Tomorrow morning, dark and early, I will be heading up to the Calgary airport for the first leg of a journey that will end in Israel a day and a half or so later. A few months ago, I was fortunate to be invited to participate in a learning tour to Israel/Palestine put together by MCC Alberta. The departure date has kind of snuck up on me in the midst of what has been a full first few months of 2016, but now that it’s here, I’m very excited to go.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “expectations” this morning. What do I expect from a trip like this? On the surface level, my expectations are rather obvious. I expect to see some interesting sights and some heartbreaking ones. I expect to be stimulated by the conference that will take up four days of our time. I expect to meet and get to know some delightful people. But, on a deeper level, what am I hoping to experience? What do I anticipate happening in and through me? How do I anticipate being shaped and sharpened by dropping down in this utterly unique and uniquely conflicted chunk of real estate for a few days?
The actual land of Israel has never figured very prominently in my imagination, whether as a potential site for pilgrimage or a linchpin for a theological system. The “role of Israel” in my theology, such as it is, has always been rather muted. I have never had a burning desire to visit the “Holy Land” or to “walk where Jesus walked.” I realize that this land is where all the Jesus-y theological action was, but Jesus, it seems to me, was rarely impressed by what impresses us. I think often of Jesus’ disciples eagerly pointing to the splendour of the temple in Jerusalem in Matthew 24 and Jesus sadly predicting the end of this place that symbolized all that was holy in the world for them. For Jesus, holiness did not reside in buildings and places and religious relics and sacred sites but in whoever and wherever God’s will was done on earth as in heaven.
And for Jesus, the Holy City was a place for weeping. Weeping for the way in which the City of God refused the things that make for peace. Weeping for the way in which human beings get stuck in toxic cycles of retributive violence. Weeping for the ways in which the powerful have always had their boots on the necks of the vulnerable. Weeping for the manner in which the oppressed so easily tend to adopt the very tactics of their oppressors. Weeping for humanity’s stubborn inability to recognize the time and the manner of God’s coming. Yes, there was and is much to weep for in the Holy Land. Even the most cursory knowledge of the region—its history and its present reality—make it rather plain that this is a place, like so many on God’s good earth, that continues to refuse the things that make for peace.
So, given all of the above, I suppose I am trying to set out with a genuinely open mind. I realize that there’s no such thing, really—that all of our minds are perpetually cluttered with all kinds of prejudices and expectations and half-truths and mistruths and anxieties and insecurities—but I would like, as much as possible, to be open to both the expected and the unexpected.
I am not going to have any particular narrative confirmed or disconfirmed. I am going expecting to encounter an incredibly complex and painful reality that is the product of millennia of socioeconomic, political, and theological conflict. I am going expecting to see some of the things that made Jesus weep. But I am also going expecting to encounter the goodness and hope and peace of Christ through a wide variety of people and places and experiences.
And I am going expecting to have my smugly self-righteous “no-place-is-any-holier-than-another” attitude blown apart by the holiness of this beautiful land.
Due to my agenda for the next few weeks, this blog may be a bit quieter than usual. Or it may not. A lot will depend on things like time, Wi-Fi access, and energy. I will undoubtedly be encountering stories worth telling along the way. I hope to have the space to tell a few at some point.