It’s been a few days now since the death of Robin Williams and I have spent those days digging through the layers of my own sadness. As a professional counselor, I am well aware that feeling an emotion does not necessarily equate to understanding that emotion. I feel such sadness about the loss of this man that I never met. And, until today, I was just not sure what that intensity of emotion was all about. Yes I am terribly sad, as I would be about any person leaving this earth too soon. But with Robin, there is more. I benefitted richly from this man my entire life. For 30 years, he has been a constant source of entertainment and laughter. I was 8 years old when Robin taught me to fly, to fight, and to crow as Peter Pan. I was 9 when he brought Disney’s Genie to life, 10 when he dressed up as a nanny for Mrs. Doubtfire AND voiced the wacky bat in Fern Gully (remember that one?). I was 12 when he took care of a couple of kids around my age inside a maniacal, man-eating Jumanji game. And I was 14 when I saw him play a vulnerable, funny, sad, and tough-as-nails therapist in Good Will Hunting (yes, I was too young for that one but really, what are a few f-bombs when you get a story like that – a story of love and loss and brotherhood). For years, Robin Williams has poured into my life. And I never met him. Never knew anything about him, really. I missed those early days, the Mork and Mindy era when his personal demons were more visible. In my child’s mind, he was simply a light source – a never-ending well of energy that could give and give without being exhausted. And without realizing it, I derived great comfort from his constancy. In true egocentric child fashion (and maybe this is just the way we think about celebrities in general) I never saw him as a fallible human being. I chose to bask in his glow without a thought for the light source. And it is that – the looking back, the reassessing, recognizing Robin’s humanity and my naiveté – that has so compounded my sadness over these last few days. He was a human being – a brave human being who fought addiction and mental illness with a smile – but a human being nonetheless, with needs and fears and insecurities.

This feeling that is deeper than sadness is not guilt. I believe that Robin Williams found fulfillment in the joy that he brought to the lives of children like me. Plus I, as a child growing up in central Texas, had no access to this international superstar. I could not have helped him and really had no right to try. He had a family and friends who, from the things that I have read, loved him dearly. No, this feeling is something wider and deeper than guilt. This is a lament of my heart, because the way things are is not the way that they should be. We people are not connected. We crave intimacy but the hunger is never satisfied. So often, we fail to ask for what we need or we fail to give what is needed or (the crux of the issue) we don’t even know what those needs are. In those spaces that are not black and white, where there is no easy answer but things are clearly not right, lament is, in my mind, an appropriate (perhaps the only?) response.

There’s plenty of room for lament right now. Riots and looting and tear gas and rubber bullets abound in St. Louis – a city that I called home until a year ago. Both sides feel unheard, powerless, afraid, and the road to healing is anything but straight. Rockets fly back and forth between Israel and Palestine, fighting an age-old war. Innocent people die and those on the periphery take sides. These are two huge disconnects, breakdowns in human connection, that fill our headlines and our televisions. But we also experience this on a much smaller scale in day-to-day life. Spousal misunderstandings lead to marital tension; teen communication breaks down when their language is totally foreign to their parents; sometimes we don’t even understand what is going on inside ourselves (and if you aren’t connected to you, how will you connect with others?). What’s more, this disconnect is not simply a product of the age we live in. It would be great if we could blame it on technology or selfies or mass media. But this issue of disconnection has been around in one form or another for all of human history. It is nothing new, and we are probably not going to fix it any time soon. And so we lament.

For me, though, there is a spiritual element here. I come from a faith tradition that believes in the restoration of all things, including our relationships. So this lament, this cry of my heart, is a longing for something that is coming. I feel the absence of wholeness because wholeness is what I was intended for and it is also where I am heading. Oddly enough, my own lament is also a reminder to me of my hope. As C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I believe in restoration. I believe that justice and mercy are in the world and will eventually win out. In fact, perhaps my childhood picture of Robin Williams is less a product of my naiveté than of my hope. I saw him fighting for joy and for laughter – not only in his own life but also in mine. And that is not a fool’s errand. Joy will be victorious.

The Hills of Galilee

After our stay in the desert, we headed back up north to the rolling, green hills of Galilee. This is the land of Nazareth (Jesus’s hometown) and Capernaum (Peter’s hometown and Jesus’s “home base” for most of his ministry). This land provides the backdrop for much of the New Testament. And, after the frantic pace of Jerusalem and the desolation of the desert, the green hills and sparkling lake were like a breath of fresh air.

