05/16/2013 01:49 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Little Christian Fellowship in O Little Town of Bethlehem

Late on my first night in Palestine, after dinner with my guides, I came back to my hotel and met a dozen Lutheran pastors in the lobby. They were heading into a 2,000-year-old cave, upon which the hotel was built, for a devotion service and invited me along. I was really tired but followed my current travel ethic: If an opportunity presents itself, say "Yes."

The pastors were just finishing a multi-year Pastoral Leadership Institute program. Their theme (as taught by English church leader Mike Breen): up, in, and out ("up" is relationship with God, "in" is relationship with community, "out" is outreach beyond their immediate community). I climbed down into the cave with them and enjoyed a wonderful hour of singing, reading, and sharing.

While our image of "no room at the inn" is brick and wood, the "inn" of Bible fame was very likely a series of caves. And "no room" meant a woman about to give birth would not be welcome in the main quarters, as it was an unclean thing. Mary was sent to the manger cave where the animals hung out to give birth to Jesus.

The next day I told my guide about the wonderful evening. He said, "Yes, but if you hear it as much as me, it is annoying." Nearly all the tourism in Palestine is religious tourism.