Friday, January 29, 2010


So the commentary/request for more pictures and less sermonizing has been received, and I've added some additional pictures over the past week. Re-entry has been interesting but it is still a real challenge when someone says "how was your trip?" to know exactly how to respond. It doesn't fit easily into a formulaic response and this pilgrimage is still working in, and on, me. So this post is probably going to be my last post on this trip - although I'm hoping to continue to write on this blog in Lent for anyone interested. It's going to be my last post not because I've "settled" things but because more than a week has passed and life goes on and all of that. So be forewarned: two pictures and a lot of words here!

I think the picture above speaks for itself: it's the wall between Israel and the Palestinian Territory. You have to go through a check-point to get to places like Bethlehem or Bethany, where my friend Kalil lives (and of course where Lazarus and Mary and Martha lived before him.) It took us over an hour to get through the checkpoint when we traveled to Bethlehem, it takes Kalil about 45 minutes to get to work each day (he's at St. George's by 5 a.m) and the trip is all of 3 miles. It's easy of course to condemn walls whether built through Berlin, on the Mexican border, around gated communities that keep out the riff-raff, or in Israel. As I have mentioned, however, there is a lot of fear and some of that fear is legitimate. I know angels are always saying in the Bible "be not afraid" and I'm glad they do. But there is a difference between misplaced anxiety and healthy realistic awareness, even when the line isn't always clear. People are afraid in Israel on both sides of that wall and with good reason. We take our shoes off in airports and are getting ready for full-body scans and all the rest because we'd rather be humiliated than blown-up. In Israel they live with all of that 24/7, not just at the airport.

But walls aren't going to bring about peace on earth and good will to all. Ultimately safety and security can only ever be penultimate goals that shouldn't be confused with Shalom/Salaam. It doesn't seem like any good can come of this wall, at least as I see it. The view from each side speaks volumes: Ministry of Tourism posters on the Israeli side and protest graffiti on the Palestinian side.

