Friday, March 25, 2011

Love Like Rockets, Grace Like Shrapnel

I’ve known this before. A familiar taste in the back of one’s mouth. The feeling of emptiness in my stomach, but no desire for food. When I do eat, I chew slowly and each bite is full of flavor as if I had never eaten before. I feel cold, warm only in my bed. I laugh with my friends like always, but there’s still a return of the sense once I am alone. Why does it feel so familiar?
Because I’ve felt it before. Fairly recently. Andrew Huckle; Michael; the “Judge”. Now I realize why it feels familiar, this old acquaintance: pain, grief—but no, it’s not grief, but more a loneliness, a forlornness, an aching, the aura evoked by the title of the book, “The Well at the World’s End”…
This time the sensation is less intense, less strong. But it is reminiscent of other times of grieving, and I recognize it as such. Does that mean I now know how grieving feels? That I can now anticipate it; get used to it? Or will it strike again like a twisted dagger, hitting a different nerve each time?

Mary Gardner was a 59-year old woman from Scotland, but she was not from this world. She left friends, family, and home to become a missionary for her Savior. Eventually ending up in Togo (I wish I could ask her how), Mary worked to translate the New Testament into a tribal dialect, one that did not yet even have a written form. Having completed that task, Mary came to Jerusalem with several other members of Wycliffe Bible Translators to study Hebrew, planning now translate the Old Testament.
Mary was in my intensive Hebrew class the first five weeks I was here. It was impressive to see someone who cared and worked hard outside of class (as all the Wycliffe workers did). But unfortunately some of us college students (myself included) thought Mary just a bit odd for being the only older person in our class and for looking somewhat unkempt. Shame on us for judging the appearance when God looks at the heart (1st Samuel 16:7). She has a gentle spirit and is quick to laughter.

My friend Brittany writes: Last time we were in class the teacher was asking (in Hebrew of course) about things that we can do: we were learning the verb "can".  Jokingly, she asked Mary if she could stand on her hands, and Mary didn't quite understand and said keep in mind Mary was a fragile tiny older woman.  So we all kind of looked at each other confused and giggled until someone asked her in English if she really could stand on her hands... she laughed when she understood what she had said! It was probably one of the cutest moments in Hebrew class.

This past Wednesday was a dark day in Jerusalem as the first terrorist bomb in years exploded outside of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station ( ). Over two dozen people were injured, and one person died from their injuries soon after. That evening I invited everyone I knew over for a multi-faith prayer session with both Christians and Jews present. It was highly emotional as nearly twenty of us lifted up the victims in prayer and longed for the peace of Jerusalem. Each person prayed according to their own tradition, whether it was Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist, Conservative Judaism, Reformed Judaism. Now, I don’t believe all religions are essentially the same or equally true, but in these circumstances I truly believe that praying together is what God wanted. It was the most loving thing that could have been done and the Holy Spirit was very much present among us.

I held back tears and swallowed the lump in my throat; sniffles could be heard around the circle. “But God will redeem my soul from the grave;” I read from Psalms 49. “He will surely take me to himself.” Very few verses in the Old Testament even hint at the resurrection, but I had discovered this one merely days ago. Right on time.

The next day, Thursday, I learned that the person who had died in the bombing was Mary. The bomb had pieces of metal packed around it, designed to increase the deadliness. Medics fought bravely to save Mary’s life, but after an hour they were forced to admit she had passed.

She lay on the stretcher, twisted screws and nails embedded into her skin. Red blood streamed and poured out onto the ground.
Not far away in Jerusalem, 2000 years ago, a man was stretched out upon two planks of wood. Nails pierced his hands and blood flowed down his body from his open wounds…
Two children of God, linked in life by their solitary adventures through this world, united in death by violence.
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendents? For his life was taken from the earth.” Isaiah 53:7-8.

Within an hour of the bombing, hundreds of furious Orthodox Jews flooded the street where the bombing occurred, blocking traffic and refusing to leave. “Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs!” they chanted. I doubt this is the response that Mary would have wanted.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” Mary herself had at one point spoken these words—translated from Greek to a tribal dialect. Perhaps in the closing pages of her chapter on Earth she whispered these words again, echoing the ones spoken by her Best Friend so long ago…
And had she seen the angry Orthodox protest, perhaps she would have reminded them: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute, so that you may be sons and daughters of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even the ungodly do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48).

