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A Stone’s Throw

Another restless sleep in Bethlehem interrupted by the 4 am call to prayer… In lieu of tossing and turning frustratedly for the next hour, I thought recording a few stories lodged in my brain from yesterday might be a more profitable use of my time. 

Our day began at the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ) where we spent a fascinating hour with a fascinating man. Our scholarly host walked us through countless maps and statistics and analyses of what the encroachment of Israel into the Palestinian territory has looked like, how they have been able to get away with actions that are illegal under international law, and what their long-term objectives might be. But for me, it wasn’t the stats and maps and graphs that will linger in the memory. It was when he told us that his grandchildren have never been to Jerusalem, despite the fact that you can see it from the front door of his office. It would be almost be like living on Scenic Drive in Lethbridge and never having visited the west side of the river. “When I was a young man,” he said, “we would go to Jerusalem for the evening, find a nice restaurant, enjoy ourselves. “Bethlehem used to almost be part of Jerusalem. Now, it is impossible.” For most of the presentation, our host had been a mixture of passion and anger and humour and devastating analysis. When he told this story, he mostly just seemed sad.

Later, we visited the Aida Refugee Camp, a place where Palestinians have been living since they were forced out of their homes following the 1947-49 war. Their lives are desperate and threatened in countless ways, not least because they are (literally) within a stones throw of the massive wall that the Israeli government has built. A weekly ritual here is that the teenage boys will throw stones at the surveillance towers or at the wall, and the Israeli army will send soldiers in with rubber bullets or tear gas (or worse). We had seen empty canisters on the roof of the youth centre we were visiting. Our host told us the story of his family. He has four children, three girls and one boy. The boy came last. When his five-year-old daughter found out that their mother was pregnant for the fourth time, she said, “I hope it’s another girl.” “Why don’t you want a brother?” she was asked by one of her parents. “Because I don’t want a brother to get injured or jailed or killed.” I thought about that for a moment. This is the thought process of a five-year-old girl. I don’t want a brother are because brothers grow up to throw stones and stone throwers get shot by soldiers. Incredible.

Our host told us another story about an international exchange program that their youth centre runs. Occasionally, students from Aida Camp get the opportunity to travel to places like Belgium or England for short exchange programs. You would think that these students would be most struck by the difference in living conditions in wealthy Western nations, that they would be in awe of the material luxuries enjoyed by those outside of the camp that has been their home since birth. And they are, probably. But when asked what he was most amazed by in the outside world, one of the kids said, “I saw fathers being with their kids.” In Aida Camp, many dads get up leave at 3 or 4 am to begin the journey to low-paying jobs in Jerusalem, on the other side of the wall. This often means spending 2-3 hours waiting to get through a checkpoint in the morning and arriving home late in the evening for the same reason. If you have a Palestinian ID card, everyday life is filled with grinding, incomprehensible delays and inconveniences and indignities. And countless hours of wasted time away from kids longing to spend a few hours with their dads.

IMG_0076After hearing these stories, I met a few teenage boys outside the youth centre. They were playing with slingshots. I thought of my own fourteen-year-old son a world away (geographically and in terms of the reality of his daily life). I thought about having to imagine such a future for him. A future so bereft of tenable options that his only recourse was to pick up useless stones and hurl them against an immovable mountain. I looked back at the boys, trying to think of something, anything to say. I thought of the kids I had kicked a ball around with for a moment while walking back to the youth centre along the wall. “You like football?” I asked them. Their faces lit up. “Yes, Messi, Messi! Barcelona! Cristiano Ronaldo! Real Madrid!” I wondered if in a few years these faces would soon appear on the “martyrs” wall that I had seen a few hundred meters away. I wished for a future for these faces filled with more footballs and less stones.


I took both of the images above at the Aida Refugee Camp yesterday.  

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. #

    Thanks for the frontline report. Life is a hardship having Israel for a neighbor.

    March 4, 2016
  2. Paul Johnston #

    My prayer for you is that your writing here finds a much wider audience. An American audience mostly.

    For the many more Palestinians who do not return violence with violence we must find away to communicate to others their holiness. The “beatitudes” were written with their kind of “heroism” in mind.

