Thursday, May 31, 2018

Come with me to Israel March 31, 2019!

I hope you will come with me to Israel on March 31, 2019, returning April 11.  The cost will be $4195, including flights, hotels, ground costs, and most meals.  Contact me ( to let me know you're interested, or if you have questions.  Our cut-off date for applications to travel is Friday, September 14. A $300 registration fee is due by November 1, and full payment is due December 15, 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 $685.

I love taking people to the Holy Land.  It's always inspiring, educa- tional, trans- formative 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.  Four 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 absolute- ly 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 country- side is beautiful near Hazor, where we examine 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. 
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 only American university digging in Jerusalem! 
Shimon Gibson, longtime archae- ologist in Jerusalem will join us for a charming and inform- ative intro- duction to what they're finding there.

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. It has been restored in the past 3 years after years of considerable decay. Stunning.

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.

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."

Most who go with me say it's the trip of a lifetime.  I hope you'll go with me.  There is a simple but important application process: let me know of your interest at  I also strongly recommend travelers insurance, as occasionally someone has to cancel and need a refund.  Shalom!  See you next year in Jerusalem!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Could Ben Franklin Save Our General Conference?

     Question: might God’s church we call United Methodist be rescued by Benjamin Franklin? During these gloomy days when many of us are pondering the likelihood of an impending split in the denomination we love, I’ve been reading Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography of Franklin. It had not occurred to me how his life paralleled John Wesley’s, born just two years apart, and dying just one year apart, both pragmatic populizers of complex thought, spanning a revolutionary century.

     Isaacson reveals how we are mistaken if we think of Franklin as a jolly, playful tinkerer. He was brilliant, friends with and admired by the greatest minds of his day: Joseph Priestley, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke; and in politics, he led and mentored the brightest lights of early America: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

    Here’s how he reaches out to us. When the Constitutional Convention was at a total impasse, when none of the delegates would budge on their irreconcilable differences over how to be a nation, or if to be a nation at all, Franklin tried two last-ditch ploys to save the day. The first didn’t work; but the second did.

     First: he made the startling, wise suggestion that they pray: “With this convention groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, how has it happened that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without his aid?” Although many prize the piety of the Founding Fathers so highly, the fact is that idea was quickly shelved. Some offered testy rationales of why they should not have such prayer, and then others pointed out they had no budget to pay a chaplain – as if they could not pray themselves?

    But second: the esteemed Franklin, older by 15 years than the next oldest delegate, his age double the average age of all the others, rose to make an impassioned speech to the congress bent on going home the next day with no consent to the proposed constitution: “I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”

     Why should others doubt their own infallibility? “I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution. But having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subject, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment and pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error.” Then, with his usual wry humor, he told of “a certain French lady who, in a little dispute with her sister, said: ‘I don’t know how it happens, sister, but I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right.’”

     This humility, jocular and yet wise, could conceive of voting for something flawed – which, of course, all human institutions and arrangements, including our church, are. Interestingly, they were at loggerheads over whether you could have a large body (like a nation), yet with smaller, empowered decision-making entities (like states) within that larger body.

     Franklin's motives intrigue me. Yes, he wanted to craft a unified nation for its own sake. But having served abroad in France and England as an ambassador for many years, he was grieved by the reaction failure and division would spark overseas: “I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel, and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats.”

    The world may not care what we Methodists do in February, 2019, but if they pay attention, our cutthroat, Babel-like division will provide yet more cause for cynicism, apathy and atheism. And are we as infallible, are we as supremely right as we imagine – so very right that we simply must divide God’s church?

     Perhaps the trouble is that we have not yet prayed. Yes, we’ve prayed for victory for our side, and we’ve prayed for enlightenment to dawn on the others who are so very wrong. But have we prayed as Jesus prayed, not seeking my will, but what will actually cause me discomfort and even suffering? I wonder what would unfold if we could welcome a time-travelling Franklin to the mic at General Conference to suggest we doubt our infallibility and pray? Would he be shouted down or ruled out of order? Or might we hear the wisdom, and pray, and surprise ourselves, as the Constitutional Convention did, with the birth of something new, unanticipated, and lovely?