Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You Have Heard It Said: Events of Reconciliation

Today, I received two copies of my first book, You Have Heard It Said: Events of Reconciliation. The book is about Israeli and Palestinian participants of Musalaha ('reconciliation' in Arabic) and their stories about encountering the other. It was a rather surreal experience to hold the book in my hands, a culmination of months of interviews, traveling to interviews, typing up sloppy notes, wrestling the notes into stories and reworking the stories, editing and re-editing, etc. The process was challenging and frustrating, but the experience was nourishing in many ways.

So, as a shameless plug, the book can be ordered from the publisher's website here: http://wipfandstock.com/store/You_Have_Heard_It_Said_Events_of_Reconciliation

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dogmatic Identity of Christianity

I recently participated in a panel at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. We had quite a crowd, thoughtful responses to the question, and challenging and stimulating conversation. It was an honor to be a part of the evening. The following are my thoughts on the question to which we were asked to respond.

“How can Christianity overcome its dogmatism without losing its identity?”

I take issue with this question. I take issue with the question because it doesn’t end with “overcome its dogmatism.” Perhaps the fear of losing identity in the forfeiture of dogmatism is simply dogmatism wearing a thin mask because now we have no clear distinction, no line in the sand, between us and the other. Identity is important, inevitable, necessary. Identity is our sense of self, giving us meaning and mission, as much performative as it is informative. But the formation of identity often stems from a desire for power, a fear of doubt, and a need to make enemies: we need to know who is different from us so we can protect ourselves.

I take issue with the question because people are still kicking and screaming about how to define Christianity after two thousand years and I only have five minutes. And I take issue with the question because it assumes Christianity actually exists. There is really no such thing as Christianity, only Christianities in different times and cultures. Church history is filled with councils and reformations, wrought with power plays and accusations of heresy, all in the effort to pin down identity. Creeds were written, doctrines set in stone, and dissidents burned at the stake for the sake of finally figuring out the definitive nature of Christianity. Change is too discomforting for institutions. Perhaps we could agree that dogmatism, the arrogant claim that one’s opinions are the Absolute Truth, has an acidic taste, a dissonant ring. But when our own opinions are questioned we uncoil and strike with venomous ferocity because someone shook our certain identity.

But identity is not so certain. Each second changes who we are, and our identity is new every morning. We grow old and lose our memories, forgetting faces and names and our life’s work. Our identities are not static. The only way we make sense of life is by living within a story that orders the flux. When our memories and concrete sense of self fade away, relationships remain. Whatever else Christianity has become, it began as a relationship to stories prejudiced by a love for the poor and poor in spirit, stories that subverted the accepted religious and cultural identity of their day, and for those who have ears to hear, perhaps ours. As long as Christianity is worried about losing its identity then it cannot overcome its dogmatism. Christianity is dogmatic because it needs to have an ultimate identity other than emptying itself for the least of these without blessed assurance.

The Greek word kenosis, in Christian theology, means “self-emptying,” exemplified in Paul’s recitation of a hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (“Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant”). Kenosis is arguably the most unique aspect of Christianity: the Father self-emptied into the Son, who emptied himself for his own small corner of the world (a particularity which achieves universality), and who his followers are to imitate. Kenosis is not about metaphysics, but about performative identity. Christian identity here is not based on the self but is found by losing the self, by emptying the self for others. Aphorisms like “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” and “Whoever wishes to save his life must first lose it” spin the desire to maintain our own identity on its head. Because in order for us to find our identity we must first lose it. And not because after losing our identity we will find it, but because the act of losing is finding. We have sold everything to posses the pearl of great price, but the only way to experience its wealth is by giving it away.

Christian identity must be willingly tenuous in response to the fragile event of the kingdom of God. The only dogma this kingdom knows is love, is justice, is compassion, is hospitality, is forgiveness. We invite in the stranger who might overstay their welcome; we clothe the naked who might take our cloak and our tunic; we feed the hungry who might eat us out of house and home; we forgive our transgressors who might not even be sorry; we love our real and invented enemies, men who might kill us in our sleep or who might even sleep with other men, or for that matter women with women, or women who demand equality with men. All of our doctrine and dogma and creeds must be like chaff to this wheat. Even those who know nothing, or want to know nothing, about the kingdom participate in its incarnation: “Lord, when did we see you? Whatever you did for the least of these . . .” If we are to be dogmatic, then we must be dogmatic about the madness, the illogic, the impossibility, the audacity of the kingdom of God.

Jesus had the audacity to take his entire religious wisdom tradition to the threshing floor and this is what he said remained: “Love God, love your neighbor,” which are inseparably one and the same. He knew the law and the prophets. He knew the commandments, purity codes, and Sabbath rules given by God that gave his people their identity, things he never abolished or rejected out of hand. But he knew that the only way he could remain faithful to this tradition was by betraying it when it favored the powerful, the wealthy, the holy, the clean, and the insiders. The prophets said that even God kept subverting God’s laws, saying mercy trumped sacrifice and liberation unseated fasting. Jesus said the voice in the burning bush who said “I-shall-be-there-however-I-shall-be-there” shall be there as love. And love is only love when it loves the unlovable. If the imperfect vessel of the law meant to direct love, prohibits love, then love disobeys to commune with sinners.

Jesus reveled in vulnerable communion by sharing meals with disabled, dysfunctional, disassociated people. His open commensality infuriated the religious elites because he didn’t require purity and assimilation before association. They called Jesus a glutton and drunk, probably accusing him of sleeping with prostitutes. And we have no record that he cared.

His hometown congregants were impressed when he told them that the Jubilee was fulfilled in their hearing; they tried to throw him off a cliff when he said unclean foreigners were in on it too. He bumped up against the cultural bigotry of his identity when he called one of those foreigners a dog, but she made him eat his words when she said dogs are hungry too; without hesitation he swallowed his words and said her daughter was free because she had freed him.

He invited terrorists and imperial brownnosers to join him; he overturned patriarchy by honoring women and receiving children; he challenged the scribal authorities by reinterpreting the narratives they championed; he told stories with Samaritans as good guys and fathers embracing stained sons before they repented. The law required the death penalty for adultery, but Jesus said only the perfect man could throw the first stone.