            I believe Mary lived her faith out to the fullest. In obedience, she followed God’s call away from Scotland to Africa, and ultimately to Jerusalem. Her whole life was a sacrifice on God’s altar. She gave up home, family, comfort, and ultimately her life. Mary was perhaps one of the few in all Jerusalem who was right with God and who He could call upon to pay the ultimate cost. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonheoffer. He should know: he was to die in a Nazi concentration camp for refusing to compromise his Christianity.

A long time ago, another Mary gave birth to God. She was His earthly mother. Mary Gardner has proved herself to be His spiritual daughter.

Today, Friday, was the Jerusalem Marathon (I ran in the 10K race). The Mayor of Jerusalem promised to hold it despite the terror attacks, knowing that life must go on without fear. Registration for the race was held in the convention center—right in front of where the bomb went off. I walked past it, seeing no evidence at all: the cleanup crews had done their job. “He is not here…” (Luke 24:6).
Interestingly enough, there is a connection between running and resurrection. “Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first” (John 20:3). They go running and find an empty tomb. Christ is not there…he has risen! Death has no sting! It has been defeated!
Like the disciples, I saw no evidence of Mary’s death when I went for my run. Having lived in God’s forgiveness as his servant, she died in his grace. She now rejoices with the infinite multitudes on God’s Holy Mountain, Mount Zion, crying “Holy, holy, holy!” Our eyes could scarce look at her now in her glorified state; indeed if she should appear among us now she would be hard-pressed to keep us from falling at her feet and worshipping her. She died to herself in the world, but the second death shall not touch her, and she will serve God forever.

            Mary sang softly to herself as she waited at the bus stop. A small British smile crossed her lips. She was ready to head back to her apartment.
Only God knew that this time she was coming Home.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reality Check(point)

Yesterday I went to the West Bank, to occupied Palestine. Yes, that’s right, I went there. Whenever I mention going there, many people here react as if I were going cliffjumping. “Is it safe? Have you done it before? You know insurance doesn’t cover you right?” There is so much fear attached to this place when there’s really no reason. It's no more dangerous than most places in the world. People are hospitable and kind and usually less prone to ripping you off than in Jerusalem. And I promise, you won’t be kidnapped by a terrorist. That's the last thing the Palestinians want to do: they wouldn’t want the American military raging in to rescue some tourist. 

Anyway, I arrived in Ramallah, and got some food for literally a fraction of the of the cost it is in Israel. The end goal of my three friends and I was the tiny village of Taybeh: the only and most popular microbrewery in the entire Middle East. Taybeh brewery was founded in the hope after Oslo to become the dominant beer source in the new Palestinian state that was to be set up. I bought a 24-bottle case of beer: it can’t be bought in Israel proper, and I wanted to be set for the semester and to bring some back home for my family and Liz, so I thought it worth lugging around. "Taste the Revolution!"

The bus ride to Taybeh was quite scenic going through a countryside with little villages scattered around. The one jarring moment that actually scared me was when we saw an Israeli Army vehicle on the side of the road. Four soldiers stood with their M-16s, surrounding two blindfolded Palestinian youths who were kneeling near the ditch with their hands behind their backs. This is execution-style position, but also a position to ensure they’re easier to guard- the likely reason for this time. Our driver slowed down a bit (ostensibly for a speed bump however I also think he wanted to see), but one soldier angrily waved at us to just move along. A short distance on another four soldiers were thoroughly searching a car. Perhaps these boys had been smuggling weapons and were caught. But perhaps they were just driving down the road and swore at the soldiers. When there is so much power in the hands of a few twenty year olds, injustice is inevitable.
The Israeli squad who were capturing the Palestinian youths
Anyway, on the way back from Taybeh, I picked up a couple kaffiyehs cuz they’re pretty hipster and show you’re kinda pro-Palestinian, and we got some weird ice cream fruit mixture. We decided to head back, and got into a bus for Jerusalem. No big problem, right?

Wrong. Traffic was completely backed up from the checkpoint. The system of checkpoints, set up with the Separation Wall around five years ago, is a daily hardship that Palestinians have to face whether they go to Israel or other West Bank cities. Today it was especially backed up. Our bus decided to join several other vehicles and drive the wrong way down the other side of the highway at top speed, hoping to get ahead of traffic. As cars rushed towards us and narrowly cut over to the right side, I realized how crazy this all was. Within a mile we had run out of room to continue this strategy, and we were waved through narrow alleys to a point about a half mile from the checkpoint. At this everyone got off the bus. Confused, we asked why- we would have to go through the checkpoint on foot and take a bus from the other side. Normally us foreigners would have been able to stay on the bus and get checked quickly, but now we were having to experience what Palestinians undergo every day.

