The Other Side

One thing that I am constantly reminded of in Israel/Palestine is that just about everything is smaller and closer together than I had imagined. We can look at a map, even pictures and try to get a sense of things but the scale is not always so clear. The Sea of Galilee was yet another example for me, it’s not small, it’s just smaller than I thought. Unless the haze is too thick you can always see the “other side.” The other side… there is always the other side … often vague but ever present, the other side.

A few times in scripture we hear about Jesus going to the other side, “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.” (Mark 5:1) “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” (Luke 8:22) “And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.” (Mark 8:13) Even the Priest and the Levite walked on the “other side” of the road. (Luke 10)

The upside, downside, right side, wrong side, inside, outside, even the blind side, there are multitudes of other sides. The many sides of the Sea of Galilee were the backdrop to seeing many sides of Jesus. Around the Sea, he cured the Gerasene Demoniac, he calmed the sea, he feed the multitudes with fish and bread, he preached the Sermon on the Mount, and he lived out his ministry amongst the many sides of the Galilee.

Inside the Tabgha Church (Multiplication of Fishes and Loaves)

Tabgha Church Detail

Church on what is known as the Mount of Beatitudes .

The sign that welcomes you at Capernaum.

Inside the church at Capernaum

The other side … some place all together different … or is it? Crossing from one side of the road or the lake might take time and even have its challenges but when we get there, exactly how “all together different is it? I keep finding people with pretty similar goals: food, water, shelter, family, safety, a future… hmmm.

Yes the world would be rather flat without the multiple sides that give us so much dimension and variety, curiosity and insight. But oh if the multiple sides would lend themselves more to creativity, understanding and mutuality instead of to division, fear and hate…

What is it that holds us together?

And for that matter, what is it that holds us apart?

Is it will, circumstances, opportunities, restrictions? What is it?

Is it a bit of all of these?

I visited a thoughtful art museum in Jerusalem, the Museum on the Seam. As the museum’s website describes itself, it is a “unique museum in Israel, displaying contemporary art that deals with different aspects of the socio-political reality.” It’s a museum that “calls for listening and discussion, for accepting the other and those different from us and respect for our fellow man and his liberty.”

Even though the Museum’s name and location, (it is situated on the boundary of East and West Jerusalem and in an old military Israeli forward post of the wars of 1948 and 1967,) it is not a museum about only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it wrestles with conflicts and human adversity from various perspectives from many situations and realities all over the globe.

It puts our conflicts and our disagreements into dialogue. Sometimes I wonder if we are held closer together somehow in our conflict than we are even in our joy and peace. There is a mutual pain that some how binds. I recall the slightly pessimistic, though often practical, advice; keep your friends close and your enemies closer…

This is a provocative land where people rub up against each other and then are separated by walls in their hearts, minds and land, with a few people daring to dance in and around the seam. Just like the clothes we wear it is the seam where different pieces connect and it is the seam that holds it all together. Dialogue and understanding happen in and at the seam because that’s the only place it can.

I’ve loved the people I have met at the seam.

You may not be able to read what is written in Hebrew, Arabic and English (in neon) on the front of the museum, “Olive Trees will be our borders.”

..And yes the building still holds the scares of war. Let the seam be for dialogue not for war.

Bethlehem – Part 1

I love Bethlehem!!! …There I said it.

Jerusalem is fascinating and holy and people from everywhere come here but it’s also a city; busy, noisy and full of tension.

Traffic, light rail, The Holy Sepulchre and the Lutheran Redeemer bell tower

Bethlehem is a city and lots of people come through there but it doesn’t have that busy, noisy feeling of a city. It has the rhythm of a village. I’ve been there twice since I arrived in the Holy Lands and I’m sure I’ll be back a number of times before I go.  It’s only 7 kilometers to the south of Jerusalem.

There is much to say about Bethlehem, the home of Jesus’ nativity birth, but for today I just want to share some of the architectural beauty of the Church of the Nativity.