    March 7, 2016
  3. rwwilson147 #

    My suggestion would be to go find the stories of those who first experienced the hostility and violence of Palestinians and the Arab nations that did and still do desire the annihilation of the state of Israel and its people. Then go investigate the hostility, propaganda, and inherently Israeli phobic education of the Palestinian culture. If you only experience the distorted perceptual reality of those on one side of a millennial long violent conflict you may not have an adequate perspective on the situation.

    March 8, 2016
    • This is an interesting response to the sharing of three fairly personal stories that I encountered. I’m not clear about what part of these stories your comments are meaning to address. Are you suggesting that they represent a “distorted perception of reality?”

      March 8, 2016
      • rwwilson147 #

        I think I understand the impact of empathic stories and how they are often used to make sometimes implicit statements. Not sure that is the case here but in the larger scheme of things political it is a common approach. The longer history of the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinians is an important frame for understanding personal stories.

        March 8, 2016
      • I’m aware of the history, particularly as it tends to be presented in the Western media. I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into the other side of the story on this trip. History, as you know, tends to be written by the winners (I am, incidentally, very aware that the Jewish people have VERY frequently found themselves on the other end of this continuum throughout history).

        I’m also aware that many people have their minds made up before a conversation about controversial issues like this one can even begin. I find that stories, aside from being fascinating and deeply meaningful in and of themselves, are useful in humanizing painful realities that can become for many people abstract “positions” to hold and and defend at all costs.

        March 8, 2016
      • rwwilson147 #

        I’m all for humanizing painful realities–my comments are merely intended to caution against humanizing one party’s experience at the expense of another’s. HIstory can and has been written or re-written by losing sides as well, sometimes leading to even more devastation and pain (eg., Germany between the world wars). Again, telling stories apart from the overarching historical and current cultural context runs the risk of merely adding pages to larger story being mis-told.

        A Jesus kind of approach to conflict is the best way forward–his loving kindness included words of at least implicit critique and rebuke to parties on all sides, but mostly toward those closest to his own people. Without the hope of the Gospel, the promise of eternal life through Christ, I don’t think the kind of forgiveness needed in conflicts like the Israel/Palestinian one is possible. Calling people to follow Christ and his example is still the most humanizing endeavor possible–telling his story the most humanizing story of all.

        March 9, 2016
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Just some thoughts that I choose to believe are Spirit led. The past is to be remembered, learned from and where necessary, forgiven. To choose unforgiveness is to choose more calamity, more violence and more hatred. To choose unforgiveness is to choose against God.

    Given the context, more specifically the power structure, it is up to Israelis to make peace. It is up to Palestinians to accept peace. God will judge each according to his or her response.

    All that is good and true is discovered through relationship. Relationship with God, relationship with self. Relationship with others. Good and true politics evolve out of good and true relationships. There is no such thing as a good and true politic, in of itself. That notion is a falsehood.

    March 8, 2016
    • To choose unforgiveness is to choose more calamity, more violence and more hatred. To choose unforgiveness is to choose against God.

      Well said, Paul.

      March 8, 2016
      • Paul Johnston #

        Thanks, Ryan.

        Jesus comes to the soul that asks forgiveness.To the soul that is contrite and seeks to repent. If we come to Him daily through prayer He will grace us with the necessary strength to change. His “burdens” are truly light.

        Everything about Christ’s forgiveness is superabundant. Not just for us but for others through us…..”as we forgive those”…

        If we seek the ongoing presence of Christ in our lives, to be forgiven and to forgive, are the means.

        Btw, it might just be possible that this 4 am. call to prayer is also intended for a Canadian Mennonite pastor. God can often mix a sense of humor with a sense of purpose. 🙂

        May the Lord continue to bless your ministry.

        March 10, 2016
    • rwwilson147 #

      The idea that there is no good and true political system is right; it is also true that it is the barely describable relationships between people, and between people and power, that sustain peaceful relations. However, I tend to think saying “given the context, more specifically the power structure, it is up to Israelis to make peace. It is up to Palestinians to accept peace” falls a bit short. I don’t think it takes into account the power structures of Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc. Nor does begin to deal with the power system of Islam; but that is another complex discussion.

