This book is a treasure. I am one of those people who only dreams about traveling to the Holy Land, walking the streets Jesus walked and seeing the setting of His ministry years. While my opportunity to hop a plane and find myself knee-deep in Biblical history has not yet arrived, this book both satisfied and renewed my longing for Israel.
Buck Storm, self-admittedly neither a theologian or historian, uses his skills as a novelist and songwriter to paint a beautiful picture of modern day Israel, with all its contradictions. He shares stories of his many travels through Israel, usually off the beaten path, with vibrant locations and even more vibrant people. Often, his stories of visiting sites from Jesus' ministry are poignant and breathtaking, as is his trip to Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus took his disciples in Matthew 16:13-20:
"My group and I sat for a while, lingering in the shade and the echo of His voice, reluctant to move on. Sometimes it's better not to rush. To slow down. To take the time to listen. Once, lifetimes ago, Caesarea Phillipi was an evil place, filled with devils. Blustering gods of nothing. And the Bright Morning Star swept them away with a word and a thought." (Chapter 3)
Buck Storm makes you feel as though you're right alongside him in the dust, crowds, and sacred spaces. This book is a perfect picture of the human experience, combining the humour of differing languages and foods, the lure of history, the romance of the Gospel, the heartbreak of sin. While he walks readers through some popular locations, such as Gethsemane, the pages of this book are also filled with less-traveled sites, where tourists, tickets, and lines are non-existent. He acknowledges the realities of the tourism industry and is successful in going beyond it to show his readers the true Israel.
"And God, whether we choose to recognize it or not, is at the very heart of Israel. So, for me, watching the bread vendor next to the Jaffa Gate getting bombarded by fifty shaloms from fifty happy, footsore tourists isn't a bad thing. The genuine smile on his face tells me he agrees. I'm sure a few shekels in his pocket and five or ten rings of his sesame bread and hyssop being passed around the group didn't hurt either." (Chapter 8)
This book is filled to the brim with larger than life people, personal faith moments, "coincidences," and insights. Storm even touches on several points not often discussed, such as the false, stereotyped view North America has of the Middle East, and the tendency of Western pilgrims to make an idol of the Holy Land and the search for spiritual experiences. I loved this book for two reasons; the first, his descriptions drew me in so strongly I felt I was walking through Israel with him, with all the sights, sounds, scents and heat involved. Second, Storm links locations and Biblical passages in ways I had never seen before. For example, I had never known that when Jesus told His disciples the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church, He was standing near a place known as the "gate of hell," surrounded by pagan Roman idols. It is in the details like this, precious and little known, that the landscape of Israel expands our view of scripture. In this way, Finding Jesus in Israel is like taking your own journey to the Holy Land, from the comfort of your own home.
I was planning on reading just one chapter, to see what this new book was all about, but I found myself unable to put it down. I will be returning to it again and again, especially when I finally get the chance to travel to Israel. If you have even a mild case of wanderlust, this book is for you.
"It's a big, hot, swirling mill of innocence and sin, located within a stone's throw of the scorched remains of biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. The landscape probably looked a lot different in Abraham and Lot's day, but we humans haven't changed a whole lot. I looked out at the water. The Dead Sea. A liquid ghost town. Even the piles of driftwood along the shore looked like bleached bones. On every level, sin and hopelessness blanketed the place. And I smiled. Because I know Him. Because it's always in the deadest places - be it the moonscape of the Negev, the hard-packed earth of a hippodrome floor, or the salty depths of a broken soul - that the God of love insists on breathing new life." (Chapter 13)