So, yes, it's a cliche to say that Christians are called to tear down walls and build bridges. And yes, I took this photo while we were waiting at the check-point for over an hour to go to Bethlehem. It is honestly hard to know where to begin, with so much fear and mistrust. In ministry, both at the personal level and the congregational level, I've often felt that more information, more accurate information, eventually helps people move toward reconciliation. But not always and even when it does people have to be open to that new information and it can be very hard to filter that through "what we know." Sometimes people (including me!) become so entrenched in their own "truths" that they cannot see or hear anything that contradicts that reality. I see it over sexuality issues in my own denomination and in the wider Anglican Communion, and I saw it in Israel as I listened to people like Ophir and Xavier. They literally inhabit different worlds, see from totally different angles, and it is not merely new "information" that will bring about transformation, or peace with justice.
What I want anyone who has been reading this blog to understand is that we didn't have an "innocent" pilgrimage back in time. I have touched on this, I know, but it is most of all what I take away from the experience: you cannot separate the past from the present (or the future) in Jerusalem. They all converge. You cannot separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. That's no profound revelation, I know; it's Christology 101. Nevertheless what it meant for me is that a trip to Israel isn't just about "holy" sites. Or to say it more accurately, the "holy" must be discovered and claimed in the midst of the present realities. And I think that is the deeper reality of the Incarnation: the "wall" we sometimes erect, in the name of God no less, between what is "sacred" and what is "secular." So we are tempted to force a "holy encounter" at the cave where Jesus was born by attempting to block out the political realities of present-day Bethlehem in order to do that. But that is bad theology!
I can't say if it's worse or better today in Israel than in Jesus' day, or if the prospects for peace are better or worse. I imagine they are in fact about the same, give or take. But the work of Christian ministry remains the same: even when we don't have a "plan" for how to implement peace (as if technique will save us!) we must not shun the work of being in the midst of it all as Jesus was, and is: as vulnerable, as curious and open, as reconcilers, as willing to heal and to be healed. Human beings alone won't "fix" this. But we can mess it up all the way to Armeggedon if we aren't careful. But, with God's help, human beings can be present and attentive and faithful.
For my own part, as I return and am not at all clear whether or not I will ever return to that land of the Holy One, I am more commited in a desire to grow in my understanding of both Judaism and Islam and to try not to "bear false witness" against my neighbor. There is so much anti-Semitism built into Christian theology and even the Scriptures themselves. But to counter that by conflating Judeo-Christian faith into one piece (and usually as an alternative to Islam) is no solution. I realize more and more that the Jewish Bible and the Old Testament--even when they contain the same books (albeit in a different order) are not the same library--they are read differently by Christians and Jews. I'm preparing to teach an Elderhostel course that begins in early February that always includes a healthy mix of Jews and Christians on Second-Temple Judaisms. Reading Scripture in that context always makes me realize that there is no "innocent" reading of the texts, no "objective" reading. So I guess that means putting our agendas on the table rather than pretending we have none.
The danger of this whole blogging medium, for me at least, is that it can ramble with no end in sight. I don't know how others "blog," but I realize that when I do move from pictures to words I tend to write more stream-of-consciousness than with clearly formulated "arguments." For anyone who has read this blog from the beginning to the end I guess what I am left is not a conclusion, but a continuing awareness that the past events of Jesus' life and the present events of conflict in the Middle East converge for me in the call for Christians to be peacemakers. We can't make it happen by force of will; but we can at least try to avoid bad theology. And that isn't just a head trip: what we think about God, how we imagine God, shapes how we respond to that God by deed and action. Bad theology can and does lead too many Christians to fuel the fires toward Armegeddon. No where in Scripture (including Daniel and the Book of Revelation) however, do I see a vocation for Christians to force God's hand by being instruments of war and mistrust and destruction.
So I come back home more committed to being a peacemaker, not in some cliche kind of way, not in some naive and idealistic way, but as someone who feels that this is what Christians are called to do. I think of good old Francis and his trip to the same places I just visited so many centuries ago; his encounter with Islam and his willingness to speak the truth he knew without defaming the other or denying that they had any truth. He didn't offer a "program" for peace; just a willingness to hold that possibility before all. And of course the Franciscans, who have custody of so many of the Terre Santa sites today, continue in that work. I hope in some small way, "me too."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Photos - The Sea of Galilee

Pilgerhaus-a German "hostel" (although that sounds way more campy than it was!) As I think I mentioned while we were there, Galilee felt like a retreat; the lake felt familiar and peaceful. Jerusalem was amazing but no much more difficult to process for many reasons. Our time in and around the Sea of Galilee felt reflective and rejuvenative; in spite of the fact that the skies were grayer while we were there than in Jerusalem.

A view of "the Lake" - i.e. the Sea of Galilee, from Pilgerhaus.

We had an opportunity to just sit and think by the shores, and to "smoke 'em if we had 'em."

Taken from the boat while we were out on the Lake.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Photos - Bethlehem

At the "shepherds' fields" -where they were keeping watch of their flocks by night, when suddenly...well, you know the story!

Inside the shepherds' cave...

I just thought this seemed rather peaceful, on the grounds of that same Church in the Shepherds Fields.

You probably don't need to be a Latin scholar to figure this one out..."and on earth, peace, good will, to all hominibus (men AND women!)

The Greek section of the Church of the Nativity in Bethelehem. I was again reminded of how different eastern (Orthodox) Christianity is from western Christianity.

The Roman (or "Latin") Catholic altar at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

I may have already posted this one, the traditional site of "our dear savior's birth" at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.

Outside of the Church of the Nativity.

O little town of Bethelehem, how still we see thee lie...

Yes, you've seen these guys before...the wisemen from the west who came to Bethlehem to pay homage.

