Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Tears are not Enough: An Appeal for Christian Activism

“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5: 23-24).

I cry easily. When my children were little, they loved to listen to me read the Velveteen Rabbit because they knew I would inevitably tear up at the beautiful ending. I cry at weddings and funerals. I cry when I hear sad stories. I cry in the face of beauty.

But when I visited Palestine this summer, and witnessed the relentless State and personal oppression Palestinians face, I could not cry. We sat under tarps with families whose stone homes had been destroyed. We met and ate with people whose children had been hit or threatened. We heard stories of the burning of villages during the Naqba of 1948 and ever since. We saw graffiti calling for the gassing of Arabs. Every day we met survivors of pain and sorrow, and watched the ongoing humiliation and degradation that threatens them daily. But while several of my companions cried copiously, for me the tears would not come.

I have to admit I was bothered by this. I wanted the release of tears, the relief from pain. But it would not come despite the deep unabated sorrow I felt, and the anger. I have been home now for almost a month, and have had time to reflect on my dry eyes.

I recognize first of all that the dominant emotion I experienced during this trip was anger, not grief. How can we as human beings treat others so badly simply because of their religion or ethnicity? Have we learned nothing from the lessons of history? And I am not ready to fully let go of my anger. Pray for me.

I realize too that I have not lost hope. While I can cry for joy and I can cry in the face of death, I cannot cry when the story is not over. The incredible resilience of oppressed people left me speechless. We received hospitality. We shared food, drink and laughter. Israeli and Palestinian activists – Jewish, Christian and Muslim - are working every minute of every day for a better peaceful future in this grief-stricken war-torn oppressed land. Foreigners stand with them, supporting them with acceptance, love, understanding and peace, telling their stories over and over.

I admit my anger fuels my hope too. This is not right. This cannot continue. I am compelled to write. I am driven to speak. Deep down, I don’t want to risk release. I don’t want to forget. I want to believe it will get better.

But speaking about global injustice can make people feel uncomfortable. It somehow doesn’t seem polite. Better to focus on improving ourselves, saving our own souls and those of our neighbors. Local issues are safe, and yes, important. Global issues threaten people. Yet our environment and our corporations bind us together even if somehow we could forget that we are all brothers and sisters. The desperate foreigner who has no one to speak for them needs us like a beloved family member.
In what sense are we Christians if we refuse to speak for hope, faith and love for all? In what sense do we dare say we follow Christ if we do not advocate for the


poor, the oppressed, the sick, the stranger, the widow, the orphan? It’s not enough to just engage in charity at home. It’s not enough to simply worship our God for our personal blessings. We need to stand up and be counted as people who oppose violence, oppression, poverty, degradation, colonization, sexism, racism and every other form of discrimination and injustice that blights this planet whether in our own neighborhood or across the globe.

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’. Notice that Peace doesn’t just happen. It needs to be made. It needs to be created one person at a time. It needs me. It needs you. And when we create it, the tears of joy we share will baptize this world for all of us.

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