      March 8, 2016
      • Paul Johnston #

        Thank you, rwwilson for the generosity of your responses. To speak graciously and with reason about your concerns, is to enlighten everyone. 🙂

        You are wise to question the proposition that you do. Surely it does not mean to suggest an, “Israel bad/Palestine good” dynamic. There has been enough pain and suffering endured, as well fear and wrongdoing perpetrated, by both communities.

        To look to adjudicate a just solution from the perspective of redressing grievance, has long past. The grievances are too many.The pain runs too deep.

        Both peoples must forgive the past and present so that a better future may emerge.

        For the sake of their lives now, for the sake of each others children.

        For the love of God, that same God both peoples believe Abraham encountered in the wilderness.

        It is my simple belief that God holds the powerful to a higher degree of accountability. in this scenario the state of Israel has the power. I believe God calls them to demonstrably improve the welfare of the Palestinians, for the purposes of making a lasting peace. To do unto the Palestinians as they would have done unto themselves.

        Does Israel not remember it’s pre-state activities in Palestine. Were their actions then so much different from the actions of the groups you site in your above comment? Can they not see themselves in the actions of Hamas or Hezbollah?

        Reconstruction is the proven remedy. May Israel have the faith courage to pursue it. May Palestine have the faith and courage to accept it and work with it.

        As for Islam itself, all non Islamic peoples must begin by rejecting the toxic deceit that God is not present to them. That God does not work through them. They are His children also. Loved and adored just as you and I are. They are nothing less then our brothers and sisters and we must reject every voice that tries to tell us otherwise.

        March 10, 2016
      • rwwilson147 #

        Hi, and thanks for your gracious response.
        Power is relative in the sense that even a lesser power may have greater power over those in its sway than a greater power has over those with whom it shares power. I’m thinking of smaller totalitarian or oligarchic powers that have extreme power over those whom they dominate (Palestinian ruling powers and Palestinians) versus greater democratic powers over those with whom they share power (Israeli ruling powers). This analysis extends to hegemonic lesser powers in comparison to the money ruled democratic powers of capitalist USA..The only ultimately mitigating power of which I am aware is that of Christ–all other powers make things worse by contributing to the cyclic spirals of violent escalation.
        As for the idea that “all non Islamic peoples must begin by rejecting the toxic deceit that God is not present to them. That God does not work through them. They are His children also. Loved and adored just as you and I are. They are nothing less then our brothers and sisters and we must reject every voice that tries to tell us otherwise.”
        There seems to be syntactic flaws in the flow of what you trying to say, but the idea that all are God’s children doesn’t correspond to the idea that people become God’s children by adoption by faith in Christ as conveyed by the theology of scripture. Not everyone is loved and adored in the same manner as those who have been brought near to him through faith in Christ. Jesus considered those who did / do the will of God by believing he was the Messiah of God and were willing to obey him in every way possible were His children. So, unless you are willing to reject the voice of Jesus I don’t think your point could be quite valid. The exclusivity of the teaching of Jesus is something of a scandal, but one which needs to be reckoned with if faithfulness to Christ is a serious priority.

        March 11, 2016
  5. Paul Johnston #

    *Syntax disclaimer*- Hey, RW, you aren’t the first person to notice some of the structural/grammatical limitations of my writing….Ryan could tell you stories :)……. I denied myself the opportunity for a better education, when I was younger. Most of my understandings and the way I communicate them, are of the, “school of life” variety.

    I do have an academic friend who once told me that the writings attributed to St. John and St. Paul are syntaxical… that even a word!!…..nightmares. If nothing else I keep good company. 🙂

    Your point regarding, the power structures within power structures is well taken but as I understand it, not pertinent to my advocacy.

    Our spiritual understandings are in full agreement when you say, “the only, ultimate mitigating power….is Jesus Christ”….

    We do have a serious disagreement as I read you further though. What you describe as the, “scandal of exclusivity” I see as the, “scandal of inclusiveness”. God has created all for the purpose of all returning to Him. We are all children of the creator. Not a single soul was created for the purpose of it being lost. God is eternal life. All souls were created for the purpose of sharing in the eternal life. Perpetual death is the domain of the evil one.

    God chooses eternal spiritual life for all. People, under the influence of the evil one, sometimes choose spiritual death for themselves and for others.

