Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Her Utmost - For Decades, & even Facing Dementia


     Who reads the same book, cover to cover, at least a page every day, over and over for more than sixty years? - and the Bible doesn't count.  My mother-in-law, Jean Stevens Stockton.  Early on, when Lisa and I were dating and then engaged, I noticed something remarkable I've observed ever since for over thirty years:  whenever I get up from sleep when staying with them, I wander into the front room - of several houses now - and find Jean sitting in a chair with her feet up on an ottoman, not for comfort, but to provide a human desk, across which would be splayed an open Bible, various notes on pieces of paper, and that book, My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.  Every day for thirty plus years.  And I've only witnessed less than half of her life with My Utmost.

     Naturally, I’ve been impressed, and moved by this immense devotion to God, this singular commitment to learn and grow into the things of God.  But I never asked many questions, not wanting to pry into what obviously was deeply personal, private devotion – 
until a day in February when the Wall Street Journal featured a book review that caught my eye.  Macy Halford, My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir, a book about the book her grandmother had given to her and what it had meant in her life.
     I thought, I know that book – sort of.  I’d never read it myself.  You would think that I, as a clergyperson, would be a voracious consumer of devotional books.  But they generally strike me as too thin, too trivial, and I just get bored.

     The Halford review piqued my interest though.  I knew it had become almost a sacred object in our family – and that Jean had decided she would, on her death, bequeath it to my daughter, her granddaughter Sarah, who had always shown outsized interest in it.  I put Halford’s book about her grandmother’s gift in my Amazon shopping cart, thinking it might be a quirky gift to my daughter when her birthday rolled around. 

     Then, that Sunday, before church, I was thumbing through the New York Times Review of Books – and there it was again: Macy Halford, My Utmost.  I’m not big on “signs.”  But I did revisit my Amazon cart and actually ordered her book.  And while I was signed in, I had them ship a copy of the book, Chambers’s book. 

     They showed up together in a package.  I started Halford that evening, and Chambers the next morning – February 22.  Chambers’s topic?  “Spiritual tenacity,” something I’ve dreamed of but have never possessed.  Thinking of Jean’s multi-decade discipline, I read that day’s very first sentence, which I knew she had read sixty or more times, and which I knew I would now never forget:  “Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire.”  Oh my.  The next paragraph began, “If our hopes are being disappointed just now, it means that they are being purified.”  Indeed, for several weeks I had been floundering in a bit of a funk, demoralized about various things.  Chambers, who died half way around the world in Egypt way back in 1917, was helping me already in just a little over one paragraph.

     The next morning, February 23, Chambers said this to me: “If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed and broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men than we should from a dog… When we realise that Jesus Christ has served us to the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet with from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake.”  My funk, I realized, was a feeling of being unappreciated that had grown like kudzu, exhausting me, forgetting my worse-than-meager sense of gratitude for Jesus’ patient service to me.

     I cheated, not sticking with the daily routine, discovering an index that could point me to the text I was preaching that week.  His remarkable surmise about the Transfiguration (that at that moment, Jesus could have gone to heaven alone, but he refused, came down the mountain, and went to the cross so he could take us to heaven with him) saved that Sunday’s sermon and made it into my weekly preaching blog.

     Was this really happening?  Maybe God really does fashion unbelievably complex relationships across space and time in order to bless us.  Halford shares Chambers’s life story, full of all kinds of high drama.  I was thunderstruck, though, to learn he hailed from my favorite country, Scotland, and even my favorite place in Scotland, Glencoe – which I’ve always said “speaks” to me in some way I can’t explain.  His immersion in philosophy as a gateway to religion mirrored mine – and his reluctant entry into ministry fits my story so very closely.  His wife’s name, Gertie, is the same as Sarah’s dog.  Okay, maybe I’m pushing the connections too far.

     And so it began, day after day, my walk through My Utmost for His Highest:  a pregnant thought here, a reformulation of a familiar but fresh truth there, with that uncanny directness that this thing must have been written for me.  Perhaps I was beginning to enter into what Jean knew so well, and what Macy Halford reported in her memoir.  Her grandmother didn’t wait until her death to give her copy away – but Macy set it aside, like a relic perhaps, maybe a little skeptical about its contents, as “it suffered unfairly from its association with a senior citizen” (a line that made me laugh out loud).  
After finally picking it up, she embraced the routine, and after fifteen years of a daily reading, she says "I thought about it often. Or maybe it makes more sense to say I thought with it, since its presence in my life had become so fixed that I hardly noticed it was there any more."  Lovely.  I wondered if this book, with which I was falling in love, could be that for me.