We walked towards the checkpoint, following a stream of people that threaded their way through bumper to bumper traffic. I can't imagine how a pregnant woman, child, or disabled person would make it through. The most notable part was seeing how people banded together and assumed responsibility for maintaining the law. There was not a single policeman or soldier in sight, and the traffic was nuts. But I saw numerous citizens take control, waving on cars to go and helping establish off-road routes to ease the gridlock. As I mentioned earlier, even young boys were taking part. These were citizens that realized that life was harsh but it had to go on, and so used creativity to get around the hardship. I even took part, kicking aside a large stone that was blocking a potential “lane” through the normal garbage on the roadside.

When we finally arrived at the checkpoint, we waited on line for about thirty-five minutes. With half a beer, a full milkshake, water, and no bathrooms for hours, we all had to pee, but there are no bathrooms at the checkpoint. Again I wondered what that would be like for a young mother with children. We stood in a narrow line that was a cage: fenced in from the side, front, and above. My friend Jordyn commented she felt like a dog, and I agreed. I looked at the sparrows perched above on the barbed wire and envied them their freedom to just fly over the Wall…

The interesting thing about the checkpoint is that, unlike at an airport, there is no real contact with the Israeli soldiers. Like Michele Foucault’s philosophical concept of the “Panopticon”, control is perfectly maintained by surveillance. No one even knew if there were people watching the cameras, but the mere threat of being watched ensured docility. We walked through the metal detectors and put our own things through the X-Ray machine, showed a soldier our IDs through 2-inch thick bulletproof glass, and made it through. The whole process took about thirty-five minutes, but the man behind us told us this was a very light day compared to most. Sometimes the lines could take hours, adding over four hours total to a person’s commute- every single day.
Inside the security checkpoint

The terrorism of the Second Intifada ten years ago was awful, and Israel is justified to want to protect its citizens. But the toll its protection has taken on the common people of Palestine is inexcusable, and only decreases the stability of Palestinian-Israeli relations. I believe that the Wall must either be torn down, or the Palestinians should be given their own state. The status quo is untenable and unjust so long as the land Israel controls is split by a Wall. And it is indeed a Wall, despite some who call it a “Security Fence”. Take a look at the pictures of a 10-foot high concrete barrier with barbed wire on top and guard towers and then tell me if it looks more like a wall or a fence.

So yeah. Life is hard. The Wall sears the consciences of those on the inside and ruins the livelihoods of those on the outside. But hope endures. The friendliness we received from Palestinians (such as a little old lady who smiled and pointed our way to the brewery) is just one piece of evidence that they have not been utterly warped. 
And personally, I have hope in the Messiah who has torn down every Wall and was unafraid to walk through "unclean" Samaria (today’s "West Bank": most Jews were leery of going through Samaria back then too…hmm…). Under Him, I know every system of injustice can be overthrown, and by following his example we can love our neighbors so much that we’ll want to demolish the Walls of a false, empty security.

[Originally this was going to be a video blog but it ended up being too difficult to upload this time…(sorry Jason :( ) Anyone else think they would like to see me try video? I’ll attempt it again next time when I have a shorter post.]

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On "Hipsters"

[This is not really related to Jerusalem per se, but is partly inspired by one of my classes and by the following article, “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization” by Douglas Haddow ( If you are able, perhaps it would be wise to read the article first so you have a bit of an idea to what I am responding here.]

Hipster-ism (my word), while perhaps a dead end to “Civilization”, is not the dirge for human society. I actually believe hipster-ism is a healthy and good movement to hit the West, a purging of power politics that has plagued every revolutionary culture.

Hipster-ism is the first cultural movement to finally accept the critique of the post-modernists: there are no universal truths. There are only localized values, and none of them can claim to be transcendent. Of course, the protesters of the sixties and seventies claimed to know this as well. They showed that America’s claim to be on the side of freedom and the good was belied by Vietnam. The hip hop culture mentioned in the article spoke against the racism and classism entrenched in Western society.

But while they taught their followers that universal truth did not exist, these movements did not apply that lesson to their own position: neither egalitarianism, communism, equality, democracy nor peace have any more claim as the “best” way than do their opposites. These “post-modernists”, while rejecting the ultimate truth claims of Modernism (of progress, Western Civilization, etc.), simply substituted their own truth claims: if you’re for the war in Vietnam then you’re evil! If you’re capitalist you’re evil! We will oppose you and defeat you until our way reigns supreme!

