The Museum of the Bible

a wonderful teaching tool or bellwether of catastrophe?

The Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, DC last November. The owner is Steve Green, who also owns Hobby Lobby. Green is a conservative Evangelical who is anti-gay and anti-choice. He appears to seek political influence and to court the press. Some of the recent press was negative because he acquired artifacts from Iraq illegally, for which he was fined.

Because of all these reasons, I wasn’t in a hurry to visit the museum. But a couple of my congregants went and were enthusiastic about their experience. As their pastor, I knew it was important for me to go. Also, I am preparing to return to Israel and Palestine in March (my first visit since I wrote Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land) and I was curious to see how the exhibits treated the land and political situation.

When cold weather closed school for a day, my husband (who’s a teacher) and I decided to draw on our steely Minnesota backbone and venture downtown. We used the website to print free timed tickets (there’s a suggested donation of $15). I would not have gone if I had to pay because I will not support Steve Green and his agenda.

The museum is big on drama, in terms of scale, lighting, and sound effects, with heavy use of films featuring Dave Stotts.  (more…)

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

“Christians don’t like to read about the Holy Land — they only like to argue about it” — so I was told as I wrote my book. There’s enough truth in that comment to make me wince, yet the Holy Land is so much more than a source of political argument. It’s a real place with history, customs, and people groups. A pilgrim explores this “Land of the Holy One” with her whole body — she travels dusty roads, eats olives and hummus and ice cream, lights candles at ancient shrines, plunges into holy water, drinks wine and breaks bread, touches sacred stones, and sings at sites that hold the echoes of pilgrims past.

Whether you plan to renew your passport — or want to relive a pilgrimage you made years ago — or simply want to travel via the pages of my book — I hope you’ll become a pilgrim. You’ll discover that the Holy Land is more than the setting for an argument. Becoming a pilgrim will help you read the Bible with different eyes. It may even introduce you to the incarnate One.

Available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

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.

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Obama Tackles Our Crusader Past

National Prayer Breakfast, February 5, 2015

President Obama delivered remarks that 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)

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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.


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:


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?

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?

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.)


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Why I Support the Presbyterian Church’s Vote

Divesting 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.


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What the PCUSA actually said about the Middle East

Here’s the full text of what the PCUSA just passed at the 221st General Assembly. Don’t miss #7. You’re welcome to comment, as long as you disclose your identity. I delete anonymous comments.

The PC(USA) has a long standing commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian. Yearning for justice and reconciliation, the 221st General Assembly (2014) recommends the following:

1. Reaffirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with the United Nations resolutions.

2. Declare its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution (two states for two peoples) in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people.

3. Instruct the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions of the PC(U.S.A.), to divest from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, in accord with our church’s decades-long socially responsible investment (SRI) history, and not to reinvest in these companies until the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee of the PC(USA) is fully satisfied that product sales and services by these companies are no longer in conflict with our church investment policy. This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.

4. Reaffirm PC(USA)’s commitment to interfaith dialog and partnerships with the American Jewish, Muslim friends and Palestinian Christians and call for all presbyteries and congregations within the PC(USA) to include interfaith dialogue and relationship-building as part of their own engagement in working for a just peace.

5. Call for all foreign aid given by the U.S. government—including aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority—to be comprehensively and transparently accounted to the American people and held to the same standards of compliance with all applicable laws.

6. Call for church advocacy for foreign-aid accountability to be directed toward its universal adherence rather than targeted for selective application to some recipients and not others.

7. Encourage Presbyterians to travel to the Holy Land, and give broad support to the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities throughout the Middle East.

8. Affirm the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that support and advance a negotiated two-state solution.

9. Urge all church institutions to give careful consideration to possible investments in Israel-Palestine that advance peace and improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

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Apartheid. Boycott. Conflict. Divest.

ABCs at PCUSA GA 221

The 221st General Assembly of the PCUSA is meeting this week in Detroit. There are many important and fascinating topics they will discuss, debate, and vote on. Among them is Divestment, or whether or not the denomination should divest from American companies that create products used in the Palestinian territories to demolish homes, enforce segregation, and protect land that Jewish settlers have taken illegally from Palestinians.

As a Presbyterian pastor who has written a book on the subject of Israel and Palestine– as a pilgrim — I have spent many hours reading and praying about the Land of the Holy One. A week ago I wrote a blogpost that the Christian Century posted, which looked at the situation from the point of view of a pilgrim.

But I’ll also admit: I was trying to write something authentic while sidestepping the politics of the issue. The reason for my hesitancy (which some might call caution, others cowardice) is that I understand the arguments both for and against the push to divest. It is not a simple or straightforward subject. I told myself I wasn’t qualified to offer an opinion. I’m a pilgrim, not a politician.


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An Open Letter to the PCUSA

The Christian Century posted my Open Letter to the PCUSA. It’s called Reading the Fifth Gospel and is in response to the Presbyterian overtures about Israel and Palestine.

I hope you’ll click over there and read it. Let me know your response!

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