      Then her next words were flat out jarring.  Pondering the fact that she and her grandmother had been reading this book for so long she added “she even longer than I, and even after losing her mind.”  Jean, my beloved mother-in-law, had in fact, over the past year, been losing her mind, not catastrophically, but noticeably, to us, and to her.

So I decided a few things.  I’d keep reading My Utmost every day.  I’d explore this further with my daughter, the heir to the book.  And I’d interview Jean, and pore over her book.  I'd seen the way she had written all over the margins of the thing, making note of her reflections on it, prayers she’d prayed while weighing its words, with hundreds of notations of the significance of each day, births and birthdays of family and friends, turning points in her life, and comments about loss and death.

     The book itself, as a physical object, is a testimony to its purpose and usage:  terribly fragile, and yet miraculously sturdy.  How any book that has been picked up, opened, written in, and closed more than 20,000 times is anything but shreds is stunning to me.  After multiple re-tapings, Jean abandoned the cover a few years ago.  But we retrieved it, cradled the pages of the book inside it again, and then she began to share.

     Where did she get it?  It had been printed in 1935, when she was too young to read.  She said “the Holy Spirit led me to it” without a slightest hint of the kind of smug spirituality you hear from so many people who talk this way.  I think this kind of mundane sense of what is profoundly spectacular is one of the fruits of spiritual tenacity – speaking of the Holy Spirit with the same intonation you’d use if you mentioned getting a cup of coffee.  

    She was a young woman, or maybe still a teenager - she's not sure.  One day she was in her dad's office - her dad being the legendary Dr. Charles Stevens, a gentle fundamentalist of a Baptist pastor, whose ministry in Winston-Salem was singular and holy.  She spotted this book among many on his shelf, pulled it down, and started her life with Chambers.
     I was surprised then when she said, “I’m not sure my dad was all that happy about me reading this.”  What?  Did he have some theological reservation?  Chambers wasn’t an outright fundamentalist at all.  Apparently, Dr. Stevens’s worry was that Chambers might become a substitute for daily Bible reading itself; “Be sure you read the Scriptures!”  Macy Halford was chided in the same way by her evangelical friends.  Clearly my mother-in-law heeded his admonition, as her Bible is as well-worn and heavily marked up as her Chambers volume.

     I asked her what this book had meant to her.  Her gut reaction was, “It’s been my constant.  Sort of my Linus’s blanket.  With so many moves, so much change, it’s been my one constant.”  And she ruminated, again with humility and grace, how this book had shaped her spiritual life – and I would say her life, period.  I asked if year to year she ever got bored, if it ever felt like I’ve read this before.  She said No, there’s something fresh, some new realization, and relating it to what’s going on now brings a new understanding.

     That’s where her marginal notes come in.  July 16 was a big day: “Dad died today” (1982), and also a notice that her husband, my father-in-law, was consecrated as a bishop (1988).  "Dad's coronation day = Tom's consecration day."  Chambers’s words for that day?  “Notion your mind with the idea that God is there… Then, when you are in difficulties, it is as easy as breathing to remember – why, my Father knows all about it!”  Did she ponder that her earthly father, gone for six years, knew about her husband’s life-changing event?  “God is my Father, He loves me, I shall never think of anything He will forget, why should I worry?”  In 2016 she added “God loves me.  I love Him even in the darkness.  Trust him even in the darkness of my broken mind.  God is my Father and my friend.”

     That’s when I realized what my daughter he been suggesting to me:  since her stroke affected her memory and thinking a year ago, she had been working out her grief, her confusion and her agony in the pages of her Linus’s blanket.  Quite a few pages mention her stroke, and struggles.  She had done the same, I noticed, back in 1989 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In the margin for April 14: “Biopsy – cancer.  I’m ready to learn of Him through this.”

