Sojourning in the Holy Land

Posted: December 27, 2012 in Hermeneutics

Having recently returned from a trip to Israel I thought it appropriate to reflect upon my experiences and encounters. On December 9th I flew out of Akron-Canton airport through Chicago and Newark for the Holy Land. This, I might say, was a trip filled with layovers and waiting. It seemed oddly appropriate to wait with anticipation as I prepared to touch down in Tel-Aviv to begin my adventure in the heart of the advent season. On this particular trip I journeyed with 15 other travelers who represented leadership in both the Church of the Brethren and American Baptist denominations.

The purpose of the trip was primarily educational, although for me it was also a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel there. Israel and Palestine are lands of contrast and conflict. The geopolitical makeup of this region is complex to say the least. The northern region and Jordan valley are lush and serve as the bread basket for the rest of Israel and Palestine. The primary water source is found in the north in Lake Tiberius. The geographical makeup alone sets the stage for political complexity. Then when you throw in the fact that 3 of the world’s major religions have their primary holy sites within this region things get very complicated. This is all without bringing up the 2000 year historic struggle of the people of this land with special emphasis upon the western world’s transgressions of the last 150 years. So to say that things are complicated is simply stating a truth.

The most remarkable part of this trip was that it was set up not in the normal tourist fashion emphasizing sightseeing, but that each day was arranged so that we would meet with particular people from both Palestine and Israel. Each encounter with these folks was remarkable (and I will provide more specific reflections about those in coming entries). Our group was led by an organization called Telos. These folks intentionally work to provide substantial visits with people from this land representing the region’s political and religious diversity. The three wonderful folks who led us, each were representative of one of the three faiths.

While admittedly we did see some of the sites, we had lunch, dinner and tea with special guests who shared their stories and experiences of living in this part of the world. We met with a Palestinian peace activist in Bethlehem, a former Israeli government official, a Palestinian farmer, a retired Israeli general, a Palestinian businessman, an Israeli community leader, a Jewish peace activist, a Palestinian small business owner, a Jewish rabbi, an Israeli hospital organization that is committed to treating all children with heart disease (without prejudice), and we met with two representatives of a group of parents who have had children killed in the violence of this region (a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man). So to say that we got a broad spectrum of perspectives is an understatement but it was enriching.

While I won’t go into any details in this entry I would like to share a couple observations I came away with. Having had a couple of weeks to reflect and process I have come to share an equal portion of concern and hope for the people of Israel and Palestine. It’s easy sometimes to look over the fence and see our neighbor’s issues especially in light of the recent events in Newtown. So I could point out the apparent inequities and flagrant injustices or the violent retaliations, but what comes most to my mind is a growing presence of people who long to live full and peaceful lives. There is a desire to both be treated with dignity and to live with dignity. There may be many obstacles to a lasting peace and unequaled challenges to overcome, but there is a determined hope which is emerging. One specific sign at the Tent of the Nations farm illustrates it this way, “We Refuse to be Enemies.” It is just such a spirit that emerges out of a deep faith and commitment to live in the footsteps of Jesus that seems to be catching on. If there is to be real peace, it will come not from political peace processes but by the faithful determination to love one’s neighbors. How can there not be hope when t

Tent of the Nations

here are people so strongly determined to live this way.

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Comments
  1. Dana Cassell says:

    I’ve been looking forward to your reflections on this journey, Andy. Thanks for sharing them – I’ll be anticipating more stories of those people you got to meet…”faithful determination to love one’s neighbors” – what a great summary (of all the law and prophets, no?).

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