Both sides, Modernists and post-modernists, used the same tool: that of power. Whether achieved through violent or nonviolent means, they both desired to control civilization. They only differed on what the power would be used for.

But now! Hipster-ism! Hipsters take at face value the critiques of post-modernism, and lay hold of no truth claims at all! They revel in hypocrisy: while denouncing capitalism, they will drink Coke to be “ironic”. They “deny their own existence, while wearing its symbols”—why? Because they, unlike all the movements of punk, the hippies, and African-American culture, refuse to be subsumed within a firm movement. They know their truth claims have no universal hold, and do not want to be grouped in a revolution. "I'm not comfortable with that term [hipster]," one hipster says to Haddow in the article. She can’t explain why—because hipster-ism has no creed. There’s no list of beliefs. There are Christian hipsters (the Emergents), atheist hipsters, artsy hipsters—the common thread between them all is a rejection of the established. They reject Communism just as much as they reject capitalism—because both make claims of universality that hipsters know is false.

Some hipsters. America, c. 2011
“Non-committal, shallow, unimpressed, faux, resigned, ironic, indefinable, shrugging”; these the words used in this article to describe hipster-ism. Hipsters undermine their own “culture” and refuse to believe in it. This is exactly the phenomenon I’m learning about in my philosophy class right now. French philosopher Jacques Derrida argues that the West needs “deconstructive language”. Deconstructive language undermines itself, so that it cannot be used to dominate others. Rather than, for example, a language of “freedom” and “democracy” that says anything (including war) is justified to spread liberty, hipster-ism is ironic and doesn’t take a stand on anything. You won’t see hipsters fighting policemen—that would be too firm a position to make. They’ll just wear their Che Guevara T-shirts while drinking $14 mochas. Thus the language of both affluence (the mocha) and socialism (the T-shirt) contradict each other.

The result? “With nothing to defend, uphold or even embrace, the idea of "hipsterdom" is left wide open for attack. And yet, it is this ironic lack of authenticity that has allowed hipsterdom to grow.” Douglas Haddow is critical of hipster-ism. But I believe that it is an important and vital change for the West, and one that may open up space for a real community.

Hipster-ism is open to all; with no belief set anyone can join so long as they refuse to be part of any other ideological movement that would set itself up as superior. And like all humans, they crave companionship and a sense of belonging, yet they don’t want to sacrifice their non-ideals. This gives Christians, an enormous opportunity—a culture that wants nothing more than to be accepted and loved without having to subscribe to a set, armed revolution. If we look at Jesus we see he was not passionate about any agenda—he was passionate about people.

This is what the prophets in the Bible are all about. “Who cares about your religion!” Isaiah screams in Chapter 1. “What about the widows and orphans?!” There’s a focus on people, not movements—regardless that the movement being described was originally set up by God himself. Abraham is commanded to murder his son, which would violate every institution of ethics in the world. But the important thing was not to be a part of the system—it was to obey God. Any system of laws must be thrown out, lest we worship and obey those instead of God Himself. The Bible is a story of God trying to make his relationship with humans personal, trusting, and intimate. The Jewish Law only shows how broken that relationship is—the true ideal is for pure union. Prophets use contradictory, deconstructive language to show this. The lion lies down with the lamb, there are three Personalities in one God, God comes down to our neighborhood in human form, the Church is the Bride of Christ.

Hipsters somehow grasp this truth. They establish a culture of irony, of contradictions, a prophetic culture. Without ideology, what’s left? Just people. And this is where Christians can come in. People crave a freeing, non-judgmental community, where they can live, laugh, eat, play, and love. Christians should establish communities like this and show the true freedom that comes with forgiveness of sins, release of guilt, and unconditional love.

My analogy isn’t perfect. Unlike hipsters, Christians do have a revolutionary mission—to spread God’s good news of love to the loveless and freedom for those in chains of fear and sin. But unlike communists, environmentalists, capitalists, or those who want to democratize the world, Christians use anti-political instead of political means. They use love instead of coercion. That is what is supposed to make Christians different, and all the political battles waged to “protect” or “advance” Christianity run completely opposite to the example of Jesus, who died like scum rather than lift a single finger to advance his cause through force.

So of course hipster-ism is a dead end to “Civilization”!—it refuses to become a grand project that make the world in its own image. But its critique opens space to care, once again, for people as individuals. People matter, not Civilization. Hipster-ism opens space for communities to exist made of people, radically diverse and different people, bonded only by love. That sounds quite similar to the message heard in Jerusalem about 2000 years ago. It’s time we hear it again.