     She even used the book to work out lingering wounds from many years ago.  Our family has always known and been awed by the fact that as a newlywed, she had somehow, courageously endured three miscarriages and a stillbirth before managing to bring Lisa into the world. 
     I shuddered and was moved to tears then when I read a recent comment she penned on July 9, seven months after her stroke, where Chambers asks "Have you the slightest reliance on any thing other than God?... You say 'But God can never have called me to this, it can't mean me.'  It does mean you, and the weaker and feebler you are, the better."  Her comment:  "I have never been weaker or feebler than now, except when I carried a baby who I learned had died in utero when I delivered her.  She was dead, but I still love her.  I named her Mary Grace recently, because I have never forgotten her."

     October 22.  My birthday.  Since I met Lisa, she has always sent me cards and various gifts – and she and Tom always phone me, singing “Happy Birthday,” and apologize for the quality of the music – and this is entirely chalked up to the inexplicably lousy quality of his singing, not hers, which is lovely.  Then in the book I found her greatest birthday gift. 
A prayer, for me, prayed - how many times?  "Today, Lord, my prayer is for James.  It is his birthday.  Give him a special gift today of your Holy Spirit at work in his life.  Explode within him or quietly slip into the crevices of his mind and spirit that a seed of faith, your love and guidance may invade him in some powerful way."

     Her observations, which could themselves fill a book (as they actually do now), are pretty much as wise as Chambers’s own.  There’s this:  “Intercession means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray.  God does not call me to ‘understand’ the people for whom I pray, but to love them with His love.” 

     And this:  “I can only hear the voice of God when I accept what comes with reverence.  If I accept it with resentment, then the rebellious cry of my own heart makes me deaf to the voice of God.”  Probably years later, jammed into the small space left, she added “Forgive my resentment, Lord.  I want to hear your voice.”  I love that.  The spiritual life most assuredly is not (a) read a page of a devotional, (b) think it’s so good you absorb it with finality and then (c) move on to the next spiritual challenge.  It’s circular, with progress, setbacks, insights and then you’re back where you started.  God does not ask for perfection, or even progress in our devotional life.  Just some spiritual tenacity.  God wants what Jean scribbled on more than a dozen pages in the book:  “I want to give my utmost for His highest."
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My newest book is now available: Worshipful: Living Sunday Morning All Week.



    

Worshipful is out now!

I'm really happy with the cover and early publication of my new book, Worshipful: Living Sunday Morning All Week.  Grateful for the positive blurbs on the back (Adam Hamilton - it's really "the best book on worship he's ever read"?).  I hope this book is helpful to people as they worship, and live.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

St. Francis Pilgrimage: October 8-18, 2017


    Come with me and walk in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi!  One of the great loves of my life is St. Francis – and the places he graced.  October is a beautiful time to be in Italy – and to ponder together the significance of this greatest of saints.  I have been obsessed with St. Francis, and have written on his impact on my life, and the lives of others in Conversations with St. Francis.

     We fly direct, Charlotte to Rome, where we’ll stay at the Cicerone Hotel, in a great location.  We will see San Francesco in Ripa, which houses the stone cell where Francis slept when he visited Rome, which has recently been restored - and is stunning.

We’ll visit the great medieval Lateran church where he spoke with Pope Innocent.  We will have a special entry to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s – which is especially moving now, with Pope Francis, who deliberately took St. Francis’s name in imitation of his life.  Some other fascinating places in Rome I’ll show you are the Catacombs, where early Christians huddled to worship, and some terrific restaurants and Roman era sites.


     Then we will drive to Greccio, where Francis created the world’s first ever manger scene.  The fabulous view over the Rieti valley is unforgettable, as is the monastery’s collection of manger scenes from all over the world.

     Then we arrive in beautiful Assisi, where we’ll stay right in the center of town in the Hotel De Priori – an unbeatable location.  In Assisi, we will see where Francis was born, San Damiano where he heard God’s call, Santa Chiara which houses the cross the spoke to him (and the incorruptible remains of his friend St. Clare), San Rufino where he preached and was baptized, the basilica where he is buried (and which enjoys Giotto’s fresoes depicting his life), Santa Maria degli Angeli, the small church he rebuilt with his own hands that became the focal point of the growth of the Franciscan movement, and more.

     Then we will sadly exit Assisi and head into Tuscany to visit Cortona and Arezzo, marvelous Franciscan sites, before an afternoon worship service at La Verna, where Francis prayed and then received the holy stigmata.  Then to Florence – where we will stay at the Hotel Mediterraneo, visit the Duomo, the Baptistery, and more.