    You, me, everyone, must look beyond the limitations of human reason when we encounter sacred scripture. We must take our powers of reason to their limit and then allow the transcendent power of the, “Spirit of Truth” to deepen our understandings. Human reason is, at best, “Prima facie”. At best, a good first glance. Nothing more and nowhere near enough.

    Human reason alone, makes our faith, “exclusive” and wickedly so. Isn’t it sadly true that so called human reason is often nothing more then thinly veiled self interest masquerading as truth?

    God calls us to that place that transcends reason. God calls us to unconditional love.To love as he loves. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Those who live a life as described by the examples found in the human life of Jesus Christ are His true apostles. His true church. Jesus lived an ethic. God the Father’s ethic. His ethic. The Holy Spirit’s ethic. His ethic informs the theology. Never the other way round.

    So I say again, everyone is our brother or sister. Everyone. To those who choose to remain outside the family, it is for God to judge, not us. And if we have failed to bring the true Jesus to those who do not yet believe, the sin is ours not theirs.

    His peace be with us. 🙂

    March 11, 2016
    • rwwilson147 #

      It isn’t human reason that has me referring to the exclusivity of the gospel message but the words of Jesus: no one comes to the father except through me. There are plenty of other scriptures that limit the gift of eternal to those who believe in him. There are scriptures that exclude those who do evil and don’t do the good that Jesus call his followers to do, be as a whole the universalist direction is posed as potential rather than achieved; faith in the God of Jesus is part of the requirement for ultimate acceptance as a member of the family of Hashem. If it were up to my human reason I would include and accept everyone as my brother, but since that isn’t what Jesus said or did I’ll just follow him rather than create some other gospel.
      Peace and mercy to all in Christ

      March 11, 2016
  6. Paul Johnston #

    RW, it has often been my experience that debates over scripture can have very negative consequences. Sadly ironic outcomes, whereby two or more people, all purporting to be followers of Jesus, behave very badly towards each another. Often lacking in the very charity we claim to be our intention. While I may be over simplifying, I find most arguments a result of two mostly distinct purview’s.

    One group, with substantial scriptural support, emphasizes mercy, forgiveness and inclusiveness. In so far as justice is concerned they look to encourage repentance before judgement. They see a Jesus who fed, healed and taught with great compassion and encouragement. A Jesus who came to give life not death. A Jesus who came to save not destroy. A Jesus who took the sins of others unto Himself, suffering their consequence, offering forgiveness in return. Many believe then, that we are to try to do as he did.

    The other group, with substantial scriptural support emphasizes judgement, punishment and exclusiveness. I have much sympathy for this group, though I would no longer claim to have any affiliation with it. At it’s root I still want to believe that the vast majority of people in this camp are rightly concerned about the consequences of sin, have themselves been harmed by sin, and push come to shove, so to speak, have the best of intentions towards their bothers and sisters.

    What has been denied us in life is likely impossible to muster without the intervention of the Spirit. So many have been denied real charity, real mercy, real love. So many have been judged, punished and excluded. Hard to give what they do not have….

    I do not accuse you here. I do not know you but if this reduction into two mostly distinctive camps resonates of truth to you, which camp would you choose to be in?

    More importantly to your point, about, “some other Gospel”. What in your heart, mediated through prayers to the Holy Spirit, does Jesus speak to you?

    I tell you what the Spirit speaks to me. “Open yourself to my reality. To my mercy, to my forgiveness, to my charity. Let it me give it all to you in superabundance. Let me into your heart”.

    Human reason and its so called wisdom are clouded, almost blinded by self interest and fear. If we do not allow the Spirit domain over us, if our understandings of Christ remain wholly cerebral, we will not prevail against the evil one.

    Jesus did not die for us that we would receive a book. He died that we would receive something greater, the Paraclete.The Holy Spirit of God.

    The Bible is only useful to us insofar as it is mediated through the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit, mankind will only understand the, “letter”. We will become Pharisees not Apostles.

    I speak to you what I believe I know. Test my understandings. Pray about them. Better yet, pray in community about them.