More Photos - Model of Second Temple Jerusalem

A number of people who have followed this have asked for more pictures (and less words!) As you all know, I'm sure, re-entry poses it's own challenges and we had our Annual Meeting at St. Francis yesterday, and my class in the Synoptics began today at Assumption College. But I'll try!
I think previously I posted one or maybe two of these photos but they were taken at the Israel Museum and they give you a sense of the Herodian Temple at the time of Jesus as well as how it fits into the city at the time.

Another angle: the "holy of holies" is in the middle. As I think I mentioned in one of my posts from Israel, that represents the inner "sanctum" where only the high priest could go once a you move out you have regions for only "clean" Jewish males, for Jewish men and women and on the outside the court of the Gentiles.

Here you get a wider-angle: the temple dominated first-century Jerusalem, occupying 1/3 of the walled city.

Here you get a sense of the scale of this "model" -with the Kennesett across the street in the upper left corner of this frame.

While this photo doesn't show the Temple you get a sense of the detail and scale again. Really helpful to me; I don't do two-dimensional drawings very well, so the model was/is enormously helpful in imagining my way into the events of Holy Week!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Annual Meeting

Today as we gathered at St. Francis for our Annual Meeting, I marked twelve years as rector of the parish. Below is an excerpt of my "Annual Address" (it was rather lengthy!) that reflects something of my recent experience in Israel...

So today when we encounter Jesus in Luke’s Gospel; he has been busy teaching and healing in and around the Sea of Galilee and proclaiming the Kingdom of God, which no one really fully understands because it is such an elusive reality, something that at best people get glimpses of. One thing seems clear, however: it’s not merely a synonym for “heaven.” It’s not just the place you go when you die! It breaks in, here and now, on earth as it is in heaven.

And you can see it sometimes if you know where to look: it’s kind of like a mustard seed that isn’t yet come to fruition as a place where the birds of the air can rest, but nevertheless it’s growing in that direction. Or, it’s like when a young adult who has gone through a very hard stretch in her life. But then she comes home and is greeted with wide-open arms and there is veal piccata for everyone because she was lost and is now found. (In the modern telling of that story she has become a vegan so it’s tofu piccata but you get the point!) Jesus brings health to peoples’ lives in body, mind and spirit. So all of those healing stories, too, are signs of the Kingdom of God breaking in.

Word naturally begins to spread in and around the Lake where Jesus has been preaching and teaching and healing, in those small towns like Cana and Capernaum. Word spreads quickly in small towns of course, even without the assistance of the internet or a text-messaging plan. So it isn’t long before word gets back to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus returns home amid great expectation and if you close your eyes I bet you can almost feel the electricity as he walks into that synagogue in Nazareth, as he stands among the people who knew him from the time he was a little kid. I imagine that his teachers and friends are all there, and the girl he took to the Nazareth High prom. The people there know his parents not as saints carved in marble, but simply as Miriam and Yusef. And don’t forget that the neighbors weren’t buying the whole Virgin birth thing; as far as they were concerned Jesus’ had been born amid rumors and whispers that people in a small-town don’t ever forget.

It can be very difficult to go back home; to be “famous” among people who know you so well. Anyone who has grown up in a small town knows there is a paradox: people like to claim as their own someone who “makes it,” but on the other hand don’t like it when one of their own seems to be getting too big for their britches.

Luke tells us that Jesus came back home to Nazareth and he stood in that synagogue and he unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. I had an opportunity while in Jerusalem to walk into the Israeli Museum and walk around a kiosk on which was displayed a replica of that same scroll of Isaiah, one recovered as part of the Dead Sea scrolls. It’s about 21 feet long and eighteen inches or so wide. Jesus unrolls that scroll, past the fortieth chapter that I already mentioned to a place near the very end—words from the sixty-first chapter that are addressed to the community some time after they have been home a while and rebuilt the Temple and are now trying to figure out who they are and what kind of people God is calling them to become. He finds where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

In choosing those words, Jesus sets his own life and ministry (and ultimately his death and resurrection) within the context of that work. The reason he gets people so riled up, I think, is that he adds one more word. Now. He says this isn’t something that can be postponed to some distant future: the time for bringing good news to the poor and release to the captives, the time for the blind to see and the oppressed to go free, the time for the Year of Jubilee, is Now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ten More (Random) Photos

First-century steps that Jesus would have walked down on the Way to the Cross, after his trial

The view from the Mt. of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers...

