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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Garbage and Graffiti: Pilgrimage Day #2

I am officially overwhelmed.

And, it's only the second day of our Palestine Pilgrimage.

We were up early (5 AM) for an early breakfast (6:15) so we could leave by 7:15 to be at Shepherd's Field to beat the crowds who would be visiting a 1st-century cave there. Our guide wanted us to get a very clear sense of what it was like to live in a cave and deliver a child there among the animals.

It's pretty clear that none of the "nativity scenes" we have come anywhere near what it must have actually been like for Mary and Joseph to have delivered a child in a cave. There was no wooden manger. There was a carved stone feeding trough.

It was important to have that experience, under the earth, encased by stone before we ventured off to The Church of The Nativity which is where, for centuries, Christians thought was the site of the birth of Jesus. It is the oldest Church in Christendom, constructed by Constantine in AD 326.

You can see how the wall cuts through the land
The manger and birthplace are, presently, quite an elaborate affair.

It must make the angels who were there that night giggle with delight as, once again, humans get it all wrong.

Or, as one of our guides likes to say, "Don't ever let the facts get in the way of the truth."

In between those two experiences was an incarnation of another sort.

We visited the Separation Wall at Rachel's Tomb.

This would be the part where I am overwhelmed.

No words can hold the emotion of seeing that wall, cut through the land like a jagged scar.

And, the graffiti.

And, the garbage.

The experience was made even more intense by having that early morning experience of The Holy in the cave dwellings. When we were below the surface of the earth, I felt safe. Secure. It was only after we emerged from the cave that we were able to see the negatives and the positives of what humans have done to the gift of creation.

I was very much disturbed by the garbage on the side of the street. I finally worked up my courage to ask one of our Palestinian guides, in the most gentle and non-judgmental way possible, why there was so much garbage on the side of the road.

The separation wall at Rachel's Tomb
"Well," said Iyad, "when you do not have a lot of money, you have to make a priority of what service you want to pay. Palestinians in Bethlehem have chosen to pay for police protection rather than to clean up the environment."

I most certainly understand that, but I am troubled by the fact that the garbage is there in the first place.

Why are people allowed to dump bags and bags of trash on the side of the road? Is it an outward manifestation of anger? Or, depression?

I don't know what I would do if the country that I loved was not only walled off and oppressed but occupied by another nation.

What I found hopeful, however, was the graffiti.

Such beautiful anger.

Such an outward and visible expression of an inward and spiritual turmoil.

Such a creative way to deal with things that are out of one's control.

Then, there are the flashes of humor from the business community.

I loved the hotel named "The Walled Off Astoria."

And, the name of the coffee shop that replaced the Starbucks that left Bethlehem after the wall went up: "Stars and Bucks"

Let me show you some of the graffiti:

This is Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump

"The legal frameworks on which the world order has been predicated since WWII are under unilateral attack." Chris Gunness, former UNRWA  Spokesperson 17 January 2019

"We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians" - Nelson Mandela

There are lots of images of Donald Trump. One I saw earlier was of him praying at the Wall. The caption says, "Don't worry. You won't be alone. I will build you a brother in America."

"Someday, we'll all be free".

All along the wall are posted the words and testimonies of those who have experienced the oppression of the wall and the military state of occupation.

One that touched my heart was that of a mother whose 6-year-old son came home from school. Two armed soldiers had followed him as he made his way through his street that was now split in half by the wall. He had to walk all around it in order to get home.

When he walked in the front door, his mother said he was hysterical. He didn't know what he had done wrong. Why were the soldiers following him? Were they going to take him away?

As the mother tried to console her son, the soldiers knocked on the door. They wanted to know why the boy was crying. The mother say, "You have terrified him. He's crying because he is scared out of his mind."

The two soldiers looked at each other, smiled broadly, slapped each other on the back and walked away. The mother reported that they seemed to be congratulating one another on a "mission accomplished."

"They want us terrified," she said. "That's part of how they control us."

I couldn't help but think of what has been going on in our own country.

We have been living in fear for three years. We have physical walls going up on our own border but it's the walls that we build around our hearts that are the most dangerous.

The garbage I saw on the roadside concerned me.

The graffiti on the wall gave me hope.

As long as the creative spirit of the people is alive, as long as people who are oppressed try to control the narrative of their own lives, and as long as the resistance to oppression is strong, there is hope.

I never thought I'd live to see the Berlin wall come down, but it has.

I have hope that this wall will also, one day, come down.

Meanwhile, Rachel still weeps for her children. 

One of our guides read this passage from Ephesians 2:14: "For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."

There are no words to describe seeing the wall, close up.

There is no cogent way to describe the destruction it creates in the human family.

There is a deep, tragic irony that it should be happening here, especially here, in the city of Bethlehem, the place of the miracle of the Incarnation, in a cave of rocks, deep in the earth.

Amidst the garbage and the graffiti, I have hopes that once again, in this place where "the hopes and fears of all the years" were once met in Jesus one Holy night, can be met once again.

We just can let the facts get in the way of the truth that God's love is unconditional, inclusive and beyond our wildest imagination, for all of God's children.


lsiepw-W said...

There is no god.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

"God is dead." Nietzsche, 1863

"Nietzsche is dead," God, 1900.