     Finally, after leaving Florence, we’ll stop in Ravenna to see the most amazing fourth century mosaics, some of the most stunning early Christian art, and stay at Padua, the home of Francis’s great friend, St. Anthony.  Finally we will stop in Venice and return home to Charlotte.

     Trust me: this is the trip of a lifetime!  Come with us.  The cost is just $3750 per person, which is surprisingly affordable for this kind of trip.  Email me if you’re interested.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Pastor's Book Club - February and March

I thought it might be fun and instructive this year to host a “Pastor’s Book Club,” not a small group meeting monthly, but a way for the congregation and others to be reading a book together – and then to have the author or an interesting person share with us about the importance of the book. 

We began in January with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird - and Matt Rawle came and engaged in terrific conversation about it, which I'd commend to you!  It's on YouTube.

My goal isn’t to “endorse” a book or its viewpoint, and the goal isn’t to say “reading this will get you straightaway closer to Jesus.”  It’s trying to read things that will stretch us, or to read books others in our culture are reading and ask about the implications for us in the church.


For the “Pastor’s Book Club” this month, I wanted to read something related to race, reconciliation – and also taking note of Black History Month.  There have been so many books thoughtful, provocative books out in just the past several months, which I’ve read and tried to absorb – and I might have chosen any of them:  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow; Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; Jim Wallis, America’s Original Sin; Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy; Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop; Debby Irving, Waking Up White; even Jodi Picoult’s novel, Small Great Things – and so many more.

We’ve also had quite a few films that are eye-opening, and that achieve that old “afflict the comfortable” – like like 13th (a must-see documentary), the rekindling of The Birth of a Nation as the story of Nat Turner’s rebellion, and the inspiring Hidden Figures.

Finally I settled on James Baldwin’s short and thoughtful The Fire Next Time, the 1963 classic of the Civil Rights movement, which expresses, among many other things, remarkable compassion on white people.  So interesting…  I read it years ago, and have quoted it many times.  I look forward to rereading it now, along with those of you who are interested and able.

My choice of this book coincided with the release of a provocative film, I Am Not Your Negro – based on Baldwin’s reflections on the assassinations of three of his close friends, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X.  It's playing at two locations in Charlotte right now.


We have Toussaint Romain, a local attorney, community advocate, and spellbinding speaker, coming on Wednesday, March 8, 7pm, to talk with us about Baldwin’s book and whatever else he’d like to share with us about race, religion and our city.

Next month! (we’re a couple of weeks out of sync, sorry about that…), as we are inviting our church family into a season of thinking about and growing in prayer, I thought we might read a devotional classic together - one you might continue to read through the balance of the year.  There are so many terrific books... I could list dozens and dozens.

So to pick a great one: we will read the devotional classic by Oswald Chambers: MyUtmost for His Highest.  You could actually get the book today and begin the daily readings! 

I got more interested in this one when the Wall Street Journal and then later that same week the New York Times had reviews of a new book by Macy Halford’s My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir. 
She tells how she was given her grandmother’s copy of this great book, but ignored it for a long time.  Finally she picked it back up, began reading and learning also about Chambers himself.  It’s a thoughtful book about a thoughtful book.  I like that.

I’m working it out to have a grandmother and her granddaughter, both of whom I know well, coming to share their very intergenerational perspective on this wonderful daily devotional guide:  what it means to read a book over and over, year after year, and then to bequeath such a book to the next generation.  Details shortly…

Thanks for reading with me!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Divided United Methodist Church: How We'll Fail at the Main Thing

     I’ve blogged quite a few times about our fragile United Methodist Church, making the case for, but really just pleading for unity.  I’ve reflected on how our Book of Discipline functions, on why Robert’s Rules of Order create dysfunction in the Body of Christ, on how we relate to fellow members in that Body who think differently.

     I have tried to point out that sexuality, while enormously important, and at the core of what it means to be holy, is not at the center of our theology.  Our cardinal beliefs, which pertain to salvation, are about God, not us – and our sexuality is always a bit broken, fallen, bedeviled by subterranean forces we hardly understand.  I would exit the denomination if it declared Jesus was just a man, or we are saved by works.  But not over a single practice among hundreds.

     Most importantly, I’ve explained how splitting up would be the worst conceivable witness to the unchurched, and to our cynical world.  If we can’t do any better than the division and rancor in our country right now, we prove we have nothing to offer.

