About a month ago I started to call this trip a mission. In the Presbyterian Church especially as laity we often see mission as going and serving. In fact, that is what the church I grew up in called all of our high school mission trips. Though as I look back in my mind on those trips, and the later missions I have taken, the physical work that was done was always secondary to what God did to me in changing me. I do not say this to sound arrogant, rude, or superior in anyway, because it is the humility I learned to accept God’s place in my heart and eventually in my life through those which allowed me to hear God’s Call. And it is that humility that brought me hear with an open heart and mind to listen for God.
In coming I had many thoughts about what I would expect, but my greatest desire was to find understanding to a situation I barley understood. But what I did not expect was to find myself going through a fundamental change in how I view myself, how I view others, and mostly how I listen for god in the midst of conflict.
Throughout the first half of the trip there has been a feeling of being a ping pong ball, as politicians explain the reasoning for their decisions and academics further their agendas. Though the amazing thing in all of our discussions has been a desire to be faithful, whether that be to the land or tradition or directly to God.
It is going to take me along time to process our speakers and with so many notes, I am not going to do that now, I want to highlight a couple thoughts. First off I can say I wish I had taken this trip before last year. Though I knew our process in the Presbyterian Church was wrong, I did not know how much. The reality whether we agree or disagree with the vote, one thing that is very obvious was that we were having an American debate putting forward American Solutions to a problem that is far more difficult and definitely not American. The moves of our denomination went against both Israel and the Fattah (Palestinian Authority) who are both in favor of a two state solution, though they do disagree with how that would play out.
Secondly, I realize the otherness of the other. How does that sound? When listening to the differing sides talk “the other” is often painted as less whether that be honest, or trustworthy or even subhuman (though that had not been expressed directly). The thing that is easy to see is that by seeing the other as less then human, it is easy to make decisions that effect their lives without care for their humanity. Needless to say that is the basis for wars. Though, just as interesting, both sides were quick to speak against Hamas, and the former acting Prime Minister of the PA gave us a quick passionate refutation of Isis and their absolute rejection of the core Islamic tenets.
I am getting ready to prepare my heart and mind for a Shabbat Service Tonight. I will go with my group to the reformed synagogue, but I was fairly split with that choice and my curiosity to see what a Shabbat would be at the Western Wall. Coming, when I saw that option of the Western Wall I was excited, but I think for the purposes of this trip, it would put a sour taste to not worship with those who I have been on this journey with. We do not agree, and being very tired from continual speeches, tours, and dialogue many things have come up, but surprisingly we always seem to come to a way of understanding. We are learning to be respectful of our differences, celebrate our communities and begin to ask the questions that need to be asked to make a difference not only in our communities, but how we might be able to make a difference in a crisis in an area that has been under dispute for, well, all of written human history.
In the Psalms the songs of pilgrimages are all songs of ascent (or going up). Being in Jerusalem for the last couple days you do recognize the reality of always going up! Maybe that is part and parcel for the ingrained spirituality of this place. Even though we have yet to go into the old city, the presence is hard to miss.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen