"Narrative" was the word for today.
Even beginning the process of a blog post seems like an impossible task on this first full day of our Israel - Palestine tour with the Center for Jewish, Christian and Islamic Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary.
Most of us began the day at the Mt. of Olives where we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane. On the Mt. of Olives are the ancient and still in use Jewish burial grounds. Across a small valley, you can see the Muslim burial grounds and not far from there are Christian burial grounds. The Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane had such strong connections to Jesus' hopes and concerns for humanity. Being there was a powerful experience.
More powerful for me was visiting the Ophel excavations where the Jewish temple stood during the time of Jesus and which Scripture records his visiting.
The Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, was another powerful moment. There I joined those in our group and hundreds of others in offering prayers. It is not often that I experience moments where my emotions overcome me, but praying at the Western Wall was one of those times. I felt a spiritual sense of connectedness to both my Christian faith and the Jewish tradition from which it comes in a way that was unexpectedly moving.
What was remarkably obvious as you watched different tour groups wander around the city was that each was being told a different story - a different narrative - about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. Some of the stories dealt with theology. Some of these stories dealt with history. How one heard and understood those stories shape understandings about God and people. These different narratives are what make war and hatred possible. At the same time, these stories have helped move people toward peace and that possibility exists still.
You feel this sense of duality here. Christians are a small part of the population of Israel, but Jews and Muslims live side by side in a land that has changed hands countless times over the course of history. Today, of course, Jews control the country. Arab citizens have second class status, as evidenced just today in an Israeli newspaper editorial, and Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank face even worse conditions. There will be more to discuss about that tomorrow and over the next two weeks.
Let me close on the surreal note that not long ago the radio station where we were eating dinner switched programming and began a David Bowie marathon. Some voices really do cross cultural and language barraiers.