Someday, my son...all of this will be yours...

No comment

An orange tree at one of the Emmaus sites

The Sea of Galilee

Caesarea Maritima

Curly, Moe, and Larry

Love this!

In the Judean Desert

So, I have arrived home safely and made it through the ordeal of Israeli security on one end and U.S. customs at the other end. Yesterday was an outrageously long day but I made it to the 7 p.m. Eucharist with only a short nap late in the afternoon. After a good night's sleep last night, today went pretty well in re-entering. Above is a photo of our group and our leaders: a community of pilgrims. Great people to share the journey with.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Be Known To Us In the Breaking of the Bread

Stephen has been fond of saying that "holy places move." Well, he said this morning that if holy places move, then Emmaus dances! In fact there are at least four credible "Emmauses." We visited one of them, a crusader church in Abu Grosh called the Convent of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. For those who don't know the story in Luke 24:13-35 about Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I commend it to you. It is, I think, my favorite of the resurrection appearances. As we gathered today we could look back on the road we had just traveled on from Jerusalem, as shown above. Who cares if it is the road or not? Our journey here has come to an end, and yet of course continues as we travel home again. Always we are on the Road to Emmaus, and every once in a while our hearts burn when we get a glimpse of the risen Christ, who takes and blesses and breaks and gives the bread.

Someone emailed me recently to say they had been reading this blog and it seems I return home with more questions than answers. Indeed. But that fits with my faith, and comes as no surprise. I do believe that faith is a never-ending journey and in some deep sense the journey itself is home. In fact perhaps it is why this pilgrimage has been so valuable for me: it has not settled anything, but it has allowed me to see some things with new eyes. Early on I quoted from an A.A. Bondy song about wanting not just to talk about Jesus here but to "see his face." In the Emmaus story, Jesus is made known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. So it has been for us as well. We have had ample opportunities to celebrate the Eucharist together - by the Sea of Galilee, on Mt. Tabor, and today on a hill looking back toward Jerusalem. We've also had other opportunities along the way to share many meals together and discovered the joy of tomatoes and cukes at breakfast, hummus at least once a day, spices we'd never before tasted. Along the way, Christ has been present. So yes, I've seen the face of Jesus, in many of the same ways that I do when at home. Today as we celebrated on that hill we could hear the sounds of kids playing at recess, a dog barking, cars honking, an ice-cream truck playing an insipid tune.

But if we can find Christ in all of those ways, then why travel to the holy land? Isn't all land holy? I think of Brian Wren's great Easter hymn and agree (totally!) that since Christ is alive, he is "no longer bound to distant years in Palestine." And yet...

...I encourage any and all who can make this pilgrimage to do so. For me at least it has brought a level of depth that I think I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It has opened my eyes and ears in new ways, in ways that make it clear as I return home that I am not leaving Jesus behind, but rather I return with eyes that hopefully see more clearly and ears that listen more carefully in the midst of the place where God has called me to serve.