As long as Christianity protects its identity with authoritative doctrine from living face to face with the suffering world, as long as it refuses the call of responsibility from an encounter with the other by citing scripture, then dogmatism insidiously persists like an unholy ghost.

After all, the Sabbath was made for man . . .

Monday, October 11, 2010

Turn the Other Cheek

New Testament scholar Walter Wink coined the phrase “the myth of redemptive violence” and reinterprets angelic and demonic principalities and powers as the ethos exuded by groups, institutions, and governments. He also challenges the Sunday-school versions of Jesus’ teachings, identifying them as much more earthy, radical, and subversive when situated in the sociopolitical, economic, and religious matrix of first-century Roman-occupied Palestine. In particular, Wink vehemently challenges the assertion that Jesus taught passive compliance, or said nothing at all, toward the powers that be. Faulty translations and ignorance regarding cultural and historical context have led to the assumption that Jesus promoted submission in the face of conflict. However, says Wink, Jesus offered an alternative response to fight or flight, a third way. That third way is what we call nonviolence, and what Jesus called “do not resist an evil person with evil” and “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Nonviolence, loving our enemies, is a way of engaging conflict without dehumanization through violence. Blessed are the peacemakers, those who go the second mile, who give their cloak as well as their tunic, who turn the other cheek.

These are not spiritual platitudes uttered from a serene mountaintop, encouraging good little boys and girls to play nice in the schoolyard. These are life-threatening reversals strategically crafted in the dirt of poverty and imperial occupation for the weak to use the power of powerlessness. Peacemakers are like sheep among wolves, but these sheep have a few tricks up their wool coats, as innocent as doves but as shrewd as serpents.

“Now,” says the Galilean prophet, his voice lowering to a humming whisper as the crowd leans in to listen, “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek.”

Wink digs down to the gritty nature of this act. A strike on the right cheek logistically requires a punch with the left hand. But the left hand was considered unclean in that right-handed world; a member of Qumran could be excluded for only gesturing with the left hand. Striking the right cheek meant using the back of the right hand, and a backhand slap was an insult, reserved for punishing or humiliating inferiors. “Masters backhanded slaves,” Wink writes, “husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews.” Responding violently would be suicide. The only possible reaction was submission.

But turning the other cheek, Wink explains, “robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate.” The oppressor can’t backhand with the unclean hand, but using a fist recognizes the inferior as an equal. The first attack reinforced humiliation, but the second, if it comes, will unintentionally level the ground. In that moment, for a brief moment, the dehumanizing hierarchy of power shatters with the slightest turn of the head.

My family's good friend Edward Tabash owns a souvenir shop near the Bethlehem checkpoint, inside the ghetto formed by the separation wall. The store sits on Hebron Road, once the main road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. With a prime location on the shoulder of the major street and his own olivewood factory, Edward and his store garnered an esteemed reputation and a steady stream of customers. However, the second intifada exploded and the separation wall fell on Hebron Road like an axe, amputating it on either side of Edward’s shop. Business rapidly evaporated without the regular procession of tour buses. Instead of firing anyone due to budget losses, Edward paid his entire staff out of his pocket for several years.

Edward’s commercial transactions have awarded him some privileges, including a Businessman's Card which occasionally allows him to drive into Jerusalem and fly out of Ben Gurion Airport. However, the card does not prevent ethnic profiling even though he has flown out of Ben Gurion for years and his status as a businessman is well-known by security.

On one particular trip, airport security escorted Edward to a backroom. He asked why this was necessary. He received no answer. Guards stood nearby as security officers strip-searched him, invading every cavity and exploring every stitch of clothing, even turning up his collar and feeling along the seam. Edward speaks perfect Hebrew and said, "Look me in the eye when you do this. Treat me like a human being. You have absolutely no reason to harass me like this. I have come to this airport for many many years. What is so suspicious about me?"

Simply protocol, one of the officers responded.

When security finished, Edward picked up his cane. He contracted polio as a child, before the vaccination was readily available, and he walks with a pronounced limp. He followed the officials back into the expansive main terminal where hundreds of passengers filed through metal detectors and baggage checks. Suddenly Edward stopped.

"You forgot something,” he said as airport personnel turned to face him. “You didn't check my cane."

He tapped his cane on the floor between them.

They assured him they were quite satisfied. He was free to go. But Edward adamantly refused.

"No, you must check my cane,” he said, his voice rising. “It could have a bomb! You checked everything else. Why would you not check it?"

Security said it would be unnecessary.

“But if it is protocol to strip-search me, why would you not search this?” Edward yelled, shoving his cane toward them. “If I deserved that, then surely you must make certain I do not have a bomb!”

His loud voice began drawing attention from the terminal. Curious passengers and passersby watched as the guards attempted to usher Edward to the front of the line, but he shrugged them off.

"I insist you check my cane! I could have a bomb in this cane! You must check it now!"

The security officers finally took Edward’s cane and scanned it before letting him pass through. He didn’t have a bomb.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Transition . . .

I'm back in the United States. I arrived a week ago, returning a month earlier than originally expected. The transition is difficult, in the midst of wide spaces and abundance and nonexistence of checkpoints and machine guns. I feel overwhelmed and unsettled.

I am in Searcy, Arkansas, at the moment where I have been basking in reunions with my family here. I flew into the States on Monday and the following days I enjoyed being with my parents and younger sister; I had been gone a long time! I leave today for Nashville, where I will hear one of my favorite authors and thinkers, Peter Rollins, speak tonight and will spend the week with my brother, speaking in a few classes at Lipscomb about Israel and Palestine. Unfortunately, I will be missing John Caputo speaking in Arkansas!!!!

The last few weeks in the Middle East were extremely busy for me with packing and filming and guests and goodbyes. To the faithful few who peruse this blog, I apologize for my lack of dedication. I have approximately twenty pages of notes for stories in a Microsoft Word document which I hope to develop and craft over the ensuing weeks and months. I have stories I want to share and thoughts I want to explore, for myself and with others. In the possible future, they will find their way here . . .

