Well, thanks for asking.
About a year ago, I was invited by The Telos Group to join a pilgrimage that was headed to the Holy Land in 2015. Telos strengthens the capacity of American faith communities – and especially American evangelicals – to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their vision is security, freedom, and dignity for every human being in the Holy Land, and their belief is that a viable two-state solution supported by the United States is the best and most practical way to realize that vision. In other words, the folks at Telos are genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace, all at the same time.
I had a good conversation with our vestry about my desire to join Telos on this trip and they agreed that this was a good investment in my professional development. Like many of us, I have wanted to see the Holy Land for a long time. But, I wanted the unique conversations that Telos would afford. I didn’t want to just go from site to site. I wanted to interact with the people who are there now and learn about their experience and what gives them hope. I wanted to hear about reconciliation and intractable pain and how to think about ISIS and the holocaust. It has been an incredible experience so far and we are still in the first half of our time! We spent 2 nights in Nazareth and talked for a long time about the annunciation, Jesus’ boyhood, and why God would show up in such a small, out of the way place.
We also met Father Elias Chacour.
Father Elias just retired as the archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Nazareth. He is Palestinian (calls himself ‘a man from Galilee’). He is noted for his efforts to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs. I heartily recommend his book, Blood Brothers, which tells his story. He talked with us for a long time on Thursday. Here is one little story–
A few years ago there was a bombing in Tel Aviv. Chacour’s school wanted to do something to help the Jewish people who had been hurt. They decided to do a blood drive. Israeli nurses drove up to their school in Nazareth and Chacour was expecting about 15 people to come and donate their blood. But instead, he showed us pictures of over 300 Palestinians donating their blood to help Israeli Jews who were hurt by the suicide bomber. It was an incrediblly, unexpected outpouring of grace. Father Elias said it has been a graphic image for him of the hope and prayer he has for this land– that Palestinian blood literally flowed into Jewish veins for their good and for their restoration. He talked for awhile about loving one’s neighbor and the things that could make for peace. That story in itself was moving, but then…
We went to the Sea of Galilee. It was a gorgeous day– 77 degrees on calm water (meanwhile it was a high of 27 in Arlington!). The Galilee is smaller than I imagined, intimate. You can see the shoreline of the entire lake. There are hills that go straight up from it and I could picture Jesus watching the disciples try to row all night when he ‘sent them ahead’ after he fed the 5000. Easy to imagine Jesus sitting at elevation and praying that these men would have soft hearts and start to get who he was as he watched them strain at the oars with the wind at their back. Our group sat on the hills where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount. (Scholars aren’t sure of all the spots where Jesus showed up, but they are confident on this one.) Bill Haley lead us in the Eucharist and I was given the privilege of serving the sacrament of Jesus’ blood, the chalice of wine. I offered it to each person: ‘The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation. Take and drink this in remembrance that Christ died for you. This is the blood of Christ that was shed for the forgiveness of your sins.’ As I served, I was catapulted to Father Elias’ story from the morning– the blood of Palestinians flowing into the veins of Israeli Jews for their good and their restoration. And Father Elias’ story helped me understand my own hope that is found in the sacrament of the blood of Jesus flowing into me, that gives me life and preserves my soul unto everlasting life. This blood of Jesus that reconciled me to my Father in heaven, grace. This blood of Palestinians that was grace to Israeli Jews.
There are more stories to tell. The pain is centuries old. The narratives are complex. But the One who told us to love our neighbor as ourself is alive and full of grace.
Grateful to be here: to think hard, to pray often, to see with new eyes.