travel as pilgrimage

When All of Abraham’s Children Share a Table: A Moment I’ll Never Forget

Prayer in Hebron

Hebron is known as one of the most volatile cities in the whole region of Israel/Palestine.  Located in the heart of the West Bank, both Jews and Arabs have had roots here for thousands of years.  Having endured years of conflict, racism, violence and separation, Hebron’s inhabitants have been covered in a narrative lacking an acknowledgment of a shared humanity

It’s in the middle of such realities that our Learning Community (part of our organization, The Global Immersion Project) feels called to listen, learn and be radically present.  Through the art of friendship making, shared tables and storytelling, we desire to promote the just heart of God by being a people of reconciliation in the way of Jesus. 

It was this posture that landed us in the underground home of a local Muslim Palestinian family who is close friends with the Jewish Rabbi who was hosting us in the old city of Hebron (he is both a host and dear friend!).  Having prepared a beautiful and expansive Palestinian meal, they warmly invited each one of us into their home and said, “Today, this is your home.” 

Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, namely, Abraham.  It is important to note that all three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) acknowledge Abraham as their father/patriarch.  In other words, this is the physical place where religions not only collide, but the physical place where they share a very unique familial identity. 

Shared Meal in Hebron

Having taken seats around tables filled with diverse color, rich aromas and new faces, the Jewish Rabbi asked if I would share a blessing over the meal alongside himself and the Muslim home owner.  He said to the gathering, “We will now share a blessing over this meal lead by a Muslim, Christian and Jew.” 

Standing between my friends -- a Muslim Palestinian and Jewish Rabbi -- I prayed that this meal would be a picture of reconciliation found among the children of Abraham, because as a follower of the pro-people Jesus who came to bring restoration to all the cosmos, I have to belief this to be true. 

For me, it was a thin place; a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated.  It was a microcosm of how humanity can interact when the best of all three monotheistic faiths are represented.  Further, as one who has given my life to the work of peacemaking and reconciliation, it was a moment and honor I will never forget.  In fact, it will fuel me to live more faithfully into the identity I have been given as one submitted to the life and teachings of the Prince of Peace in obedience to the great Reconciler.  

Sitting (on the floor!) around a table with people from all over the world and experiencing radical peace in a context whose reality is often the opposite, I got a glimpse into the heart of Jesus for humanity.  A humanity he so adamantly sought to highlight by being a presence of peace and reconciliation among people and in places that weren’t “supposed” to experience either.  

Friends, the construction of “The Other” is quickly dissolved when we enter each others’ homes & share a table.  We confront and acknowledge our common humanity.  This is not only true in the Middle East, but in the neighborhoods, cities and suburbs in which we inhabit everyday. 

May we be a people who instigate a revolution of shared tables that offer a foretaste of the Kingdom banquet being prepared by the Resurrected refugee from Palestine, Jesus. 

Introducing “The Global Immersion Project”

Our Friends Milad, Manar and Neshan who live/serve in the West Bank

Answering our (Jan and I) calling to give a voice to those that don’t have one in Israel & Palestine and our vocation of developing leaders for mission, we are thrilled to announce the launch of The Global Immersion Project.  I co-founded the organization with my good friend and fellow Kingdom cultivator, Jer Swigart.  Our first Learning Community has completed 3+ months of preparation and are prepared to leave for Israel/Palestine later today!  Here is the snap shot intro (or you can just check out our website).

Purpose Statement

Cultivating difference-makers through immersion in global narratives

Mission Statement

Through diverse, global friendship-making, storytelling, and real-time living, the work of The Global Immersion Project is to develop difference-makers into people who tangibly live, love, and lead like Jesus.  We believe in the just impact, locally and globally, that USAmericans can make if we learn to live in the posture of a learner with God, ourselves, each other, and those who inhabit our global village.

What It Looks Like

We aren’t offering a Holy Land tour or even a short term missions trip.  Adopting the posture of the learner, we are offering a four month learning experience that shapes us into people who promote the Just Heart of God in the Way of Jesus.  The first three and half months deep dive us into the historical, theological and modern narratives that allow us to enter the narratives of our friends in Israel & Palestine as intelligent travelers who embody the narrative of Jesus.  Participants commit to navigating the experience in Learning Communities that are facilitated by Jon and Jer both in person and available through an online platform.  Our cultivation takes place in three phases: (1) understanding; (2) exposure & deeper understanding; and (3) resourced integration that is shaped around extenstive reading, documentary viewing, Scriptural exploration and the art of friendship-making.  Our goal is to develop practicing theologians who better engage their local and global village as one’s who live, love and lead like Jesus.  Go to our website for the detailed description, curriculum & theological affirmations that shape this experience.  