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kenosis, Khora, and the Prejudice of Love

I’ve thought a lot about how I could articulate my “theology,” which may not be the best word because by that word I mean my way of life. Or rather: what I want it to be. Maybe I could begin to express it with these words: a particular incarnation of kenosis, khora, and the prejudice of love. Narrative is the best way to communicate such thoughts, something I am feebly hinting toward in stories like “A Mighty Stream,” “The Thousand Worlds,” and “The Almond Tree.” I think truth happens in poetry and parables, not in abstracted theological musings, as necessary as they may be. The thoughts to follow come out of my unfinished story and my encounter with other stories. Because of this, these words must be seen as an extremely shallow explication, because these words can and must be expanded upon, given more depth to. After the wheat has been separated from the chaff, which is a never-ending process, theology must be rooted in this: love God, love others. These are inseparably one, and, for me, the same. Jesus said these simple, complex, and life-giving/threatening words summed up his entire religious tradition and sacred scriptures. “How do I love when I love my God?” asks John Caputo, practically tweaking Augustine, “for love is a how, not a what. And so is God . . . Love is not a meaning to define, but something to do, something to make . . . ‘God’- that is not only a name but an injunction, an invitation, a solicitation, to commend, to let all things be commended, to God.”

I have been tempted to erase everything that follows because, sometimes, such musings actually do feel unnecessary because who I am is not what I say I believe. Who I am is what I do. Theology that isn’t love and doesn’t lead to love is worthless, and should be thrown into the fire. Because everything else is straw.

Incarnation is the beginning because theory must reside within praxis, from the root of experience, and be livable. Theology, which is theory and praxis, must be birthed from experience, thought, and interaction with others. To incarnate something is to put it into flesh, into life and action. This incarnation is particular because the active enfleshing and therefore enacting of this way of life must make sense within a specific context and community. Particularity, which does not imply exclusivity but rather the opposite, means that incarnation is subject to the place in which the event of incarnation occurs. And particularity implicitly recognizes that incarnation is extraordinarily and irreducibly diverse and created through dialogue.

The Greek word kenosis, in Christian theology, means “self-emptying,” stemming from Paul’s recitation of a hymn in Ephesians 2:5-11. Kenosis is arguably the most unique aspect of Christianity: the Father self-emptied into the Son, who emptied himself for his own small corner of the world (a particularity which achieves universality), and of whom his followers are to be imitators. In this way, identity is not based on the self but is found by losing yourself, by emptying yourself for others. The way of kenosis is the way of death, of letting go, expressed in such aphorisms as “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”; “Whoever wishes to save his life must first lose it”; and “Take up your cross and follow.” Kenosis is deeply sacrificial, allowing oneself to be deconstructed in order to become khora.

The Greek word khora is the open space for infinite possibility. Khora is the sacred place of incarnation; Mary has been called khora ton arkoretou which means “the container of the uncontainable.” In this sense the most religious word, as Caputo says, is “Yes,” which assents to the inviting, whispering call, a power without force, and opens to become like a womb. Khora is not being or nonbeing, but is an open space for the event/spirit of God to break through the confining name/concept of God. Khora is where, as Meister Eckhart prayed, God can be rid of God. Kenosis leads to khora, which is where death can lead to the possibility of rebirth into a ‘new’ way of seeing the world.

And this ‘new’ defining hermeneutic is the prejudice of love for the other. This rebirth gives new eyes to see the world, as Bonhoeffer said, “from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short from the perspective of the suffering.” This way is prejudiced by a love for the poor and poor in spirit and unequivocally calls for justice, which is the body and flesh of the soul and spirit of love. The prejudice of love is the self-emptying of oneself into the world for the least of these.

This conversion never stops. This is a constant resurrecting journey. And a particular incarnation of kenosis, khora, and the prejudice of love inevitably leads to a cross.

A Prayer: May we be emptied of ourselves to become open spaces for the im/possible event of You that breaks through the confining concept of God, and breathes life. May we respond to the weak whispering call of justice, mercy, and commitment. And may we be resurrected by and to a way of life that is prejudiced by a love for the poor and the poor in spirit. Amen, Let it be . . .

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Thousand Worlds

Several weeks ago, Paul finished a three-month stint with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, which is actually in Bethlehem. ARIJ is a Palestinian NGO that promotes local solutions to local problems through sustainable development, renewable energy, and control of natural resources. During our first month here, however, Paul volunteered with Bethlehem Bible College. He spent most of his time in the gift shop, sorting through orders and taping price tags onto expensive souvenirs. On numerous occasions, he drove the BBC van to the airport in order to pick up employees or important guests. And for several Sundays, Paul stealthily drove the president of the Bible College and his wife to the Baptist church in East Jerusalem. West Bank Palestinians must have special permits in order to cross through checkpoints, which the president and his wife are not able to get. The president’s brother was one of Palestine’s most prominent nonviolent leaders who organized numerous boycotts against Israeli authorities before he was permanently deported. Patrick and I joined Paul one Sunday because a free ride to Jerusalem is hard to pass up, and we all planned on traveling to Ramallah in the afternoon.

Even with the free ride, I was hesitant. I was hesitant because I have an extreme discomfort in churches, and have long ceased regular attendance. I don’t feel called there. My family was, in some respects, aggressively encouraged to leave the Christian tradition from which we came. My dad believed in the necessity of questioning everything, including God. Not everyone agreed, and he was denied the ability to speak publicly and teach classes because, they said, “The church doesn’t need to change; it’s fine the way it is.” We were pushed into a corner until our only place within the community was passive compliance. My parents decided that it was time to excommunicate ourselves. For years, we visited almost every imaginable Christian denomination, which is how I learned about ecumenism and the education of difference. I also learned that the church is not housed in buildings but is housed as people.

As I grew older, I grew more disillusioned with church. Admittedly, the pool of churches into which my family dove was a shallow sample in the American South. But that sampling left a bitter taste in my mouth and many Sunday mornings I have found myself gasping for breath. Church can devolve into a sanitary and secluded place where people cathartically unleash their frustrations at the state of the world without ever going out to change it. Church activities can actually perpetuate injustice. The pressure valves are released and the constrained steam dissipates and fuels nothing. We have made our contribution, everything is certain, we have arrived, we are comforted. We’ve had our reassuring catharsis and the world stays as is.

