St Pauls in Jerusalem 7

St Pauls | Involvement

Jerusalem - 7
January 2006


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.


The day after the banners . . .

Greetings from Jerusalem. I trust all of you are doing well. So many of you have asked me about the Palestinian elections here, so now you have it!

There was amazing voter turnout-according to the BBC it was 77%. When you consider voter turnout in the USA, this is respectable. Frankly I was not surprised, because people breathe politics here. The youth are especially knowledgeable. I enjoy hearing their perspectives and their informed articulation of events, because I truly doubt I had such an understanding when I was their age. In fact, I do not remember any of my friends, or youth in the states, who grasped politics so well.

There are also mixed views concerning Hamas. Many people here state that people did not necessarily vote for Hamas, but rather they were voting against past problems, or put more positively, for a change. Palestinians often complain about the corruption they see in their government and institutions, and they wanted a change. One person said, "The people voted for an end to nepotism and a beginning for qualifications. We want competency in our public institutions." The other side to these comments is that Hamas was not the only alternative party to Fatah. Other choices were available, and those who point this out maintain that the occupation and failed peace process has bred fanaticism and extremism, or in their words "Hamas."

Hamas has a long-standing history of minimal mismanagement of money, as well as strong clinics that care for those in need. They have been very organized at helping those who desire help during difficult times, and thus, many suspect that a vote for Hamas was not necessarily a vote for its ideology, but a vote of thanks and trust concerning its social outreach to people in need. Many Palestinians now fear the downside to their social programs-mainly that moderate men and women will lose certain civil rights and freedoms by a government controlled by Hamas.

Also be mindful that all of this does not comfort the person who lost a loved one due to a suicide bombing. The dark history of Hamas is its use of violence-a shameful history indeed. Images of Hamas' victory on Israeli TV must certainly open wounds for people who have lost their loved ones. Furthermore, rhetoric of destroying the state of Israel brings nightmares of a new Holocaust, and such language is violent to all of humanity.

Which brings me to the following point. For some Hamas has meant life, while for others, Hamas has meant death. It all depends on what your experience is; it all depends on your vantage point. For some, the social outreach of Hamas has saved life under the Israeli occupation, and for others, the suicide bombers of Hamas have killed that which is most precious. There are stories to be heard on all sides. As my ethics professor said in seminary, you have to understand that there are "goods" to each side of every equation.

We receive BBC here in Jerusalem. I enjoy it, for it seems more balanced than what I remember viewing in the American media. (When I tell this to friends from the UK, they are often surprised, for they feel the BBC could be of better quality.) Whatever the case, I wonder what all of you have seen on TV about the elections here. I fear that it might be one-sided, and that the language of terror has blurred the lens. I do not know what you are seeing, but I hope you have the opportunity to question. Perhaps one of the greatest advantages we have now with the internet is that media from around the world is now at our fingertips. Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, The Guardian, The Times London, BBC, The New York Times, The Economist, etc.-these are all available to you easily and quickly. Every morning I make a point to scan the articles from these and other sources of media, and every morning I say to myself, "of course fill in the blank would say that. It is typical of their spin."

If the Middle East has taught me one thing, it is this-"nothing is ever as it seems." The main thing that is certain is that everything is always much more complicated than I think it is. When I think I finally understand a situation, I discover that my understanding is a smoke screen. There is always another layer that puts everything into question.

So where is the Gospel in all of this? Perhaps no one knew better about how complicated we humans are than Jesus Christ. The Bible shows us that he always knew how to find that person who made life complicated. He knew the most difficult situations and people, and he embraced them, and when he embraced them, he seldom made demands, but he simply restored them to the community. He exemplified that there was more power in relationship than in judgment-more power in forgiveness than in revenge.

Hamas has been noble and ignoble-the same is true for the state of Israel. As an American I must admit that we are masters at being noble and ignoble simultaneously. I must also be truthful and tell you that I am so incredibly tired of politics. It is part of the reason I have not written a newsletter for so long. We live in a world in which everyone chooses a side, and it is defeating for the heart. It is practically impossible to write something to you from this place without falling into the traps of politics.

I am thankful for the life of Jesus Christ, in that we have an example of someone who in the end simply chose the side of listening and being with people. Furthermore, this is not a means to hide from life's difficult ethical questions or political scenarios, but rather, it is a full embrace of all that is conflictual in life, for it allows space for stories to be told, and it allows space for the healing work of the Holy Spirit to flourish.

Continue praying for the peace of Jerusalem, but also pray for the peace of Gaza, and for Lebanon, and for Iraq, and for the Parisian suburbs. Pray for the one in three Israelis living in poverty, for the Christians and their empty churches, and the Muslims and their internal struggles between the sacred and the secular. Pray for America as it struggles to find a vision for what it should be in this century. Pray for me and pray for you, for God is eager to hear us love our neighbors.

This is the day after the banners. The election feast is over, and now the time has come for relationships rather than pride, guns, or violence, for ultimately it is our relationships that change us and others forever. Enjoy scanning the media-I hope you find more than people pointing guns in the air-search for the stories of people who pray for peace-search for the stories of people here who wish to embody love for their neighbor regardless of their religion. I would love to hear your insights.

On we go,

PS Just a little note of information. This week I begin a new post as Chaplain to St. George's College. I will continue some liturgical duties at the cathedral, but we are happy that a new dean has been named for the cathedral since its vacancy in Fall 2004. You can view St. George's College Jerusalem on the web at it is located within the Cathedral Close. This job will work mainly with my strengths-liturgy, pastoral care, and pilgrimage-so I am naturally pleased.

PPS: And one more thing . . . there is a poem also attached as a separate document. I am not a good poet, but it was a good experiment, so enjoy.


People separated by faith,
clans fighting clans,
prejudice dictating friendship,
false prophets proclaiming exclusion.

Identity claims and the ensuing violence,
God's children staking God's land,
Never mind the need of the neighbor,
Better to trust only yourself.

A Galilean Prophet cries, "do not fear,"
"Peace be with you" on Easter Night,
Shaking and self-centered,
we mistrust the Love that is free.

Love expands--fear bankrupts,
Trust rises on the Third Day,
But we have addictions-
games that destroy the soul.

Like God, trust makes us vulnerable.
Whether you ring the angelus or chant collects,
God requires seeing humanity,
in those you do not trust.

God's love affair with the other-
Christ dwelling in Mary's womb,
the other as ultimate truth,
trust in the other that is divine.

Stephen dying at a gate
Mary giving up a son
the beloved becoming the abandoned,
God crucified on a cross.

Let us proclaim the mystery of our faith-
God trusting us-forever faithful
Human pathology rejecting salvation,
Love's trust denied.

Abraham's children shout truth claims,
life erupts and no one self-empties.
Every age makes the divine the enemy,
and God keeps trusting.



�2006 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York