Life + Culture

Holy Land for All People: #AllPeoplePractices

First plane ride!
Thirty people from UM Church for All People (C4AP) recently returned from a ten-day trip to the Holy Land. We were a different bunch than those who usually get to go on such trips. Indeed, our group represented the full range of diversity at C4AP. We had many races, ages, income levels, and educations. Some of us were very well traveled, having been all over the globe. Others had never been out of the state, never been on a plane.

And so there we found ourselves, together on a journey to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus, who challenged our understanding of power, worth, and privilege. Who identified himself with the marginalized, the persecuted, the downtrodden. The Jesus who told us "blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

Many of us went on the trip knowing that we would see this land more clearly if we did so with the same sorts of folks that Jesus identified with. We wanted to see the holy sights through the eyes of those that most clearly see God. Usually, it is the powerful, the rich, the well connected that are able to afford such a trip. But what would  happen if we made the journey with those that Jesus spent His time blessing, rather than those that He was cursing?

And so it was with this beautiful mix of friends that we helped each other experience the scenes of Jesus's life and ministry. We visited the Mount of Beatitudes with those that do indeed hunger and thirst. We prayed in the Church of the Annunciation with those who have wrestled unexpected teen pregnancy. We drank from Jacob's Well with those who have been shamed and ostracized from society. We gazed down into where the Pool of Bethesda once stirred with those who have felt helpless, but know that they have been healed. We stood in the cell where Jesus was held in the the House of Caiaphas with those that have felt what it's like to be imprisoned. We walked the Via Dolorosa with those who've also had to stare death in the face.

But perhaps one of the most meaningful spots for me was the the Church of the Multiplication. It's the traditional spot where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. This passage of scripture is particularly significant for us at Church for All People. Not only do we believe in it, but we've seen it happen.

On Mount of Beatitudes
We've witnessed times when a little bit of soup fed an entirely too large crowd, with plenty remaining for seconds and leftovers. We've seen the widow place her mite in the offering basket and watched it become $50 million in affordable housing. We've received the random request from someone in need, only to have that very item donated the very same day. And we've shopped in a store that gives everything away for free, but never runs out.

We believe in a Divine Economy of Abundance. We do not worship a God of scarcity, but a God who always provides. We know we've been brought a mighty long way, and that our God has delivered us out of every difficult season. And so standing on a hill where Jesus took a couple of loaves and fish to feed thousands of hungry people felt extraordinary, and yet also very familiar.

Of course we saw many other things while on our journey, not all of them pleasant. And these also were made more poignant when experienced with our diverse mix of pilgrims. We passed though check points, and met families divided by walls. We learned about stolen land and forfeited property. We heard the the worries of inadequate education systems, and the frustrations of working multiple jobs without being able to make ends meet. We listened to stories of polices brutality, youth backlash, and parents' fears. We saw the divide between the powerful and the powerless. And this too felt familiar.

The wall surrounding Bethlehem
That one of the holiest places on the planet could be the site of such strife is at once heartbreaking, and yet someone how fitting of the brokenness of our world. In hearing about so many competing interests over so many hundreds of years, the situation often felt unsolvable. Our human divides catch up with us at every turn. After all, we know that in the United States, it's the Christian church that remains one of the most racially and economically segregated institutions in the country.

And yet, there we were. A ragtag group of misfits on the road to encounter the Living Christ. A group from different backgrounds and an array of lived experiences. A group of people that aren't supposed to get along together within the same city, let alone on a long, cramped bus ride. Our mere existence doesn't fix the difficult problems we face, but doing the holy work of solving them together and undivided very well may.
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