Sunday, January 31, 2010

a place of hope

I awoke hungover from the anger I had held in excess the night before. Our last day in Israel/Palestine had me longing for some sign of hope.

Early that morning I walked the streets of Jerusalem taking in every last bit of the bustling markets, crowded streets and falafel selling street vendors. In the midst of chaos there is life. People living, loving, working. Life.

I later joined four women from our group to spend time at a school in East Jerusalem. We walked three blocks from the Holy Land Hotel to a gate in the back corner of a parking lot. As we stepped through the gate we were greeted by a petite woman who radiated persistence, hope and joy. She immediately welcomed us and invited us into her school. The woman was Maha Sader, the principle of Rawdat El-Zuhur. Mrs. Sader knows every child in her school by name and she loves and cares for each and every one of them.

The children in this school seem like any other children in an active, thriving school, until you hear their stories. Each of the children who attend school at Rawdat El-Zuhur are dedicated.

They live in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian side of Jerusalem, which is divided into pieces and parts by walls and checkpoints.

They wake up at 5 am to begin their 2 hour trek to school. This travel time is not justified by extensive distance, but is due to the time they spend standing in line at checkpoints. As they wait in line to get to and from school they often witness harassment and humiliation and experience hunger and exhaustion from standing in line in the early hours of the morning- just to get to school.

But they are there. Enthusiastic. Determined.

When we walked into the sixth-grade classroom Mrs. Sader asked the children what song they would like to sing for us. All at once they said "We Shall Overcome!"


Anger rushed into my body and swallowed me whole.

I fought it. Anger is a place I am not terribly comfortable visiting and a place I certainly don't want to live.

But the feeling was undeniable. A fire in my belly.

As I stood alone, surrounded by people of more nations, faiths and stories than I could possibly know- I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the history and multiple meanings of the wall that stood before me.

This 2000 year old wall that stood in front of me has a deep and complex history. Built by Herod the Great as he attempted to return the temple to its former glory, it was the last remaining fragment of the temple after it's destruction in 68 CE by the Roman empire. This conglomerate of stones is of utmost significance to the Jewish community, and I fully honor that meaning.

But in this moment- in this time and place- looking at this wall left me drowning in anger and sadness.
Angry with the power structures which build walls to keep some in, and others out. The prevailing human tendency to exploit others for our own gain. At this moment this wall represented the way we have all used violence to justify violence. Hate to justify hate.

At this moment this wall held nothing beautiful or holy, but only left me wailing.

People from all around the world come here. They are dressed in traditional religious clothing, or in skinny jeans and gucci jackets. There heads are covered or their heads are bare.

We all come to stand at the wall. And to pray.
I wonder, what do we pray for?
Do we pray for peace?
For success?
For God to come?
For triumph?
For our enemies to fail?
For forgiveness?
For healing?
For hope?

God, Why do we do this?
Why do we build walls around our cities in your name?
Why do we build constructs of stone and wood and metal and wire and defend them to our death?
These broken stones, layer upon layer left me sad and angry with our broken and fragmented state.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I begin this conversation with an awareness of the strong political and religious perspectives and implications in discussing peace in the middle east. I tread lightly when entering into a conversation that is so deep, important, complex and controversial. That said, I was asked to tell the truth of what I witnessed during our time in Palestine and Israel, so here goes...

Ten days ago I stepped on an airplane headed to Tel Aviv with 18 incredible individuals ready to listen and experience. We were each ready to walk the Holy sites and hear voices of the people living in Israel and Palestine. (not sure how in the world I wound up on this trip- thanks Jeff and Janet!)

My understanding Israel and Palestine was flat, two dimensional, black and white. I had looked at maps, read statistics, newspaper articles, and of course knew the religious history and ideology that are so important to me, the region and our world.

Through connecting with people, hearing first hand life stories, touching the soil, stone, and water of Israel and Palestine, and tasting enough hummus, pitta and falafel to feed 5000, that perspective was transformed into a multidimensional, multi-layered, textured, full-sensory-love of a community, culture, land and people.

The depth of my understanding of living our Christian faith came to light as we heard of the struggle and the history which has come to define the middle east. We walked empty streets quieted by walls of separation and barbed wire, we encountered desperate vendors with no way to earn a living, attended worship services in a Synagogue, prayed in a Mosque, and visited many beautiful churches. I cried at both the wailing wall and the separation wall- overcome with sadness for the history of human violence, segregation and hate which permeates every segment of our world. I spent a night with a Palestinian family and felt the similarities of life, family and joy so many miles from my home. In meeting with various groups I listened to stories of occupation, felt overwhelmed, anger, intense sadness, and ultimately awe for the incredible resiliency of the human spirit. I took hope from from the stories told time and time again- waiting- waiting and waiting for change.

I hope I can share these stories in a way that honors the incredible people who have shared them. I hope to share in shedding light on some of the hidden and painful injustices and on the incredible beauty in the midst of it all.

Hello to our first blog post! I have been hesitant to move to the blog format and haven't been ready to start sharing quite yet. After the experiences I have had over the past ten days spending time in Palestine and Israel I am ready to test out my voice. I ask for your grace and your patience and I, and our family begin to learn to tell our stories. I hope this blog can be an invitation into open, loving conversation about life, God, justice, adventure and community. Look for our first posts coming soon! Love and peace to you all!