All of this, it must be said, can apply just as equally to social outreach, a bloodless phrase that almost implies separation. People unleash their frustrations at the way the world is, dishing out fish instead of asking why so many people aren’t allowed access to the pond. We have made our contribution, and we are comforted. I am also fully aware that many churches do not fit these descriptions. Shared meals, rituals, and accountability are all vital. And I know that true change can and does occur beneath steeples. The church is a whore, but she has also given birth to some of the world’s most devoted servants. Good and bad exist in every religious tradition and ignoring one while uplifting the other is unfairly naïve. Unfortunately, my experience has tended toward the more ugly side.

I don’t think I have felt resentment toward the people, though I have certainly resented much of the espoused ideology. My discomfort has often been because I don’t know how to communicate. I speak a different language. When I speak and think, I draw on different vocabulary, and I struggle with meaningful translation between how I speak and how many churches speak. Some of my friends are fluent in both, like effortlessly speaking English and Arabic, or Hebrew. I feel mute. We all have holes, many churches say, and we need God to fill the hole in our lives. But I don’t believe God, whatever that means, fills the hole. I resonate with Frederick Buechner’s words: “If we cannot believe in God as a noun, maybe we can still believe in God as a verb. And the verb that God is, is transitive, it takes an object, and the object of the verb that God is, is the world. To love, to judge, to heal, to give Christs to. The world. The thousand thousand worlds.” I believe God is the hole.

Paul parked the van within the gated courtyard of the church. I thought I might sit outside beneath an olive tree, maybe read or sit in silence. My discomfort with church may sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I would still prefer to sit under an open sky with branches above my head. Paul needed help carrying boxes of plastic cups inside from a car, so I stacked a few and turned the corner to the front door. As I walked up the steps, I noticed an old Muslim woman hobbling toward me through the gate. Her back was bent and she leaned heavily against a knotted cane. The old woman looked around warily and saw me watching her. I said good morning in Arabic, sabah al-khair, and invited her to sit on the steps. She asked for water and I tossed the boxes inside, filled one of the cups at the cooler, and joined her on the cracking stairs.

The old woman sipped delicately. Her heavy black clothes were stained and the scarf around her head was damp with sweat. Her teeth were rotting yellow and brown. She had a few whiskers around her upper lip, drops of water clinging to their ends. Her rough face looked like it had been carved out of crumbling wood, and her skin was wrinkled like ruffled laundry unevenly thrown out to dry. She held the plastic cup in her dark twisted fingers as I sat next to her and Paul sat behind me. She asked if this was a school; someone had told her she could find help here because she needed fifty shekels (around thirteen dollars) to buy a bus ticket to Ramallah and to pay for a doctor’s appointment for stomach problems. It’s not a school, I answered, it’s a church. But surely we could find someone here to help. Paul immediately jumped up and ran inside to find someone. The old woman told me she was from Bethany, born to a German Christian mother and a Palestinian Muslim father. She was like her father, she said. Bethany is on the other side of the Wall. I didn’t know how she got into Jerusalem or why she didn’t just go to Ramallah through the West Bank. As we sat on the steps I could hear people singing hymns. The church service had started. The sound bounced around the inside of the walls.

Paul soon returned with a prominent leader from a Christian college. He knelt down on the top step, several feet away from her, and spoke a few words in Arabic. Then he tossed two coins in her lap and hurried back inside. She looked up at me and the lines around her eyes looked like deep-set trails of tears.
“Oh,” she murmured, almost inaudibly. “He only gave me ten shekels.”

Everything outside was silent for a moment, but I could still hear music in the walls. I offered to walk her to the bus station, but she refused because she had to stop by a friend’s house to get her prescription for the medication. I didn’t really know if her story was true. I had no reason to doubt her. She had a legitimate answer to every question. Either way, she obviously needed money and she needed help. The smallest bill I had in my wallet was more than she needed, but I handed it to her. Shukran, she said with her head bowed, thank you. Then she stood and her body trembled as she struggled to rise. She turned and walked away like an old church, a frail object of a transitive verb.

Paul and I sat in the back pew. The guest pastor was an enthusiastic Australian, neatly-trimmed and well-dressed with a beaming white smile. His sermon was about suffering. We suffer, he said, for glory. Glory is the reward for suffering! But in the midst of suffering we must keep our eyes on God! and he pointed emphatically toward the ceiling. And the way we keep our eyes on God in suffering is through prayer, singing praises, and memorizing the Bible. Then we can persevere! Now we wear a crown of thorns, but one day we will trade it in for a crown of gold!

Patrick, Paul, and I sat quietly in the small atrium as everyone filed out of the sanctuary. My feet swished on the flowered tiles and left comet-shaped patterns of dust. When the last person exited to the foyer for snacks, Paul moved to the bench in front of the Baldwin piano. His fingers moved over the keys and, closing his eyes, he started to sing: “I am a whore I do confess/But I put you on just like a wedding dress/And I run down the aisle.” Patrick and I felt the piano reverberating through the floor and we started to sing too. “So could you love this bastard child/Though I don’t trust you to provide/With one hand in a pot of gold/and with the other in your side?” The music and words echoed in the sanctuary and I thought about opening a window so it wouldn’t be trapped in the walls. Paul began to sing louder. “I am so easily satisfied/By the call of lovers so less wild/That I would take a little cash/Over your very flesh and blood.” And then our voices simultaneously lowered almost to whispers, and the clear notes of the piano softly filled the room. “I’m a prodigal with no way home/But I put you on like a ring of gold/And I run down the aisle/Run down the aisle to you.”

The last notes lingered and I wondered if one of the thousand worlds had safely arrived in Ramallah.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


The wind is howling against the house, and I can hear it creaking in response. Rain is pouring down and it patters against the water tank on the roof. All I see is gray through the windows, a perfect day for a cup of tea next to the fireplace. This may be the last big rain of the season. The land needs it.

