Sunday, March 27, 2011

Good grief

I've spent today reviewing the religious activist side of my life for the past five years or so.
It has now been almost exactly five years since I took a trip with the Christian Peacemaker Teams to Isralistine. It's been four since Jordan. On each of those trips I took different baggage with me and came back with different conclusions. The CPT trip taught me to engage and commit, to get so fed up with the knowledge of something that there would be no arguing with the passion with which I was engaging. To bring up the issue until it was being acted upon. The Lebanese War and the withdrawal from Gaza later only furthered my intention to speak up that something terribly wrong was going on. I even gave presentations to meetings, though I didn't follow up with CPT about that outreach. However, as happens, the words written there, the pictures taken there, the connections that were initiated there were an inflatable anchor, they lost the weight that had come with good intentions and the naive belief that we were there for an incredibly important reason. As time wore on, other priorities had come up, and a crucial message I still carry with me from Palestine, that Americans should do what they can with what they have where they are, and not rely on short volunteerist trips, meant that soon I had other things to do. However I practiced my Arabic, talked more with Palestinians, and discovered the effect of distance on an issue to which I had only fleeting, if intense, contact.
By the time Jordan rolled around I was more prepared for the area, had not worked myself up for any earth shattering work, had deepened my analysis of power dynamics, and was prepared to have fun, however I had swung the other way in communicating about it in ways that might eventually have made a difference. Rereading my blog from that time period today, I am embarrassed about how vague and flippant I was in my description of my surroundings. I think I might have been trying to ham it up for an assignment I did not necessarily feel (the blog was mandatory), but I clearly was not taking seriously what I had been given. I found Jordan a dull land of small pleasures and clearer interactions, but of stifling political climate, and little to connect with with the Jordanians I managed to make friends with.
What I remember of both places was the sense of place and epic scale of such a small area. It was obvious that I was an outsider. I missed home and felt for the first time, an inkling of what 'America' is as a nation of people appeared for me. Lest I be misunderstood, I do realize that there are many experiences of people in the United States and that making a nation out of a people is a very debilitating exercise, but it was an altogether surprising event to sigh with delight at the sight of a Speedway gas station in the hot, humid suburbs of Detroit. I was moved by the smell of home.
God in all of this was thorough. My grandfather died while I was in Jordan and, after an interview with a civil engineer, I was moved to visit a nearby church and pray. The room started filling up and soon a mass was said. As everyone left, I ducked out, but was interrupted by a man who thanked me for coming to his grandfather's funeral. Traveling to the holy sites filled me with horror at the commercialization which had sprung up in the past several years, but also with awe at the sheer history and faith of Christians who, most likely, had seen many commercial schemes wither and become ruins for future exploitation. Living for a week with the Bedouin gave me a completely new understanding of shepherd metaphor, as well as the reason that the goats would be sent to hell (they are stupid, stubborn, and unintentionally evil). What was most clear to me however, that my next task was to be closer to home, again to do what I can with what I have where I am. Especially since it had become clear to me that one of the best things to do was to withdraw American influence from the region. I had a culture to fight at home.
These experiences have all come back to me now as the aftermath of the Arab World protests continues. Moved in particular by a friends visitation of Jordan, reflecting on what I have done since then continues to be a challenging, yet surprisingly refreshing reminder of what Light I still have to shine.