Today I had the opportunity to testify on a solid, albeit somewhat milquetoast resolution urging the Episcopal Church to work for a greater sense of togetherness around issues of peace in the Middle East. It is not remotely as controversial as the resolutions calling for divestment from companies supporting the Israeli Government, which consumed the vast majority of the time and energy in this hearing.
Reminding the committee of Paul’s words in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”, I told this story:
Two months ago, while on a pilgrimage in Israel & Palestine, we visited the Hebron, the hometown of the great patriarch Abraham, in what is now the Palestinian West Bank. At this spot marking the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there sit two temples – a mosque and a synagogue, divided from one another by barbed wire, metal detectors and a cavalcade of machine-gun carrying security personnel. In that place 21 years ago, 30 people were murdered and more than 100 were injured when one person opened fire on a group of worshippers from another faith.
We prayed in solidarity with Orthodox, reform & conservative Jews at the Synagogue at Abraham’s Tomb and touching the sacred stones of the Western Wall, the holiest site of their faith. And we had worshipped in seemingly countless churches – twice simultaneously in English and Arabic, as the majority of Christians in the country are Arabic-speaking Palestinians. And now we were headed into this Mosque – honoring the patriarch of all three of our great religions – to pray together with the Muslim community in that holy place.
Before our group of 25 entered the mosque, our tour guide instructed us that if we chose to take pictures, we must not photograph any of the worshippers– and especially none of the Muslim women. When we came in, there were perhaps 20 people – mostly women and children gathered in the space – roughly the size of this room, in the carpeted sanctuary facing eastward to Mecca. As we Americans glanced around taking in the space and observing the small tomb if Abraham on one corner of the room, one of the Muslim young women held up an iPhone in front of a woman in our group, motioning to ask for a photo together. Both smiled and after the first camera click, another young woman came up to take a photo. And then another. And then another. And then a teenage girl pulled out a selfie stick! The women did not speak English, nor did we speak Arabic, but before we knew it, there were group selfies going on everywhere – almost entirely between the Palestinian Muslim women & children and our American Christian women. As I and most of the other men smiled and looked on, an entire sense of community erupted. Somehow, across incredibly vast lines of religion, ethnicity, language and others, and in a nation where religious tensions are higher and longer-lasting than perhaps anywhere in the world, the One and Only God managed to break through. Love managed to break through. Unity managed to break through. So much was said without any words at all.
And then it hit us: We are all one people with one Abraham. One God. One Love.
Friends, we are not called to dumb ourselves down and reduce ourselves to the paths of least resistance and the least common denominators of our common lives. We are not called to water ourselves down to the simplest things on which we can all agree. Instead it is our blessing, our duty, and our sacred honor to love all of ourselves and all of one another and all of God’s creation just as the One undivided God has loved us without division.