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.
Holy Land Pilgrimage
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.)
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)
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!
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.
Interested in coming to Scotland with me? We can be pilgrims together!
I’m thrilled to announce my first international speaking event.
The above is a screen shot — here’s the link to more info.
If you’re a clergywoman, I hope you’ll consider it! I would love to see you there. Thanks to Martha Spong, the Director of the RevGalBlogPals for making all the arrangements. What a blessing the RevGals have been to so many of us!
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:
STUDY THE BIBLE —
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.)
EXPLORE THE HISTORIC CONTEXT — [Read more…] about 9 Things Pastors Can Do Besides Pray for Gaza