Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Church's Challenge

A variety of tensions exist in my Episcopal church and its ministries - as it does in every other. They come in many shapes and colors. The one that interests me most - and is expressed in a variety of ways - is that which exists between what we used to describe as the vertical (love of God) and the horizontal (love of God's world), the spiritual and the pastoral/prophetic. The vertical and horizontal can and should exist as two sides of the same coin. In my parish they are called formation and discipleship. People engaged in personal formation through study and a spiritual discipline - leading to a deepening experience of the God who exists beyond our flawed projections - are most likely, but not necessarily, to feel called to discipleship. Living as a disciple (serving the needs of our sisters and brothers; confronting the distortions of our world; calling out oppressors) most likely, but not necessarily, surfaces an awareness of the need for the study and spiritual practice that sustains discipleship.

For many reasons, the institutional church has difficulty holding these ministries together so they reinforce and support each other. My Episcopal Church - like others, a very human and flawed institution - has had periods in which it has contributed bountifully to one or the other. Occasionally, it finds a balance... but not for long. My personal constitution leans toward the prophetic, so I must work hard to practice a spiritual discipline that deepens my experience of what I prefer to call holy mystery, a place where 'prayer' is primarily listening. I am and will likely always be a novice in this department.

My prophetic leaning may be partially genetic; it's certainly been shaped by gifted mentors, beginning with my exposure to the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I was 15. Many more since then. During my professional years as a clinical psychologist, that leaning hung around on the sidelines. When I partially retired in 2003 and was coerced by a most insistent woman friend to pursue an emerging interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a Sabeel Witness Trip to Israel/Palestine in 2006, I was appalled, blessed - probably most of all, humbled. Humbled by the hospitality and generosity of the Palestinians people; humbled by the courage and faithfulness of Palestinians and Israelis who pursued a non-violent resistance to the Occupation and the many human rights violations and racism that exist here. Many trips, conversations, articles, books, conferences since then.

All of the above is prologue.

I am here again, lodged in East Jerusalem, visiting Palestinian and Israeli friends here and in villages on the West Bank. While very proud of my church's leadership in ordaining women, consecrating bishops who happened to be gay with committed partners, blessing gay marriages, I am sorely disappointed by my church's leadership in addressing the terrible injustice that exists in this land. Prophetic voices at the 2012 General Convention were suppressed. Our Presiding Bishop declined an opportunity to join other Christian leaders in calling on Congress to enforce U.S. law making military assistance illegal to countries with significant human rights violations. Episcopal Voices of Conscience were ignored at TEC's Executive Council meeting in February.

Because the Anglican Church has important parishes, schools, medical and human service institutions here that serve the Palestinian people, the ecclesiastical authorities must walk a fine line. There is no doubt Israeli authorities can shut down or at least cause these institutions untold hassle if they feel provoked (and sometimes even if they don't), but my experience here is that church leadership rarely even approaches that fine line. I was pleased on Sunday to hear the celebrant at St. George's, in the prayers of the people, explicitly name the suffering of his fellow Palestinians (humiliation at check points, demolition of homes, uprooting of olive trees, violence at the hands of settlers) and, later, to hear John Peterson, former dean of St George's College, tell a visiting delegation from the Diocese of Northern California of the same realities. There are voices that tell the truth - but it does not appear to be diocesan policy.

Earlier in this visit I was graciously received by the Rev. Hanna Dally, priest in charge at St. Andrew's Church in Ramallah. He has a lovely wife and four children, is dedicated to preaching the Gospel, teaching and serving his people. Hanna describes himself as evangelical - an approach which reflects the vertical, sometimes - in my experience - to the exclusion of the horizontal. Hanna is no stranger to the frustrations experienced by all Palestinians. He described waiting at a check point for two hours and then being told the check point was closed - he must go elsewhere. But in terms of resistance to the occupation, Hanna's language turns moderate in the extreme. "Israel must have security, but their soldiers should be nicer to us at the check points. The wall can stay, but the gates should be more open. They can have Jerusalem, but we should all be admitted." My worry is that this approach - or something like it - characterizes the official stance of the Diocese of Jerusalem.

I do not live here; they do. I have the luxury of visiting and returning home where I enjoy freedoms they only imagine. They have all experienced the pain of occupation; they know the truth. At the very least, Episcopalians in the U.S. should be able to speak and demonstrate against a biased U.S. foreign policy that supports this oppression without being limited by the caution exercised by our Anglican Palestinian brothers and sisters.

And while I'm at it ... one more rant.

I am truly sick to death of the hordes of Americans and Europeans and others who come here to "walk in the footsteps of Jesus." Scrambling, pushing and shoving to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Holy Nativity is not my idea of spiritual nurture. Too many - far too many - sincere Christians come here and see nothing of the realities in which an oppressed people live. And our tourist presence generously supports the Israeli, far more than the Palestinian economy.  I asked a sincere pair of Americans who professed to have come to "walk in Jesus' footsteps" if they wondered where Jesus might be walking if he were here now. When the conversation turned to the wall and check points and visits to the West Bank, they replied with what they have been taught - "it is not safe there."

Looking toward the gate off Salah Ed-Din into the compound of the Diocese of Jerusalem, St. George's College and the Anglican Cathedral of St George the Martyr

1 comment:

JRL said...

Powerful post. Thanks.