Friday was my last day with Musalaha after almost six months of work. I still think it strange that I have been here that long, and even stranger that those six months disappeared so quickly. My last day was spent stuffing newsletters into envelopes and enjoying a meal with the Israeli and Palestinian staff. Over lunch, Ryan, another volunteer who finished that day, and I participated in a quiz in which we were presented with awkward quotes said by Musalaha’s director, guessing to whom he said it and what he meant by it. This workplace is the perfect basis for a new version of The Office.

The past six months have been challenging, frustrating, and nourishing. Nourishing because I have developed several meaningful friendships; frustrating because I have seen an NGO handcuffed because of a desire to appease exceedingly conflicting groups; and challenging because in many instances I have extremely divergent ways of embracing God and the world, because I have been challenged by the complex relationships of the Israelis and Palestinians with whom I interacted, and because I have felt those same handcuffs on my wrists. Perhaps my most difficult challenge has been working with editors in an organization who have different standards than my own. And this experience has also been nourishing because it has forced me to rethink and reword some of my writing. All writers squirm when people stab a red pen onto their pages. I agreed with some changes to strongly-phrased statements or to factual inaccuracies, but the greatest challenge came when I felt like the quality, mood, and message of the stories were altered. Controversial statements made by the interviewees were deleted and gentler words took their place. In the midst of my frustration I recognize that Musalaha attempts to walk a string-thin line. They are in an extremely volatile situation as a non-profit organization funded mostly by Evangelical Christians, many of whom still ardently sympathize with Israel. The director says he has “an itch for justice” and is ready for Musalaha to speak more. But if they cry justice too loudly, most Israelis won’t come. But if Musalaha continues a more neutral stance on political issues, Palestinians will consider their stance as normalizing the Occupation and they may not come much longer either.

When I first arrived, I was asked to write stories about people struggling in the tension of this conflict. Through the editing process, however, some of the stories have become more sentimental accounts of Musalaha’s success. Some of those interviewed were concerned with their depiction. Some were angered by what I recorded them saying; but, interestingly, most asked for changes because I described them washing dishes, talking about family, twirling a candle on the table. One lady asked us to remove her story because of my literary descriptions. At the end of the day, I was told, these people determine what form of their story is published and if it will be published. If this book was journalistic, written outside of Musalaha, expectations would be different. But Musalaha feels forced to primarily consider support and involvement. I am glad I don’t have to make those decisions.

I hope to write a longer post about my experience with Musalaha. I have copied below the introduction to the almost-completed book, which will probably be published later this year. I have used some of my own words from previous stories on this blog:

“You have heard it said . . . but I tell you . . .”

These are some of the most life-threatening, and life-giving, words I’ve ever heard. They strip me of my securities, they rob me of my comforts, they take away my preconceptions. They tear down my strongly-held religious and political convictions. They tell me to look, not higher, but deeper, toward the heart, toward my heart, toward others’ hearts, toward the heart of reality. They tell me that deconstruction is an act of love. Jesus disturbs our settled words because he tells us of a radical kind of God; radical in the more common meaning of “revolutionary,” but also in the Latin origin which means “to the root.” Radicalizing is more important than liberalizing.

These words tell me to look again. Without that respect, which means “to look again” in Latin, we will not see.

I came to volunteer with Musalaha for six months, beginning in September 2009 through the end of February 2010. Between September and December, I conducted approximately thirty interviews with people, Israeli and Palestinian, who are involved with the organization. I traveled from Jerusalem to Haifa, from Bethlehem to Nazareth, meeting in coffee shops and offices and homes, asking a few questions to serve as a framework and allowing the conversation to evolve from there. For the next several months, I incarnated my skeletal notes as stories about encounters with ‘the other’ and events of reconciliation. The project was not a comprehensive biographical endeavor; I had only one interview with each person. Because of that, I am not completely satisfied with all the stories, which is inevitable when writing. Interviews in coffee shops and homes, divorced from action and interaction, provide a limited palette of descriptive hues. And this project was not an attempt to relate the history of the conflict. Much better and more educated people have dealt very extensively with that subject. These stories were meant to be small windows into the ongoing transformation of specific people.

Some stories are short, some are longer, and some are told together because the accounts were marked by a specific encounter with each other. In each story, I gave the last word to the main character. I certainly do not agree with or condone every perspective shared, but this book was not intended to explicitly counter each disconcerting point of view. These stories are an attempt at conversation, allowing different thoughts and opinions to unsettle and unhinge our own thoughts and opinions. To at least make us look again. Tensions are preserved and several of the endings seem abrupt because those tensions have not all been resolved. Transformation is a never-ending journey.

Not every reference to history or to current events is factual. Those interviewed were speaking from memory, without reference to verifiable sources. They, like all of us, speak out of their framing stories which provide legitimacy for why we think, feel, and act the way we do. We need framing stories. We cannot help having them, but we can help which ones we live out. We need a new one that speaks of justice, reconciliation, and peace. And the first step is to open ourselves to listening to the stories of others.

National defense strategies and political resolutions have never created true peace. They cannot. Oppressive systems and extremist violence must be confronted, but if people are still tied to the destructive mindsets that engendered these violent systems, then little will be changed, and the brutal cycle will continue. Maybe the way to overcome the oppressive political and societal systems is to dismantle the racial prejudices and uninformed worldviews held fearfully by so many people. To transform hearts. Many would say this is foolishly naïve. And it is. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Like Hercules fighting the Hydra monster, we can chop down the countless destructive systems forever, because they will always grow back like biting heads unless the people in the systems rethink everything. We can only ignore the source for so long.

I hold no illusions of being or wanting to be a politician, at least not in the typical sense. I have no grand theories or clever schemes that if implemented will end this turmoil. I want to be a storyteller; I have stories I want to tell because I foolishly believe in their transforming power. There will be no peace without conversion through reconciliation and justice. I do not mean justice characterized as “getting what you deserve,” justice as the antecedent to “the American way,” or justice as an “eye for an eye.” The Holocaust cannot justify the Nakba and the Occupation; the Nakba does not justify suicide bombings and rockets. In the Jewish worldview, peace, shalom, is not the absence of difference or disagreement, but it is the presence of the wholeness of God. Justice is about rehumanization, because justice, as Dr. Cornel West says, “is what love looks like in public.” The Arabic word translated as “goodbye” is ma’a salaama, but a friend once told me that it literally means “with health,” and comes from the same root as the word for “peace,” salaam. Peace is healing, and healing brings wholeness. Justice is the arrival of that healing presence which washes away oppression and dehumanization and conquest; and mercy and compassion always flow within the mighty stream of true justice.

