My heart has been heavy this past week. So much violence surrounds us. And that violence is met with further fear and suspicion and polarised reports in the media. And now what happened in Gaza on Monday is yesterday’s news, while the people there continue to suffer.*
We are so quick to label: Jew/Arab, Palestinian/Israeli. Friend/Enemy. Bad/Good. Innocent/Guilty. Perpetrator/Victim.
There are great wrongs that have been done and great injustices in this land. But we seem to have lost sight of the fact that on both sides of the border are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and lovers, husbands and wives. Just humans. Human beings in relationship. Human beings in conflict. Human beings whose lives will never be quite the same again once violence has touched them.
The situation here seems increasingly intractable.
On Tuesday, I went to visit the blacksmith who is working on a new cross for St Andrew’s Tiberias. His forge is set in a yard filled with tired old pieces of metal. A fan here. A sewing machine there. Metal sheets, metal drums, metal rods. All waiting to be transformed into something new. That morning he showed me a piece he was working on — an old truck spring that was starting to take the shape of a kitchen knife.
I am in awe of and inspired by people who have the imagination to take what others would consider tired and old and unusable and turn it into something totally different and utterly beautiful.
Perhaps because of what had happened the day before, the words from Isaiah — an expression of a similar imagination — came to mind: ‘They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation, for war will be no more.’
These words of prophesy are being realised by artists all over the world, amongst them: Pedro Reyes of Mexico, who turned 1527 weapons into 1527 shovels used to plant 1527 trees; Cambodian students who turn AK47s and M16s into sculptural furniture; and Bethlehem residents who turn teargas canisters into Christmas ornaments.
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and over past years, I’ve come to see it not so much as the birthday of the church as of a celebration of divine imagination. It was the day, after all, when God transformed weary, frightened disciples (literally, those who follow) into apostles (those who are sent), to courageously spread the Good News to all corners of the earth.
On Pentecost, God poured out the fire of creative, imaginative love upon all people, across boundaries of religion and race and culture and language — Parthians and Medes, the Jews and Gentiles, the slaves and free, the men and women. And all those ordinary people, whom many would consider tired and old and unusable for the divine plan, God transformed them through the Spirit into prophets and dreamers and visionaries.
Yesterday Presiding Bishop Michael Curry quoted Martin Luther King, Jr in his address at the royal wedding: ‘We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we have discovered that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.’
He then went on to urge his listeners: ‘Imagine this tired old world, when love is the way!’
These were words I needed to hear this Pentecost as I felt like I was losing hope. I needed to be reminded that I — that we — too have been transformed by the divine imagination, that we are anointed to prophesy and dream dreams and see visions, to take what may at first glance look old and broken and intractable and unusable in our lives and in our world and, with the help of God, turn it into something totally different and utterly beautiful.
I do not know what that looks like yet or exactly how we will get there, but I know this: love is the only way.
* Here are some places to find out more about what has been going on Gaza if you are interested. I’ve tried to choose articles that reflect the complexity of the issues:
13 Inconvenient Truths About What Has Been Happening in Gaza, from Tablet magazine
Fearing for my life, I mourn for Gaza, from Times of Israel
Defiance, then death, from The Guardian (there are some good quotes in this article that illustrate the despair the residents feel)
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs publishes regular reports