Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why Am I Here?

A few days ago, a friend asked the question, "Why are you in Palestine?"

It was the day before I had my first day off and I was feeling frayed and frazzled, so I told him I'd answer after some rest.

The next day I went to Bethlehem and as I stood in line waiting to enter the grotto where it is said Jesus was born 2000 or so years ago, I thought, in an admittedly accusatory tone, "You are the reason I'm here."  My nerves were still weaving themselves back together.

But if I am to give an honest answer as to why I am in Palestine, that answer must include a child born in a cave, who grew into a man: a man who challenged the unjust structures of the time and place he was born into, who preached forgiveness and love, and who preached repentance and change, even as he honored people where they were.  His way was always in the form of invitation to something better; he did not coerce anyone into accepting what he said.

Only minutes after I made my accusation, I was able to say with wonder and awe, "You are the reason I'm here."  If I did not believe in my depths the power of loving my neighbor and that the term "neighbor" excludes no one, I might not be here.  If I did not believe that the gifts I have, those innate to my being and those freely given to me by others, are best appreciated by using and sharing them, I might  not be here.  If I did not believe that God is love, that I am a member of the body of Christ, and that both being true, I must strive to live a life of integrity, of hope, of faith, of gratitude and, most importantly, of love, I might not be here.  If I did not trust, on more than one occasion, that giving up security to follow an uncertain path was the best way to live that life I seek, I might not be here.  But I do believe.  I do trust.  And so I am here.

To answer the question in another way, I could turn to the principle of the preferential option for the poor, which is not really optional at all, if I take seriously the teachings of Jesus. Matthew 25: 31-46 clearly outlines what this looks like.  If the words of the passage don't immediately come to mind, let this except be a reminder:

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 

Looking at what is happening in Israel and Palestine, it is very clear who the poor and vulnerable are.

I am here to be a witness.  I am here to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering.  I am here to bring stories home, stories of real people.  I am here to see all I encounter as children of God and to hold steadfastly to that belief that all of us are children of God, even when I encounter people who seem to have forgotten it, either about themselves or others.

I am here because, as with other times my life has changed drastically,  for reason I didn't and don't understand, a year and a half ago I felt the call to be here.

I am here because if I weren't here, I would be ignoring that very clear call.

I am here because I accepted an invitation to follow a sometimes difficult, but infinitely rewarding path.

I have only been here two weeks.  I know that I have already had failures in trying to live what I profess to believe.  I have already stumbled along my path.  But I will keep trying.  I will stand when I fall, and I will keep on walking forward.

I'll end with a little musical interlude.  For anyone who's been to Ft. Benning on a certain weekend in November, this should be pretty familiar:

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