This Week at Trinity, Beamsville
Friday, May 14, 2021
This week I had one of those parenting moments where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump for joy or cry in sorrow. It all came from an unexpected conversation, that I’ll try to relay in this short space.
It happened on Wednesday at the end of an extra busy day, when we collectively gave up on cooking supper before bedtime and opted for takeout instead. Our 18-year-old came with me and, with her at the wheel, we made our way into town, just chatting away about other things I don’t remember when she started asking questions about the frightening violence and attacks in Palestine and Israel. I confess it wasn’t at all what I expected to hear, in the inanity of the drive-thru lane, but there we were.
For context, Abbey is one half of the communications coordinators for her school’s Equity Team. With social media savvy I envy and respect, she and her close friend plan and think carefully and then post, wisely as they can, on matters of local and global justice. They were aware that May is Jewish Heritage Month (I didn’t know that till she told me), and they had been working for a while on messages for this week to challenge anti-Semitism. With what was then being described, on Wednesday, as “escalating” violence in Israel and Palestine, Abbey said she was both confused and concerned about how to proceed. She said she didn’t understand what was really at the heart of such hatred and war; that she didn’t want to step inadvertently into messaging about something so complicated and then face incredible backlash. She asked questions about the conflict itself, and then about the fine but crucial line in calling for an end to violence without being perceived as anti-Jewish. Abbey talked about other Insta posts from a Jewish acquaintance, who wanted the world to know she would not apologize for her faith… as she should not have to do. And so there we sat, waiting for some veggie burgers fresh off the grill, when Abbey finally turned to me and said, “So what is it all about, anyway?”
Remember when I said it was equal parts joy and sorrow? I couldn’t be prouder of this young adult who wants to engage and respond and be part of this complicated world. I admire her awareness, her heart’s longing for all things right and fair, and her acceptance of the need to ask hard questions. The sorrowful part is knowing that these questions exist at all; that the deeper she moves out into the world and flies on her own, the harder the questions will become, and the more elusive some answers will seem.
I honestly didn’t know where to begin, in reply – so I said the most honest thing I could: “There’s so much I don’t understand about it either. I feel like I should. I feel like I should read more, know more, offer something concrete to the conversation… but the truth is, it’s just hard and complicated, and is part of a centuries-old conflict that is fueled by issues hiding behind others, and that is, again, catching innocent children and their families in the crossfire.” I said a fair bit more than that, trying to fill in what historical details I think I know. Abbey asked good questions in reply, but of course the muddy waters didn’t clear much in relation to missiles that keep flying through the disputed air.
Where does all that leave me, and Abbey, and all of us, in this moment, this day when the escalation is all but declared war, again? What might we do, beyond the fervent prayers for peace, for safety, for days and nights when parents do not have to sing to their babies over the crashing of bombs? We cannot consider ourselves removed from it, even in this privileged place on the other side of an ocean.
Feeble as it may sound, one of my steps has been to sign up for a Zoom gathering on May 26th, called ‘A Taste of Palestine’. It’s the fourth in a series of opportunities to learn more, directly, from people living in the midst of what I do not understand. I’ve attached the poster to today’s mailing, and hope that you might join me there, in the learning and the quest for faithful understanding, and responding. I’ve read in earnest (and share here, below) some of the most recent prayerful responses from the World Council of Churches, our United Church of Canada, and some older posts from siblings like the Mennonite Central Committee. I’ve also received, gratefully, some resource suggestions from colleagues (including our May 23rd preacher, Martha Reynolds) who have done far more work, reading, and engagement in this complicated space. I’m trying to learn, and I’m sharing the resources with Abbey, and all else who want to stay this course with me.
And so, this Sunday coming, when I stand at the front of our precious, unthreatened sanctuary, and try to preach on the importance of inviting others into this faith journey with us, I’ll be feeling extra mindful of this: that when we invite others to travel this complex road, there won’t be easy answers. For them and for us, we need to drop all pretense that faith will bring instant clarity. Faith brings hard questions, and it demands extraordinary trust. Faith communities can be some of the hardest places to navigate, with generations-old issues that resist simplistic resolution. And yet, here we are. In the inanity of everyday life, here we are, trying to figure things out together – trying to follow Jesus without embarrassing God, wondering what on earth it’s like for the Divine Creator of us all to know the suffering that endures. But there I go, asking ridiculously hard questions again.
I’ll be looking for you on Sunday, in every way. I’ll be sustained by your prayers, your questions, your joys, and even your sorrows. I’ll be sustained by knowing that we’re trying to get to a place of peace, together; and by trusting that it is still possible.
Grace, peace, and love to you all, always,