I hated myself for the first time when I was about ten.
I’d gotten that rush, the one that comes when you make the best discovery ever. Three bird’s eggs were huddled together in a nest up high, shiny and new little lives waiting on their grand entrance into the world. I decided I was going to raise those birds – teach them how to fly because I myself wanted to soar. Wrenching the nest free from its hiding place, I lost my balance. My heart crumbled as three eggs sailed through the air and shattered on gray pavement. I bent down, frantically picking up pieces of shell until I saw tiny wings forever broken and blood on my hands.
When people ask about my recent trip to Israel-Palestine, I feel an anxiety I can’t quite explain. The best I can do is point to this day and remember how it felt to encounter the fragility of life. I found beauty in its purest, untainted form and I ruined it. I would feel so angry with myself if I misrepresented the Holy Land’s story and ruined it for you. Instead of trying to summarize the place, I will simply tell you to go. Go taste the conflict and the sacredness of its olive branches.
I can however, share more of my story and the lessons the Holy Land gave me – in fact I think the most important part of any adventure is the return, because we never come back quite the same.
Someone once told me, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” Those words nuzzled their way into my heart nearly a year ago, when I still thought Israel and Palestine were two countries marked by nondescript blobs on a map. Now, fresh from the Holy Land and forever a hummus snob, I have to wonder if those words were meant for a time such as this, a time when I want to be a politician, an activist, a preacher and a hell raiser . But when I listen between and beneath the lines, I realize that humanity needs a far greater love than the one I have to offer.
Israel-Palestine made it quite clear that if we put our faith in ourselves, we will always be rendered ineffective. Israel-Palestine also said that if we live in fear, we will be equally ineffective. Fear is simply an absence of courage. So I ask you, in the midst of whatever path you find yourself walking, to be courageous. Be courageous enough to change lanes, run faster, enjoy the ride, or maybe switch paths altogether.
Don’t be afraid to turn around and walk back home. Failure can mean many things but it does not mean game over. I have watched dear Palestinian children play in the streets – they are proof that our biggest failures can equate to different, unexpected shades of joy.
Perhaps my favourite Holy Land lesson comes from Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (ESV). Mary was a ponderer. She wondered and marveled. So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, ponder at these photos and their accompanying stories. This is me, giving you a piece of Israel-Palestine. I hope that you’ll go and find your own pieces some day.
I present you with Ibrahim: the sassiest Palestinian Christian Israeli resident you may ever meet. He frequently lamented at our slow walking, saying, “Keep up, otherwise we’ll have to run where Jesus walked.” I stayed with him for awhile as we took in this section of the separation wall. I asked him if he could paint anything on it, what it would be. He laughed and said, “A bomb.” Then he realized, I think, the gravity of such a statement and shook his head solmenly. “No. There’s a picture of a man standing on the top rung of a ladder. The other rungs aren’t there, he has them in his hand. You have to build your way out of the messes you create.”
My teammate, Dustin, took this shot of Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. Father Elias Chacour, a recently retired archbishop, commented, “We don’t teach the conflict; we live the conflict.”
The day I took these photos, we met with Wi’am, a conflict resolution group. Zoughbi Zoughbi, our speaker, said something I just love: “We don’t want to be political animals, rather social butterflies.” These children are the social butterflies, they are brave and strong in ways we should commend and I hope that they find peace in their hearts, whether or not peace comes to their land. They peeked out from behind doors, studied our cameras, and crawled into windowsills – all to be noticed by us, strangers with no answers or gifts, only smiles. But a smile can be shared. A smile means I accept you.
This is Carol. Wonderful, Australian, lived in the same English town as me, Carol. One of the books I read pre-Holy Land trip talked about forests of peacemakers. About planting seeds and gathering a harvest of hope. Carol is a nurse in Aussie country most of the time, but she offers up six weeks of her year to protect marginalized Palestinians. She said we all have compulsions. We see a fellow human being knocked down and we either want to help him up or keep him down. Whatever our compulsions may be, we should continuously make them more like those of Jesus who did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God.
“Would you dirty your hands to cleanse the reputation of the poor? Don’t try to create heaven in hell. It’s impossible. Go slowly, stone by stone. We don’t need to learn how to live together – we need a longer memory to remember how we used to live together.” (Father Elias Chacour)
Those little birds I found never had the chance to fly. I think I owe it to them to soar on their behalf – to experience life with eyes open, spirit aware. I have no idea how God intends to use this trip in my life, but for now, I won’t despise the day of small beginnings. He’s up to something.