St Pauls in Jerusalem 5

St Pauls | Involvement

Jerusalem - 5
Pentecost 2005


St Paul's helps sponser ministries outside of its walls. Here is an example of one such ministry. Here in a series of letters the Rev. Paul Lillie describes his life in Jerusalem at St. George's Cathedral.


God is our only security; God is our true peace

The wall continues to be built around Jerusalem, and soon it will cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank. We all know how the wall violates UN resolutions, as well as the International Court of Justice's recent ruling. Regardless, the wall continues to be constructed, and the international community seems to be helpless in stopping the injustice.

All of us can find the statistics for how the wall is dramatically changing people's lives. There are countless world relief agencies that are documenting the danger the wall is creating. Beyond this however, few are searching for the heart of the matter-few are trying to understand why humankind is supporting barriers rather than community, separation rather than togetherness.

At our core, Christians believe in new life and new possibilities. Even better, we are dedicated to those persons in society called "the other." The work of the cross makes this unmistakably clear. On the cross Jesus forgave those who were most violent to him-those who crucified him-those who were most different from him-and days later, the Risen Christ vanquished fear and anxiety with his message of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. The Christian message is clear-following Jesus Christ will not permit us to support any idolatries that separate us from other human beings. In Christ, through the work of the cross and empty tomb, all of us are one. We belong together-we are to live together-we are to learn from each other-we are to follow Christ's example, seeking communion with those who may even cause us harm. For us humans with all of our sinfulness, this is a daunting and scary proposition. For us humans, who wish to create our own peace and who idolize security, the way of Christ may well represent a life of holiness whose true essence is far from our grasp.

In this land, and perhaps throughout the world, security is the new idol of our lives. Some of this is because of the media-coverage of violence and destruction gains viewers. I remember how in the States the media was forever showing masked Arabs with guns. I have yet to witness such scenes here. Most of the Arabs I know have beautiful smiles, and if I let them, they will even kiss me on the cheek when they greet me. It is during such encounters that I experience the security of Christ. No metal detector can duplicate such feelings of worth and dignity.

I fear that we have allowed fears for our safety to justify discrimination against whole communities of innocent people. If I am driven to the airport by an Arab driver, our car will be stopped at the entrance and searched, and we will be questioned. The questions often seem pointless and naïve. Security will ask me, "sir, do you know this driver," or "sir, is everything ok," or worse yet, "sir, do you feel safe with this man." Just this week as I was going to greet a friend coming to this land, it happened again. However, this time they decided I needed to be searched for possible weapons. I had to exit the car, go to a special room, take off my watch and belt, walk through a metal detector, and answer the question, "are you carrying a gun?"

This was probably the process I underwent for admitting I visited Bethlehem. (Just to clarify, Bethlehem is in the West Bank, and therefore, it is viewed as a security risk to travel there.) Perhaps I should have lied, saying I had not been to Bethlehem. But then again, why should I lie about going to Bethlehem? Some of the best tea with mint was served to me in Bethlehem. And frankly, would it not be obvious that a priest might go to Bethlehem? Why should I be afraid of the descendants of the shepherds? In the end, stopping the car because its driver was an Arab, and searching me because I had been to Bethlehem, did not make the world any safer. Yet people are often impressed by these methods, even if they only seem to discover false positives, over and over again.

It is worth noting that the State of Israel has mandatory military service for its young people. The term currently is for two years. Some youth refuse for various reasons; other youth have their time lessened. For instance, a musician cannot afford to spend all of one's days for two years working for the military-such service puts their talent at risk. (Israel is by no means the only country in the world to require military service.) When I talk with the soldiers here, I discover they are immensely bored. It gets old standing around everyday with very little to do, and they know that they are not respected. Israeli society tries very hard to instill respect for the military through the media, but in the end, people know that life should be better here-people instinctively know that military service should not be the unifying factor for society. People intuit that there is a disconnect in how their Jewish faith is lived here; they yearn for it to be better. "Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart and your mind," does not seem to mesh entirely with military service, checkpoints, and profiling.

All of us are human, and all of us continually find ourselves failing to honor the tenets of our faiths-this is true for Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We Christians have perhaps been the worst-we still have the blood of the crusades on our hands, and we must always remember the church's complicity during the Holocaust. As all of us are Abraham's children, all of us know from our collective histories that we endanger our faiths when we rely on human force and power to articulate or advance our own beliefs in God.

For us Christians, Christ is our only peace-our only security. In our current world, we must not be fooled that we can create our own peace and security. The security of Christ will never lose lives, and the security of Christ will never practice racial profiling. The security of Christ saves lives while simultaneously honoring the dignity and worth of every individual. In the long run, we are failing to save lives if we do not honor those who are different from us; we are failing to save lives if we persecute our neighbors for the purpose of our own security and advantage. If we believe in the Risen Christ, the One who seeks relationship with even the most different, we can not diminish the personhood of anyone, even if we believe it is ultimately for a good purpose. If we believe in the Risen Christ, we can not support checkpoints, walls, or racial profiling.

The truth is that Christ is the only one who can save us. Amidst all of our fears and anxieties, we often fool ourselves to think we can protect ourselves. We wish we were strong, but in truth, all of us are amazingly fragile. We are dependent on God to save us-we cannot save ourselves. To honor life is to honor God before everything else, for it is only in God that we have life. The world has been mourning the life of John Paul II for good reason. When his assassin tried to kill him, John Paul sought to forgive. It is a wonderful example of how forgiveness is never weak, but strong. As Christians we must remember that when the world declares that might is about punishment and retribution, true might is about being brave enough to forgive-true might is about having the courage to seek reconciliation-true might is believing that the means of force and interrogation represent massive cowardice and sin.

May all of us this Pentecost come to know the true peace. May we not allow ourselves to think that the propaganda of security will save us, for in the end, we must be faithful to the Risen Lord and not our fears and anxieties. May each of us decide to be faithful to the ways of peace and forgiveness.

Peace to you as you seek to be faithful this Pentecost,

Revd. Paul Lillie
St. George's Cathedral

*I want to thank everyone for their constant support and prayers. In consultation with the mission office and Bishop Riah, all of us have decided that I will stay in Jerusalem for two more years. This summer I will visit The States to share with many of you my work here in Jerusalem.




�2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York