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Tom is away this week attending the Steering Committee of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. In his place we introduce the Rev. Leah Ennis, an RCA minister who serves at the North and Southampton Reformed Church in Churchville, Pennsylvania.
The word “Lent” comes from a root word meaning “lengthening,” like the lengthening hours of sunlight which will bring the long, warm days of summer. Normally during Lent we think of giving something up for 40 days as we approach Easter, so as to prepare spiritually before we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. This year, perhaps more than any other Lent before it, I am finding myself being lengthened – stretched – just like the days that are rolling out before me. And what I’m giving up, is mostly what I thought I knew. What is lengthening and stretching me? Well, at the beginning of this year’s Lenten season I found myself in Israel-Palestine. Now there’s a place that could stretch anybody in any number of ways. It’s true. I was there on something of a peace-seeking conference called “Christ at the Check Point” at Bethlehem Bible College. I was also able to see and expirence many biblical sights by the leadership of Marlin and Sally Vis through “Light for the World” study tour.
…So there I was in Israel-Palestine, like so many before me, beginning a pilgrimage of sorts. Far outside my “comfort zone” in the middle of a modern-day “war zone”, seeking to learn about peace and reconciliation from real everyday peacemakers – both Palestinians and Israelis – who are pouring their lives out for others. These are the ones taking the road less traveled, risking their own security and even acceptance by their communities, all for the high calling of waging peace. These, my new and largely unsung heroes of deep compassion and understanding, would share their lives, homes and stories with us. Stories of brokenness, and put-back-together-ness, stories of pain and suffering, of radical forgiveness and overcoming all kinds of barriers to reach out and understand the “other” in their lives. All stories, ultimately, of conspiring for good in courageous, clever and creative ways.
As a disciple of Christ, along with other Chrstians, I was pushed to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and
building on the prophetic traditions of each other. I am called to seek out the truth, look at it straight in the eyes, and take the courage to tell it.
Having had the opportunity to visit Palestinians in their homes in Refugee Camps and Israelis in their homes in Settlements, I was moved to tears by all of their stories of loss, survival, fear, anger. I realized how much they had in common– both Israel and Palestine have killed the ‘other’ and have been victims of loss themselves. (To be remphasize for clarity: this isn’t about “taking sides” or saying Palestine is good and Israel is bad. Rather, as followers of Jesus, we are invited to humanize both sides and partner together to create a shared future of forgiveness, equality, and human flourishing.)
How we, as Christians, see this issue reflects our theology and ultimately how we see Jesus. Jesus is in the business, if you will, of humanizing people – ALL people. In Jesus, the “land” is holy in Jerusalem, but also in the whole world. Every square inch of the cosmos is holy and it takes God’s holy people to join in God’s mission to reconcile all of it to God’s way of shalom or salaam. I don’t yet know what this experience will mean for my own future. I know that I will never be the same as I now have heard so many stories of loss, grief, fear, tragedy, but still a glimer of hope. I also realize that I’m invited to never forget the struggle for justice and peace. This, I suspect, will have profound implications for my home church’s call to just-peacemaking both in our neighborhoods and in Israel/Palestine.
To read more about the conference Rev. Ennis attended you may like to read this aritcle.