How To Participate 

To apply for the experience or to follow along in the real time stories, pictures and video’s from our time navigating the complex realities of Israel/Palestine, jump on board these platforms:




Empire, Jewish Renewal and Jesus’ Invitation

I recently stood on the shores of the Sea of Galilee near where Jesus is thought to have spent much of his adult life in Capernaum. The village is right on the water, and the view of the sea is breathtakingly serene. When standing on the shore looking south, the rolling hills of the ancient Decapolis wrap around the east side of the Galilee, and the city of Tiberias highlights the low hills on the West that lead toward Nazareth. Directly below my feet were the pebbles that led toward the water’s edge.

Overlooking North Galilee

In Jesus’s day, the Decapolis would have been a place that represented the gentile Hellenistic culture of the Roman Empire and Tiberias, a place largely espousing Jewish values and tradition. To the north of both, and where I stood on the shores of Galilee, I could picture Jesus making his way along the pebbles while looking out at the fishermen faithfully practicing their trade. In one breath this first-century rabbi invites the fishermen to follow him, and in the next they are walking right beside him into a story that would upend their lives.

Jesus’s invitation was to something as ancient as it was new. He was not inaugurating a new faith: he was fulfilling an ancient faith, but it wasn’t going to purely look like either the Hellenistic culture of the Decapolis or the Jewish culture of Tiberias. It was something that transcended culture and tradition and required full immersion into a way of life that reflected the rabbi. Jesus’s way countered the values of the Empire and the espoused traditions of the overly religious. In this sense, it didn’t require only physically turning toward the way of Jesus, but re-orienting and re-defining truth and faithfulness. For those of the Empire, Jesus’s way was confusing in the sense that he promoted selflessness and non-violence in contrast to a culture of self-promotion and violent dominance. For the religious, Jesus called into question some of the holiness codes they held most true as a means to remain faithful to the Torah and the coming Messiah.

Further, Jesus’s invitation was as complex as it was simple. In this light we can see why so many didn’t understand and act upon his invitation. At the same time, in his simple offers to “follow me” and “come and see,” the viral invitation of this all-of-life Jewish renewal movement was under way. It was not an invitation involving only a prayer, but an invitation that would call all of life into submission to the values of the renewed kingdom.

As a people who seek to listen and submerge into the relationships of our local contexts, we hope to invite others into our homes, life, and way of Jesus, but we also hope to be invited into the lives of others.We follow the model of Jesus, who, after living for thirty years alongside those in the Galilee region, began to invite others toward his new way of life, but was also invited into the homes and around the tables of others. In Luke 5 Jesus is the guest of honor at the home of a former tax collector. Jesus was so embedded in deep relationships that others were willingly extending invitations to him.

How might our lives and communities more faithfully reflect the all of life nature of Jesus’ invitation to this Third Way that rejected the lure of Empire and renewed/transformed the call of the religious?  Have we bought into a faith “invitation” that is anything less?  Are we inviting and being invited in the homes of our neighbors, co-workers and schoolmates?

Much of this content is from my book Thin Places published by The House Studio

A Response to My Article “End Times and Global Immersion”

During the past eight years, I have made four trips to Israel. I have participated in two six-month undergraduate and graduate study experiences and have co-led two short-term pilgrimage experiences for high school and college students. I’ve taken classes and shared meals with Jews, Muslims and Christians and have seen and heard uncounted stories of suffering and injustice. During my short amount of time living in Israel, I experienced many of the complexities of life in the Middle East.

Through all of the difficulties of adjusting to living in a new culture, the greatest was the confusion I faced as a white American evangelical. As Huckins states in his article, “Rather than immersing myself in the living narratives, I had been content with a theology and narrative that had been formed for me.”

As my life intersected the numerous narratives being told by the diversity of people living in Israel, I understood that I needed to seriously reconsider both the eschatology and the ecclesiology I’d been handed.

In North America we have the luxury of being highly selective and particular about whom we participate with in the life of a local faith community. Our freedom has provided us the ability of being able to divide ourselves by all kinds of denominational, theological, liturgical, political, racial and economic differences. We clearly delineate between who is in and who is out, who is one of us and who is one of them. Sunday mornings in North America more closely resemble tribal gatherings—each group closely gathered and facing inward—than diverse and interconnected expressions of the body of Christ.

