As I sit in my office early this Wednesday morning my mind and my heart are still overwhelmed with the mission to the holy land. Between the travel and recovery I am now just starting to process what I saw, did, and heard. I am sure that over the next month or so I will be writing, preaching, and talking about the trip. But this was a very unique trip; one that I think very few people will ever have the opportunity to experience. What we did and saw really were secondary to the people we were with and the journey we had together. For that, I am eternally thankful for the JCPA who founded that International Partners for Peace.
Last year when I sat on the General Assembly’s committee on Middle East Affairs, I knew something was very off within the discussion. I spoke up at the time; the problem was that I was going on my gut feelings without a real understanding myself, but something felt wrong. I now know that we make some very wide reaching assumptions about the Middle East and about Israel/Palestine that are far too simple and contextually American to either be helpful or bring about peace.
The debates that we had over BDS last year, you would have thought BDS would have been on the forefront of the discussions. The truth was only one of the Palestinians we talked with mentioned it without being questioned and all did not see it as a truly effective way to peace, since the end result would perpetuate conflict. The reality (though a reality no one loves) is that there has to be some way in which both sides can come together in an agreement for living together in peace.
Surprisingly, both sides also recognize that the peace will come only with sacrifice on both sides. Though, equally surprising, both the negotiators for the Palestinians and the Israelis really did think that peace was possible, though obviously they disagreed in the particulars of how that would happen. This too will come up again in future blogs and letters, but as moving as all of the political stuff was, the life-changing event had nothing to do with the politics or even the holy land itself. it was studying, praying, worshipping, and fellowshipping with people from various Protestant and Jewish communities.
It was fascinating to listen to the Jewish perspective on text I’ve studied so many times from the Hebrew Testament and even the New Testament readings, especially when the Rabbi’s would raise the witness that often what Christ was teaching was a traditional Jewish teaching or approach to a situation. As I process more, I will post more, but there is a lot of work to do now. Not just getting caught up from being away for the past 10 days, but in how we witness to the bigger plan God has for us and listening for how we can learn to bring peace, not only to problems far away, but within our own communities.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen