On Scripture: It Is About the Land. It Is Not About the Land

Neighbor illustration, Rolf E. Staerk /

Neighbor illustration, Rolf E. Staerk /

Our relationship to place is so conditioned by our life experiences. When I moved to North Cambridge, Mass., from the expansive West Coast, I got a lesson in the meaning of “near” and “far.” Walking around my new neighborhood, I greeted an old woman sitting in front of her house.

“Did you grow up around here?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she assured me, “I grew up way over on Sherman Street.” Sherman Street is about three blocks from where we were talking, but it is a different neighborhood. So in the language of her personal geography, Sherman Street is not “around here.”

When I traveled to Israel this summer with a group of seminary students from Andover Newton Theological School and Boston University School of Theology, what struck me most was another lesson of geography: If you live in a country the size of New Jersey, your sworn enemy might literally be your next door neighbor. 

Our Obsession With Violence and the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear

Typewriter, sematadesign /

Typewriter, sematadesign /

Upon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence, and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit, or video game. Violence, death, and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People. It is as though there is a stranglehold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite. And in the times I've followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the Gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence, and death.

President Obama, You Are Welcome in Bethlehem

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

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.

Dear President Obama: Do Not Visit Bethlehem’s Nativity Church


Obama's campaign slogan appears on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

President Barack Obama is planning to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity as part of his visit to Palestine/Israel. The Church of the Nativity, of course, is not the only thing to see in Bethlehem. I suggest that as the president enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the separation wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the president will notice how the wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.

As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza Refugee Camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering.