A Voice in the Wilderness

Last fall I took a class in the theology of Bonhoeffer, perhaps best known for his work, The Cost of Discipleship, with its critique of cheap grace and its contrast of costly grace. He is also known for his participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, for which he was hanged. During the course, I scrutinized Bonhoeffer’s theology carefully, looking for clues to what had made him speak out and actively oppose the Nazi regime when so many others did not. Over and over in his theology, Bonhoeffer emphasized concrete responsibilities and he resisted abstractions; he said that we were responsible to the concrete realities of history. In Toward A Jewish Theology of Liberation, Marc Ellis discusses solidarity and he writes: “Solidarity also means the willingness to enter into history with authenticity and fidelity. Entry into history is the willingness to engage in a critical dialogue with economic, social, political and religious issues….A lived witness means to make a choice within the critical dialogue, to plant one’s feet without all the answers, to choose a way of life in the mix of history.” Choosing responsibility without all the answers; as Bonhoeffer had written decades before: “Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.”

If is often said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and it is in certain respects, but in other respects it is not complex, it is a matter of a fundamental injustice, of an illegal occupation and of egregious human rights abuses in violation of international law. But because a resolution seems difficult and the conflict at times intractable, because no one of us has all the answers, the inclination may be to opt out of critical dialogue. Or we may opt out because of criticism for speaking out, charges of anti-Semitism, questions of our loyalties. But we bear a responsibility to the concrete realities of history, to what we know is occurring now, a situation that I believe history will charge us with if we fail to address it. I believe history will ask: how could they have let this go on?

I take my baptism in the Jordan River seriously, and I have decided not to call it a rededication; with all respect to those who had me baptized at birth, this is not a choice that can be made by proxy. I am a quiet person and I want nothing more than to walk off into the sunset and live a gracious life at home and in nature; to read, write, bake bread, care for my family, and for animals. But I walked into a green and ancient river, and although I did not hear an actual voice crying in the wilderness, I felt it. I knew that I was agreeing to walk in wildernesses whose ways I don’t yet know.

Of the many images and moments I take away from this trip, one that keeps returning are the faces of Palestinians who told us: “We are not terrorists.” One is Salim, the man whose home has been demolished five times by Israeli bulldozers, who after the first demolition found his frightened son eight hours later hiding among the rocks, whose daughter knows that her father can’t protect her; she says: “I saw what the soldiers did to you.” Another is the face of a man from the Bereaved Families circle, who in spite of the senseless shooting death of his father by Israeli soldiers wants to dialogue with Israelis who have also lost family members in the conflict. It is not about forgiveness, he says, but about choosing reconciliation, to understand the path of other side. He says, “Our case as Palestinians is about justice, not revenge… we are not met as human beings.”

And the Separation Barrier, the Wall reinforces this every day. On one side are the alleged terrorists, on the other, those who allegedly are not. But when you hear the stories, those distinctions prove to be muddled. And the Wall is ugly — not as though one would expect beauty — but it rises like an insult into the air with its crown of barbed wire. It has boxed some Palestinians in on three sides. That, to me, is terror, to have the horizon barred, the sunrise and sunset imprisoned, to be in a barbed and concrete wilderness. Yet on the wall of that wilderness, a voice emerges. Someone has written, “The dirt whispered, child, I’m coming home. Love conquers all.”



1 thought on “A Voice in the Wilderness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s