15 January 2009

Where do we need to be?

This past Sunday, an Immigration van was parked just outside the Latino Friends church in Newberg, Oregon, at the time the meeting for worship ended. Some attenders returned to the church when they saw the van parked there. After pastor Angel Diaz and another member went to check with the van and driver, it moved away a short distance, then returned back to its original location. Many Friends of Northwest Yearly Meeting are discussing the best responses to this situation, which felt very provocative and intimidating to those affected. One suggested response has been to have Friends from other meetings, particularly those predominantly Anglo, be present this and future Sundays and express solidarity.

These days, we're all continuing to monitor the deadly confrontation between Israel and Hamas, in whose crossfire over a million people are cruelly trapped. The bitter irony that Israel's secret services encouraged the founding of Hamas reminds me of the USA's own agonies with the Afghan forces now fighting against the USA and NATO forces--the forces we helped raise and equip to fight the Soviets.

These situations--Newberg and Gaza--are completely different; there aren't very many useful parallels. But one that strikes me now is this: in both situations, and perhaps many others, we need faithful and praying people to be physically present.

I wish I could be at Second and College Streets in Newberg this coming Sunday. I wish I could be in Gaza or southern Israel to pray in person with those facing bombs and artillery. Instead, of course, it is always entirely possible to pray with passion and imagination from any distance at all.

Maybe I can't go to those places right at this moment; maybe you can't go. But together, along with our meetings and churches, maybe we can think more about where we as a Christian community ought to be in times of trouble and confrontation.

Many, perhaps most, of us will stay at home. Our churches need to be anchored in their own communities, keeping reliable doors open for regular public worship and for those in need right in our own neighborhoods. The church depends financially on some critical minimum of us having stable jobs and contributing faithfully! And with increased immigration patterns in many of our communities, we don't have to go very far to enjoy meeting people and serving God alongside people from cultures other than our own. (Truthfully, when I chose the word "enjoy" in that previous sentence, I winced for a moment, remembering how suspicious, disdainful, or fearful my mother was of people who were not German.)

I hope a significant minority of us will have the leading and the freedom to go where confrontations are taking place. This may not involve great distances--maybe you're in the Portland area and able to go to Newberg, for example, and be at Angel Diaz's meeting this coming Sunday. It's probably less likely that you can go to Gaza; I know I can't. But maybe with Christian Peacemakers as a model, I'd love for us to envision how we can be more dispersed in this war-wracked world; how we can figure out new ways to be untied from what we thought were the imperatives of staying in one place when we knew in our hearts that our calling was to be far more portable.

I read Jeffrey Goldberg's article in the New York Times, "Why Israel Can't Make Peace with Hamas," at about the same time I heard about the Immigration van last Sunday at the Iglesia. For many of us, the central agony of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been its sheer intractability. Year after year, these people direct lethal force at each other, and although Palestinians suffer disproportionately, the violence definitely goes both ways--especially if you count violent rhetoric.

Israel's leaders have allowed themselves incredible flexibility in dealing with Palestinian threats--and they have correctly judged that the world will whine but do nothing effective to impose accountability on Israeli security methods. Gaza and the West Bank are functionally occupied territories, and international law is clear on the responsibilities of occupying powers to guard the well-being of the population. For purposes of its own security, Israel assumes total freedom to go anywhere, anytime, to any corner of Gaza or the West Bank, and kill people, destroy homes, confiscate property, and perhaps apologize later for the inevitable tragic errors. Israeli leaders take little responsibility to ensure the public welfare in those same territories. Israel, please choose: is Palestine truly a foreign country, whose borders and economic integrity you are bound to respect, or is it your own territory, where your own laws and civil protections are in force?

At the same time, Israel's critics should take Goldberg's article seriously. There are heavily-armed people in Gaza whose worldview has no room for reconciliation with Israel or with Jewish people. No country's citizens would expect their government to sit idly by while such people launched rockets at them. (Of course Israelis must ask what their government, as well as their enemies, have done to perpetuate the conflict, but when their children are in danger, they can be forgiven for not always having the widest perspective!)

I believe that a military solution to an essentially police problem--finding and detaining people who fire rockets and deploy suicide bombers--is wrong; it is no better to fire at a civilian target where Hamas activists are hiding than it would be for a police department to bomb an apartment building because a murder suspect was hiding there. (And it is no good warning people to leave the building if they have nowhere to go.) But maybe our response to this situation--mostly bemoaning the Hamas rockets while petitioning against Israeli collective punishment of a trapped population--is missing something. If we were physically present in larger numbers, would we be able to speak out more strongly? If we lived in a Gaza apartment building with Hamas activists, wouldn't we have a better idea of what Israel is up against? Would we be able to say a redemptive word in the face of implacable anti-Jewish attitudes? If our own building were being used to launch rockets at southern Israel, what would we as disciples do in response?

Along with the duty to pray, we absolutely have the right to demand accountability of all actors in this situation, regardless of where we ourselves live. In terms of the Lamb's War, we are all in this struggle together. But often our demands are observably falling on deaf ears. I just wish there were some way more of us could embody our peace witness--and the Gospel quality of grace that is at its heart--at the very locations where neither grace nor peace seem to exist. And I'd bet that those of us who cannot physically undertake that embodiment would be glad to support it.

Friday PS: After I wrote the above, I thought about missionaries, who after all are often already doing just what I hope would be done, and the mechanisms for their placement and support are often already in place. But the designation "missionary" can be extremely problematic in some parts of the world, including some places where the ministry of gracious presence is very much needed. And maybe the word also implies a specialization that isn't necessarily the direction I'm going. Quakers also have an important tradition of citizen diplomacy, but even that doesn't necessarily cover it. I'm dreaming more about students, academics, businesspeople, housepainters, auto repair people, writers, journalists, composers, dreamers of all varieties and stripes, finding new ways of being portable if they indeed feel pulled that way. And I'd like to increase the pull!

Some more links: World Vision and allied organizations speak out on Gaza. ~~ Yet another place to be: the Friends World Committee's annual meeting for the Section of the Americas. Judy and I hope to be among the greeters. ~~ Friends Committee on National Legislation reports its experience with Obama's transition team. ~~ Are there truly no great rock bands from continental Europe? ~~ We visited this porcelain factory last weekend. Beautiful stuff! ~~ Do you have "mad church disease"? And another book for my wish list, subtitled "The Religious Whitman and His Disciples." ~~ Friday PS: Have you seen this film? What did you think?

With a warm nod toward Ottawa, here's a sample of one of my favorite blues guitarists, Sue Foley. I'll never forget the first time I heard her, on WVXU's blues show--I don't think anyone matches guitar and voice the way she can.


Unknown said...

i was in newberg with the Latino church this last sunday. i can tell you that physically being there did make a difference in many small ways and it's changed me.

Unknown said...

p.s. i have seen "lord save us from your followers" and i think every Christian needs to see it. it is an all around excellent film.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Adam! I'm sooooo glad you were able to be there. And I appreciate the recommendation for the film.

Robin M. said...

I look forward to seeing you at FWCC in Oregon next month!