June 11, 2003
Dear friends and family,
I hope this letter finds you all well as we begin to enter the summer season, and a happy St. Barnabas Day to you all!
Most of you probably did not know it was St. Barnabas Day, and many of you probably do not care. However, when you work at an Anglo-Catholic cathedral, you're constantly made aware of such things. Anyway, the reason I even mention the subject is that Barnabas was known as the "Son of Encouragement," and there's plenty need for encouragement right now.
Just two days ago, Israeli forces attempted to assassinate Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi in Gaza City. However, they only injured him, while killing a woman and a young girl and injuring more than 20 others. The move potentially is sure to spark retaliation and could upset the already unstable peace process here.
It's all depressing and infuriating, yet God's grace continues in the midst of all of this. Yesterday, I experienced that grace in the form of Scripture passages indicating that sufferings eventually are followed by better things to come and of local Palestinians voices that say they have not given hope for peace.
Encouragement - it's such a gift. And it's so necessary when there is such little room for optimism. Just within the past month, Israeli soldiers have arrested peace activists and temporarily barred internationals from entering the Gaza Strip, while killing Gaza and West Bank residents on an almost daily basis. On the flip side, a number of Israelis were killed in a string of suicide bombings throughout Israel.
A parishioner at our English-speaking service actually lives in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill where one of those bombings took place during a Sunday morning last month. He appeared slightly shaken up during the church service later that morning, although not as perturbed as I think I would be.
Yet good things are happening, too - most notably the peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the newly named Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, more commonly known as Abu Mazen. Many people are cynical about talks and about the proposed "Road Map" for peace in this region, yet many also say it's a reason for hope, regardless of how slight.
Personally, I've been encouraged by the work of the Church as well. I had the opportunity to visit a number of our churches and institutions in the Galilee and coastal regions about two weeks ago. It's wonderful to see the perseverance of some of our often overworked priests as they carry out the work of the gospel - the sharing of the Good News of Christ - in whatever situation they find themselves.
In addition to coordinating regular Bible studies and Sunday worship services, our parishes coordinating interfaith events, working together with other local churches and providing various activities for the local community. Several of them said something to the effect of "I'm not the priest of the local Anglican church; I'm the Anglican priest of the city or village."
Meanwhile, our diocesan and parish schools are providing a top-quality education for local Muslims and Druze as well as Christians. This helps bridge the gap between people of different faiths - a particularly important factor in a city like Nazareth, where tensions have flared up between Christians and some Muslims over the proposed construction of a mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Speaking of Nazareth, it was such a joy to visit the two-year-old Village of Nazareth, which aims to recreate a village setting that would be similar to the one in which Jesus grew up. I also had plenty of time for contemplation early last month as I rented a bicycle in Tiberias and rode around the Galilee, stopping at the Mount of Beattitudes and at the ruins of Capernaum and Betsaida where Jesus conducted parts of his ministry.
My faith also was deepened when I visited a couple of Persian synagogues
with my Ultra-Orthodox Jewish friend Doron. It was fascinating to watch
synagogue attendees discussing their faith with the rabbi, and to picture
Jesus the Rabbi doing the same. As I watched worshippers recite the Shema,
which includes the passage, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength," it helped me to temporarily
refocus my priorities.
It's also refreshing to meet a Jew like Doron, who is as disgusted as I am about the settler mentality that plagues the modern nation of Israel.
I've also received great amounts of wisdom and encouragement from my
Muslim friend Naorman. As we've discussed things, I've learned there are
a lot of similarities between Christianity and Islam. Of course, this is
not to say that they are completely the same, and I get kind of annoyed
with interfaith dialogue that aims to gloss over traditional religious
differences as unimportant. But as a Christian, I am learning that Christ
can be found in all kinds of places - sometimes even in faith traditions
that are different than my own.
I already know it's going to be difficult to leave this place. There are so many special people here, so many special places. In short, there are so many blessings that I know I have taken for granted on a daily basis. It's strange to think that in less than two months I'll be back in California, and then at General Convention in Minneapolis, and then - the Lord only knows what.
Thanks so much for being partners along the way. And thanks so much for your continual encouragement through prayers and messages. Happy St. Barnabas Day to you all!