     Now, during this hazy time when the Bishops’ Commission has been named, and when all we can do is pray for them, and for ourselves – and as many of us feel gloomier than ever, fearing or even expecting a split, I keep drifting in my mind to utterly practical questions.  Like, if there is the dreaded split right down the middle: What will I be doing for a living and where?  Where will my pastor friends wind up?  What signage will need changing?  What won’t get paid for any longer?  And in a way, the most pressing question of all:  What will become of the church where I am serving?

     Suppose we get the divorce.  One denomination becomes two, a conservative, brooking no deviation from straight or celibate sexuality, and a progressive, allowing and even affirming same gender marriage and LGBTQ ordinations.  What then?  The General Conference sends a memo to me and our board chair, giving us ninety days or six months to select which way we go?

     Our case is pretty interesting, indicative of why there will be more carnage than we anticipate, utterly harrowing and heartbreaking to me and the people I love.  Just the property: our trustees hold, in trust for the conference, massive neo-gothic structures sitting on prime real estate in Charlotte.  Both of the new judicatories would covet the property, and the apportionment income.  Our contributions are a significant percentage of our conference’s income now.  But that amount will shrink drastically for whoever winds up with our facility.
 
     Because internally we would be forced to make a choice we do not wish or need to make.  We have engaged in the arduous labor our denomination as a whole has never engaged in: a prayerful, thoughtful, respectful conversation on the theology and practice of sexuality.  With broad and strongly felt disagreement on the matter, we have chosen to stay together, to love, and by our very unity to be a witness to the world. 

     And yet we would be compelled to make a choice.  How would that happen?  Is it simply an item on the agenda of the next Administrative Board meeting, and majority wins?  Do we take a congregational vote, with each member getting to cast a ballot?  Would there be campaigning within? Or even from outside groups lobbying to win Myers Park?

     I’ve tried to guesstimate what the tally here would be.  We have 5,200 members.  We treat the children like members, and also the super active adults, especially young adults, who’ve never actually joined.  But let’s leave them out for now.  Of the 5,200 official members, I’d guess 1,600 wouldn’t pay attention or open their mail.  Of the 3,600 left, I’d imagine 1,400 would rally to the progressive side, and about 1,000 would go conservative.  Or maybe it would be roughly a tie.  Or maybe 1,400 to 1,000 the other way.  What would happen to the "losers"?  Of course, the remaining 1,200 would be too disgusted to vote at all.  Our young adults would, quite simply, be done with us.

     Many – several dozen, I'd estimate – would exit and become Southern Baptist, or Episcopalians.  I’d suspect that many more, though, in the hundreds, would just give up on church altogether, if the one they loved and trusted couldn’t do any better than this sorry state of affairs.  And I would not blame one of them.  We’d suddenly have more Sunday School classes, since they’d have to split too.  Families would be divided over which way to go.  A 5,200 member church gutted, with maybe 1,500 left.

     We would quickly have to lay off two thirds of our staff, and hack our mission spending down to a small fraction of what it’s been.  Within months, a clinic in Haiti would shut down, families moving out of homelessness would head back to the streets.  We’d be the laughingstock of Charlotte.  The new conference of the new denomination wouldn’t even be all that glad to have us, as we’d have so little money left to send in.

     Then where would the clergy we’d have to let go wind up?  Not only would the financial decimation reduce the number of pastoral jobs out there.  We would also have a rash of mismatched clergy and congregations.  If congregations get to choose which denomination to go with, I’d imagine the clergy would get to pick too.  At least in my part of the world, and I suspect all across the United States, on average the clergy are far more progressive than their congregations.  In Western North Carolina, for instance, out of 1,000 clergy I’d estimate at least 500 would choose the new progressive institution; but no more than a few dozen churches would do the same.  Where would the clergy work?  And who would pastor the conservative churches?

     I’m not a pessimist by nature.  But I do sense there is considerable naivete about how neatly a split might proceed.  I know those who think that basically the Southeast and the Midwest would overwhelmingly go conservative, and the West and Northeast would go liberal, or there might be a semblance of an urban/rural split, like the one we see now in presidential elections.

     But it’s way more complicated state by state, and even church by church.  The unforeseen ripple effects of a forced division, even in a single parish like mine, would be catastrophic.  A split in United Methodism, beyond the heartache, the lost relationships, and the embarrassment of theological surrender, would create a black hole of practical disaster.  We would be the butt of church humor for the next generation.  And whatever shared mission work we cherish would evaporate. 
 
