Saturday, November 22, 2014

Where Are You Standing?

Being in Hebron, this question enters my brain all too often: Am I doing any good? I try not to entertain the question, because the answer that screams at me is a resounding NO!

Have soldiers stopped teargassing children on a regular basis? No.

Have random detentions and searches of men and boys stopped? No.

Have home demolitions stopped? No.

Has the Israeli Occupation ended? No.

People who have more years of experience here than I will tell you that nothing has changed here or that the situation is getting worse.  Certainly since the summer, tensions have been high, anger easily boiling into violence, and there seems to be a sentiment that things will get worse before they get better. In the absence of any evidence that the balance is tipping towards equality between Palestinians and Israelis, why am I here?

We are not called to be successful, but faithful.  - Mother Teresa

This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward and five steps backwards. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful...
                                                                                       - Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

I am here because I am trying to be faithful. I am trying to be faithful to the gospel message I profess to believe. I am trying to be faithful to the call that led me here, even though I too often feel wildly inadequate for the work I am supposed to be doing.  So often we have to make on-the-spot judgment calls when we aren't fully aware of all the dynamics into which we've walked and don't know the language(s) well enough to get all the information we'd like. Thankfully, more often than not, the decisions are as simple as staying or going, and/or calling others to monitor with us. Too often, we cannot intervene in a way that helps in any immediate sense, but we can stand as witnesses.  We can offer words of support. We can tell the stories that we've seen unfold. My hope is that even with the dearth of skills I feel  I have to offer, God is somehow using me to do good, because I said, albeit reluctantly, "Yes."

Occasionally I can see how my presence makes a difference.  Last Saturday, as hundreds of Israeli settlers and Jewish tourists paraded through the Old City, with dozens of Israeli soldiers along the route, two of us turned a corner and saw soldiers in the faces of Palestinian boys, trying to back them away from the tourists, who were angrily yelling at the boys (who were also yelling). Without even thinking, we placed ourselves between the soldiers and the boys, causing both sides to back away from each other. It took no words. Only presence. The soldiers then turned their attention to calming the shouting tourists. (Later we learned that the escalation began when the tourists started yelling obscenities at the boys.) I don't know what would have happened if we hadn't arrived at that moment. I fear that the situation would have ended with boys either injured or arrested.

A few days ago, I got to be in "teacher mode" when three Palestinian girls whipped out an English book when they saw me on their way home from school. That mini-lesson did nothing to change the state of affairs here, but it brought joy to my heart and, I think, to theirs, too. This was the best I can do.

The next day, in a 2-hour period, we witnessed 29, twenty-nine, teargas canisters get shot towards school children.  The children were throwing rocks. I am not a big fan of the rock-throwing, I'll admit, but 29 canisters of teargas? At children? All we could do was observe. No way to stop it. At least we ran to escort one little girl who was running away from it. That was the best we could do that day.

All Jesus asks is, "Where are you standing?" And after chilling defeat and soul-numbing failure, He asks again, "Are you still standing there?"           -Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

I am standing with Palestinians as best I can. This means "success" may remain elusive. This means I may never see "results" in any tangible sense from my presence here.

On her way to school, past soldiers, towards teargas.  She came
running back a few minutes later, shaking.  
If we choose to stand in the right place, God, through us, creates a community of resistance without our even realizing it. To embrace the strategy of Jesus is to be engaged in what Dean Brackley calls "downward mobility." Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest...The powers bent on waging war against the poor and the young and the "other" will only be moved to kinship when they observe it. Only when we see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated will we abandon the values that seek to exclude. 
                                                                                 - Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart  

If I am to be faithful, I must stand here. I must stand on the margins with the hope that my presence, that the presence of others, will expand the margins until there are no more margins left.


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