at the top of a large mound of Eocene, a mound surrounded by loess soil in the middle of the eastern most bowl of the Negev. It is here that a small town survived through outside support, some of the trade from the east-west spice route that runs through the Negev, and by digging cisterns into the Eocene bedrock. The town itself is nearly shaped like a slightly bowled and warped saucer [the Early Bronze town], channeling the rainwater into the cistern for collection. In support of this, all the major roads head straight toward this central point, or around it. Looking like a wheel with spokes.

The people [who manned the Israelite Iron-Age fort] had a temple built according to the specifications given in the Pentateuch, but there were two incense altars and 3 standing stones in and near the holy of holies. An indication of multiple deity worship [possibly]. [The picture above is taken from the back of the "Holy of Holies" area, and the two incense altars are visible, along with the sacrificial altar.]  Initiating a conversation on henotheism, the believing in one god out of many as “your” god, the choosing of one god above all others, but not denying the existence of other Gods. This lead to a point where no student could think of a passage in the Pentateuch that clearly said “there are no other gods.” An interesting point considering that there are other powers in this world, evil ones, and at no point does God encourage us to deny that fact, but rather tells us to fear the devil.

Also, there were lizards.

Next we donned hard hats at Beer Sheba. And looked at a Terebinth tree and a cut, stone altar found there. (The stones in [an altar] weren’t to be cut stones, so the prescriptions weren’t followed for this particular altar.)
[Learning about space syntax in a four-room house.]
Then we went up to the city and noted that the well was outside the gate. Odd since the people inside the gate wouldn’t want to have to go farther than necessary to draw water. But this was a practical thing to do, and in many cases wells were left purposely outside the city gate. Why? Because when shepherds, travelers, merchants, etc. come to town, they need to water their flocks/camels/donkeys and if you have the well in the middle of town, you also have a poop ridden walkway between the well and the gate, and poop all around the well, and sheep blocking your roads, and camels belching in your window. Something not highly thought of. SO the wells were outside.

We also talked about how the well was at least 40 feet deep present day [the current brochure for Tel Beer Sheva says that it's 69 m to water level], and its dry on the bottom and that’s because it was filled in long ago and when the location was excavated, digging down another 40 feet or more through dirt and rocks didn’t seem like fun, especially when there likely weren't any archaeological finds down there. (some suggest the well was 80 METERS deep, but that may be rather excessive) So imagine dropping a 1 to 3 gallon jar, on a rope, over a pulley, down an 80 (or 200 if you want to go that far) foot hole, letting it fill up, then cranking it up 80 feet, and pouring out the water into a trough for a camel. Now imagine the camel slurps that up reeeal quick like, and looks at you for more. Because a camel can drink 30-55 gallons at a time.
Imagine that Rebekah, walks with her water jar down to the well amongst the other women in the cool of the day, the evening, going there to fetch a jar full of water, and take it back to the house, maybe a few times. And when she approaches the well, here is a stranger, someone who is required by middle eastern hospitality, to take care of, to welcome into your home and provide for. In fact, to do so much that it’s a dishonor and shame on you to have your guest ever once ask for something that was not provided them. (see Jesus and his foot washing being neglected as an example)

Now imagine said person came riding a camel, or worse, he came with more than one (which is extremely likely) and all the women who are drawing water at the well, waiting their turn, are praying and hoping not to make eye contact with this stranger lest they need to help water all his camels.

But Rebekah sees all this immense work, and (likely after waiting for most of the other women to have their turn) goes and draws water for his camels.

This is the woman chosen to be Isaac’s wife. This is a working woman, and a serving woman. Maybe the well was only 80 feet deep, maybe the camels were small, not entirely thirsty, and there were only two. But that’s still way more work than anyone would ever want to do. Pulling 60 gallons of water up a grand total of 2400 feet. (80 feet, per 2 gallons, 30 times)

Now, Rebekah didn’t use this particular well, she didn’t live in Beer Sheba, but like I pointed out, only 80 feet, for only two camels, and only drinking 30 gallons a piece would be an immense amount of extra work.
Women didn’t sit at home. They worked, hard. And Rebekah took up the gauntlet to go above and beyond. No wonder she was chosen.

That aside, while at Beer Sheva (Sheba and Sheva are interchangeable in this case because we aren’t sure which was the intended pronunciation in the ancient Hebrew) we talked about the bent access gate. Meaning the gate to the town was set up so that immediately upon entering you had to turn left and go a short ways before you could turn right and enter the main of the city. Why? Because if your enemy has a shield in their left hand, and have to move into your gate then turn left, their unprotected on their right side, where you can have men with arrows shooting at them as they enter. It also keeps the enemy from having a straight shot into town, with either a sprint on foot, a racing war horse or an arrow. Either way you need to slow down to enter and do battle. A clever defensive technique.
[Learning about bent-access gates at Tel Beer Sheva with our lovely hard hats.]

