Yesterday, our delegation arrived in the Galilee, the portion of the trip that I was very much looking forward to. While there are many sites of particular interest/importance to the Christian tradition in Jerusalem, being in the region of the country where Jesus was said to spend most of his time was exciting to me. My fellow travelers can attest to the fact that I was getting giddy on the bus on the way to Galilee. Visiting places like Nazareth, Capernaeum, and Cana are places on the map that often appear in my sermons whenever a gospel lection is read, so I could not wait to see them with my own eyes!
Yet, as soon as I got here, I found myself not in the Christian Disneyland that countless colleagues and Christian friends had described it to me from their journies here. And, I soon wished I was back in Jerusalem– not because of my interest in the “Jesus” sights had changed, but because of some of the company with whom I would have to see the beloved sites.
It became very apparent as our group shared dinner together in the large dinning hall at our hotel on the Sea of Galilee, that we were not in Kansas anymore, as the famed character from the Wizard of Oz would say.
Suddenly our diverse group of an African-American Imam, a Jewish Rabbi and an Palestine Muslim and Arab Isreali Jew along with the three Euro-Americans among us looked odd among the either all white or all Koren groups who were sitting among us. Soon there were strange looks in our direction of “What in the world are all of you doing together?” I felt my heart rise up in protection of my new friends thinking to myself, “How dare you judge these folks because of the color of their skin or dress!”
And, my cries of “Thank God, I am not in one of the solely Christian groups” continued as Kevin and Rabbi Rob and I sat in the lobby last night doing Internet tasks. On my left was an American missionary sitting with a group of Korean men desparately trying to tell the Koren delegation to give money to a Christian Zionist conference that will be held in Seoul in the spring. And, on my left was a group of Christian professers from an evangelical college in the Midwest taking about how they didn’t like Palestinians.
And, if this wasn’t enough, my Christian colleague, John– who is actually an evangelical pastor but with an open mind– was recieved disrespectfully into a conversation this morning with one of the pastors of one of the evangelical tour groups. John was approached by this Christian pastor as if it was assumed that he felt exactly like him (pro-Israel at all cost without even entertaining the idea that the Palestinians were among those whom God loves too) just because he fit the part of what an evangelical pastor looks like. When John began to share points in scripture with this pastor about where he feels that God calls us to acts of justice, he was immediantly belittled and told, “Well, you are just too young to know . . .”
Can I say: “Get me out of crazy Christian land? How can these folks be the ones sharing the message of my faith?’
Yet, the redeeming part of our Christian site visits came at our stop at the Jordan River. Our group came into contact with a large group on a Nigerian pilgramage. Before we knew it, many in our group were asked to be in pictures with complete strangers who embraced us like we were family. When I fell down the steps trying to get down to the place where the river could actually be touched (I mean, you really can’t take me anywhere without having at least one fall), many from the Nigerian group were quick to jump in with kind words. I think at least 15 folks came over to try to help me and say, “Bless you’ (in English). Come to find out this group was from the Baptist church (You know, we Baptists are nicer than we seem)!
Above all, I am so glad to be in Galilee with my interfaith friends. I am glad to be traveling throughout this great land with religious foks with different perspectives than my own. My journey so far is all the richer because while there may be some interesting Christians in Galilee, this I know: I’m surrounded by some of the most amazing faith leaders from the entire Abrahamic family tree.