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Friday, September 18, 2015

I want to be a bridge

Two years ago I was in Palestine, serving my first stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Hebron, Palestine. Exactly two years ago today, I posted a picture on Facebook: spray-painted graffiti  that read "Death to Arabs" in Hebrew. It was just outside a newly opened kindergarten for Palestinian children. Leading up to the kindergarten's opening, Israeli settlers disrupted the building's rehabilitation work on multiple occasions. On the first days of opening, settlers came into the school area, harassing and scaring Palestinian children and teachers alike. The school called upon CPT and other NGOs to offer protective presence during the school day. Beyond our presence, to the best of my knowledge, no action was taken in response to this hatred directed at children. Such things are common in Palestine.

Today the picture popped up in my "on this day" Facebook app. Seeing it and remembering the events still make my stomach turn. But thankfully, this day offered a vision much more hopeful than the one I saw two years ago.

Two nights ago someone spray-painted hateful words on the Louisville Islamic Center, a local mosque whose outreach and inter-religious relationship-building surpasses that of many other religious institutions. The red messages were hateful and seemed to aim to incite Jewish-Muslim divide.

The response of Louisville's mayor  was immediate condemnation of the act. The response of so many Louisvillians from multiple faith traditions was immediate condemnation of the act.

And the response of members of the Louisville Islamic Center: forgiveness and recognition that the act was not representative of the larger community. Some members of the local Muslim community took the incident as an opportunity to teach their children about love and compassion.

Today I had the privilege of going to the mosque and standing with hundreds of other Louisvillians - Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and most likely people of other faiths, too - to express a commitment to love.

When I arrived, I saw that the graffiti was more extensive than I had realized. My gut reacted with a churning familiar from my Hebron experience. But whereas in Hebron there was no universal denunciation of the act, in Louisville the clear sentiment was one of solidarity, of reaching towards each other to embrace rather than pointing fingers to accuse.


We gathered. We painted over the signs of hate. We made connections. A young woman at whose retreat I spoke last week came and introduced herself to me. I reintroduced myself to a local peacemaker I'd like to know better. Looking in every direction, I saw connections being made.

I will go back to Palestine in about two months. The divide there is so deep. The hatred, the fear, the imbalance of power so great. Violence occurs as demonstration of power and as attempts to reclaim power; it erupts often, daily - many times a day - in one way or another.

As I write, I am aware that the divide around the issue of Israel/Palestine is deep here, too. I didn't see it today, but I know it exists, because of conversations I have had...or have not been able to have. I wish it were not so.

I want to be a bridge. Sometimes I am, stretching between sides that don't touch. Often I'm not sure I can reach as far as is needed...or if I'm meant to do so.

Today I know I was meant to be a bridge. It was easy because I wasn't alone. I was with hundreds of other human bridges: reaching from hate to love, from intolerance to forgiveness, from apathy to compassion.

Those of us present were issued a challenge today and I offer the same to you: Let not painting over graffiti be the end. Let us seek out people from whom to learn and ask questions rather than rely on the "all-knowing" technology at out fingertips to learn about people.

Let us act out of love and not fear.

Let us build bridges.

Let us be bridges.




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