Frederick Buechner wrote that “In Hebrew the term dabar means both ‘word’ and ‘deed.’ Thus to say something is to do something . . . Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other.”

Words and actions create stories and stories create meaning. Stories say something and do something. May these stories create an open space for the sacred event of what seems like the impossible to happen, because stories not only describe reality, they transform it. They tell us to keep looking again.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I am in the land of gods and goddesses, temples and monasteries, bazoukis and kalamari. My family and I lived in Greece for the first half of 2001 while my dad took a sabbatical from work as a doctor in the Appalachian mountains. I was also here in 2008, backpacking on my way to U.S. after a summer working in Ramallah. Patrick and Paul both studied here during a semester abroad program with our university.

The Harding group travels out from Greece during their semester, and they came through Israel and Palestine last week. We met them in Bethlehem and showed them around Beit Sahour, taking them to the Al-Basma Center and our house for a slideshow presentation briefly summarizing history, current events, and the humanitarian crisis in Israel and occupied Palestine. Our second visa was approaching expiration, so we decided to accept an invitation to join them in Greece. We arrived here on Tuesday, on the same flight as the Harding group, and came with them to the old hotel-turned-campus in Porto Rafti, on the east coast of Greece. We've spent the past few days hiking through the green hills and long the clear coastline. And it's been incredibly refreshing and in-spiring. I will probably write a more detailed story about Greece at some point, but I have abundant notes for so many stories that I haven't been able to flesh out yet. I was hoping this trip would provide me with that opportunity, but green and slopes and the beach are calling much more enticingly.

Our return flight is this coming Tuesday, and then exactly two months left in the land between the river and the sea . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brian McLaren and Israel/Palestine

Brian McLaren and a group of artists and writers recently visited Israel and Palestine. I was able to meet McLaren in Bethlehem. We have been occasionally corresponding since last summer, discussing a documentary some friends of mine and I will begin filming in a month and a possible meeting with him when he came here. Unfortunately we only had about five minutes to visit when we actually met face-to-face.

McLaren has written fairly extensively about the Middle East, and has handled it exceptionally well. However, some of the comments on his recent posts have been less than cordial, and less than equitable. Which isn't unexpected at all. McLaren has responded to these tirades with extreme humility, clarity, and assertiveness. I have a great amount of respect for the careful way in which he dealt with such volatile conversations.

You can check it out here: http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/responses-to-my-palestine-posts.html

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Phone Call

I heard a muffled ring, and my pant’s pocket trembled. My phone is hard to hear even without the cloth barrier, so I also have it on vibrating mode. I purchased the phone before coming here through Israel Phones, a company that caters to tourists, students, and backpackers in the so-called Holy Land. I’ve used the company before, and the call rates are fairly inexpensive. The silver-colored face is chipping and the phone number, super-glued to the light blue backing, is peeling off. Partly why it’s inexpensive.

I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway.
“Hello,” said a cheerful female voice on the other end. “Is this Jonathan McRay? I’m calling from Israel Phones.”
“Oh,” I said, without the cheer.
They’ve called many times since I’ve been here, so I knew why they were calling again.
“We just wanted to confirm that you were still in possession of your phone, that it has not been lost or stolen.”
“Why is that?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.
“Several 059 numbers have been dialed, which is a settlement-area number. Did you mean to call these numbers?”

059 numbers are Palestinian numbers, and apparently the only reason I would call a Palestinian is . . . well, there isn’t a reason, because my phone must have been either lost or stolen. Presumably by a Palestinian, because otherwise a 059 number would not have been dialed. And Palestinians apparently now live in the settlement-area. This is quickly coming true. Illegal settlements are spreading through the choking West Bank like an infection, exterior signs of a colonialist epidemic. The land wears sackcloth and ashes from its burning olive trees as the existing sores continue to spread and new ones break out.

“Yes I did,” I replied somewhat tersely. Perhaps too tersely. I recognized that this representative probably didn’t implement the prejudiced policies. But I was angry.
“I see,” said the cheerful female voice a little less cheerfully and a little more cautiously. “And will you be dialing these numbers again in the future.”
“Yes I will,” I responded.
A brief pause followed.
“Oh-oh,” she stuttered. The cheer was gone. “I see. Well then, have a nice day.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

No Words

I couldn't think of a title for this. Nothing really works. These links are to videos and stories concerning Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem. At some point, I'm going to write a story about my limited experience there. Last year, several Palestinian families were evicted from their generational homes so that Jewish settlers could move into the houses, part of an ongoing colonialism. The old Arab homes are now covered in Israeli flags and police and military are constantly present. Members of the Palestinian families now live on the street in tents to protest, but homelessness is conveniently illegal in Jerusalem. These people have been kicked out of their homes so that Jerusalem can be more Jewish. I have no words. Only nausea and tears. And little hope, because I don't know what hope is in these situations.

The Palestinian man with the big black beard is Nasser Gawi. He was kicked out the home in which he was born. And he lives on the street now. I've met him and talked with him. Here is the description of the video: "After verbal taunting, a settler in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah left the Gawi house which he and other settlers have occupied since August 2009. He descended the stairs with an M-16 and pushed a teenage boy. When neighborhood adults stepped in to protect the teenager, he pushed Nasser Gawi and then punched him. Seconds later the settler cocked his M-16 and pointed it wildly at the crowd that had gathered. In this video you can clearly see the first punch thrown by the settler and clearly hear the cock of his gun."

And here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_noYAfW7dm4

The second link is to a story about Sheikh Jarrah on the Palestine Monitor. Scroll down to the video that appears under 'Apathy and Dissent.' The video is of the nonviolent protests, led mostly by Israeli activists, that oppose the occupation of the Palestinian homes. I've attended one of these protests. The two men shouting throughout the video are also Israelis. Not everyone supports justice and peace and recognition of humanity.

