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. (www.annadwa.org)
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 (www.theparentscircle.org) 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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