If you’re looking for video resources for Holy Week, either for personal use or to share with others, you may be interested in this video about the Via Dolorosa. I’ve been in correspondence with the videographer, Eran Frenkel, since 2013, and look forward to meeting him in March 2018 when I return to Jerusalem.

Not everyone is able to make a physical pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which was one of the things that compelled me to write Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land. I used words to set the scenes, share my experiences, and unpack what the pilgrimage meant for me. But if it’s possible, I encourage you to also watch images and video like these — filmed on location in Jerusalem — to add texture and immediacy to your armchair pilgrimage.

Here are links to three other videos I’ve featured in the past. If you go to The Jerusalem Experience website you will find many more videos. I’d love to hear your reactions to all of these resources, or perhaps suggestions for others!

Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land (Eerdmans, 2012)

When I was writing this book, I was warned I would never find a publisher: “Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land — they only like to argue about it.”

The naysayer was wrong, but the truth underlying his words is a sorrow. The Holy Land is a place of historic conflict, but it is more than that. As the Church Father Jerome once said, the Holy Land is a “fifth gospel.” This gospel begs to be experienced rather than simply studied. Pilgrimage is about the verbs! A pilgrim doesn’t live solely above the neck, in the realm of facts and doctrines. A pilgrim travels dusty roads, swims in holy water, drinks wine, eats olives, lights candles and touches sacred stones. Whether you are planning to go on pilgrimage, reliving one you took years ago, or taking an armchair pilgrimage through my words, I invite you to become a pilgrim with me.

Available at Amazon.

Below is a one-minute book trailer, and below that a few paragraphs recorded in my voice.

Looking for Christ in the face of the Other

The “connectivity” of our world can bring such blessing. I received an email the other day from The Very Rev. Canon Dr. Gregory Jenks, who is the Dean of St. George’s College in Jerusalem. Perhaps you will recall that St. George’s hosted the pilgrimage which I wrote about in Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land.

The Dean wanted to let me know that one of their employees, Khalil Bassa, had recently died. Because I had included a conversation with Khalil in my book, he wondered if I would like to write a few words for their website. I was happy to do so here.

Rest in peace, Khalil.

Share This:

Virtual Pilgrim: Underneath Jerusalem’s Western Wall

Are you looking for ways to “walk with Jesus” during this season of Lent? I invite you to check out the videos produced by Eran Frenkel in Jerusalem. His most recent video takes us through the Western Wall Tunnels. This is a place I wasn’t able to see on my pilgrimage, and I so enjoyed “being there” virtually.

Visit Eran’s site — JerusalemExperience.com — to find transcription of the narrative and many more videos. You can also subscribe to Eran’s YouTube channel and share these resources with others.

Share This:

When Sanctuaries Aren’t Safe

Recently the pilgrim site at Tabgha, Israel was attacked by arsonists. Very little mention was made of this in US media. I wrote a blogpost for EerdWord, the Eerdmans blog. Thanks for reading.

Share This:

Obama Tackles Our Crusader Past

At the National Prayer Breakfast on 5 February 2015, President Obama delivered remarks that have caused some reaction. Here are his opening paragraphs:

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

I am so glad the President felt able to speak his mind about these realities. After that opening, he urges faith leaders to exercise the virtue of humility. Then he reminds us of the importance of the separation of faith and government (church/state) and finally, calls all of us to the Golden Rule. Solid, forthright remarks. (The full text of his remarks is available here.)

Crusader crosses in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Crusader crosses in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Christians are too quick to forget the ugliness of our own past. The truth is that right belief can drive people to do the wrong things.

One of the realities I wrestled with during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was the evidence of the Crusaders, which lingers in many places. The Crusaders left fingerprints on that land, quite literally, by carving crosses in stone, perhaps using the same blades that had  murdered “infidels,” Muslims and Jews. Those stone crosses are the mark of Christianity, a mark that should sober us all. I know it made me reflect on my own faith tradition.