     Purists will say you should do the right thing, no matter what the consequences are.  But within our denomination, aren’t we picking one right thing, which isn’t really the main thing, and then by picking that one right thing to be right about, we render ourselves incapable of doing all the other right things that really are the main thing?



Friday, November 25, 2016

Come with me to Israel, May 16-26

I hope you will come with me and my colleague, Rev. Parker Haynes, to Israel on May 16.  The cost will be $3950, including flights, hotels, ground costs, and most meals.  Contact me (james@mpumc.org) to let me know you're interested, or if you have questions.  A $300 registration fee is due by February 10, and full payment is due March 30, payable to MPUMC.  A refund schedule exists, if you have to change your mind.  And if you want/need a single room, the supplement for that is $680.

I love taking people to the Holy Land.  It's always inspiring, educational, transformative, and great fun.  Each trip I lead is unique - because of the particular people who come, and also because we see something new every trip, and archaeological sites evolve over time.  Three years ago, after we got home from a pilgrimage to Israel, I wrote a blog that might interest you - reflecting on the experience, what we learn, how we grow, why it's so profound.

Our guide while we're in Israel will be my dear friend Hillel Kessler.  He's absolutely the best, brilliant, witty, a great teacher, an engaging travel companion.  He's the only guide I use, and everyone who travels with Hillel falls in love with him.  He and his wife, by the way, have become grandparents to four granddaughters - in a single year!

We fly into Tel Aviv, one of the most beautiful and surely the most secure airport in the world.  We make our way then to the north, where we spend the first three days exploring Nazareth, Capernaum, and other places where Jesus taught, healed, called the disciples, and even fished. 
There is nothing quite like waking up your first morning in Israel, looking out the window - and there is the Sea of Galilee.  We'll take a boat out on the lake, and you'll get a sense of how quickly the weather shifts from peaceful calm, to wind and storm, then back to peacefulness.
We will take a day and drive north.  The countryside is beautiful near Hazor, where we investigate ruins from the days of Joshua and the Israelites coming into the Promised Land.
Further north, we will see the Bronze Age city of Dan, with its impressive walls - and most fantastically, the city gate through which Abraham himself walked. 
Amazing.
Nearby we visit Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus conversed with the disciples, asking "Who do you say that I am?" 
  Just a short hike downhill from there we come to a marvelous waterfall, right at the source of the Jordan River - and likely the place where Psalm 42 was composed.  This is one of my favorite days. 
 Mostly likely we'll end the day at BinTal, a high overlook where we can see the Road to Damascus, and into Syria and Lebanon. 

But now our attention turns toward Jerusalem, just as Jesus' did midway through the Gospel stories.  On our way to the holy city, we visit Beth Shean, where King Saul died, and where the 1971 Jesus Christ Superstar movie was filmed. 
We stop by the edge of the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized by John - and we seize the occasion to have a service of baptismal remembrance.  It is so very moving to wade into that river.
We'll zig down to the south for a day to see the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth - and where you float without even trying.

Finally we make our way to Jerusalem, where King David built his palace, where Solomon built the temple, where Jesus taught and healed, and was crucified. 
We will pray at the Western ("Wailing") Wall, a holy moment indeed.  We'll sit on the steps Jesus walked on to enter the temple to teach.  In Jerusalem we will visit the Israel Museum, which contains fabulous archaeological finds from Bible times. 
We hopefully will visit the Dome of the Rock, the beautiful 8th century shrine built over the place where the temple stood for centuries.  Of special interest for us will be our visit to the archaeological site where excavations are being conducted by our own UNC-Charlotte.

The climax of our time in Jerusalem will be walking the Via Dolorosa, the traditional pilgrim's walk commemorating Jesus' trial and crucifixion.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses both the place where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb where he was buried, and rose from the dead.

I hope you will come with me!

Here are a few more photos of interesting things we'll see.
1500 year old olive trees grown from the shoots of olive trees that stood in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed there.

The aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima by the Mediterranean Sea.

Palm trees by the Dead Sea.

The traditional spot where Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Stones from the temple from the time of Jesus.

A fishing boat archaeologists discovered and miraculously preserved - from the time of Jesus.

A statue by the Sea of Galilee commemorating Jesus sending Peter to "feed my sheep."