Monday, September 10, 2018

On Belay: Holy Ground

I am incredibly excited to add a new Blogger to my rotation. I met Shelby Mathis while our husbands were stationed together in the Azores, and she has also come and worked on our farm! She will be posting on Mondays!

We circle 'round in plastic lawn chairs in the middle of the narrow cobblestone street. My feet are dirty, caked with miles of stories and hard heart and farm work I've encountered over the last few days. I slip off my sandals and let my bare feet rest on the dry pavement. I sense this is holy ground. Not because millennia have seen these stones. And not even because Jesus may have walked here.

Sami waddles out from his shop with a tray of tea, sage leaves and thin lemon slices suspended in the glasses.

I don't trust the experience of a person who has visited Bethlehem and doesn't know Sami. He has a contagious smile and the most jovial personality, and the size of the town lends itself to bumping into Sami a couple times a day. If you accept the invitation to his pop-up cafe outside a storage room where he brews his drinks, you can feel like an old friend sharing tea in his living room. 

Here, in the streets of Bethlehem, here in Palestine, here in the Middle East, tea is an invitation. To connect. To rest. To hear one another. To be heard. Tea makes time and space to exchange ideas. To learn something new. To embrace a new perspective. To engage storytelling.

I count this holy ground.

Bethlehem is a beautiful city. The turquoise and mint green doors transposed on stone alley-width walls. Such beauty in what wouldn't be too pretty of a place for all the tan and beige. The old city of Bethlehem feels a bit like the city of my soul. Not my mind or body really - as it's too unfamiliar yet - but my soul knows Bethlehem somehow.

The people of Bethlehem, native and sojourning during my time there, know me too. I got to know these friends seated around me over the course of a couple weeks. We are all here for different reasons. Some are just passing through, travelers with a knack for unique passport stamps. Some with a desire to serve an oppressed population in the occupied West Bank. Some are of that population. And others still don't know why they are there yet.

I am one of those.

I am also one of those that prefers a plan, concrete details. I am one of those that can take leaps of faith, but I comfort in knowing Plan B is solid too.

With God, sometimes it feels like there's no Plan B, and Plan A is equally unclear.

With God, sometimes it feels like walking on water and He's rising up only one stepping stone at a time, and only when I get to the other side of a stone do I get to see the next one. He is mighty faithful to lift up that stone in His timing, but waiting on it is a hard pose to hold.

But it, too, is holy ground.

What a beautiful, sacred place to need God that much. To need Him directing my steps, lest I think I can walk on water on my own. To need Him drawing arrows, "meet Me here, pull up a lawn chair, and have tea with Me" when I have better ideas for my day.

Just over three years ago, I flew home from the Middle East with far more questions than souvenirs. I had seen things I couldn't unsee. I'd heard things I couldn't unhear. I'd met people I'd never want to unmeet. My price of visiting Palestine is not measured in shekels, but in a changed mind and heart.

I needed someplace to put this new energy, these new ideas. I had to make or do something. The last thing I wanted was for it all to be a waste, a vacation. I wanted to be productive and work toward real peace and reconciliation.

But how?

How does a young, white American from the Midwest effectively engage in the peace process in the Middle East? How do I approach this work without adopting a Western savior complex? How do I grow in understanding and compassion for a people and a conflict so far outside of my context?

I had no answers. I used writing, art, and design as a conduit to communicate what I'd experienced and learned, and used these forms of creation to process it all. I talked and talked about it. I wore out my friends, I think. I certainly wore myself out.

I discovered I had nothing to give. No truly good ideas. No brilliant organization to start, and no network to plug in to or deep resources to tap. So I spent a few years hanging out on a stepping stone in the water alone -- waiting, wondering, wishing -- the soles of my shoes gripping the slick rock threatening to betray my balance and toss me into the sea.

Finally, I slipped off my shoes, thirsting for holy ground, and I asked God to take it. Just take the need to "do something" out of my mind, my heart, and my hands.

I shouldn't be so amazed that's exactly what happened. But not before I prayed weak, small prayers:

Lord, if you want me to work in this space, would you send me a community who would take a tiny interest in the Palestinian narrative and reconciliation? Would you provide vision for a group I've been asked to lead? Would you show me what I can do with what I have, where I am?

"No, if you want to do this with Me, you don't get a community of people with slight interest. Not even close. You get a friend on her way to Israel next month committing to gaining a holistic understanding of the conflict from multiple perspectives. You get a film crew interested in making a documentary to tell the stories that don't make it over the wall. You get a best friend and a new friend with much experience in the region willing to pray and encourage you. And finally, you get someone you hardly know yet who has not only been to the places in the West Bank and Jerusalem that began to occupy your heart all those years ago, but has your Palestinian friends and homes in common and has had the same burden to engage as I have given you. And she already goes to your church. This is only the beginning."

"No, if you want to do this with Me, you don't get a vision for the small missional group you've been asked to lead. I get it. You get a co-leader with huge passion and heart for reconciliation in the Holy Land. You get to hear her ideas and dreams for where this group could go, and it's as if I plucked the words from your mind and set them to pour out of her mouth just as if they were your own thoughts. I will do the vision casting, dear."

"No, if you want to do this with Me, you don't ask Me to show you what you can do with what you have, where you are. You ask Me what I can do with what I have, where I am."

Because "now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."

In other words, these are the times I am sure karma and coincidence and serendipity are crap.

You find me on a stone, out in the water, waiting for the next to appear, in faith. And until the next stepping stone becomes clear, I will keep glancing back at the long path of stones stretching to the horizon as far as my eyes can see and tell those stories, those testimonies. The evidence of His faithfulness, of all the way He's brought me so far.

Until the next stepping stone appears, I'm brewing the tea to serve at this table He began setting 3, 5, 2,000 years ago. In a world this small, we're bound together by His invitation to take a seat as old friends in His living room. There, we engage, listen, learn, and activate. There, we can stand secure on this little piece of real estate, this promise, until the next move is clear and we're told to jump.


Because this is holy ground.

Climb on,

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