In my book, Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land, I speak about this in a number of places, but let me share a section:

Perhaps the act of tracing my finger over the nameless Crusader crosses helped me work out this religious impulse toward high-mindedness, this passion for righteousness. But why lay that passion at the feet of the Crusaders a thousand years ago? This passion isn’t dead. Look at my own Calvinism. Our Pilgrim and Puritan forebears believed that they were a chosen people decreed to establish a shining city on a hill, and that belief shut out other beliefs, not from malice but from the desire for purity. If you’ve got something shining and pure that belongs to God, you need to safeguard it.

No wonder I was worried about coming to this Holy Land. It was an absolutely reasonable fear. Religious zeal leads to a passion for purity which leads to violence in some organic way. And that fact should terrify people of faith.  (p. 151)

Share This:

Virtual Pilgrim: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Are you planning to visit Jerusalem, or do you wish you could?

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a vast building with a confusing layout and centuries of tumultuous history. There are chapels upon chapels, and that is meant literally, as chapels are stacked upon each other. I’ve talked to pilgrims who loved this site, and pilgrims who were overtaken by tears. I do know that the church is overwhelming with its labyrinthian quality, plus the emotions engendered by being in the place where Jesus is said to have died and was buried.

In my book about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I describe my experiences at the Stone of Anointing, which were powerful.

Here is a wonderful, 8 minute video of the church. If you are planning to go, you will appreciate the orientation this gives you. If you have already been, this video will refresh your memory and allow you to “go there” again. If you are unable to travel, you will at least have seen the highlights of this holy place.

I have become (virtual) friends with the filmmaker, Eran Frenkel, and am impressed with his work. I hope you’ll check out his website, JerusalemExperience and consider subscribing to his channel. I will link more of his videos during Lent. Between his videos and my writings, you can become a virtual pilgrim to the Holy Land this Lent.

As always, I invite you to leave your reactions in a comment!

Share This:

Virtual Pilgrim: The Mount of Temptation

Lectionary Study on Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13

Need a break? I invite you to take a 5-minute pilgrimage to Jericho!

This video will take you to the Mount of Temptation, a hill high above Jericho which is the home of an ancient monastery. The site is associated with the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil, which is told in  Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.

This video was made by Eran Frenkel. Check out his videos about other sites in and around Jerusalem at www.JerusalemExperience.com.

Share This:

9 Things Pastors Can Do Besides Pray for Gaza

Pray for Peace, Yes, but Also . . .

The conflict in Gaza occupies hearts and minds right now. I know you’re praying for peace. But how else can a faith leader respond? So often we feel forced to choose a side. Are you pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian? The topic always seems to boil down to this question which (reasonably enough) results in paralysis.

When I pitched my book idea, I was told: “Remember that Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land. They only like to argue about it.

Zing!

Yet, there is so much more for faith communities to do than argue. I continue to believe that one of the most valuable aspects of life together is the opportunity for vigorous study and discussion — whether in Sunday morning adult classes, evening forums, midweek “Supper & Study” events, or some other venue.

Please don’t be afraid of a spirited discussion on a touchy topic. Most folks desire a safe place to explore things that matter. Where else can we wrestle with current issues and relate them to our faith? If we begin the discussion with prayer and open hearts — and ground rules about listening carefully and speaking in love — the Spirit will bring us along. Here are some discussion/study suggestions, each of which takes a tiny bite from an enormously complex topic. You know which ones will best appeal to your folks:

STUDY THE BIBLE —

bforex 1. Tackle the Hebrew Scriptures: Study Abraham and Sarah and the promise of land (Deuteronomy 1). Or revisit the story of Isaac and Ishmael (Genesis 16 and following). What did the text mean then? What does it mean now? Does it have anything to do with the current conflict? If so, exactly what?

http://theshopsonelpaseo.com/?syzen=%D9%81%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%83%D8%B3-%D9%83%D9%88%D9%85&42f=9c فوركس كوم 2. Tackle the Christian Scriptures: Study what Paul says about faith as a devout Jew turned Jesus-follower. Or revisit a passage from Romans or Galatians. What did the text mean then? What does it mean now? How are Christians and Jews and Muslims related today?

inwestować na giełdzie 3. Use a Resource: I trust the Thoughtful Christian resources, some of which are available as downloadable single-session studies. (Feel free to suggest others in a comment.)

