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.

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.

Disquieting Similarities

I’ve been having some incredible adventures here in India and I’ve also had some introspective times, reading and reflecting. The shear diversity and difference of experiences here keep me thinking and contrasting life in the United States with life in India. Some of those comparisons have been trite, some leave me baffled, some make me laugh and others simply break my heart.

I often find myself a little lost in the understood hierarchies and patriarchies of the land. And if I am completely honest, I find myself a little mad at times too. Oh the hearts and hurts that people (mostly women but some men too) have shared.

God heal the brokenness in all of us. Grant us redemption and resurrection that we may use what others intended for evil to your good purposes.

It seems that in every unfavorable reality of any given society there are authors, though often few, who are willing to tell their stories. Authors who are willing to lay their souls and even bodies bare to reveal, with dignity and integrity, that which has little of either.

I recently read a book called Joothan: A Dalit’s Life by Omprakash Valmiki.

I recommend it. It is not an uplifting book, it is not an easy book but it is one brave author’s account of his life as a Dalit man. The Dalit people, as they are sometimes called, were previously called untouchables, people considered lower than any other caste and to a certain extent lower than human. It is a recent story, (published in 2003 but recalling a childhood of the 50’s and 60’s and an adulthood beyond) and all the while I was reading it I was reminded of an American book written about the 50’s in America, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin…

Have you read that one? Another one I recommend and again not because it is easy or uplifting. Horrible historical and current realities repeatedly have echoes in other contexts, cultures and times. The faces and the presentation might be different but the spirit of hate and division holds a disquieting similarity.

Forgive us God for we are not always the people you would have us be.