Our trip was coming to an end; our minds were swirling with thoughts of everything we had seen and done and how we would transition back to our homes creating sermons and writings that would not overwhelm our congregations with the same intensity as our experiences of the past week had been. As we drove through the Palestinian territories, on the one side we looked to the Palestinian communities and on the other Israeli settlements. This was going to be an interesting journey.
The bus pulled down the unpaved country road to a house that looked to be held together by scrap wood and prayers. I did not know how right I was! Soon a man met us with a big smile on his face welcoming us to this very special place. If I were a different person I might have had the proper wits to be scared, but I knew better: meeting in Palestinian territory, surrounded by settlements at the home of a Palestinian man...this was going to be interesting.
As we walked to the back of the house we saw they had set up a meeting space with comfortable couches, chairs, and netted fabric overhead for shade. We were sitting in the middle of an ancient road that biblically would have hosted many prophets, possibly Moses himself. The gravity did not really hit me until the men we came to see began to speak. They were three people that were supposed to hate each other, two Israeli settlers and one Palestinian man, on whose land we were meeting. But that was not the case; there was a genuine openness and hope along with a candid and blatant acceptance of one another.
Each of the men told their story and each told a unique one. They were not telling them to make an argument, or even to look for support for their reasons; they were telling us who they were and, more importantly, they were letting us know how they got to that place. The reality was that the impetus for this was a realization among both of the men that no matter what might happen politically; they would have to be neighbors.
Being neighbors is not easy, especially with different cultures, perspectives, understandings, and status, but they each have found a way to begin to ask the question, “how can I be a neighbor to my neighbor?” For both men, this was the pathway to peace and where we sat, though not much to look at was a sacred space where those dialogues could begin to take place. But before any of that could happen both of the men had to do something that is often not done in the Middle East, they had to recognize and honor first the personhood of each other and secondly the legitimacy of each other.
This was not easy, especially for the Palestinian man who had been imprisoned by the Israelis along with his mother and they had killed his brother. But he said one of the most powerful things I think I have ever heard; “the best act of anger is nonviolence.” For all of us Americans, that does not mean passive aggressive behavior; he was talking about finding ways to reach out, communicate, and share. He went on to share the truth we all know so well: violence only creates more violence and fear only creates more fear, so much that we begin to forget ourselves which allows us to forget the humanity of those who we fear.
As we sat on the road where so many of those patriarchs of our traditions walked, I could not help but think that how often as Americans we are driven by the fight and our arrogance to think we know how to win. The truth is, winning is just not that important because, as the Bible tells us over and over, any earthly win is temporary because God will win all battles in the end.
This is what I learned in that meeting, and it is perfect for our scripture and theme this Sunday. The fact is as people of faith we have to meet everyone where they are, without criticism or judgment, but with love and compassion. Only then can we begin to dialogue, learn, and find ways of understanding, compromise and ultimately peace.
Yes, this may be a dream, and you can say this movement is so small it could not really make a difference, but I would say this was only one of the dozens of groups we spoke with who are working off of these principles. All of whom realize that peace can only be attained through the loving acceptance of each other as unique persons created and blessed by God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen