This time last year, I was in Israel. It was summer that I’m still trying to come to terms with on a number of levels. I’m sure other conflict zones on earth are just as mind-boggling and complicated and as the Holy Land. But it seems so much more extraordinary given the religious significance placed on such a wee bit of land. Small as it is, it is home for many groups of people. Is there hope for Israel/Palestine? Can there be peace?
My time there expanded my awareness of the Middle East, an area as exotic to me as China is for most North Americans. I felt my paradigms about Christianity and other faiths were laid bare under the hot, scorching sun. I was sustained by the Spirit and yet, long-held beliefs withered under confusion. Who was right? Which side is God on? Whose prayers does God listen to? Does God care about the Arab mother, living in refugee camps, working in subservient jobs to sustain her family? Does God care about the young Israeli soldier, trained to kill and situated between Settlers and Palestinians? Does God care about the Arab-Christian, who is discriminated by a government that is supported by the Christian West? Does God care about a evangelical, Chinese-Canadian woman, with the luxury of spending 3 months volunteering in a place that was completely foreign to her?
Last Sunday I was invited by a Catholic friend to attend the world premiere of Across the Divide, a documentary on Bethlehem University. I wish I had known about this university, indeed, I wish I had known a lot more about Israel before going. The holy sites didn’t interest me as much as what was happening to the people now. Yet my fears kept me from exploring more and my capacity to process the issues was (and is) limited. What I appreciate about this documentary was that it was balanced and humane. They brought various voices but they didn’t shy from showing the real, personal-level impact of conflict.
Also helpful was the panel discussion at the end (Archbishop J. Michael Miller; Father Thomas Rosica from Salt + Light; Carl Hetu, executive director at CNEWA Canada; and Brother Jack Curran, Vice President for Development at Bethlehem University; moderated by Kris Dmytrenko, writer and co-director of Across the Divide). Even thought they were all white men, I saw that they were using their positions of power to advocate and to defend, and to bring dignity and hope to the people they care for. They put forth a call, to “Look for signs of hope, but question injustice,” and to “build bridges not walls.”
Oh those blasted walls. I’ve never had such a visceral response to a structural object before. But seeing those separation walls up close, to feel its domination and intrusion, its power to divide and to confine, filled me with revulsion. On one side it’s justifiable and brought safety, on the other it is oppressive and debasing. Never before had I wished destruction of something, but there I was – praying for the walls to come down. Eventually they will, and may it be a day of peace and reconciliation and not a day of conquest.
What I’m just starting to understand is the Catholic call upon Christians to respond to the situation in the Holy Land. “The Holy Land is the mother Church,” one panelist said. We should care about what goes on there. I’m just not sure how.
Here are some quotes (according to my notes & memory) in response to audience questions:
When asked about their opinion on Christian Zionism and North American gov’t leanings –
If you’re going to say you’re Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine, don’t be anti-Israel or anti-Palestine. Palestine and Israel need more friends, not enemies.
I think this was in response to a question on the hopes of building an Arab University in Jerusalem –
The Holy Land is a land of surprise.
(In other words, you’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to actually do something there).
Lastly, and my favorite:
You come to Jerusalem for pilgrimage and when you go home you want to write a book.
You come to Jerusalem for a 3 month sabbatical and when you go home you want to write an article.
You come to Jerusalem for a year and when you go home, you shut up.
I guess this is my article, a year later, with no clearer answers. Except for this – God does care. I know, without question, that God cares about this rock orbiting a star in an immeasurable universe. And He (or She) cares about each breathing person living on it even while we destroy ourselves and each other. I know I don’t care nearly much as I should, but I feel him breaking my heart in order to love more. I’ll take that as my sign of hope.
If you’re interested on more, a fellow Regent student who won the Conway Holy Land Scholarship is blogging about her research and experience at http://morethanasoundbite.wordpress.com/