Here is the link to the story: http://www.palestinemonitor.org/spip/spip.php?article1247

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

And the Muslim

When I finish for the day at the Musalaha office, I catch Bus 124 to the checkpoint. After quickly presenting my passport, I walk across a small empty parking lot and through the Wall. A hive of taxis constantly swarms like massive yellow bees around the point where the Wall severs Hebron Road. I’ve become friends with several of the taxi drivers, and they begin shouting greetings when they see me walking through the grated tunnel. They call me Hanna, Arabic for John, and they make sure every other driver gives me a fair price. He is a friend, they tell them, so do not cheat him.

Of all the taxi drivers, I’ve become closest to Walid. He first gave me a ride several months ago, before our first visa renewal trip to Jordan. Walid drove me all over Bethlehem looking for a bank that would give me Jordanian dinar. Now, he drives me near my house almost every time I come back to Bethlehem from the office. Most of the other drivers yell and beg, urging me toward their open doors. But Walid stands in the back with his hands in his pockets, a confident smile on his bearded face because he knows I’ll ride with him.

Not long ago, I came back early from the office. I’ve begun doing that much more frequently in the past few weeks. I write much better from the house. As I walked down to the buzzing taxis, I heard people calling my name and I saw Walid standing tall next to a fruit stand, a thick strand of dark hair curling naturally across his forehead. Before I had time to acknowledge him, he climbed into his car and waited for me to join.

Marhaba, Hanna,” he said after I closed the door. “Keyf halak? How are you?
“Ah tamam, okay,” I said, setting my backpack between my feet. “Inta? You?
Kowaies, kowaies,” he replied, speedily maneuvering the taxi within an inch of pedestrians and other cars. “Good, good.”

We drove out of the pocket formed by the Wall’s horseshoe-curve and soon turned down to Beit Sahour at a large roundabout built for the pope’s visit. A long line of clothing stores rushed by on the left, and behind them, across the valley, the Israeli settlement of Har Homa reached like a white hand over a once-forested hill. Trash swirled from the sidewalks and got sucked under our tires. Walid rotated the steering wheel with one broad brown hand, the other propped through the open window. He told me he was getting more and more excited with each passing day: his pregnant wife was expecting their first baby in less than a month. They had only been married for ten months, and apparently wasted absolutely no time in starting their family. Mabruk, I said to him. Congratulations. And he said Hamdullah, hamdulillah, praise be to God.

“Walid,” I said, watching the road bend in front of us so that I could see my house on a distant hill, “are you Muslim or Christian?” I didn’t hesitate in asking, because the strange Western taboo on discussing religion and politics doesn’t really exist here.
Ana?” he asked, slightly turning his head toward me, but keeping his eyes straight ahead. “Me? I am Muslim.”
“Are you very religious?”
Shu? What?”
“Do you fast or go to the mosque to pray?”
Walid clicked his tongue against the back of his teeth.
“Believe me, very very little,” he said. “Maybe I go after.”
He laughed and added, “After one month, one year, who knows?”
Lesh?” I asked. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Ma ba’raf. I don’t know.”

All around the hills and valleys, minarets pointed up like dozens of antennas searching for a heavenly signal. Several times a day, numerous calls to prayer from numerous mosques reverberate from every direction, overlapping like echoes in a still cave. I told Walid that there are almost as many mosques here as there are churches in East Tennessee, where I’m from. Steeples of some persuasion rise out of almost every street corner in Jellico, the little town in the Appalachian Mountains where I grew up. He asked if there were any mosques in East Tennessee. Not in Jellico, I said.

I told him I had heard of animosity between Muslims and Christians in the Bethlehem area. Walid looked at me with inquisitive eyes.
Weyn? Where?”
“In Beit Jala mostly. This is what I’ve heard. Have you felt this?”
Walid looked surprised and shook his head, sticking out his lower lip.
“No,” and he rubbed his forefingers together and said, “We are brothers.”

The guys and I sometimes buy groceries from a small store partially underground, in a side alley in the old city of Beit Sahour. During one shopping venture, Patrick and Paul struck up a conversation with the shopkeeper, who said he was Christian. Patrick said we are here to help make justice and peace, adaala and salaam, in whatever small way we can. The Christian shopkeeper then said, If it weren’t for the Muslims we would not have all these violent problems. Patrick and Paul were stunned. Well, Patrick slowly began, maybe Christians and Muslims should all be working together to end what they both share in common, the Israeli Occupation. No no, the shopkeeper interrupted, the Muslims are the cause of all these problems. They always have been. In every sermon, the Muslims preach destruction of Christianity. And the Crusades didn’t even happen. The Crusades are Islamic propaganda to turn Christians into the bad guys and to give Muslims an excuse to persecute Christians. No, he insisted, Muslims are the real problem and the real enemy.

Shu inta?” Walid asked. “Ortodox? Latin?”
I shrugged. “Ma ba’raf.”
He laughed, and nodded.
“I was raised as Christian,” I continued. “But I have many problems with Christianity. There can be many bad things.”
He nodded in acknowledgement, his face turning serious.
“But, I do feel called by the way of Issa the prophet, who said to love your enemies.”
Walid put his hand over his heart and looked at me and said, “Issa, Muhammad, Musa, all this I believe.”
“Yes,” I said, and I put my hand over my heart, and in that moment we seemed like we were pledging allegiance.
“Issa and the prophets teach and live love and justice, and this is what I believe. They teach to serve the poor and the sick, the Jew and the Christian and . . .”
He broke in: “And the Muslim!”
“Yes, and the Muslim, sahibi.”
Walid shook my hand with a firm slap.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let Freedom Ring

"We are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, JR Day. Dr. King was a prophet who spoke to the particularity of his experience and the oppressed experience of his people in the United States. But his words do not just belong to the Civil Rights Movement of the United States. Exactly through his particularity, exactly because he spoke to his small corner of the world, his message has achieved a universality that speaks to everyone, everywhere. And Dr. King paid for his words and his actions with his life. He paid for his cry for justice and nonviolence and recogniition of humanity. He paid, because the adherents to the religion of empire know their enemies. They know those who house events capable of shattering violence, hatred, and exclusive ideologies. Those who can change their situation, and thus the world. Those who sow the seeds of liberation, justice, and peace must be prepared to find a cross, or a bullet, down the road. And even if those seeds may never grow, even if they fall on rocky ground or are choked by weeds, they are still worth sowing and that message is still worth announcing even though it might never be realized. Because "a time comes when silence is betrayal.” Perhaps announcing, and living that announcement, is the fullest realization we can expect. Dr. King walked in the blazing footsteps of the prophets and prophetesses who sang and danced before him. Now, let's go after them.

