Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Franz Schemmel reflection: Re-creation is dying and rising, the path to hope

Pastor Franz Schemmel wrote this essay for the newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church here in Weatherford, Texas, upon return home from our June trip to Palestine and Israel.

I have been frequently asked since returning from the Holy Land on June 18 whether I had a good time. It's a natural question, one we usually ask vacationers, and we hope to get a big "Yes" in response. In struggling to find an adequate reply, I have settled on this: I did not have a good time, but I had a good recreation, better stated as re-creation. Martin Luther, following St. Paul, describes the life of the baptized as a daily dying of the old person and a rising of the new. Perhaps it needs to be said that the dying doesn't always come easy, and the new life, like a baby's new life, starts out in weakness and tears and takes some long while to become self-confident and strong.

The dying part of this trip's re-creation took an unusual form: I found that I had to let go of something that I have always thought of as good. I had to let go of optimism. In this realization I took my cue from our hosts. Nearly everyone we spoke to had lost confidence in the value of the current peace process. Our Palestinian Lutheran friends have been waiting for the last two U.S. administrations to broker a peace that would bring about a Palestinian state. What they have seen instead is a steady increase on the limitations brought to their lives by the restrictions of Israeli military rule, the continuous construction of the separation wall that divides them not only from the Israelis but also from one another, and a hardening, rather than a softening, of attitudes between the conflicting parties in the general population. These difficulties have encouraged a steady emigration of Christians from the Holy Land, with the younger and best educated leading the way. I.e., for the Palestinians the larger trends are bleak indeed.

I am lucky. I have an American passport and can return to the equanimity of Weatherford, and I do not claim a visceral understanding of the deep disappointment of the Palestinians. But I am still saddened by my own loss of expectation that the political leadership of any persuasion in this country will do what is necessary to bring hope, justice, security, and peace to our brothers and sisters of all faiths in the Holy Land.

But it is the dying that makes possible the rising, as the scriptures teach us. Our Holy Land friends bear witness to this as well. As Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Chistmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem said to us, "I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful." Optimism depends on what we see. Hope depends on faith.

It is hope that inspires Pastor Raheb to open a college of fine arts in a place where all spirits are beaten down. (

It is hope that empowers Palestinian Lutheran schools to teach nonviolence in a place where violence is the path of least resistance.

It is hope that brings together the grieving Israeli and Palestinian parents of the Parent's Circle ( to seek a path of reconciliation out of their common bond of pain.

All these witness to us that the deep things of our faith are not made void by hatred, disaster, or war, but are instead made stronger by the hope from the Spirit that comes when false hope is lost. The birth of that true hope is true re-creation.

Blessings and peace,

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Fac ut vivas said...

Dying and rising was exactly what I saw as part of the group. The apparent dying of the Palestinian prospects---the continued hideous snaking of the wall throughout the area that might have been a Palestinian state, the further collapse of the economy, the frustration of market owners and kids in the streets. But the rising of hope in such proclamations as the one at Dar-al-Kalima college: "Destruction MAY come, creativity WILL come." The rising of hope in a young Christian woman coming to study at the Seminary in Chicago, the hope of artists making angels out of class broken by violence. Did I have a "good time?" Yes. In the sense of Julian of Norwich: "All will be well; all will be very well." All will be good, all will be very good. I'm not sure if that's right Lutheran theology, but it's what I saw.

Ann Hafften said...

Steward Herman sent this comment:
Your short piece captures just the message that I heard as well from our Palestinian contacts: death of optimism about the political process. Thank you for putting this message so gracefully tersely.

Note that there seem to be two tangents of hope: one is through emigration, as we learned from the mayor's son who we visited in his apartment. The other, as Mitri Raheb is doing, is to build new institutions that give Palestinians some margin of accomplishment and traction against the dehumanizing policies of the Israeli government. I was sad but not surprised to see the first (in Jordan I saw a Christian church abandoned by the dwindling Arab Christian community, and THAT was sad), but I was really gladdened and impressed to see the second. The witness of standing fast--and of coping ingeniously, as we heard from the director of the Augusta Victoria hospital. It's at moments like this that I am grateful for a Lutheran theology which espouses hope against cynicism and despair, a theology of making do peacably--opening up cracks in oppressive structures, working within the limits of the possible as those cracks open wider. Truly grass-roots theology, in the sense of grass growing into cracks and splitting even mighty concrete....

Ann Hafften said...

Nada Ronning sent this comment:
Thank you ... for sharing Franz's response to his trip to Israel-Palestine. When Nelius and I returned from our time there we found it hard to answer the same question... "Did you have a good time?" We did not answer in the profound way that Franz did but we told our story of what we saw and heard. It's good to hear others stories. We pass them on to our friends/family who have not been there and just hear the U.S. news about what's going on. They respect our experience and others that we share with them ... and are often quite surprised at what they read. Keep on keeping on....!