Written on January 03rd, 2007 by Shawn Anthony
On this day, one year ago, I was en route to Turkey and Lebanon (Beirut). I can not believe a year has passed since I took this trip. Wow! At any rate, below are two combined posts from last year regarding my departure and a few highlights gathered during my time spent in the Middle East. I’ll never forget my time spent visiting the people and places ‘over there.’
My Thoughts Prior to Leaving for the Middle East
I am leaving for Turkey and Lebanon tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. I am both excited and a bit nervous. First of all, I have never been separated from my wife and three children for longer than a few hours. This new experience alone should be enough to keep me emotionally preoccupied. Secondly, I’m not terribly thrilled with flying, especially so far. I will be extremely happy when the wheels of our plane touch ground, both ways.
I will be traveling with about fifteen to twenty fellow seminarians. Again, this cross-cultural experience is a M.Div requirement at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Each class is required to travel to someplace in the world that is affected by United States foreign policy. My class slotted Turkey. We will not be doing mission work of any sort. We will simply be visiting. I’m very pleased with the trips purpose. I would rather tour than be busy with service of any sort, to be frank.
I’m going to have a lot of time to read, on planes, buses, and in the evenings. So, I, of course, made a stop at the local Barnes and Noble for a few titles I specifically wanted to spend some time with during my journey. Here’s the short list of books that will be going with me to Turkey and Lebanon:
1. The Philosophy of Humanism: Corliss Lamont 2. The World’s Religions: Huston Smith 3. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Nietzsche 4. The Praise of Folly: Desiderius Erasmus 5. How To Think Straight: Antony Flew 6. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Gary Dorrien
Those should keep my thought busy for a while. The list should also create more than a bit of conversation between me and my traveling companions. We shall see!
At any rate, I will obviously not be personally blogging again until the 23rd of January. I may pop in if we come across an Internet Cafe during our travels. I seriously doubt it. I have set a few posts for future publication in the time being. So watch for two or three posts per week while I am away. Also, feel free to comment on any post you like, but please forgive my momentary inability to reply to your comments. Also, if one of your comments happen to land in moderation, it will not be released until I get home. I’ll see you all again on the 23rd. Peace.
Highlights and Reflections Gathered Upon Arrival
The jet lag is less noticeable today than it was on the twenty-fourth. Those seven time zones I crossed really took their toll on me. Some claim that a jet traveler will require two days for every time zone crossed to fully recover from the travel experience. I will be back to normal on the sixth of February, if the claim is true. I had a wonderful time in Turkey and Lebanon, but I am so glad to be home. It was a good but completely exhausting three-week trip.
I had an enlightening trip to parts of the Middle East. It is an incredible place, to say the least. I woke up every morning in Istanbul and Beirut to the sound of the Islamic call to prayer, which was also sounded four other times during the day. Nothing reminded me more of my cultural displacement than the sound of the call to prayer blaring over loud speakers to the entire city. It was surreal, given the time in history I find myself living in.
There are so many trip highlights I could cite, but a few stand out as important to me.
Meeting His Beatitude Mesrob II, Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey, is definitely one of the most special moments I can recall. His Beatitude was more than hospitable in spite of being a bit under the weather during our hour long conversation. He provided us with Turkish coffee, chocolate, and more practical enlightenment than most of us could probably actually absorb. His Beatitude shared the many struggles endured by the Armenians as both a minority people and a minority religion, contextually speaking, of course. His articulate presentation of a life lived within a Christian minority was incredible and strikingly different from the Christian experience available here in the West, where the tradition could easily be considered to be the national faith.
Our conversation with Mithat Bereket, CNN Turk War Correspondent, is also a stand out moment of my three week journey. He came to speak to our group directly after completing a broadcast - still miked and still sporting television makeup. Mithat Bereket interviews have included personalities such as Nelson Mandela, Benazir Butto, Muammer El Kaddafi, Yasser Arafat, B.Bouthros Gali, Teslima Nesrin, Tadeuzs Mazowiecki, Mesut Barzani, Celal Talabani, Yitzak Rabin, Simon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, Frederick De Klerk, Antonio Di Pietro, Shamil Basayev, Ibrahim Rugova, Michail Kalashnikov, and Jö’rg Haider. I sat directly across from Mithat and personally engaged him with conversation regarding the Bush administration. Interesting, to say the least. You can see more of Mithat Bereket at PUSULA and CNN Turk.
I also have very found memories of spending time in the home of a Sufi Bektashi Baba. I consider the Bektashi Order of Dervishes to be as free thinking as they are mystical. The Bektashi family we visited, for example, chooses to actually eat during Ramadan. Official Sufi activity is still a criminal offense in Turkey, so our visit was “on the down low,” so to speak. I, as a result, will not be publishing the Baba’s name here either. The Baba is the family leader, or guide; there are twelve Baba located throughout the world. The Baba is, from what I could gather, the source or interpreter of the “Secret Knowledge.” The Baba who invited us into his home for a shared meal with his family was full of this “Secret Knowledge.” He sat in the middle of our group and discussed life, hope, joy, work, Santa Clause, Jesus, and inter-faith dialogue. It was very, very meaningful.
There is so much more I could write about. Perhaps I will as the days go on. I think the three above memories of my trip will suffice for the time being. It was an incredible journey. When I hear about Turkey or Lebanon on the tube, I will definitely be reacting differently now that I’ve been there.