As an American Christian living in Israel, all the ways I had been trained by our culture and my theological education to differentiate myself from other Christians no longer mattered. Participating in a community with other followers of Jesus meant more to me than it ever had before. The small church I experienced was diverse, strange and filled with beautiful tension. American evangelicals, Pentecostals, Messianic Jews, Christian Zionists, Palestinian Christians and followers of Jesus from various other countries and political persuasions all called this community home. Though there was plenty of bickering and arguing, I never witnessed it leading to actual division, neglect or hate. The truth is, we all needed each other to survive the daily struggle of life in Israel. As a legitimate follower of Jesus in the Middle East, you either accept the body of Christ for what it is—a diverse community that transcends race, theology and politics—or you choose to live in isolation.

The problem with the Western understanding of what it means to be a part of the church is that it really only helps our students understand what it means to be a part of church. Living in Israel transformed my understanding of what it means to be part of the church because I realized that in the United States we have constructed our religious institutions in such a way that we don’t really need each other.

As much as we all needed each other in the community I was part of in Jerusalem, this community also needed connection, support and encouragement from followers of Jesus around the world and in the United States. And, though I never realized it, followers of Jesus in the United States needed connection, support and encouragement from this small and unique community in Jerusalem and from other Christians around the world. We have failed to remember the words of Jesus—that our brothers and sisters are anyone who does the will of God,[1] not just people who look and think like us. This includes Huckins’ friend Mildad, the Palestinian Christian who lives in Bethany.

The kind of ecclesiological isolationism that many Western Christians practice leaves room for our other theological understandings to get distorted. We have allowed ourselves to get in trouble by practicing a weak ecclesiology, especially given the popularity and sensationalism of end-times prophecy and eschatological beliefs that include violence and despair. Our communities haven’t modeled what it means to hold ecclesiology and eschatology (regardless of our specific set of beliefs) in tension and have therefore indirectly taught our students that eschatology trumps ecclesiology.

As Huckins reminds us, according to a dispensational understanding of the eschaton, the existence of the nation of Israel is a necessary part of the sequence of events leading to the return of Christ. Therefore, many evangelical Christians support the nation of Israel in their cause against the Palestinians. As Huckins points out, what many of us don’t know (or don’t care about) is that American Christians are financially and politically supporting the oppression of not only the Palestinian people but other followers of Jesus—Palestinian Christians.

What dispensational theology states in practice is that it is more important to prop up the nation of Israel as a pawn in our end-times game than to stand with, suffer with and support other followers of Jesus who are being oppressed. This is not only one of the reasons dispensational theology is practically untenable but also why our students may not have a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

God confronts Cain after a dispute involving religion, jealousy and the murder of his brother.[2] In a rapidly changing world filled with confusion, tension, violence and possibility, all of us in the Western church are confronted by the asking and answering of Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If we’re to be the kind of Christians who can hold our theological convictions in tension while modeling and practicing an appropriate ecclesiology, we have to answer this question with, “Yes.” And if we say yes to this question, even if it is only in a whisper, we have no choice but to embrace followers of Jesus from around the world as our brothers and sisters and to actively pursue ways mutual connection, support and encouragement can be experienced.

This brave response will undoubtedly lead to the rethinking and reorganizing of our theological, political, racial and economic opinions, which might be exactly what God wants us in the Western church to do. For the sake of our own souls, for the well-being of followers of Jesus around the world, for the sake of our students—both now and in the future—we have to find the courage to take this step.

1) Invite leaders from other Christian traditions to speak at your youth group, or invite your students and leaders to join you at a gathering of followers of Jesus that looks different from your own.

2) Challenge students to scour internet blogs and news sites looking for stories (both positive and negative) about other Christian communities from around the world. Set aside a few minutes in your weekly gatherings for students to share what they’ve found and to collectively pray for your newly discovered brothers and sisters.

3) Don’t avoid difficult theological, political, racial or economic conversations during your gatherings. Inviting students to hold differences with others in tension will go a long way in the future toward them knowing how to exist in connection with followers of Jesus who are different from them.


[1] Matthew 12:46-50.

[2] Genesis 4:9.

The Disease of Building Theology in the Theoretical

This blog was first posted on Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Christian’s online publication on 5/6/12…

I love and am enlivened by intellectual stimulation, specifically in relation to the integration of theology and ethics.  In many ways, I feel that I am hardwired for this stuff. 

The other night my NieuCommunities’ tribe was taking an extended time to explore how we each individually connect with God; what are the times, places or activities where we are most connected and alive.  For some it was through contemplation, others through a variety of worship forms, while others through care giving and hospitality.  For me, intellectual exploration was one of the primary ways I connect with God.  My writing, teaching and graduate studies have not come out of a desire to attain a “deeper” faith, but rather out of a unique conviction that I must pursue these things out of faithfulness to the faith I ascribe to.  God has created me for this stuff and it is a significant way I hope to edify the Church global.

Now, while this is an important reality to acknowledge and foster as I come to better understand my wiring and its relation to my Kingdom contribution, I have to hold this reality in tension with some recent experiences and convictions that have come about as a result.

On one of my recent trips down to Tijuana, Mexico I was able to stay for a few days and enter into some of the rhythms of life in this context.  Because of the close proximity, shared economy and common relationships, we consider Tijuana part of the larger metropolitan area of San Diego.  Whether it is acknowledged or not, we function as one city.  With that said, the ways of life in Tijuana and San Diego run in sharp contrast with one another.  The material poverty in much of our neighboring Mexican population is stunning in comparison with the material excess in much of San Diego.  More stunning to me was the comparison between the Christian communities on each side of the border.  While much (certainly not all!) of the energy of Christians in the States goes to building bigger buildings, having better events and ascending the intellectual ladder, our friends in Mexico (certainly not all!) are seeking live out their faith in the everyday realities of the mundane.  They simply don’t have the time or energy to debate doctrine when they need to provide the next meal for their family. 

Just a few weeks ago I returned from spending an extended time in the West Bank among Muslim and Christian Palestinian friends (see above pic).  Not only did we experience life-giving hospitality, we received it from a people who have almost nothing (material) to give.  When we came into one of their homes, the father/husband said, “When you enter our home you are the resident and I am the guest.”  The Church of Palestine lives under the heavy yoke of occupation enduring extreme poverty, daily injustice and has seemingly little hope of a new reality for the generations to come.  But -- and this is a HUGE but -- the Spirit is alive among this community.  This is a band of Jesus’ followers who everyday have to choose to follow the Prince of Peace in their daily realities.  For them, following Jesus cannot simply be reduced to a belief system or a doctrinal statement.  No, following Jesus for them means choosing peace in the face of yet another incident of violence, it means choosing dignity amid imposed humiliation, it means expecting the arrival of “daily bread” when all their resources have run dry.  

Here is the bottom line: People in third world countries are more worried about living out their theology in the mundane than arguing theology in the theoretical. From my experience, a lived theology is much more true and compelling than a “thought about” theology.

This truth serves both as an inspirational and helpful critique of those of us in first world West. 

Developing theology in the theoretical is a unique luxury we have in the West.  If held in tension with the reality of our brothers and sisters living in 3rd world countries, it can be a great benefit to the Church global.  If only understood through our grid of success, achievement, value, intellectual assent or a desire to be on the “right” side of an argument, it can be a grave tragedy for the Church of the West and its relation to the Church global. 

Our intellectual excess is a reflection of our societal tendency towards excess and consumerism.   Yes, even our heart felt desires for intellectual assent in theology can be a sin of excess and consumerism.  It is a reality that is largely only an option in places where we have the time and resources for such practices. 

There are no debates between neo-Calvinists and neo-Anabaptists in the West Bank.  There is no talk of Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell.  There are no flashy programs and events.  Sure the Church has its issues in these places, but their differences are unearthed through shared life and practice rather than in lecture halls and blog rolls.

If done well, I think theological debate and discourse are good.  In fact, they are needed.

Intellectual stimulation is good.  For people like me it isn’t pursued with a desire to be unfaithful, it’s the exact opposite. 

So we have a great gift here in the West.  It is one we must cherish and develop, not for our benefit or reputation, but for the benefit of God’s global Kingdom.  We have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world and as one who has build much of my theology in the theoretical, I choose to stand first in line to repent and learn from these hero’s.

May we not only learn from our brothers and sisters in third world countries, may we allow their life and practice to inform the voice of the Church global as much our best books, sermons and lectures.  Because while we get carried away arguing our theology in the theoretical, they are busy living out their theology in the mundane of the everyday. 

Note: I am speaking to “general” contrasts between 1st world theology and 3rd world theology.  There are many exceptions and I am in no way discounting the brilliant intellectuals with a significant voice and influence who live in 3rd world countries.  They are a numerous, needed and growing presence.



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