I’ve heard this Basilica, as it is sometimes called, described as gaudy and overdone. And I’ve heard much speculation about whether this is really the spot where Jesus was born. ‘I mean really, how can we be so certain?’ goes the rationalizing… and maybe we can’t know, maybe we don’t even need to know … exactly where. But I love the place, sure the decorating idea of, “if a little is good, a lot must be great” is a proven philosophy but to me the decoration and adornment speaks much more to the near eastern culture in which and of which it finds itself not to the proof of whether Jesus was born there or not. And I’m OK with following the tradition of this being the spot. If nothing else this “spot” is the oldest continuously operating church in the world, it was commissioned by Emperor Constantine around 326 AD. (Yes it’s been reworked a few times, but its still working…)

For me more than anything the church and the city is a place to go, to revere and to remember the start of a life and an event that changed the world and the hope, I believe, of the world forever. Thank you Jesus, thank you God!

Nativity Church

You can walk from Manger Square or…

— the steps from the nearest street…

you must enter through the door …. the opening has been made smaller through the ages … can you see 3 different door frames?…

The Door of Humility… maybe you’ve been through it a time or two as well?…

once inside you will have much to see… the lower Mosaic floor is from 4th Century Constantine construction…

Everyone wants to see where Jesus was Actually born so you go to the right and follow through this door…

You will find fabulous details…

Maybe even a service happening in the main cathedral….

But I didn’t quite make it to X marks the spot because if I understood the rumors correctly 600 Polish people where in town with their Arch Bishop and he was conducting a service in the Grotto of the Nativity so I decided to come back later…

… and then found that other rumors where true… the crowds will descend and make for a long wait… I think I’ll check it out next time…

Definitely next time…

District 6

District 6 is a museum in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s a museum to tell a particular story of an area once inhabited by people of a mostly “non-European” background who were slowly, systemically and for the most part forcibly removed from their homes and their land. It’s a museum that in its particularity shows a face of apartheid; its horror and disrespect, its insanity and its reality.

District 6 was the sixth district of Cape Town. The museum’s website explains:

“In 1966 it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.”[1]

Here is a headline of one then-current day paper. You might not be able to make out the first line of the article, it reads, “The bulldozers eat like a cancer into the life of District Six. Everyday new patches of raw earth appear like open wounds. People watch in silent groups as the tangible links with their memories disappear before their eyes.”[2]

One street pre-1966, notice the church at the end of the street for a point of reference…Same street post 1982It was a large area of town…

Yes, that’s a Langston Hughes quote on the map, “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

The museum does a great job of giving dignity and showing life. The government of apartheid must have been able to shield itself from the humanity that was alive and well in District 6. It was not a romantic perfect place, the museum points that out too, but it was a place. A place of real humans that live, breath, love and bleed every day… What is it that grows in the collective mind that gets us to believe that another group of people are less than us? Or do not even think of the other? What is happening in our hearts when we can turn away from the cries of babies, of families and of the generations? What is this? Hate, fear, ignorance, greed, faith…? What is it?

This didn’t and doesn’t just happen in South Africa. It happens over and over again, in so many states, nations and times. Maybe the systems and the methods aren’t exactly the same but the separation, disrespect and insanity are.

[2] Display at the District 6 Museum in Cape Town, SA.

One affects another

I can’t even tell you how many things I couldn’t see when I first got here in India. Then over time my eyes began to adjust to the environment, I began to see new things. Similar to taking a different route home from work or walking somewhere instead of driving, the view changes and details begin to emerge; you begin to see what has been staring you in the face all along.

I needed it pointed out, but now I see it everywhere, the ugly rather unsettling face…

And once you see it you see it everywhere. In construction lots,

In front of the Dealership

This face is to ward off the evil eye. It looks evil and ugly; and I guess that is sort of the point, it disrupts the evil, envious or overly doting gaze that causes bad things to happen… or so it is thought.

Some will call it superstition, but I think that there is some truth lurking in the evil eye at least within the widely held Indian understanding…

And that truth being that we do often look at things and people with envy, jealousy and even malice.  With that envy, jealousy and malice; love, hope and peace don’t come easily. My envy and jealousy can easily disrupt my own peace. The evil eye, it is believed, sends that negative energy to the object of envy resulting in misfortune and illness for the object. So many people do many things to protect themselves from the affects of the evil eye.

Some use a more artistic rendering of an eye looking back at you…

And others use a simple black dot on the forehead or cheek of a child

Whatever the mode of dealing with the evil eye, it all points to a real acknowledgement that we can be jealous and that when we operate out of that mindset, people can be affected.

I’m not a fan of the evil eye but I love the willingness to acknowledge that we are human and our lives affect one another.