The Power of Presence

By: Harleigh Boldridge (Decorah, IA)

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In his book A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough*, Wayne Muller explores what we, as social beings, can do to support  one another in the event of extreme trauma. To the reader he says, “Perhaps the greatest wealth you possess, the most precious, valuable gift you can ever hope to offer any human being, is this one, simple, true thing: You. Your presence.” After reading this in one of my social work classes, I thought I understood Muller’s philosophy of how we can support others through intense sorrow, sudden trauma, or simply overwhelming life events, but recent experiences have renewed my understanding and given it a new light. Continue reading

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Our Redeemer Lives

By: Rev. Nathan Allen, Clairemont Lutheran Church/ Iglesia Luterana Clairemont (San Diego, CA)

Peace Not Walls.

This has been a ministry of the ELCA for more than a decade now.  People have been consistently working toward peace for many more years than that throughout Palestine and Israel, yet it seems that there is no progress made.  In many ways it was emotionally devastating to witness the injustice and tragedy; there is a sense of helplessness in the face of problems that are much bigger than we can grasp.

I am reminded of the story of Job in the Old Testament.  A righteous man before God, yet faced with terrible suffering, his children all killed, losing absolutely all of his wealth, and finally being covered with sores on his whole body to the point that he could find no comfort, no rest.  Job felt that God was unjustly punishing him, while the interpretation of his three friends was that he must have done something evil in order to merit such wrath from God.  Job felt tormented by God, tormented by his friends, even his wife told him just to curse God and die.

Through it all Job kept coming back to God, angry yes, confused and hurt, yes; but he kept returning to God expecting more, hoping for justice, calling out in frustration!  Where are you God!  Why would you do this to me!  How could you let this happen!  How could you let a 15 year old girl be shot by soldiers, how could people be forced into refugee camps for three generations, why do you let someone get to the point where a suicide bomb becomes an option, how could you let settlers steal land and resources, why don’t you do something about these boys and girls getting locked in prison, why Lord, why have you forsaken these people?

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Dulled Magic: Embodied Resistance

By: Antoine R. Cummins (Forest City, IA)

My recent trip to the Holy land left a distinctively tasteless flavor within my spirit. The sharp and steady sun overhead mirrored, if not amplified, the tense realities on the ground that so many call home; white hot.

This was not my first time to Palestine, but it was the first time that I was able to be fully present and alert; heart properly prepared for the experience. On this recent trip, I traveled with a group consisting of young adults of color from across the ELCA. As I reflect now, I realized that to have been in community with the individuals who made up the group alone was enough to prime my perspective to cope with the all too personal images and stories of injustice and discrimination.

Not only that, but the fact that we were led by two of the most powerful women that I have encountered within our Church provided me with ample space to explore how our communities would begin to heal themselves if only inherited beliefs and limitations made way for reimagining and courage: Rozella White and Karin Brown, no truer embodiment of divine feminine, but that is an entirely different reflection in and of itself.

Starting out as a group of acquaintances we traveled. We listened. We loved. We prayed. We communed. And despite all the stimuli and complexity, we were encouraged to be present with each other and with God. In the profane, we found sacredness and I will be ever thankful for the opportunity.

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Hope: The Dance of Life

By: Maya Mineoi (Toledo, OH)

As we prepared to leave Palestine, Rev. Imad Haddad, pastor of Church of Hope in Ramallah, asked us if we would deliver a message of hope or a message of despair to our friends back home. I was struck by his question. I felt the responsibility to convey a message of accountability to the United States of America. Many of the other people we met turned the conversation back to the US. They reminded us that we are complicit in allowing Israeli occupation to continue through allowing human rights and international law violations to go unchecked and by providing defense support to Israel (which ultimately benefits US arms dealers). In addition, my American passport gave me privileged access through the land. It was emotionally draining to see over and over how the Israeli occupation limited Palestinian movement, economic ability and connection to land and to national identity. Although I can’t help but share this part of the equation with people in the States, I will also follow Pr. Haddad’s advice to speak of life and hope in Palestine.

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Complex Memories

By: Mae Helen Jackson (Chicago, IL)

Writing about an experience that you feel removed from is difficult. Tapping back into those feelings, and having to dig deep to pull yourself out of your current personal tornados… it’s a complicated task.
It is a task that requires me to recall the pain I felt in Hebron. Watching soldiers toy with a young man’s freedom out of boredom, flicking a cigarette at him as if the young man were a bothersome rodent as he begged the soldier to open a recently erected fence; a fence forcing Palestinians to trek far around their community to get to a place a mere two minutes from their housing complexes. It asks that I allow those feelings bubble over again–memories of a country entrenched in a psychological warfare so thick you feel it on your skin. It is anxiety inducing at best.

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Ramallah and Hope

Ramallah is, without a doubt, one of the craziest, busiest cities I have ever been to. And I’ve hung out in Times Square a bunch of times. There are people EVERYWHERE. In the streets, in the sidewalks, in the stores. At least on that Friday when we visited, that was the case. It was an hour and a half taxi ride through some VERY up and down hills from Bethlehem.

The traffic was also incredibly backed up – we noticed that more on the way out. There is a checkpoint that you have to go through to get out of Ramallah. Janelle pointed out that the 45 minutes or so we spent in traffic was indicative of the time that many residents of Ramallah have to spend on a regular basis to get in and out of their city.

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Our main destination in Ramallah was Hope Lutheran Church and conversation/Bible Study with Pastor Imad. He is incredibly brilliant and his words caused lightning sparks of connection and knowledge to flash in my head, and so I will just let some of his words that I journaled speak for themselves.  Photos by UB, again.
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-“We are not ‘perfect’ but we are called in, with and for society. The minute we close our doors from society is the minute you can call us dead.”
-“We choose” [to exist] “a choice out of faith.” (This made me think about the church’s narrative of decline in the US. We can choose to think abundantly instead!!!)
-It would be “more dangerous if we live the occupation in our hearts.”
-“We need the church to be with the people wherever the people is.” That’s why Hope’s community center, where we were gathered in the above picture, is open every day from 4 – 11. People can come and watch soccer there, get snacks, hang out.
-“Love is not always emotion. Love can be anger.”
-“It is a community journey to live God’s image.
-“I say hello to people with guns. They are human beings.”
-“Whatever actions religious leaders take or words they say affects people in the Holy Land.”
-“There is no theology without context.”
-talking about vine and branches: “Sometimes we need to be cut so we can grow. Ministry and mission…you cut, you give power, you grow more, and you spread…If you cut a good branch, it will grow and give fruit. This is what a church is. A vine.”

Pastor Imad is also a brilliant drum player. We were blown away.
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Reflecting on my Alternative Pilgrimage

When I first applied to participate on the Alternative Pilgrimage last March, I honestly didn’t know much about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I recognized a few terms because of what I had heard and seen in the media. I also knew this land was not only significant for Christians, but also Jews and Muslims.  From the world news I had watched and read it was hard to decipher why there was so much violence in this area. Was it a religious conflict? Political conflict? Why did every news story coming from a holy place for many involve so much violence?

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