"I have a dream that one day on the pallid hills of Israel and Palestine the sons of soldiers and the sons of suicide bombers will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood . . .

I have a dream that one day even the State of Israel, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice . . .

I have a dream that one day, down in Hebron, with its vicious settlers, and in Gaza with its rocket-launchers, who all have their lips dripping with the words of terror and expulsion; one day right there in Jerusalem, little Palestinian boys and Palestinian girls will be able to join hands with little Israeli boys and Israeli girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the breath that fills us all shall be revealed, and all flesh shall breathe it together . . .

And if the world is to be healed and made whole, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the ashen hilltops of the occupied West Bank. Let freedom ring from the desert places of the Negev. Let freedom ring from the fertile valleys of the Galilee!

Let freedom ring from the cosmopolitan streets of Tel Aviv!

Let freedom ring from the open-air prison of Gaza!

But not only that; let freedom ring from the fear-ravaged homes in Sderot!

Let freedom ring from the Temple Mount, from Haram ash-Sharif, in Jerusalem!

Let freedom ring from every ghetto and every city in the Middle East. From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every synagogue and every mosque, from every country and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims and Christians and everyone, yes, everyone else, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Mighty Stream

The students pushed their way into the bursting van, pressing their faces against the windows and waving as they disappeared around the gate. Patrick, Paul, and I grabbed our backpacks from the office, said bye to Basma and the remaining teachers, and started the long trudge uphill to our house. I slapped my knees to knock off caked dirt; we spent most of the afternoon pulling weeds around the budding cucumber plants. The road from the Al-Basma Center threaded through the old clustered homes, stacking upwards in layers and rising like artificial hills. Patrick said we didn’t have any more pita, so we cut over a gravelly embankment to a large grocery store on Wad Abu Sada, the street that runs to the foot of our jabal, hill. We have to buy pita and hoummus every few days, because in our house they evaporate with each meal.

I stood on the front steps while Patrick and Paul went inside. I hate shopping; perusing through used bookstores doesn’t count. Admittedly, I get too easily irritated with shopping, but when I need something from the store, I go in, find what I came for, buy it, and leave. Patrick and Paul like to browse, deliberating over every different brand of an item. So I let them browse, instead opting to wait outside. No sense in intentionally ruffling my own feathers.

Several kids ran up the gradual incline of the street, kicking a deflated soccer ball. I sat on the steps, my head resting on my knees. I was tired, but not necessarily from ripping weeds. This place tired me. I was tired of sarcastic teenagers howling profanities in English when I walked past, tired of seeing six-year-old boys playing with toy M-16s, tired of the incessant discord of car horns at any stall in traffic, tired of passing through checkpoints every morning to sit in an office in an industrial zone, tired of feeling like I wasn’t doing what I came here to do. I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t making any difference. I wasn’t naïve enough to come here thinking that the Occupation would end during this eight months. But I was drained, and the exhaustion agitated me.

I was concerned, too. There is a fine line between confronting dehumanization and dehumanizing those you confront. I have to take sides, because neutrality is voting for the oppressor. That fine line is a tightrope that must be walked. But I’ve never been convinced that joining the oppressed and actively condemning injustice mean that I must see the oppressors as something other than what I am. People dehumanize themselves with violence and hatred, but I don’t have to encourage them. I was concerned, because I don’t want to trip over the razor-edge of that line. For a lot of activists, I’ve noticed, that line is nonexistent: the other side deserves to be dehumanized, because they’ve forfeited their humanity by their actions. A love of justice isn’t always wedded to a love of the breath that fills us all. Because the others aren’t breathing the same air. They couldn’t be. The soldiers who come to villages in the middle of night to beat and arrest protest leaders don’t breathe the same way I do. Fanatical settlers drive Palestinians out of their generational homes in East Jerusalem, where homelessness is coincidentally illegal, and they can’t be like me. I’m nothing like the teenaged military recruits, away from homes and schools for the first time, pumped full of fear and nationalism and the need for defense. And I have nothing in common with citizens who praise the heroism of their armed forces, with government leaders who think strength and war will make peace, with adherents to exclusive religious ideologies, with families who go about their normal lives, intentionally or unintentionally oblivious about what their money supports or the costs of their allegiances. I could never be made to believe that my country was God-ordained, that my nation was morally superior, that my humanity was more important. I could never be made to believe such propaganda.

I looked up at the sky, and suddenly the dark clouds opened into light-laced holes and rain poured down. I jumped up the steps to the patio underneath the balcony that formed an awning. Dust spread like steam as the raindrops hit the pavement. The drenched kids abandoned their soccer ball and danced through the street, laughing with heads up in the air and fingers pointing to the leaking sky. The old man on the patio next to me took off his glasses and whispered “Hamdullah. Thanks to God.” Grayish white-water rapids turned the corner and rushed down the scarred streets. Waves lapped over one another and carried stones and pebbles that somersaulted with the rolling tide, singing like a Native American rainmaker. I cupped my hand and held it out beneath the fresh cascades. Raindrops splashed on my fingertips and trickled down the lines of my palm like a tributary.

Walter Wink wrote: “Every drop of water in me has been in every spring, stream, river, lake, and ocean in the world during our earth’s billions of years of existence. We are related to every other self in the universe.”

I’ve heard that justice, like water, rolls down like a mighty stream. Maybe that’s because they both give us our humanity back. Water and justice announce that we are all related.