The other evening we were having dinner with a couple of the people we have recently met, and, as is always the case, the subject of life in this land came up. One of them described it as a kaleidoscope. You look into it and see one pattern. A minor turn, and the pattern changes dramatically. All the pieces are still there. Nothing is lost. Nothing is added. But what you see is completely different to what came before.
I have yet to come up with a better image. Because this is what it’s like here:
During a conversation about settlement produce, we could all agree that goods produced on settlements in the West Bank shouldn’t be used.
the pieces of glass shift into a pattern
But what about, say, wines from the Golan? Is the Golan occupied territory? Was it annexed in 1967? Yes. So maybe we shouldn’t buy wines produced there, right?
But a large number of Christian families work at the Golan wineries. Aren’t we here to support local Christians?
the kaleidoscope turns and the pieces tumble into a new design
I find this happening all the time. It’s exhausting and exhilarating.
The more people I meet, the more the kaleidoscope turns. And I’m meeting a lot of people at the moment.
It was so much easier to have theoretical, academic conversations back in Scotland. Here, every sentence becomes prefaced with a But…
Palestine : Israel
It seems simple, right? Each should have their own state, their own government, their own land.
But what is happening in Gaza is different from what is happening in the West Bank is different from what is happening in East Jerusalem is different from what is happening in the Galilee.
An Israeli from Tel Aviv is not going to automatically share the same view as a settler in Hebron or a kibbutznik by the Kinneret or an Orthodox Jew in Tzfat.
the kaleidoscope begins to turn at an alarming pace, the glass becoming a blur
This should be obvious, of course. Look at all the distinct characteristics of the various places in the US. New York, San Francisco, a mining town in the hills of Virginia, a farming community in the heartlands … they’re all going to be different.
But somehow, through the media, through Holy Land pilgrimages, through exposure visits, binaries are created, prejudices confirmed, ignorance perpetuated.
At the moment, I am wrestling with questions that are fundamental to ministry:
How do we (as a congregation, as Christians) act as good stewards of that with which we have been entrusted (building & grounds, relationships, etc)?
What does it mean to be in partnership with members of different denominations and different faiths?
How is our belief that we should see the image of God in all people reflected in our actions?
And always, how do we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God?
Here, with every new conversation comes a turn of the kaleidoscope, and with every shift of the colours, the answers change, become more complicated, contain more qualifications, until I no longer know what justice or mercy or humbleness even are, much less what they look like or how we might do them, love them, walk them.
I suppose this is when some who have a stronger faith than I would say they retreat into prayer, seek out God, and try to discern God’s will through all the crazy mess of life here.
But in amongst all the religiosity of this place, I struggle to find the holy.
So I fled again to Tel Aviv, where after the secondary school assembly on Friday and a delicious brunch with a colleague, I indulged in some pretty impressive retail therapy, got my nails done, and enjoyed a beer outside in the sun.
For a few brief hours, the kaleidoscope stopped turning. I reflected on the patterns of the past week. Looked ahead at the decisions I’m facing. Held them up together. Justice. Mercy. Humbleness. They must be there. When I first moved here, they dominated the design. Or so I thought. But in the current kaleidoscopic chaos, they are more often obscured by other pieces.
I felt stuck, torn between wanting to turn the kaleidoscope faster, in the hope that all the things that are good and right and holy and certain and easy might reappear. Or do I let it be, I asked myself Do I search the pattern I’ve landed on and hope that the more I stare, the more it might make sense?
But of course, this is Israel and Palestine. And God is God. And ministry is ministry. And there is no easy answer. There are never only two options.
So I sat, deliberating the next move. The conversation of the group of Israelis a the table next to me drifted in my direction as I sipped my beer.
and the kaleidoscope turned…