Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a friend who invited me on the journey, I’m off to the Middle East in November. We’ll be traveling through Israel and Palestine, and though we’ll see some of the legendary sites, that’s not why we’re going. For a place called the “Holy Land”, most of the headlines that come from that part of the world paint a terribly unrighteous picture. There are a lot of people there who are afraid and angry (and for good reason). But there are also some incredibly courageous people who believe peace is possible, and that they have a part to play in creating it. We’re going to learn from them. I’m sure I’ll write a lot about this experience, but for now I wanted to tell you one of the reasons I’m excited about the trip.
I’m a gifted cynic. I’m pretty sure Marcus Buckingham forgot to include cynicism on his strengths finder tests, because I’ve taken them and it didn’t come back as one of my strengths. But really, it is. I’ve looked up to a lot of cynics in my life, too. These are the people who always seem to have some insightful word that tempers enthusiasm and reminds us to keep our feet on the ground. Here’s the problem: I’ve watched these wisely cynical people, and even though people always seem to listen to them (they’re often witty and have quite a following), they don’t tend to DO anything. Year after year, they sit in the peanut gallery and point out how unreasonable the odds are of doing anything good and beautiful and meaningful and lasting. And sure enough, they never do anything good or beautiful or meaningful or lasting. That can be me sometimes.
Right now, in the Middle East, there are some men and women who are facing odds much grimmer than any I have ever faced, but they’re courageous and hopeful. And they’re doing something. Israeli Jews, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians are reaching out to each other. They’re taking to the streets to tell their governments that they don’t want to blow each other up. They’re insisting on seeing each other as equals and friends when the script that their societies are living by teaches them to see each other as threats. Just hearing their stories takes my breath away. I can’t wait to see it in person.
I’ve been preaching from the same Bible for a few years now, and whenever I preach, I make little notes in it to help me keep my thoughts straight. There are pages in that Bible that I can tell I’ve preached from over and over again because of all the notes. When I look at Matthew 5 – where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God,” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven,” – there aren’t a lot of markings.
For one thing, my circumstances haven’t presented a lot of enemies so far. (This would be a great place to go off on one of those all-too-prevalent-on-blogs-and-in-books diatribes about how suburban Americans don’t know anything about following Jesus, but I think that’s dumb and untrue.) But I think my proclivity for cynicism is the other reason. Really, Jesus? Blessed are the peacemakers? Sounds nice, but I don’t have a lot of experience with that. I’m sure that mediating some disputes in the dorm when I as a resident assistant qualifies in small measure, but really…
So I’m going because I think I will come back more hopeful about the world. I think I will come back with a deeper belief about the power we have when we partner with God to work for good. I think I will come back knowing Jesus better, and I think His friendship will chip away at my cynicism and help me do my part to bring goodness and beauty and meaning to the world that will last.
P.S. If you want to dig a little deeper, go read Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour right now.