I have taken over 300 pictures on this trip, and posted less than 1/3 of them on this blog. In the same way, I am guessing that while this blog has been a helpful tool for me to begin to process my experience here, if I've gotten 1/3 of the way there that would be surprising. I know it will take much longer.
Tomorrow night in Holden, at our mid-week service, my Emmaus journey continues as I begin my thirteenth year as the rector of St. Francis Church. I'll wear a new stole and bless a new paten and chalice at the altar; a little bit of Jerusalem and Bethlehem unleashed on Holden! I may make one or two more posts on this site, about this journey, as it continues to be made manifest for me in the upcoming weeks.
I am also considering the possibility of continuing this blog (although clearly at a far less intense level that I have over the past two weeks) beyond this trip. It has been something I've enjoyed doing and I hope others have enjoyed coming along for the ride. I do realize that those who signed up, signed on for this trip. But perhaps you may be interested in checking in from time to time as the journey continues, on the road to Emmaus and beyond.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Viadolorosa

We have come to Jerusalem in January, which is supposed to be the rainy season here. It has been unseasonably dry and warm, however, for the past two weeks. It seems appropriate then, to wake up in the darkness and walk in the pouring rain to the Church of the Flagellation for the first station of the Way of the Cross, the Viadolorosa. Using John Peterson's A Walk in Jerusalem: Stations of the Cross (John Peterson was previously the Dean here at St. George's) we made our way into the still quiet city in the early morning hours. (I've excerpted some of Peterson's prayers below.)

Station VII: Jesus Falls a Second Time
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (I Peter 2:24)
For those who suffer mental weakness and fatigue; for the mentally ill, the anxious, the lonely, and the distressed; For those suffering from senility; And for all who care for them, their families, friends, and members of the caring professions; Lord have mercy.

Station IX: Jesus Falls a Third Time
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)
For those who experience moral weakness and failure; For those who know what it is to lose their faith; For those who have lost hope in this world or the next; For those who are the very limits of their mental, physical, spiritual, or moral strength; Lord have mercy.

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Mark 15:37-38)
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or Church of the Resurrection. The church is built on a rock quarry that was, in the first century, outside of the city gates; believed to be Golgatha - the place of a skull. This altar is built on top of the site where Jesus was crucified.

This is an excavated burial cave beneath the Church; it is not believed to be the Tomb of Jesus but it does seem to be from the same time period and seems to suggest a garden cemetary of some sort not far from Golgatha.

Standing outside of the cave shown above.
So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. (Matthew 27:59)

Here is the site believed to be the tomb where Jesus was laid, again, inside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Walter Brueggemann (you know he'd have to find his way into this blog sooner or later!) says that "we are entrusted to preach Christ crucified. That Friday turn of the world was the exposure of the vulnerability of God to the violence of the empire. Jesus' trial before Pilate - which turned out to be a trial of the empire before Jesus - and his subsequent conviction and execution are the best show of power and authority that the world can muster. In that exhibit of power and authority, the world is exposed as fraudulent in its claim of ultimacy..."

Brueggemann goes on to say: "Luther's famous phrase, 'the crucified God,' calls us always back to the raw claim that it is the utter self-giving of God in weakness that is the true exhibit of holiness that eludes the control of the world. This is the message entrusted to us." (Theology Today, October 2008, "Prophetic Ministry in the National Security State.")
Station XIII: Jesus Body is Taken Down from the Cross
For ourselves: Whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup of salvation; In thanksgiving that Jesus Christ gave his body to be broken for us and his blood to be shed for us; That we may be enabled and strengthened by his Spirit to give ourselves to be broken and poured out for others, for the sanctification of the whole of God's creation; Lord have mercy.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Water Into Wine

The picture above was taken early on in our trip here; inside of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. It's not a great shot, but it gives you a sense at least of this "little slice of England" here in the midst of East Jerusalem.

Today was our second Sunday here at St. George's. Last Sunday I worshipped with the English-speaking congregation at 11 a.m, but today I decided to join the Arabic-speaking congregation at 9:30 a.m. The Dean to the Palestinian Congregation preached and the Bishop was here to celebrate.

