Thursday, January 09, 2014

Reclaiming True Christian Pilgrimage

1555460_10102301006601174_1573624060_nI wrote the following as part of my ELCA Peace Not Walls leadership training trip to Jordan and the Holy Land while sitting atop the Mount of Beatitudes earlier this morning (with a couple slight modifications taking in experiences from later in the day). The intention of the trip is to prepare for leading future groups of young adults to the Holy Land while working for a just end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. You can find the writings of my fellow pilgrims on our trip blog here. I hope you enjoy the post, and please provide feedback if you're able! - Dustin

Sitting atop a devotional site called the Mount of the Beatitudes and seeing the sun shining on the Sea of Galilee, I'm a feeling a bit challenged... I've been thinking a lot over the course of my trip about how true Christian pilgrimage should strengthen relationships with God and people rather than necessarily visit specific holy sites, but now I'm beginning to think it's both. I certainly lament that most Christian pilgrims visit the Holy Land without ever learning from Palestinians living under the brutally apartheid-like system of Israeli occupation, don't get me wrong... our Palestinian Christian guide recently mentioned that we were the first group in his 4+ years of giving tours who were interested in hearing the Palestinian side of the story. Yet, walking amongst the gardens of the Mount of Beatitudes and hearing the Scriptures read and discussed in so many languages, it's obvious these "holy sites" are not just dead stones for some people.

The Israeli separation wall in the background.
Rather, people really are living out lives of faith by visiting these sacred places. Perhaps what really matters then is what one does with a faith renewed on pilgrimage, what that faith moves one to do and who that faith moves one to be in relationship with. Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land can still mean visiting the "holy sites," but it still must also mean accompanying our Palestinian sisters and brothers.

If we're to change minds back home and around the world in the hope of moving toward a just resolution of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, we need to be in relationship with Palestinians... God tends to make liberation happen within an oppressed people themselves, not through outside forces, no matter how altruistic. Our job as American Christian pilgrims is simply to learn the stories of Palestinians, raise those stories up and through those stories let God do the amazing work of liberating hearts and minds. Onto the Tabgha, the devotional site of Christ multiplying the loaves and fishes.
God's peace,
Dustin

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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