Tag Archives: Culture

Today would be a good day to be in Nazareth

It’s hard to believe 5 months have flown by since we were in Israel. Today I’m wishing I could head back for the day to one of my favourite towns. Nazareth is most famous as the place where Jesus and His family lived and it is great to ground some of the stories of His life in this place. It’s also just a really lovely place to hang out, observe and share life in today.

What have I loved about Nazareth?

Like many places, it is the combination of geography, history, and culture, that weaves the story and invitation of this place.
Nazareth is located in Galilee, in a natural ‘bowl’ surrounded by hills. This great view of the city is found from Mt Precipice, believed by some to be the place where the people of the town wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff after his sermon in their synagogue.

The mountain looks out over the Jezreel Valley, the most fertile part of Galilee, and standing there makes me feel like I’m standing in the middle of a map.

In the city itself is a maze of donkey-track streets going up and down, round and about, what I have found to be a great place to wander and a tricky place to drive!

I love seeing the beauty of houses from different eras built side by side, standing as testimony to the many lives and stories in this place over generations.

Nazareth today is a large town with a largely Arab population, about 1/3 Christian and 2/3 Muslim. Near the central old market is the beautiful old White Mosque.

Even older again is the so-called Synagogue Church, a simple room built atop crusader ruins to remember  and evoke the church where Jesus preached.

And even simpler (and older) again are the caves located underground where it is believed Christians hid during Roman persecution.

The layers of history are also seen at the Catholic Church of the Annunciation. The large church was built in the 1960s.

Inside is a church within a church, with an 18th century altar.

This is located inside the grotto, an ancient church where 5th century mosaics have been located.

Outside, excavations underneath the church have discovered the remains of the village from Roman times.

In the bustling town today people live and shop and socialise in the footsteps of this history. Take this carpenter’s workshop for example, its owner following in the traditional profession of the town’s most famous resident and His father.

Or the renowned Elbabour spice shop, milling and grinding local produce for over 100 years.

When travelling without the larger group, I’ve had the privilege of staying in the beautiful Fauzi Azar Inn.

The staff and volunteers of this guesthouse have a heart for the local community and were engaged in numerous projects including this youth drop in centre with its juxtaposition of modern facilities in an ancient location.

What have I learned from Nazareth?

There are two experiences in Nazareth that I have found educational in complicated and unexpected ways. The first is Nazareth Village, an open-air museum built to reconstruct and reenact life in Jesus’ time.

I have mixed feelings about this place.

It is certainly helpful for bringing the biblical story to life …

… and evoking imagination about a different time and place.

But it is run by non-locals and has a distinctly Western flavour.

And, I think it is fair to say, it can feel a little bit kitsch.

The other place I continue to ponder is the Church of the Annunciation itself. It contains some of the most beautiful modern stained glass windows I have ever seen, which shaped some of my reflections in a previous post.

But it is also decorated by mosaics from around the world depicting the annunciation story.

Each one depicts the story from their own national perspective.

On one hand I do like the idea of drawing our own connections to the significant stories of our faith.

On the other hand, it feels like perhaps we are re-creating Mary and Jesus in our own image.

I have used these photos in some of my biblical studies classes to raise this question.

And of course inevitably someone asks about the Australian artwork, which I have to admit I personally find one of the more difficult to engage with.

I think in the end my favourite is the one from Nazareth itself, both because of its simplicity and because of its authenticity to the story’s location within history, geography, and culture.

It reminds me again that there is still much to learn from the people who make Nazareth their home today. Apparently the bulk of visitors to this city do a day trip to see a combination of these main sites but don’t actually stay in the town. If that’s true, they are missing out. The generosity and hospitality of the local people here, despite significant political and social challenges, is inspiring and challenging. I hope to spend more time among them if I can.


Today would be a good day to be in Tokyo

Tokyo was the first city I visited on my first big overseas trip. I only had a few days there, and at that stage I hadn’t really figured out what kind of traveller I was, what I really loved to do. I stayed with some friends who were living there and had a fantastic time, including celebrating New Year’s Eve. But I think it would be great to go back there now, over a decade later, when I have much more travel experience under my belt and I know why I love travelling so much, and see more of what this amazing city has to teach me.


What did I love about Tokyo?

Probably the initial reason I have been thinking about Tokyo this week is because I have discovered a great little Japanese restaurant right near my house that does really yummy okonomiyaki. It was definitely my favourite food discovery of my time in Japan!


I also loved the street food like takoyaki and yakitori, as well as the opportunities eating it brought about to meet people wandering by who just wanted to say hi and practice speaking English with a gaijin.


I was also pretty excited about discovering a vending machine with hot chocolate in a can!


I loved getting a small glimpse of the different way people do things in different places, such as the impact of house sizes on our relationship with domestic animals. In Australia many people have pets, and some even pay someone else to walk their dog for them. In Tokyo, I loved seeing the guy with lots of dogs you could pay to take for a walk, and visiting the cat ‘museum’ where you can have an hour or so to play with some feline friends.


I loved seeing glimpses of experimental technology that was yet to make it to my homeland, from robot dogs to mobile DJ vans and everything in between.



And Tokyo was also the first place outside Australia I saw snow, and experienced it as just an everyday occurrence, so that is a pretty special memory!


What did I learn from Tokyo?

Something I noticed in Tokyo was the number of places that appeared to replicate things familiar from other parts of the world.


This could be seen as paying homage, but I couldn’t help wonder if at times it betrays a seemingly common kind of fear that one’s own cultural distinctives are not quite ‘enough’?


What I’ve learned in my travels since Tokyo is that what I really love and what I really learn from is getting a sense of what makes a particular place and its people unique, what makes them tick, what they have to teach the rest of us. I don’t want to see the same tourist attractions you can see anywhere, I want to know what makes each place and its people who they have uniquely been created to be.


I missed out on on having time to explore Tokyo’s rich history and culture in a way that I could learn from and be challenged by more deeply, which is of course why I’d love to go back!


But one random thing that really struck me when visiting Tokyo was the degree of specialisation seen particularly in the way different types of shops were grouped together, and different shops sold only specific products.

We found everything from a brush/broom shop …


… to a frog shop!


I was impressed by the specificity, and for me it says that it is ok to choose to just do one thing as long as you do it to your utmost. I think we can all use the reminder to be who we are and do what we do sometimes.

Japan, I look forward to coming back now that I know what it is about travelling that I really love and learn from and receiving more of what you have to offer.

In the meantime, you do you, Tokyo.