It was an odd juxtoposition of the familiar and unfamiliar. On the one hand, the liturgy was totally Anglican and we could follow along with the English printed materials every step of the way. The hymns and congregational responses were done together--singing in your own native tongue. It admittedly felt more like Babel than Pentecost at times, but it worked. The dean's sermon was about ten minutes long in Arabic with about a 1 minute summary/Cliff Note's version in English. I couldn't help but to think that some weeks it must feel that way in the pews and this is an apt metaphor for preaching. Even in congregations, where we all presumably speak the same language, the preacher sometimes lapses into platitudes and Greek phrases and academic commentary that fail to connect, and that may very well sound like a foreign language to those listening. Perhaps a one-minute summary at the end would work at home as well!
In any event, praying in Arabic: the Lord's Prayer, the Sanctus, the Great Thanksgiving is filled with paradox, but it was a rich experience and I'm glad I went. I love the fact that I belong to a liturgical, lectionary-based Church. I know that at St. Francis today and in fact around the world and across denominational lines, people are reflecting today on the wedding at Cana in Galilee, just as we are here. The catholicity of Christ's Church is incredibly important to me. It doesn't mean we all need to pray in the same language or believe exactly the same ways. But we need, I think, to continue to cultivate the connections, and for me that begins with these old Biblical texts that still convey meaning.
I love the story of Jesus' first miracle because it is ultimately about God's generosity--the wine Jesus offers is not only very good but there is more than enough. It helps to have just traveled through Cana last week when we were north, in Galilee, but the miracle has power for me not because of it's historicity, but because it keeps happening if only we have eyes to see. God is present: at weddings, at funerals and baptisms, or when "The Church's One Foundations" is being sung in Arabic and English at the same time! Wherever, in fact, two or three are gathered together in his name.

Our time here is drawing to a close. In 72 hours I'll be landing at JFK airport in New York and waiting for a flight to Logan. There is much to consider and reflect upon as we begin to make our way back home. One of our members got an email from his daughter that said: "Dad, I hope you have a transformative experience; but don't change." I love that! We tend to want our transformation that way, without change; especially perhaps in the Episcopal Church. But like water into wine, God working in us does bring about change. And I know I have been changed here in ways I only begin to understand.
I want to share the words that appeared in today's bulletin, a mission statement I suppose for the diocese here. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this coming Good Friday I will be ever more committed to encouraging members of my home parish to support the Diocese of Jerusalem and their work here. These words for me are words of hope and promise that lead into our final two days here, days that focus on the cross and resurrection.
Two conflicts in Lebanon, two Intifadas, two Gulf Wars, and the ongoing stalemate of the "peace process" remind us all of the elusive nature of peace. The Christian community continues to be a moderating influence promoting a just resolution for a lasting peace for the benefit of all God's people--Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. At the present time, Bishop Suheil Dawani sees education for all the young people of our region and among the 6400 students in the schools of the Diocese as the key to the future. Our schools are educating the next generation of peace-makers even as our hospitals are healing the wounds of the present generation. Your prayers and generous financial support are most welcome and appreciated.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

To Market, To Market

Today there was an optional side trip to the Dead Sea. I did that trek in 1984, and all three of us were feeling we've been taking in a lot and needed a Sabbath Day; appropriately enough it is Shabbat here. So we slept in a bit, had a leisurely morning, and walked to our new favorite restaurant for lunch: the Armenian Tavern.

There we had the best lunch ever. (Well, that's my feeling; Marty and Chris are less generous with superlatives but agreed that it was very, very good.) It's ground beef wrapped in grape leaves and cooked in a yogurt sauce; served with rice. Really delicious.

On our walk, I made Marty and Chris stop so I could try to capture a few of my favorite things here. You may discern a theme if you look very carefully at the photo above and those that follow.

The afternoon gives us a chance for some reading, rest, writing and quiet time before everyone returns from the Dead Sea for dinner tonight. It feels like a very good call, actually. Tomorrow is Sunday and we have a chance to attend church and do some further exploring before we enter into our final days on Monday (The Via Dolorosa) and Tuesday (The Way of Resurrection.)