EXPLORE THE HISTORIC CONTEXT — (more…)

Share This:

Why I Support the Presbyterian Church’s Vote to Divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions

People say that denominational decisions are like law and sausage. If you love them, you don’t want to see them getting made. But I love the way we Presbyterians govern ourselves. I geek out over our historic principles. Have you heard these beautiful, high-minded words from 1788?

~ God alone is Lord of the conscience

~ Truth is in order to goodness

~ It is our duty to exercise mutual forbearance

When the General Assembly met this June, in Detroit, it was the 221st time that the Presbyterian Church has assembled to figure out how to be the church together. We assemble because we believe that the Spirit moves in an unique way among groups of people who seek the Spirit’s guidance. We don’t allow absentia voting. If you’re not in the room to feel the Spirit, you’re not part of the process.

Sometimes I wonder what John Witherspoon would think if he knew that thousands of people watched the meeting via live stream, all over the country. Could anyone at the first meeting of the General Assembly in Philadelphia in 1789 have envisioned such a thing? Times change. (The electronic voting is different today than it was in 1997 when I was a commissioner to the 209th in Syracuse.)

But in other senses, the Presbyterian process hasn’t changed all that much in two centuries. The process is still an orderly one: motions, minority reports and amendments, all with the goal of “perfecting” a motion which then goes to a vote. Underneath the order there is ardor. That’s a quip you’ll hear repeated, because it’s true. Each commissioner cares deeply about our church. Otherwise would they spend a week in a convention center in Detroit, clicking on voting gizmos? The stockpiles of Legos and Twizzlers on their tables don’t offset the grueling schedule these folks endure. Yet they know it’s an honor to be there, and to be entrusted with a vote.

I watched (via live stream) the discussion about whether or not to divest from three American companies whose products are used to support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, particularly in illegal Jewish settlements. Commissioners stated passionate convictions. Others stated equally passionate, but perhaps opposite, convictions. Each person got their one minute. Watching the process moved me. Part of me thinks that this is what the Kingdom of God looks like, a parade of people using their brains and hearts and paddles and pens — and even their commas — to get it right for the church they love.

The vote itself was mesmerizing. When the graphic popped up on the screen, it was apparent that the motion had passed by a razor thin margin (310-303). There was a moment of shock and disbelief. And then the people stood to sing a hymn about peace.

I wasn’t a commissioner, so I didn’t cast a vote. I can’t say what swayed the individuals who voted. But I can say what swayed me:

~ Presbyterians believe that money is a moral matter. We do not invest funds in corporations involved in weapons, alcohol, tobacco, or gaming. We have begun discussions about how to divest from fossil fuels. We talk about money as a moral matter because Jesus talked about money. A lot. Ever so much more than he talked about sex.

~ It’s not disputed that the products of these three companies are used in an oppressive occupation, or as was repeatedly said, “for non-peaceful purposes.” We heard the voice of Palestinian Christians and want to be a witness to their pain and suffering, and to stand beside them.

~ The committee members charged with Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) said that all attempts to dialogue with the three companies in the past years have failed completely.

~ A commissioner from South Africa (Andries Coetzee) thanked the body for divesting from his country in the early 1980s. He said: “When you divested from apartheid in South Africa you invested in my humanity.” That was powerful testimony.

~ Rabbi Rick Jacobs said that he could arrange an audience with President Benjamin Netanyahu if we voted down divestment. I believe that invitation backfired. In fact, the plus/minus margin (4 votes) may have evaporated right there.

I’m a pastor and I care about interfaith relationships. When I went on a pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine, it was so personally transformative that I wrote a book about it. I wondered if my pilgrim experiences would be helpful to others.

When I met with Bill Eerdmans, Jr., who agreed to publish the book, he commented, in his dry way: “Remember — Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land. They only like to argue about it.”

We’ve certainly been doing our share of arguing. Others are watching and have joined the fray. It’s a mess. Still, I’m trusting the process and praying for the church. Join me?

Shalom, Salaam, Peace!

My Open Letter to the PCUSA (posted before the meeting) is here. It begins: Why are Presbyterians fixated on Israel?

The text of the resolution can be found here.

Share This: