by Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation
I tend to be fairly cautious about most Christian conferences. At the risk of sounding overly-skeptical, I’m not thoroughly convinced of the long-term benefit of such events, and wonder if they don’t play into a kind of consumerism within the Christian sub-culture of the West: lots of marketing, lots of money, lots of “celebrity Christians,” lots of glossy pamphlets and slick websites. They’re not all bad, of course, but I generally feel uncomfortable with many aspects of “the big conference machine.”
However, I must admit when I received an invitation to attend the Impact: Holy Land conference, I was intrigued. If you’re going to have a conference, I thought, there aren’t many issues other than the situation in the Middle East that are worthy of special time and attention. And so, with a bit of hesitation, I registered for and attended the event. I’m so glad I did.
It was a richly challenging and deeply hopeful three days of relationship-building and peace-building, of learning and growing. The speakers and participants were comprised of a diverse group of individuals, with varied theological and political backgrounds and beliefs, but who were united by a love for Jesus. We listened to stories, wrestled with difficult topics, asked pointed questions, studied the Bible, tried to disagree agreeably, and worshiped together throughout the entire event.
There’s not room in one short blog post to capture all of the wisdom and grace and hope that was shared during our time together, but here’s a brief sampling of some of the thoughts that struck me and continue to shape my thinking about the Way of Jesus in general and the Holy Land in particular:
- “The greatest tool to fight injustice is actively seeking peace and reconciliation with those who are persecuting us.”
- “The most deadly weapon in conflict is dehumanization. When we dehumanize the other and buy into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, it’s a breakdown of the image of God in other people.”
- “If your theology is not a blessing to and good news for your enemy, then it’s not a Christian theology.”
- “Part of loving your enemy means listening to their story, learning their history, and getting to know their narrative.”
- “You cannot have justice without reconciliation.”
- “Whenever people ask if I’m for a one-state solution or a two-state solution, I always reply that I’m for an 11 million-individual solution. Every single person living in the Holy Land needs to be transformed and needs to be part of the solution.”
- “As Mother Theresa teaches us, if we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
- “We Christians do not have exclusive control over the Holy Spirit. Sometimes God works through those who believe differently than we do.”
- “Dr. West reminds us that justice is what love looks like in public.”
- “Love cannot be legislated, but as our hearts are transformed by the love of God we will necessarily change our policies.”
- “Politics is about policies that impact people. If there are policies in place that are hurting people, then challenging those policies is the right and loving thing to do. So yes, there are times when love is political.”
- “We must expose injustice to the point that it becomes so uncomfortable that people have no choice but to do something about it.”
- “We need to exchange weapons for worship, conquest for community, and the pursuit of power for the pursuit of peace.”
I attended this conference with a desire to learn about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And while I did learn more about the situation, I also learned about much more than simply the religious and socio-political struggle in the Holy Land.
I learned about God’s deep love for all people. I learned about conflict and reconciliation and justice. I learned about the power of story, the power of forgiveness, and the power of God using ordinary people to do small things with great love. I learned about my own distorted ways of dealing with conflict and relating to those who disagree with me. I learned about social justice and the fierce urgency of now. I learned about the imperative call to express our faith not merely in belief but through concrete, tangible, loving action. And most importantly, I learned once again that the good news of Jesus is for all people: saints and sinners, skeptics and dreamers, Arabs and Americans, Israelis and Palestinians.