July 8, 2004
Jack Kerouak was in love with the open road, in love with being on the move in our country’s vastness. In January, as we began our travels across the U.S., we shared his romance. The horizon disappearing in the distance…snow-capped mountains and sun-kissed valleys…ruddy-hued pueblos and steel skyscrapers…the expansive nation in all its variety…unadulterated, uninhibited freedom to move. But now, it is July, and our initial infatuation has given way to a longing to be in one place for some time. Living out of suitcases…greasy fast food…the rental van’s gray-going-on-grungy interior…rising gas prices…one too many books on tape. Although we are relieved to be finished with the tour, we will always treasure the experience. We have traveled from Billings to Boston, and have worshiped in churches from LaCrosse to Los Angeles. We have been in congregations that consider themselves conservative, liberal, non-denominational, high-church, contemporary, neighborhood, urban, rural, big-steeple, and more. In each place, we have tried to do the same, simple thing: share the stories of the Palestinian church – its struggles and joys, its celebrations and sufferings. Three of Zababdeh’s pastors were able to join us and give personal voice to the Christian experience, as a minority amidst a Muslim majority and as Palestinians under the Israeli Occupation.
We have shared with you some of the reactions we have gotten. We saw the American Church in all its grace and brokenness, alternately showing great compassion for human suffering and curious disregard for any cares but its own. It is this American Church, along with all Americans, who must decide how it will participate in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It is not a question of not taking part – we are already involved through billions of our tax dollars, decades of foreign policy, and generations of bankrupt Holy Land theology. Rather, the question for the Church is whether we will be disciples of Jesus Christ, seeking to be instruments of grace, mercy, and justice throughout the world, or will we surrender to lethargy, to ignorance, to nationalistic idolatries cloaked as faithfulness.
The past week, we have been at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s national General Assembly meeting in Richmond. We are extremely pleased that our denomination’s highest council of elders has chosen the former when it comes to the Middle East. As a Church, we have turned our back on Christian Zionism, a militant fundamentalism which seeks to speed the arrival of Armageddon, wielding great political might based on narrow understandings of prophetic Scripture. As a Church, we have called on Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations, recognizing that the future of that land is a shared one. As a Church, we will use a strategy successful against Apartheid and begin a targeted divestment of companies invested in Israel, pressuring for an end to the Occupation. And as a Church, we have said with one strong voice, “Mr. Sharon, stop this wall,” calling for an end to the Israeli Wall’s imprisonment and ghettoization of the Palestinian people. (These and other overtures passed by the 216th General Assembly can be found on the web: www.pcusa.org/ga216)
We look forward to working in the echoes of these strong words of faith from those gathered in Richmond. In mid-August, we will relocate to Louisville, Kentucky. We will begin a new phase of our ministry, working with the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Middle East office as Missionaries in Residence. Our work will focus on Palestine/Israel and Iraq, the situation of the Church in those lands, and the Christian response to their condition. We will be finishing and making available our documentary film, developing an accompanying curriculum, traveling and speaking, and helping Christians explore ways to get involved and partner with brothers and sisters in Christ. We ask for your prayers that our ministry and lives would be guided by the Holy Spirit. We ask you to dedicate yourselves to making this issue a priority in your lives. And we ask you to walk beside us as we do our best to be agents of God’s merciful, exquisite reign.
But until then, we’re simply looking forward to putting our socks in drawers…
Grace and Peace,
Marthame and Elizabeth