Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Wailing at the Western Wall

What follows is a final piece I wrote on my recent ELCA Peace Not Walls leadership training trip to Jordan, Palestine and Israel. The intention of our trip was to prepare for leading future groups of young adults to the Holy Land while also working for a just end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I've debated for quite a while about whether or not to post this piece, as it's a bit personal and difficult, but in the end I decided that it may be helpful in illustrating the difficult emotions and ambiguities that come with experiencing the Israeli occupation of Palestine first hand. I'd love to hear what you think, and thanks for reading.

Journal Entry | January 15, 2014

I'm now sitting near the Western Wall in Old City Jerusalem and just burst into tears. Let me explain. This place exhibits a profound sense of the sacred... contrary to what I've heard about the Western Wall in the past, most of the folks here don't seem to be mourning the destruction of the Second Temple at all but in fact are celebrating... it's really loud and joyful... Bar Mitzvahs are taking place all around me. The exuberant, celebratory sacredness of this place stands in stark contrast but feels equally sacred to the quiet, profound experience we just had in the Dome of the Rock and the solemness of al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Haram al-Sharif/ Temple Mount. Both the Jewish and Muslim holy sites similarly contrast with the equally sacred manic swarm of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher we visited a few days ago, where its easy to bump into someone penitently praying and kissing a sacred slab of stone only to turn around mess up some tourist's photo, all the while coughing yet strangely also appreciating the massive amount of incense.

All these holy sites prove equally sacred, all in their own unique way that's characteristic of their respective faiths. Yet, I can't help but crying. I can't help but crying because no matter how hard I try to sit and take in this sacred experience, the image of that case of spent bullets in the al-Aqsa Mosque, kept in memorial from when Ariel Sharon entered the Haram al-Sharif and set off the Second Intifada, is still burning in my mind. I can't help but crying because no matter how much my theological training might characterize it differently, I can't help but feel angry at God for passively letting Her children fight, betray and simply ignore one another over this place rather than joyfully sharing the unique sacredness I've experienced at all three faiths' holy sites this week. I feel angry at God for letting many of Her Christian children in America either ignore or actively work against the efforts of their Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers. I feel angry at God for letting some of Her Jewish children mix a rabid form of 19th century nationalism with their faith in a way that leads to the horrific oppression of Palestinians. I feel angry at God for letting a small radical minority of her Muslim children maim and kill in the name of their Creator while also providing a pretext for letting the occupation continue. Could God have revealed Herself in slightly different ways that would not have led to such a tragedy? I'm not sure, but I'm pretty pissed off anyway. And so I cry. I cry and angrily pray and write because I don't know what else to do. Damn glad I wore my sunglasses.

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. Recently approved for 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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