Bethlehem Diary 9: Challenged by Courage

Day 7: Courage

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.
Frederick Buechner

The conference is drawing to close. As it does I note the courage that I have seen here among Palestinian Christians, Christians of different traditions and people of other faiths and none. The pain caused by the occupation is visible in every presentation and conversation. It cannot be dismissed. It cannot be diminished. The pain too of the Jewish people in the history of the world and the hearts of Jewish people today is tangible and intense. Each human story is pierced with the memory of what has been and with the reality of what is today.

The Christian affirmation of one church, one faith, one baptism, transcends all of this. Bound together with painful memories and conflicting narratives the church is one despite it all. That understanding of the church, that vocation laid upon us to live as one, is a vision to reach for. Today in Israel Palestine Christian people are embodying the vision in how they live their lives. They are constructing contextual theologies to help them embrace the vision and they are making real choices to show that they are committed to the vision.

All of this against the pull of history and experience. That pull is very strong. Palestinians make no bones of the fact that the occupation is still the key aspect of the conflict for them. They have not let go of that. But they attempt to address that from a different place, a place which takes account of the real, human pain of their brothers and sisters in the Jewish community. I have heard too a story that I have not often heard in evangelical circles. It is the story of human beings, all human beings, and their woundedness and oneness. It is a story of the search for healing for every single human being. It is a story of being bonded together as human beings no matter what culture, faith or ethnicity. This is courage. It is courage to know that key political issues remain and to aim at a new, more human place in which the suffering of others, the political concerns of others, the basic human needs of others is addressed in a larger narrative of which one community’s narrative is only a part.

I salute the courage that has been shown this week. I salute the courage of people who risk the all-encompassing narrative of the wider human story. I salute them for choosing something that inspires me to that greater vision of a humanity free from the desperate results of conflict and the excuses it gives us for hurting each other. I salute the church for publicly struggling its way through these issues in the face of a wider Christian community which is often quick to judge and slow to learn.

Some of this is hard to hear. It is hard to go back to ones own community, whether that be loyalist or republican, Irish or British, victim or victimiser, bystander or activist, and say that yes we have our narrative but there is a bigger narrative of which ours is only a part. In NI we see just how difficult that is. Caught in the bonds of conflict we have not been able to embrace the possibility of a bigger narrative. Our pain is great. Our woundedness is deep. But we too are courageous people and we will, with our courage in our hands, find a way to see a larger human story of suffering because we are divided. We will catch a vision for our whole human community. Perhaps we already know that the way we are going is not getting us anywhere. At some point we stop, look around and say that this is not good enough. It is not good enough for our healing and it is not good enough for our children and our children’s children. Our courage is within us. Many take their courage in their hands when they step out into the world every morning with the pain inflicted on them in the past heavy on mind, body and soul. But there is more courage called for if we are to succeed in making a new narrative together, a more spacious and liberating narrative for us all. Dr Haass can’t do it. Professor O’Sullivan can’t do it. Not even our political leaders can do it. At least not without the rest of us.

We were asked this morning what it would be like if Jews were to look at Palestinians and begin to serve the needs of the least of them in real and practical ways.

We were asked this morning what it would be like if Palestinians were to look at Jews and begin to serve the needs of the least of them in real and practical ways.

Conflicts, troubles, disputes, only change when human relationships change.

What would it be like if we were to look at one another, across our barriers and divides in NI, and begin to serve the needs of the least among us, the most needy among us, who are on the other side?

What would it be like if the churches together were to draw on existing contextual theologies and make resolution of our separation a priority? What would it be like for the churches together to speak of dignity and freedom and to serve old enemies before doing anything else in our broken community? What would it be like for our churches to find new courage, not walking away from political concerns but driven by a vision for a society in which human stories make the difference and ground the church in the real world?

“We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.”
― Maya Angelou

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One thought on “Bethlehem Diary 9: Challenged by Courage

  1. emilystanton5@gmail.com says:

    Lesley, The thoughts you have shared over this week are moving and profound. More so as I have been reading about the 60s and 70s here when the tinders were lit and flames consumed. So many points here where one thinks ‘what if?’ Ultimately, I think fundamental leadership calling for this courage to face the complexity is needed, and I applaud your own efforts to push forward on it. Don’t stop, your voice and wisdom are much needed.

    Sent from my iPhone

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