I signed up to write a blog for the Pilgrims of Ibillin on our last day. However, our last day was filled with travel. My mind continues to process all that I’ve seen, heard, and experienced on my trip. I could have easily re-written my blog post from my previous trip, but I did not think that would be fair and I’m sure some who read would note that I just plagiarized myself.
As I prayerfully reflect on my trip to Israel/Palestine, the people we met there, the stories I heard, the rich conversations with members of our group, and the deep sense that where Jesus walked may not be the place he walks today, one image stood out to me: speed bumps.
I do not think there was a straight, solid stretch of road in the West Bank. Everywhere we turned, there was a roundabout and a speed bump. I’m not sure why there were so many speed bumps. Our bus bravely tried to make it up to 40 or 45 miles per hour at times, but unless we were on a road in Israel, highway speeds were non-existent in the West Bank.
Israel/Palestine is a multi-layered complex area about the size of New Jersey. This is a place where geography, history, politics, and theology merge and form competing narratives over-lapping and converging in a complicated reality. Plus, there are a lot of speed bumps.
Yes, we can think of speed bumps like the multiple attempts at peace accords. We can think about rockets fired out of Gaza and then missiles shot back into the same stretch of land. We know for every child detained bitterness grows and rocks being thrown at guard towers can turn into shots fired. Those and many other images from our media and our knowledge are speed bumps. Yet, speed bumps are not always bad.
For instance, speed bumps get you to slow down. How many of us have casually driven through a neighborhood and seen a sign for “Children Playing”, but without the speed bump, we may not have slowed down? For me even when annoying, speed bumps make me slow down and notice what’s going on around me. That’s one of their main purposes: make one slow down and pay attention. In the West Bank, speed bumps make you see what’s going on around you. As our bus slowed down and went over a bump, I was able to take pictures of powerful graffiti along the separation wall. I was able to see Bedouin camps slated for destruction. I took note of the cisterns on the roofs of Palestinian homes, but not on homes in settlements as a testimony to the lack of water for one group and ample water for another.
Speed bumps caused me to slow down to see and to listen. I heard our host in the West Bank talk about his struggles as a peacemaker. I heard again the story of hope coming from a refugee camp. I was reminded that when women get together they can ensure a bright future for their children. I heard music coming from cars, who also had to slow down over speed bumps, as we ate gelato on a patio. I noticed that a coffee shop could help revitalize part of the old town in Nazareth. I saw students get excited about opportunities to learn and even practice English with visitors. I heard heart breaking stories from parents who have come together after a loved one has died due to conflict, yet also listened as hope triumphed over more violence, hate, and separation.
Speed bumps also bring you to your senses. I am not a big sleeper on a bus, but if I thought about closing my eyes for a stretch, then it was not for long as a speed bump jarred me awake. One of the powerful reflections we heard was an advocate wondering when the international community would come to their senses? In our own country, we wonder about the common good. We prayerfully work to see the kingdom of God materialize in our midst. Those actions are about having our congregation and our community come to their senses and put into effect the Lord’s command to love our neighbor. If that is what we try to do here, then why do we shy away from those same concerns around the world? Why does a tragedy make the front page one day, but slip out of sight and mind the next as we worry about the power supply to our iPhones? I was struck by the notion that speed bumps are needed to jar us awake, to shake us a little, and to bring us to our senses so that we may be fully present to hear, see, and act for others. One thing about being on a bus with a tour group is that after about six or so speed bumps, you begin to have a shared experience. You spill your water when you try to drink. Your backpack falls out of the seat next to you. You brace yourself for the bump when you feel the bus suddenly apply brake pressure. You look at the person sitting next to you and the expression says it all: at least we’re not alone. Speed bumps quickly bring a group together. Realizing you are not alone gives you encouragement your destination must be getting close. Many of the people we met: adults, youth, people of various faiths and countries were encouraged by us just being there. They expressed that just our presence, just our time listening, or even asking questions meant that they were not alone.
None of us like to be alone. None of us like thinking that no one cares or even wonders about us. In a bus, speed bumps bring about a unity for those riding that yes, our backs hurt, our water is spilled, but we are not alone, and we can laugh when we get back to the hotel as we survived another day. People in Israel/Palestine are not alone. We may not experience even a quarter of what their lives are like, but we’ve seen and heard, we were there, and sisters and brothers are not alone as they strive creatively for reconciliation and peace.
Lastly, I began to wonder, what would it take to remove the speed bumps and allow traffic to flow freely? I know: a lot. Yet, small significant steps could be made in good faith. I know that getting all parties to a table to negotiate peace (especially after the recent move of the embassy) is difficult. However, what if a small step to remove one speed bump was agreed upon? If parties worked on that and built a little more trust, then maybe another speed bump could be removed? I don’t have a magical wand to know what small step should be made first, but I do know that when Jews, Muslims, and Christians say, “I know we could agree on something if we just had a couple of cups of coffee and talked. We’ve been neighbors for thousands of years and we could be neighbors again.” This reminds me that I believe in a Lord who makes the impossible possible. We believe in a God whose ways are not ours and whose foolishness is greater than our wisdom. Yes, I have hope and faith speed bumps can be removed.
I’m home now and realize that speed bumps are not unique to Israel/Palestine. Everett and our own country have plenty. I will continue to pray for our brothers and sisters that we met. I will work for justice and love through Christ. I am also committed anew to work on the speed bumps here with the same patience, resolve, and hope I witnessed on my trip.