As I write this I’m sitting in Bethlehem, as in “Oh little town of…” in Palestine.
My husband John and I are here for a conference called Christ at the Checkpoint, a gathering of Palestinian and Israeli Christians trying to pursue peace.
Confession: I am an idiot when it comes to the politics of the Middle East. I’m just trying to keep my head down, my ears open, and my mouth closed. I want to learn all I can and I figure it will be a win if I don’t inadvertently cause an international crisis.
There are people from all over the world here.
In our devotional time yesterday the speaker asked us to turn to the person next to us and guess how many churches are represented. I guessed 50.
The answer? One.
And one of the most powerful experiences for me? Singing How Great Thou Art.
In English. In Arabic. In harmony. Simultaneously.
It’s one thing to sing together.
But here in Israel it’s something very different to actually live together in a place where there is deep pain and misunderstanding and anger and injustice between Palestinians and Israelis.
Both literally and figuratively this is represented by walls and checkpoints separating people who say they love God.
Let me tell you about a new friend I met the other day. Charlie and his wife have two children, and are expecting their third child next month. You would think that would be a great thing. And it is!
But… It’s also complicated, and very hard for me to understand.
You see Charlie is a Palestinian Christian living with his family in Bethlehem. So that his child can have the privilege of Israeli citizenship, Charlie’s wife needs to deliver their baby in Jerusalem, just a few miles away. But for that to happen, Charlie and his wife will have to wait at the checkpoint at the wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Separates Palestinians from Israelis. Jews and Christians and Muslims, separated by one of many walls and checkpoints dividing the land.
The guards at the wall have been known to keep women who are in labor waiting until they deliver their baby at the checkpoint (some stillborn with out a doctor). Because they can. They are the ones with power at this point in history and they can.
Hurting people hurt people as they say. Those who have been the most oppressed are often the worst oppressors.
And I keep thinking of my friend Sherrie, whose baby shower I went to the day before I flew here. Sherrie, who is due at the same time as my new friend, will zip down the Crosstown with her husband to Southdale Hospital in about 10 minutes.
No walls. No checkpoints. No guns.
Two pregnant women in different worlds. This is a very small example of a huge reality of walls and division.
In this different world, Palestinians who have to go to work in Jerusalem line up every morning at many checkpoints, sometimes coming as early as 3 a.m. to wait for hours, and hours, enduring humiliation, treated as second-class citizens. Trying to get to work to support their families. It’s not fair. But then nothing much seems fair for anyone here.
Here’s what my small brain can take in:
It’s about us’s and them’s. Power and weakness. Gain and loss. History and violence and land.
The Palestinians have been mistreated by the Israelis.
The Jews have been mistreated by the Arabs.
Muslims, Christians, and Jews have ALL behaved badly.
At the end of the devotional study the other morning, John Ortberg made this observation: Jesus’ categories weren’t “us” vs. “them”. They were “holy” vs. “sinful” and we’re all sinful so He “crossed over” to our side to save us. All of us.
And as true as that is, it’s still not nice or neat or in any way “easy.” I really don’t understand so much of this. And even those who do understand a little more than me recognize this is a God-sized problem.
When I asked Charlie if his NGO had hired any Israeli Christians his face registered pain and he said, “No, not yet. But someday.” Christians working through pain towards reconciliation…a God-sized problem.
Shane Claiborne had a great line in his talk the other day: When injustice has a name, it comes with responsibility. Now you know Charlie’s name.
Will you please pray with me for God’s peace in this place and in all the places where you are experiencing walls of division and injustice?