So, I missed the trip. The group traveled through Turkey and its significant sites, both Christian and otherwise, and then to Israel, with stops in (if I remember correctly) Tel Aviv, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.
I freely admit the site I would have been most eager to see was the site at Gallipoli, a World War I battle, more than most of the religious sites (although I was thoroughly excited about the various New Testament-related sites in Turkey). In all honesty, I was a bit ambivalent about the Israel-Palestine part of the trip. That wasn't because of any particular concern about the itinerary. It was because people tend to get stupid about the "Holy Land."
Hear me out. You might even get to witness an unbegun pastoral career going up in self-inflicted flames.
Leaving aside Jerusalem syndrome, it's just about impossible to get into a discussion of anything about the modern-day state of Israel without an awful lot of Christians starting to act, frankly, goofy. (I would guess that Jews and Muslims also exhibit awfully strong feelings on the region, but I will stick with what I know most from experience.) It might be a simple as a total change of vocal tone upon the thought of the "Holy Land", or perhaps some dreamy look in the eyes, or an uncontrollable urge to break out singing the old sacred-song chestnut "I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked."
To me, something of this kind of distractedness is evidenced by a blog on the Christian Century website with the title "An Open Letter to the PCUSA" concerning upcoming General Assembly debate over the question of Israel-Palestine conflict. Maybe others read it differently. Maybe the author is seeking something else and I'm missing it. But as far as I can see, the author's sole purpose is to undermine any serious discussion of the conflict in the region and to treat the whole region as something like the song linked above.
Of course, there is the use of "politics" as an implied dirty word. There is only a minimal amount of concern for any person involved in the conflict; indeed to read the article one might forget that there actually are people -- Palestinian residents, Israeli settlers, soldiers, etc. -- involved in the conflict, or indeed living in the region at all. The "Holy Land," or the "Fifth Gospel" as the author names it, is an abstraction, virtually a theme park (and no, I'm not referring to the one in Florida, but at times in the blog entry I wondered if I might be) to which we are invited to wander and wonder and meditate for our own peace and contentment.
This I find appalling. This is not about "our faith" as a historical artifact bound to a particular geographical region; this is about our faith as we are called to live it, discerning the will of the Holy Spirit in finding some way to a just peace in the region, or at the very minimum not being caught supporting the perpetuation of injustice. This is a conflict between people. Our sentimental attachment to the pictures we used to see in Sunday School class is not a basis for discerning justice.
There is virtually nothing I can add to the debate that will culminate at General Assembly. I find it sad and pathetic that there are some who would treat the debate as an excuse for a low-grade case of Jerusalem syndrome.
It doesn't look quite like this anymore.