Holy Land

Jon Huckins 06-18-2014
kak2s and ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

We often fail to look at the Middle East's inhabitants as humans loved by Jesus. kak2s and ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Through my work with The Global Immersion Project, I have spent a significant amount of time over the years cultivating relationships among both Israelis and Palestinians as we partner together in cultivating a narrative of reconciliation. As is often the case when we approach a people or place with the hopes of being/bringing the needed change, I have been the one most changed by my friends and colleagues who reside in the Middle East. Behind so many of the subconscious stereotypes and prejudices I had acquired earlier in my life I began to experience the richness of friendship and brotherhood among people I had previously “known” only through the latest sound bite.

Something I have learned in the classroom of real life relationships with Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land is that our theology in the West has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Middle East. Often ignoring the remarkable movements of peacemaking, reconciliation, and collaboration that are sprouting like mustard seeds of hope across the Holy Land, we often choose only to amplify of the violence, discord, and disintegration of the region.

John Paul II places a prayer in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel in 2000. Religion News Service file photo.

It sounds a little far-fetched and for some purists perhaps unthinkable: A pope, a rabbi, and a sheik decide to travel to the Holy Land and follow in the steps of Jesus.

But that is just one of the groundbreaking aspects of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Middle East that starts on Saturday, a visit in which he hopes to shore up interfaith dialogue, strengthen diplomatic relations, and find new ways to build peace.

The Argentina-born pope will be accompanied by colleagues Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, both from Buenos Aires. It is the first time a pope’s official delegation has included members of other faiths on an overseas trip.

Jon Huckins 03-20-2014
Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Photo courtesy Jon Huckins

Having just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts, and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times, and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged, and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict.

Here are 7 learnings that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

Todd Deatherage 03-04-2014

Todd Deatherage is the executive director and co-founder of the Telos Group. Photo courtesy of the Telos Group. Via RNS

Secretary of State John Kerry brought his argument for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace to the annual AIPAC conference this week, and whatever else we might know, we know this: Many evangelical Christians didn’t like it.

Or at least that’s what we’re told by some Christian leaders and their political allies. Supporting Israel’s government by opposing compromise with the Palestinians is a permanent plank in American evangelical political thought. “God told Abraham that he would bless those who bless him and the nation of Israel,” the thinking goes, “and curse those that curse Israel.”

But could it be that the truth is more complicated?

What if the loudest evangelical voices don’t represent the complexity of our community? I raise these questions as an evangelical who is fully committed to supporting the struggle for security, dignity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. And I’m not alone.

Kevin Eckstrom 11-15-2013

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, U.K. minister for faith. Photo: Kaveh Sardari/Council on Foreign Relations. Via RNS.

The highest-ranking Muslim in the British government on Friday called on Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world, particularly in the Holy Land where they are now seen as “outsiders.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the government’s minister for faith and the first Muslim member of a British cabinet, said religious freedom is a proxy for human rights and must not be an “add-on” to foreign policy.

“A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University. “In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”

The Editors 07-10-2013

Preview Ronit Avni's inspiring films about nonviolence in the Holy Land.

Lynne Hybels 07-01-2013

Ronit Avni, photo courtesy of Changemakers

We need to hear more about the people committed to peace.

An interview with an Iraqi Christian family

Gregg Brekke 06-05-2013

Arab Christians are vital to a thriving Middle East - and their numbers are dwindling.

Antwan I. Saca 03-20-2013

Bethlehem-area Palestinian Christians hold a weekly prayer vigil to protest the Israeli separation wall. ryanrodrickbeiler.com

Mr. President, just like the many other visitors that we receive here in this land, we would do our best to overwhelm you with our cultural hospitality and our traditions. I would seize this opportunity to not only welcome you to visit Bethlehem, but also to welcome all U.S. citizens to visit my small city.  

I invite you, Mr. President, to be in my city within the nation that has a dream of liberty — a dream that goes in rhythm with all nations’ right of self-determination. We have embraced, as other nations, our pursuit of democracy, human development, and security. We have tumbled through our pursuits and have made mistakes, and because like all humans, as part of our human nature, we slip. We have built, learned, developed, and made our existence known to all nations.

Mr. President, I hope that in your visit you would not only enjoy the blessings of the Holy Land, but be encouraged to return and experience this city to its fullest. After you finish your presidency you will be able to visit without a big security escort and you will enjoy wandering the old streets and spending time in the old city of Bethlehem when you come back with your family.

Alex Awad 02-22-2013
Photo courtesy Ryan Roderick Beiler, ryanrodrickbeiler.com

A Palestinian youth confronts Israeli soldiers at a nonviolent demonstration. Photo ryanrodrickbeiler.com

President Barack Obama will be visiting Israel and Palestine in March. I call on you to write to Obama and tell him that if he is coming to engage Israelis and Palestinians in talks that will lead to a just peace, he is then welcome. Otherwise tell Obama to stay home.

Tell Obama that the world will be watching his upcoming visit and people all over our planet will look to his visit with hope and expectation. Tell him not to disappoint humanity by carrying on U.S. politics in the Middle East as usual.

Tell Obama when he visits us here to stand by the values that he reiterates in almost every speech: freedom, independence, equality, and justice for all. 

WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.

The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.

“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.

Daniel Burke 08-21-2012
Sea of Galilee, Lara65 / Shutterstock.com

Sea of Galilee, Lara65 / Shutterstock.com

More than 20 lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides, including one nude congressman, took a booze-fueled late-night swim in Israel’s Sea of Galilee last summer, Politico reported on Monday. Which leaves at least one question: Is skinny-dipping at the biblical site sacrilegious?

Not really, Christian leaders and Holy Land experts said.

“Conservative Christians, obviously, aren't for getting naked in public or drunk anywhere,” said Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

“The location of the Sea of Galilee, however, doesn't make the story any more offensive to Christians than it is to the general public,” he said.

Lynne Hybels 06-01-2012

Few people I know believe peace in the Holy Land is really possible—unless it begins with Israeli and Palestinian Christians.

Gary M. Burge 12-12-2011

Ridiculous. Ignorant. Racist. Dangerous. 

These are just a few of the terms that flew out of the Middle East this weekend following Newt Gingrich’s unwelcome remarks about Israel and the Palestinians on Friday.

As the Republican front-runner, Gingrich was speaking to the cable TV Jewish Channel and hoping to curry favor with its conservative pro-Israel constituency. 

What did he do? He described the Palestinians as an “invented people” and lumped every Palestinian under the terrorist umbrella. There is no difference between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, he said.

On Saturday night during the ABC Republican debate, Gingrich doubled-down: “They [the Palestinians] are all terrorists.”

A few of the other candidates looked, well, alarmed.


Nadia Bolz-Weber 10-23-2011

wedding feast
Because this week -- months after the Arab Spring, and after weeks of the growing Wall Street Occupation -- well, in this climate of discontent and dissent as we all begin to wake from our consumer induced coma to see how multi-national corporations control so much more than we can imagine, in a season when tyrants are being over thrown, I simply could not preach a sermon in which I say that God is like an angry murderous slave owning king. Maybe there is a way of finding good news in that but I just couldn't do it.

Sami Awad 08-03-2011

100216_090527-1503-palestineWhenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.

Lynne Hybels 06-14-2011
In 2008, as I heard the increasing public rhetoric of hostility emanating from the Middle East, I found myself wondering what Jesus would say and do if he were here in the flesh today.
Lynne Hybels 06-06-2011

No, I am not submitting a belated entry into the heated conversation about Rob Bell's latest book.