    I do not agree with your idea that our commission was only given us as a potential. I do not believe that is from the Holy Spirit. We are to go forth and, ” MAKE disciples of All people” (emphasis mine) Our only choice then is to see all as, “brother and sister”. All as friend. All as worthy of the promises of Christ.

    To the very last, Jesus will offer mercy. If some are lost it will be their choice for themselves, not His, for them. For us to refuse to co-operate with that universal intention is to bring ourselves to a place where we would be choosing a false understanding of the Gospels.

    March 13, 2016
    • rwwilson147 #

      Thanks for your thoughtful and sensitive response.
      I don’t know quite what you mean by saying that you “do not agree with [my] idea that our commission was only given us as a potential.” Still, I do know that I agree with you that all are “worthy of the promises of Christ” since God has graciously made it possible for us to choose to follow Jesus and become his brothers and sisters by faith. Jesus said that those who do the will of God his Father are his family members so it doesn’t seem to me to be the case (scripturally) that all are our brothers and sisters by being born human. As you say, it will be their choice. I fully intend to cooperate with God’s universal intention to include all who come to him as being in my family.

      I don’t think I emphasize “mercy, forgiveness and inclusiveness” over “judgement, punishment and exclusiveness” or vice versa. You are right that either would be out of balance. I’m just doing my best to emphasize submission to the whole counsel of God as providentially gathered in the canonical scriptures. Departure from adherence to that principle seems to me to inevitably lead to departure from commitment to core elements of the gospel tradition, including those regarding ethics and morality. Any honest appraisal of scriptural tradition regarding same gender sexual relations has to recognize that it is altogether proscribed therein. Abandoning that tradition is equivalent to saying “God is wrong about that.” If one says that God is wrong on some significant and previously undisputed aspect of scripture (this one is historically all but absolutely certain unless all of life is an illusion) it seems unavoidable to me that we should conclude that “god” could be wrong about many things or everything. There is no way to stop the flow of that flood of apostasy once that dyke has burst.

      Hope that helps show where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to say. All the best to all who are in Christ

      March 13, 2016
  7. Paul Johnston #

    Hi again, RW….a week’s delay on the internet is nothing short of scandalous. A spiritual insight after only a week of consideration and prayer is nothing short of miraculous. 🙂

    Please reflect upon and pray in community, about what I offer you here. Please help correct and expand upon.

    “I am the Way, the truth, the light”…so clear, so simple, so definitive. Jesus is the way. Not accounts of history that preceded Him. Not accounts of history about Him, during His lifetime. Not distillations of His life and intentions written after Him.

    Jesus is the way. The Real Presence of Christ is the way.

    Scripture; it’s insights and the traditions it has fostered are only true if those understandings and traditions have been mediated through the person of Jesus Christ.

    Pharisee’s and Sadducee’s exist in every age. Those whose pride and the exploitation of that pride by the evil one, blind them to the Real Presence. Left to their own interpretations they twist the Word into something ugly. Something fearful. Something that deludes them into thinking their authority allows them any other option but service. Any other choice but love. Hostility over fraternity, over sorority. Exclusiveness over universality.

    God’s word is never errant. Humankind’s word can often be. Many talk, deceiving even themselves, thinking they speak for God. Yet they do not know God.

    What would Jesus do? How would Jesus have responded? What does scripture say? These are not the right questions to ask first. What would you have us do, Jesus? What is Jesus telling you? What is Jesus telling me? What is Jesus telling them? These are the right first questions. Jesus WILL speak to us, if we ask Him to.

    “I am leaving so that something greater than I can come”…The real presence of Christ existed materially in time, in Palestine some 2,000 years ago. Since the Pentecost the real presence of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, has continued to exist through time.

    Once in time. Once through time.

    To those who know in their hearts that their words have not come from Christ, it would be better for them to remain silent until such time as they believe, mediated by the Holy Spirit, through prayer, that Christ has spoken these words to them.

    After that, share words with others, who in turn will pray and discern. What is truly from Jesus, what is truly His Real Presence, will be revealed. Will be perfect, without contradiction.

    “I in you and you in me”…All who truly speak the word of the Living God will find harmony with one another. Dissension is not from God.

    As for the means to the, “Real Presence” in communion with prayer. I know of only one way.

    There may be others. 🙂

    March 21, 2016

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