View of Mount Hermon from Hazor, an Israelite city built by King Solomon:


Dan Nature Preserve. This is the area where the Israelite tribe of Dan eventually settled after they failed to drive the Philistines out of the coastal plane. It is also the spot where Jeroboam set up an altar to discourage his people from traveling to Jerusalem to worship in the temple:




Caesarea Philippi. In this town, Peter professed Jesus to be the Son of God:



View from the Golan Heights on the northeastern border of Israel:


We stayed in Ginosar (Biblical Gennesaret) on the Sea of Galilee and spent a good amount of time lounging on the pier outside our hotel. This is the lake where Jesus walked on water:






Looking out from the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Seromon on the Mount:


Inside the church commemorating the feeding of the five thousand:


Capernaum, Peter’s hometown. The darker basalt structures were from Jesus’s time. The synagogue was built in the 4th or 5th century over the original basalt foundation:



Excavated corner showing the original basalt foundation of the synagogue in Capernaum:



Beit She’an – a Roman city built next to the Tel (or mound) an ancient Israelite city:




View from Mount Precipice near Nazareth. It is said that the Nazarenes attempted to throw Jesus off of this cliff after his reading from the Isaiah scroll in Nazareth. Though the sign on top of the mountain says that he escaped by flying away, the Gospel of Luke states that “he passed through their midst”:


One of many beautiful mosaics in Sepphoris, a Hellenistic city near Nazareth:


Megiddo – another Solomonic city. This city is referenced in the word Armageddon (“Armageddon” comes from the Hebrew “Har Megiddo” meaning “Mount Megiddo”). The Bible, therefore, connects this location with the final battle between good and evil.



Caesarea Maritima – a Herodian city and harbor on the Mediterranean Sea. It was here that the Gospel first reached the Gentiles when Peter baptized Cornelius the Centurion. Paul was also imprisoned here as he awaited trial in Rome.




Next Stop – The Desert

After exploring Jerusalem, we headed south to the area around the Dead Sea. The Israeli desert was like no place I have ever seen – no rolling dunes, no flat monotony broken only by cacti. This desert was rugged and wild, full of mountains and cliffs and punctuated by the water of the Dead Sea. And I have to say, I could feel the desolation of the place. This is where David ran when he was being pursued by Saul and where Jesus was tempted by the Devil. Each morning I woke up and felt that the sand and the salt had sucked all the moisture out of my body. Though I loved the strange beauty around me, I could not wait to return to greener pastures. Which we did… stay tuned for part 3: Galilee!

Ancient Beer Sheba, described as the southernmost point of the Promised Land. Modern Beer Sheba in the background:




View of an ancient Roman siege camp from Masada. Masada was originally the winter palace of King Herod, but later became the final stronghold of Jewish zealots during the revolt of 70 AD:




Sunrise over the Dead Sea:


Palm trees at the oasis of En Gedi. David found refuge here when he was being hunted by Saul. It was here that he wrote many of the Psalms:




Dead Sea Scroll on display at Qumran, the location of the ancient Essene community where the scrolls were written and then hidden in nearby caves.



Location on the Jordan River near the place where Jesus was baptized. The river forms the present-day border between Israel and Jordan:



On the Road Again – Jerusalem

Your friendly photographer has been traveling again! This time my travels took me to Israel, a land that I have wanted to visit for so long, I can still hardly believe that I actually saw it in person. In order to get the lay of the land, we began our trip in Jerusalem, then traveled south to the desert area around the Dead Sea, and finally north again to the Sea of Galilee. This post includes some of my favorite photos from our time in Jerusalem. This city was such a mixture of cultures, religions, and even time periods that it was both breathtaking and overwhelming.

One of our first views of the city. Breathtaking:



The Mount of Olives on the left, residential area on the right. The Mount of Olives is covered with Jewish graves:






The view from inside a chapel commemorating the location where Jesus wept over Jerusalem:



The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray and was then betrayed by Judas. The gnarled olive trees could be up to 2000 years old:






A view of Bethlehem from the top of Herod’s summer palace. Herod was almost close enough to touch baby Jesus while his family was in Bethlehem.



Inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Tradition says that this was the location of Jesus’s birth:





A little corner of the little town of Bethlehem:



The ramparts of the Jerusalem Old City Wall:





The Temple Mount:





The Muslim Quarter:




The Western Wall (or “Wailing Wall”). This part of the wall was closest to the Holy of Holies in the second Temple, and therefore a very special place for the Jewish people. Notice the written prayers filling every cranny between the rocks:



The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Tradition (backed by archeological evidence) says that this was the location of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial. If you don’t know the story of the ladder leaning against the window on the right, it is worth a read here.