Sometimes blog ideas jump on your lap. Then they pant and beg for attention. This was one I ran across today, as I perused my wife's new magazine, "body+soul". It was the briefest of articles entitled "Bless Your Bike." I include it in its entirety for your reading enjoyment:
Bless Your Bike
"Commuting on two wheels instead of four is better for your health and the environment. But when it comes to safety, there's only so much a helmet and reflector can do. For the rest, there's the Blessing of the Bikes (theblessingofthebikes.com). Held each spring at New York City's Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the event invites bikers of all faiths and backgrounds to bring their bikes for a sprinkling of holy water and a blessing from Reverend Canon Thomas Miller. If you can't make it to Manhattan, organize your own event at a local church, temple, or even in your own backyard. Take inspiration from the event's traditional reading from Ezekiel 1: 'Wherever the spirit would go, they went and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.'"
I think I may have found myself a new ministry. Boulder needs the Blessing of the Bikes, don't you think?!
I'd estimate that most American Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land spend very, very little time among the Arab Christians. This has become especially true since the construction of Israel's security wall in the last several years. With the stereotypes and suspicion running rampant and the hassle of driving through checkpoints, most tour buses want to get in and out of places like Bethlehem as quickly as possible. They may spend all of an hour or two there. I know this is how it works, because in my first two trips to the Holy Land, this is what we did!
It's very easy to go on pilgrimage with organizations that focus almost entirely on the "ancient stones"--the historic, biblical sites. There's great value, certainly, to seeing these places. It's inspiring and moving to almost literally "walk where Jesus walked." This is particularly true in Galilee, which retains such a natural, rural feel, that one feels almost transported back to the time of Christ. Seeing the ancient stones is valuable, no doubt. I love the ancient stones; I relish the stories, the history, the archaelogy. I love the way the Bible comes alive for me and those I teach. Ancient stones are good.
But did you know that there are "living stones" in the Holy Land? The apostle Peter (Petros, literally a "rock" himself!) in his First Letter describes Christians as "living stones" who are being built spiritually into a house of worship (1Peter 2:5). In Palestine and Israel there remains today an indigenous Arab Christian presence, one that has lived in the land continuously since the Book of Acts, Chapter 2. Here we read that among those gathered at Pentecost to confess faith in Christ, were Arabs (Acts 2:11). Not all Arabs today are Muslims! In fact, many Arabs were Christians before they were Muslims (recall that Islam did not arise in the Middle East until the 7th century AD!). Sadly, Palestinian Arab Christians in the land are dwindling dramatically; many of them have been forced out by the founding of the modern state of Israel and by the hardships imposed by the occupation since 1967. As a result, in places like Chile, Michigan, and elsewhere there are large numbers of Palestinian Christians. But in the Holy Land there still remains a solid, faithful presence of Arab Christians, whose faith in Christ is strong and moving.
I'll never forget the conversation I had with George, the director of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation ministry in Bethlehem. George and his family had lost literally hundreds of their ancestral olive trees to the Israeli security wall built against their will on their property. These olive groves were the family treasure, their livelihood for generations. Palestinian attachment to the land and particularly to olive trees, is legendary. As one of them told us half-jokingly, "We lavish more attention on our olive trees than we do on our children!" To have these trees destroyed against one's will, to lose literally thousands of dollars of present and future income in an unjust, illegal act like this, would make one furious, I'd think. Bitter, angry, resentful, even vengeful. But this wasn't George at all: George, as a Christian, knew of Jesus's commands to forgive and to love one's enemy. There wasn't a trace of bitterness in him. I got the impression he held loosely to material things, refusing to let his spirit be embittered. He had a twinkle in his eye and a light step. I couldn't believe it. His was a resurrection faith, a miracle of grace and forgiveness, a new life rising from death and destruction.
"Why do you seek the living among the dead," said the angels to the disciples who visited Christ's empty tomb on Easter morning. "He is not here--he is risen!" When we look for Jesus Christ today, we will not find him among the ancient stones. Those stones are dead. Christ, on the other hand, is alive--alive among the living stones, his people, his Body, the Church around the world--including Palestine.
Another "aha" moment for me came early in our pilgrimage on the east bank of the Jordan River. It was at the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus (see John 1:28). Previously, we'd learned that within a short distance from here the Israelites had crossed over into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua some 1200 years earlier (Joshua 3:16). Without a doubt, this part of the Jordan was known to John and Jesus as a place of famous crossings, a spot where people were marked with water as belonging to God, a location where the promised rest was made possible, a setting where a homeland became a reality, where wilderness and wandering gave way to rejoicing and homecoming.
I believe Jesus and John chose Bethany beyond the Jordan for its historic importance. Here, in the waters of baptism, a new people were being made ready for God--and a new Joshua (Y'Shua, Jesus) would lead them. In Jesus, all human beings were invited to become part of an expanded, trans-ethnic people of God, ushered into God's long-awaited rest, welcomed home into a promised land that knows no geographic bounds. Once again, we have an example of the Fifth Gospel (the Land itself) communicating a fullness to God's message that is only hinted at in the other four.
In my continued "unpacking" of our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I wanted to share with you one early "aha" I had...
On our first day of touring, we were in the country of Jordan, and had earlier in the day visited the baptism site of Jesus at 1300 feet below sea level, not far from the Dead Sea. We'd made our way back up to the 3000+ foot high pinnacle of Mt. Nebo, where in Deuteronomy, Chapter 34, Moses was given by God a glimpse of the Promised Land. Having read the text numerous times, I thought it was a visionary experience: here was the 120 year-old Moses, on the east side of the Jordan River, not permitted by God to cross over to take the land. He's dying, he knows the deal, and God still gives him a chance to view the whole land. He's at Pisgah, a promontory on Mt. Nebo and God allows him to see the promised territory spread out before him, north to south, east to west. Read it for yourself and see. Surely, this was a visionary experience, I (and no doubt countless readers) thought: no one can see the entire land from one place, almost two hundred miles north to south, 70 miles east to west, etc.
Then we ourselves went up to Mt. Nebo. You CAN see the whole land from here! On a clear day, you can see up to Lebanon, down to the Negev Desert, west to the Judean mountains...it's absolutely amazing!
This is why the Holy Land is called "The Fifth Gospel"--it serves as a commentary on the text of the Bible itself. When you see the Land, you see things you never could simply by reading the Bible.
What a view! And what a God to put Moses here to see it.
More to come...