The Internet has been spotty at best, so I'll try to recount the last few days. Most of you know, 18 KIVU followers decided to go on a Journey to the Holy Land. The Purpose: To walk the footsteps of Jesus, and learn about what's going on over in Israel. Why is Israel always on the news? Why does there seem to be so much instability? Can any of this be like it was when Jesus was here, or do we just continue to long for Him to come back and fix this mess?
The other day we had a chance to walk up to the Temple Mount Platform where the Dome of the Rock stands in all its golden glory. The place once filled with the Sacrifices of the Jews is now a Holy Place where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad Journeyed to Heaven to talk to Allah.
Two thousand years ago this platform was the site of the Holy Temple for the Jews. They used this place to sacrifice animals to God, Pray for the Healing of their Nation, and even walk in the presence of God's Spirit in the Holy of Hollies.
Today, The Al Asqa mosque is one of the largest mosques in the region, and thousands of Muslim families use the area for green space in a city surrounded by concrete.
The KIVU students learned when the Mosque was built, why the Dome was constructed the way it is, and how many people use the facility as a family gathering place. It's quite impressive. But there's an obvious sense of tension.
Just below the Platform is the Western Wall where modern Jews pray to the Western Part of their Temple. Nobody prays together. Nobody shares the space. One site is Holy to One, while Another Group longs for the past to return.
After the Dome, we headed to the Church of the Holy Seplacur. This is the traditional place where Jesus was crucified. Walking through the Via De La Rosa to the crucifixion spot was a good place for students to see the birthplace of the Christian faith. They had a chance to see the traditional resurrection place where Jesus' tomb might have been, and then off to the Garden Tomb where another supposed place might be.
That's the way it is here. Everybody thinks they have the exact spot to the history of religious events. But every time someone says with difinity "This is it," Someone else mutters in the background, "Well....it might be over here."
We rounded the day off with the Holocaust Museum. This is a BEAUTIFUL monument built in memory of the Jews who endured the worst part of history in the 20th century. I can assure you, it was painful. Watching the atrocities committed by Hitler's Nazi army was disturbing at the very least. It's hard to watch one human being able to treat another human the way the Jews were treated, and many conversations emerged from our group.
The purpose of this trip is simple: LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS. How can we build a foundation of religious belief so we can LOVE GOD more than we did yesterday? AND, in the region of the world with the most conflict, How can we LOVE OTHERS here and back home?
I've been telling the students, "It's easy to pick sides in a religious conflict. You identify with your side and you push until you justify your original belief. It's easy to pick sides in a national debate. You put your best arguments up against someone else's, and then you keep strategizing until you come up victorious. It's easy to pick sides theologically. We all do this. We take our theological position we've been taught and then we continue to try and reinforce that position, because after all; the fundamentals behind who we are come from this bedrock of "Right-Ness" thinking.
It's SUPER hard to be able to look at a situation and try to LOVE OTHERS. And by LOVING OTHERS I mean identifying with the people or people group you have conflict with, and figure out what it means to LOVE how God called us to LOVE."
Clearly, the churches in the Holy Land struggle with LOVING OTHERS, and their even from the same religious tapestry. Greek Orthodox vs. Catholic vs. Armenian vs. Protestant and so on; they all have huge conflicts as to who owns the right to the first churches. Christians are fighting Christians over who has the right to the true Jesus.
Obviously, the different religious people groups are in tension. Muslim vs. Jew vs. Christian and so on; all try to snatch up different parts of the Holy Sites as they try to own their version of God on the planet. Each group trying to hold on to their right to the Truth.
There's an ethnic tension, Jews vs. Arabs. The crazy part about this tension is, some of the Arabs are Muslim, some of them Christian, and even some of the Jewish; but the tension between the casual Jews, Orthodox Jews, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews fuels the fire of tension ethnically. Each ethnicity believes it is holding tight to the right of their own identity group.
And then there's the national tension that throws everything off. Jews who believe God granted them the land. Palestinians who believe they settled the land thousands of years ago. The U.N. who granted land rights. Wars that decided new land rights. Peace Processes, Settlements, Refugees; they all muddy the conversation even further.
It's no wonder some of the smartest people on the planet have been struggling to figure out an answer for the people in this region only to see massive failure. This is not as easy as just seeing it the Birthplace of Jesus, the Origin of Christianity, the Holy place of Islam, or the Historical Place of the Jews. The pain that has settled into the hearts of all people continue to create massive mistrust of everyone else.
So our job....
LOVE OTHERS. How can we reach out and LOVE OTHERS?
How can we LOVE the Palestinian with no home living in a Refugee Camp?
How can we LOVE the Christian who is undergoing persecution from all sides?
How can we LOVE the Jew, who lives in a world where historically they are propped up as the victim?
How can we LOVE the construction worker who's just trying to make a living?
How can we LOVE the religious official in the center of the church?
How can we LOVE this kids running down the street?
How can we LOVE the parents who are just trying to provide?
The bottom line to this issue was summed up best by an Israeli friend of mine. "Peace isn't going to happen through politics, sociology, psychology, or theology. Peace is going to happen when people begin learning how to listen to other people. Conflict only goes away when we realize we're all human trying to survive the best we know how."
I like that.
With a centerpiece of Jesus message of Loving God and Loving Others (Matthew 22:37-40) we may not be a part of solving anything over here, but we can look deep in our own sphere of influence and see conflict. We can apply the foundations of faith and the scenes of conflict we've experienced here to help us when conflict confronts us all back home.
This is a CRAZY experience.