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Restoring Jerusalem: The Interfaith Promised Land

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I'm a Virginia Mennonite who crewed last summer on a sailboat trip from Turkey to Israel. No, not that boat.

I've partly understood the USA as a "melting pot." Then I went to Istanbul and was overwhelmed with the perspective of these people -- Asia to one side, Europe on the other, melting pot squared. The Ottoman empire stretched from Algeria to the Persian Gulf. Shattered by WWI, their modern effort is to both be an authentic Muslim society and apply for membership in the E.U. Exclamation point.

Then I went to Israel/Palestine, to Jerusalem. Melting pot cubed: Africa, Asia, Europe. It's the battleground between the populous ends of the fertile crescent, Egypt under the Pharaohs or the Hellenes or the Mamluks or whatever, and Mesopotamia under the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Persians or whatever. Then from the Mediterranean side come the Western powers, the Greeks and Romans and Crusaders and Brits and Americans or whatever.

What was God thinking, giving this clashing place of civilizations as the promised land to his people? It's like having a target painted on your back. They were to be purveyors of God's blessing to the world, by being planted in the most dangerous piece of real estate on earth. The land of opportunity.

I got evangelized by a Jew one day in Jerusalem, Enrique Jacobo [not his real name]. His family fled the Spanish Inquisition to Morocco. Generations later they fled Morocco, his father and mother bribing an official to let them go. The official said they could go with their two suitcases, but they must leave their two children behind. They emptied their suitcases, stabbed holes in them, put the children inside, and escaped to Algeria. From there the family flew in an animal crate to France -- the pilot couldn't figure out why there was no bleating coming from that crate, but they weren't discovered until just before landing. From there they took a boat designed for 1,500 with 5,000 people on board to Israel, that barely survived a violent storm in the south Adriatic.

Enrique is an engineer, described himself as having an open mind. He started the conversation by telling me that Christians were evil, for three reasons: they killed Jews (Muslims had killed 10 million, but Christians had killed 20 million), they ate pork and did not keep the Sabbath (since Jesus was a Jew, followers of Jesus should be Jews) and they brought their corpses into church, onto the same altar they'd just eaten mass off of, whereas a corpse is unclean.

There's trauma in the families of everybody on the street, Israeli and Palestinian. Everybody you talk to is damaged goods, that's why the veneer of civilization and order can disappear so suddenly here.

Enrique said Jesus was not the Messiah because when the Messiah comes the temperature will reach 6,000 degrees Celsius and all evil persons will burn, but not the righteous. However this won't happen until every Jew behaves perfectly correctly. Neither Jesus nor Muhammad said anything new, or added anything to Moses.

I told him I would tell him something new. He couldn't stop talking. I told him about the pagan Canaanite woman that Jesus did not ask to convert -- Jesus said her faith was great. Enrique wasn't listening, he kept talking. I tried to tell him that Jesus nearly got thrown off a cliff for claiming that God was at work among pagans. I tried to tell him that Paul said we all must eat together, Jews and Gentiles, and ... couldn't get a word in.

He continued unabated, and eventually returned to saying that Jews, being first, were best because no one had added anything -- "all the rest were liars." I said Jesus' good news was that all the rest are not liars. Enrique decided he needed to get back to his work place.

I give the example here of a closed Jewish heart, only because I am much more familiar with many closed Christian and Muslim hearts. How to give him a safe place, safe enough that he could dare meet others, with that kind of trauma in his history?

We're all traumatized, we're all the best and we all want that acknowledged before we'll listen to the other's lies.

We're all tempted by David and Solomon style domination -- to pursue national security, political and military power, to trust in Egypt or Rome or our own military state. On the other hand, we're tempted by sacrifice, to tell our enemy go ahead, I'll be pure and won't oppose you, kill me here, I'll go to heaven and you to hell. We're tempted to avoid our true role as inhabitants of the battleground, to be those in-between, showing all sides a way to stop calling each other liars and sit down and eat and take up the burden of dealing with each other. That is our land of opportunity.

Paul describes the church as a safe community of enemies, of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor. (I hadn't an adequate picture of how stratified first century Jewish society was: the stately palaces of the nobility, furnished with water from the Roman aqueducts, on the high land overlooking the squalor of the poor.) This church is a community that is the clashing place of civilizations, a Jerusalem at dinner. Paul, an observant Jew to his death, describes this as the very body of the risen Messiah, the executive right hand of the Almighty, building his Kingdom that is between us.

Credo: We and our enemies at table are the Messiah, Children of God, possessed by the Holy Spirit of the nature of God the Father. The Kingdom is between us. What we work out, negotiate, bind on earth, is bound in heaven. Our relationship is all the Messiah this world is going to get.

This new word is that we must stay in community, eating together with our enemies, while remaining different. There's no call to melt in that pot. Paul's teaching in First Corinthians 8 is clear: It's OK for the church Gentiles to eat meat offered to idols, though Paul says don't offend your enemy unnecessarily over a matter that's minor to you, especially since you're pot lucking. The Jews are free and expected to remain Jews; the Gentiles, Gentiles. Neither converts. Maybe that's why they met on Sundays, so that Jews like Paul could still observe Shabbat.

Regrettably, Christianity has become one more religion, rather than the place where people of different religions meet and eat and live it out. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists -- we need another name for that table where we break bread and live with our enemies, that safe and holy place of discord, that Jerusalem of the promised land where we stitch the world together, relationship by relationship. Peace is not unison singing on streets of gold, it's a rough and tumble where something new is born. Don't miss any opportunities.

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