Then we used our hard hats and went through the underground tunnel that composed the huge cisterns hewn out for the city’s use.

Next we took a short little hike, and saw some Ibex, and a deep wadi canyon.

[Climbing out of Wadi Zin.]

Then Av Dat (spelling?) ask Alana for info on that, she’s got a video series going.

[Using the baptismal in one of the churches at Avdat.]
[Avdat (or Oboda) is a Nabatean city.  The most famous Nabatean city is, of course, Petra, in southern Jordan.  There are Nabatean ruins to be found all over southern Jordan, the Negev of Israel, and even the Sinai peninsula.  (Quite possibly other places too, but those are the only place I've personally seen.)  The Nabateans controlled the spice trade for a number of years until the Romans decided that was too lucrative a trade to not have a finger in the pie.  So Nabatea became subject to the Romans.  Around the same time, the Nabateans themselves converted to Christianity (at least many of them.)  Some of the most spectacular ancient church ruins in Israel today are to be found in Nabatean cities.]

Then lastly an outlook point over the biggest erosion crater down south. Kind of like a grand canyon, only round, not… snakey. [Makhtesh Ramon - the largest erosion crater in Israel, and in the world.]

Then we went back to the youth hostel for the night. The end!
[Enjoying the hike together.]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Negev Trip Day 1: Shephelah and Costal Plain

Impression Report 7
Shephelah and Coastal Plain
Andrew Sharp
[Edits and additions in brackets by Alana.]

First we took a look near Zorah and Eshtaol, stopping and leaving the bus at the mouth of the Sorek wadi system, a major wadi system just to the west of Jerusalem. We had a good vantage point from atop a hill, looking out west towards the Philistine plain. [I hadn't been here before - it was a great place to note the transition from hill country to Shephelah, and you could see fairly clearly the cut of the chalk trough.]

Then we hopped back into the bus and drove a few minutes further west to Beth Shemesh, another ruin, rock walls, dirt dug out, the typical stuff. It was just to the west of our first outlook. I leaned on a destruction layer by accident. A destruction layer is a layer in the ground where there’s clearly broken stuff and ash and black and other obvious signs of the town being destroyed and burned. On the side of the pits dug out of the town you can see the layers of dirt removed and in that dirt you could clearly see bits of pottery and a black line. It was here that was a location where no pig bones were found. And the towns to the west did have pigs bones. This is an indication, based on the Jewish laws about what is and isn’t kosher, that the Israelites lived here, and more importantly, the Philistines didn’t live in this location either. Joshua 19:40 discusses the territory of Dan, something we could clearly see from here. I got a picture with Alana more or less holding the territory with her hand on the map.
Next, back to the bus again as we drove further south. Here we went to an unknown Iron Age city [Khirbet Qeiyafa]. It had two gates suggesting it was the town “two gates” (can’t remember the way it was said in Hebrew) [Sha'arayim or Shaaraim] but there were many towns that had two, so it’s rather speculative to call it that, and state that the location and title were tied together.
Some thought this area was the location of Israel’s encampment when going up against the Philistines in the story of David and Goliath, but that doesn’t seem to make sense with the topography [and geography]. If it was on this particular hill, the Philistines would have more or less been able to just walk past Saul and the Israelites, rather than needing to push through them [on their way into the hill country]. Not to mention it talks about the Israelites and Philistines being encamped on opposing heights with a valley between, but the valley at the location of this Iron Age City was quite wide, likely too wide for one camp to yell to the other, which kind of happens when the Philistines call out to the Israelites to send out their best man. Plus Goliath is decked out in bronze armor, not iron and the Iron Age City, is, you guessed it, from the Iron Age, when the account likely would have mentioned the use of iron, not bronze. 1 Sam 17 tells the story by the way.

Also, it might have been Goliath’s knee that was hit given David kills him twice in the story. Odd. But the term for forehead and the term for knee are very similar and the knee may have been one of the only places unprotected by Goliath’s armor. Not to mention he falls forward when he gets hit by David, which seems unlikely if he’s hit in the forehead, though one needs to account for the fact he may have been moving down hill, and the weight of his armor in motion may have been enough to cause this too. Though a baseball sized rock moving something similar to the speed of a pro MLB pitcher’s speed ball, maybe a bit faster? That’d knock most anyone over backwards if it hit your head. But Goliath had a helmet on, so the knee isn’t that unlikely. [To get an idea of how slings are used in similar ways even today, you can follow this link:]
Next we stopped atop Beth Guvrin. Saw an old church dome and had lunch.

Next we went to Lachish, saw a big siege mound and anti-siege mound. 2 Chor. 32 talks about Lachish and it’s being sieged in the time of King Hezekiah, the same king who built the “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” we walked through, the long underground tunnel that lead to/from a spring in Jerusalem. Also in 2 Kings 18.
Us on top of the seige ramp

We went to the beach and saw the Canaanite city gate. One of the oldest mud brick gate arches in existence I think. Then went to a hostel for the night, exhausted.