|Sister Ruth talking to us on one of our bus journeys|
As I told Sister a few days ago, each day I would hear stories of either Israelis or Palestinians and I would be so moved and convicted by them that I would be sure I had a handle on what and who was right and what and who was wrong. And then I would have to stop and tell myself: "Take a deep breath, tomorrow is another day." Meaning, tomorrow would bring different stories, different faces, different perspectives, different pain, different claims, different hopes. And those would need to be held in tension and love and humility with everything else I had heard.
This was a trip of hearing deep and powerful narratives that often conflicted with one another. Of realizing that as much as skilled negotiators, this region needs skilled psychologists -- and more than anything it needs deep prayer, deep listening, and deep love..
The list of people we met with was astounding. Each one either pricked our intellect or moved our spirit and many did both. We met with:
*The Dean of St. George's Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem.
*A Palestinian Christian who does tours of refugee camps.
*People we encountered on our walking tour of the DeHeisheh Refugee Camp in the West Bank.
*A Palestinian Muslim in his 20s who lives in the DeHeisheh Refugee Camp.
*The architect of the security barrier, who was also a part of the Israeli delegation at Camp David when the Clinton Parameters almost brought a framework for peace to the region.
|With our tour guide, George, on the other side of the|
security barrier in Bethlehem.
*An incredible Israeli author and journalist who emigrated to Israel and, as a Jew, has dived deep into the Christian and Muslim communities and had a unique perspective on the conflict and the role of faith in it.
*A Palestinian Israeli journalist who covers the conflict for the Jerusalem Post.
*A Palestinian Christian who founded the only Christian-owned TV station in the West Bank.
*The Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs and Official Spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
*A former member of and spokesperson for the Israeli National Police who personally had been to the site of 48 suicide bombings and had to retire because of PTSD.
*A professor of business at Tel Aviv University who runs a "mini-MBA" program for Palestinian businessmen and women from the West Bank.
*The head of the Strategic Section of the International Law Department of the IDF -- who gave us a briefing at the Israeli "Pentagon."
*A retired Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court (inside the Court building).
*The President/CEO of the Palestine Stock Exchange (and also Yasser Arafat's nephew).
*The president of the company building (with the help of Qatar) the first planned Palestinian city (complete with in-depth tour and tree-planting ceremony - more on that in a future post).
*A senior member of the Fatah party (the largest faction of the Palestinian Authority), who was part of the Palestinian group at Camp David when the Clinton Parameters almost brought a framework for peace to the region.
|Part of our group enjoying fellowship on a beautiful hotel patio.|
One of the discussion questions -- What is the most memorable
meal you ever had? I think this feast of Cuban cigars, Macallan,
olives, crackers and water will rank up there.
The group I traveled with is called "Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East," and a fair witness is what we got. We were given the opportunity to spend not minutes but hours with each of these people and told that no question or topic was off-limits. There were many things I can share from those conversations and also some things that were shared off the record that I will respect by not sharing but that powerfully shaped my mind and heart.
Through it all, as I had intended, I continually asked myself the question: "What can I learn here that will translate back to St. Louis ... to the conflicts of race and class that seem sometimes nearly as intractable as the Israelis and the Palestinians?" I will be writing more on that in the coming days and weeks as well.
But for all of this, some of the most meaningful conversations were the ones I had with Sister Ruth on the bus. She is a remarkable woman -- lawyer, nun, personal trainer (she never got around to teaching me the core exercises she promised to!) and tireless and passionate worker for peace in this region. My roommate John Ohmer remarked that all we needed to do was lock the architect of the barrier, the Fatah leader, Hillary Clinton and Sister Ruth in a room and not let them out until they had a solution and the conflict would be solved. When we told her this, Sister -- absolutely humble but not lacking any in self-confidence -- immediately said, "Ummm... Yeah, we could do it."
On Monday as we were entering our last two days and driving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Sister Ruth and I had a long conversation. I told her about my experience of every day being moved passionately and saying to myself: "Take a deep breath. Tomorrow is another day." And I asked her what she thought the church's job is. Here's what she said:
"The Church's job is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously."
Her words bring tears to my eyes as I write them. Because I don't want to take one side or another. More than that after standing with and hearing all these people, I don't want to presume Jesus is calling some sheep and some goats. I believe in calling out evil when I see it ... and I believe we ignore that call at the peril of our souls. But as much as there were parts of both the security barrier architect and the Fatah member (to use two examples) that I absolutely opposed, so too was there real passion and pain and a desire for justice that was true and valid and even rooted in compassion. There was goodness and even holiness in each narrative, in each person.
And I think about downtown St. Louis. And I think about the battle between the residents and business owners and the city and the people struggling with homelessness and Larry Rice and NLEC. I think about the seemingly endless cycle we are in of battling one another, of assigning blame. And as a Cathedral we have resisted taking one side or another and it has positioned us to be a place where, God willing I hope, in the coming months all will come together to try to broker if not a solution at least a better way.
|Cross carved into the wall of the stairway leading|
down to the St. Helena Chapel at the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre. Millions of people have
followed Jesus to and from this spot.
Our job as the Church is to stand with people on both sides, loving them openly and notoriously.
Standing with -- doing what Jesus did with all humanity. Not promising to fix things or make it all better, but promising never to leave. Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Loving openly -- loving in a public way as Jesus loved. Loving all without exception or strings attached (and that love means challenging sometimes).
Loving notoriously -- loving in a way that Jesus loved. Loving scandalously (You love HER??? You love HIM???). Loving in ways that put at risk our reputation and all that we have and are.
As I begin to think about this (and all of my thoughts are just beginning), if the question is "What is our role in Israel/Palestine? What is our role in St. Louis?" the answer is -- to follow Jesus.
What do you think?