Our long roundabout route to get to Tiberias did have the bonus of a lovely dinner and a comfortable night in the Scots Hotel. The hotel is not without its own controversy within the Church of Scotland. It is, unashamedly, up-market and represents a very significant investment on the part of the CofS. There are many who question its value and place within the CofS. I don’t intend to (or wish to) rehearse all the arguments here, but I will say that, in one respect at least, it serves as a very challenging witness to the businesses around it. The hotel prides itself on its ‘equal opportunities’ employment policy and, in a country and political situation where discrimination is rife, that stands out. Is that enough to justify its continued support? Probably not, but it does intend to do much more to be a visible presence in the area. It already supports small community enterprises through its purchasing options, for example. In a country and climate where there is a very real risk (and reality) of ‘de-humanising’ the ‘other’, such visible witness is not to be under-estimated and is to be applauded and supported. But it does put the CofS in a very vulnerable position. At this year’s General Assembly, some concern was expressed at the Church’s refusal to support a boycott of Israeli goods due to the risk of being declared an ‘illegal organisation’ by Israel. It would be places like the Scots Hotel which would suffer under such a declaration. The politics of Israel and Palestine are nothing if not complex, challenging and far-reaching.
Regardless of the politics and controversy surrounding the hotel, it’s a nice place to spend some time – especially if someone else is paying. But we didn’t come to Tiberias and the area around Galilee to spend time in a nice hotel. We were up and out early in the morning to spend time seeing the area, but what better way to spend some time in the area than actually on the Sea of Galilee itself. And if you’re going to potter around in boats, why not spend a bit of time in praise and worship? So that’s what we did. Part way along our voyage the engines were cut and in the (relative) quiet, we sang the very appropriate ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’ and spent some time in prayer and praise and contemplation. After our time of worship we got underway again, this time to the sounds of our boat’s captain singing well-known praise songs he had translated into Hebrew. We were also encouraged by him to buy his latest cd of said songs a well.
Our short sail took us from Tiberias to Ginosar where we were met by our coach and proceeded on our whistle-stop tour of key sites (and sights). I think I’ve already mentioned that wherever there’s the faintest whiff of a ‘holy site’ you’ll find a church built on it. Galilee, of course, has its fair share of such sites given that much of Jesus’ ministry was in and around the area. So we duly visited a number of them, commemorating such events as the feeding of the crowds or the place where the sermon on the mount was preached from (this, it must be said, is a particularly beautiful setting). We even visited ‘Pete’s place’ – the site where it is believed the Apostle Peter lived in Capernaum and which now with a somewhat UFO-like (but nevertheless very attractive) church parked over the top of it.
Our return journey to Jerusalem also took us via the Mediterranean coast and a visit to Caesarea (Maritima). Photos here. Its a stunning archaeological site – absolutely huge and with so much to see. It has to be said though that we were all kind of tired and didn’t really do the place justice. After a wander round a cold beer and a sea view won out.
I enjoyed the trip around the Galilee area and it was good to get something of a sense of geography and environment of this key area in which Jesus spent much of his ministry. But, when all said and done, there was little to see – only those churches placed over what tradition holds to be the sites of key events. Thinking about it, what was missing was any sense of ‘life’ about them. I know that the Jerusalem of today is a far cry from what it would be like 2000 years ago, but you still get a sense of people going about their business, their religious observance, their leisure, whatever. There is that strange mix of ancient history in the stones and cobbles still being trod and visited by those doing much the same sort of things today as the people of ancient times were doing. Add to that the ongoing cultural and political issues and there is a greater sense of life mixed with the history.
I think that one of the key thoughts or ‘learning experiences’ from this trip is that ‘people matter’. Buildings and their history and sites associated with important events are all fine and well, but unless you can get a sense how they impact on life then and now, then they are, in many respects, simply interesting artefacts. Maybe it’s simply that Jerusalem is so unavoidably about people that everything else pales by comparison, but I did struggle to ‘connect’ with the visits on this part of the trip.