22 July 2015

A little update.

Today we went to the zoo. J’s daycare is closed because of the Eid al-Fitr holiday. We have been so happy to have bonus family time, especially while so many are celebrating. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was fantastic. Elephants, all sorts of Monkeys, Tigers, Syrian Bears. We didn’t get through all of it, but we will be back. They are even open on Saturdays, a big deal here. We made up a soundtrack as we walked and rolled through. Walter Martin’s “We Like the Zoo Cause we are Animals Too,” and “Colonel Hathi’s March” from The Jungle Book were the most memorable. To be expanded.

I am also making a soundtrack of songs that do not make sense here. So far, I have Easy Like Sunday morning (as Sunday is really Monday), Manic Monday (again because Monday is Tuesday), and It’s Friday I’m in Love, because Friday is prayer and family time. Suggestions welcomed.

Prayers have been ringing like music here in Jerusalem. We live close to a couple of mosques, so the call to prayer and mellifluous muezzins are resonant in the air. We walk by shrines and domes and walls and holy places on a daily basis. Isn’t the whole world holy though? Here as there, we think of our friends and family and communities we have been and will be a part of, lifting up special prayers for some.

As mentioned above, it is Eid al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. Ramadan brings a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is a pillar of the Islamic faith. We have bumped into many Muslim families as they celebrate the holiday, including our generous neighbors. They brought us flowers and we made them homemade chocolate chip cookies.

For Eid, and even a bit for Ramadan, many have been granted permission to travel out of the West Bank. That is a big, positive, deal. It means increased flying checkpoints and road closures, but it also means more access to places that are usually cut off, like family, places of prayer, and the sea.

Because Jerusalem closes down on Saturday for Shabbat, we headed to the sea. There we met many people celebrating life and Eid al-Fitr. We saw mamas in hijab wading in the waves with their toddlers. We saw swimmers and runners and paddle boarders and puppies and pda.

The best thing we saw, the most beautiful encounter of the day was coming upon a family of four, a mom and dad and two children. One child swaddled in mama’s arms–an infant, too small for the flowing waves. Mama was in her hijab, protected from the sun. The other child, a boy, was in his father’s arms, smiling through his soul. His dad picked his son up from his wheelchair and carried him and his smile down the craggy stairs, across the melting sand, and into the green-blue sea. He set his boy down in the water, holding him up under the arms so that the boy could use what muscles he had to walk in the water. Joy. Then as the waves got bigger and bigger the dad picked his boy up so he could feel the waves and jump over them. Beauty. Then, the father helped he boy float in the blue-green sea, feeling the water up to but not over his ears. Wonder. We sat and watched for ten minutes, engrossed in the gift of family and care and kindness and adaptability we can carry within us. I am telling you, it may be the best thing we see in this place, but it is too early to say.

On Sunday we were with the saints of the Lutheran Church of Beit Sahour, where we were warmly welcomed by every church member. Josie tried to climb on each and every pew, but was still doted on at coffee quarter-hour. We were prayed for in the prayers of the church, and, after a sermon on loaves and fishes and bread enough for all. We were served sweet anise bread at coffee quarter-hour. Seriously, it lasts for precisely 15 minutes and then everyone gets up. Introvert’s dream. In that brief time, we shared bread, coffee or tea, greetings and some really nascent Arabic.

Tomorrow, we return to somewhat normal patterns, day care and planning. Our YAGM come in a little more than a month. Cannot wait!

31 July 2015

I am not sure if such an update is welcome. Scroll on by, if you need. Do not worry for us, we are so safe and loved and watched over by so many here and elsewhere. We are so glad to be here and most days it seems like a beautiful life. It is. It is also marked with challenges — most of which we don’t experience directly, given our status and privilege.

It’s just been a really heavy day here. The day started with news that a toddler, a few months younger that our own, was killed in a fire. Really, it was a racially motivated arson. It is alleged that some Jewish settler terrorists broke the window in his home and threw in a Molotov cocktail. His body has already been dressed for burial, as is custom, and it’s a tiny body that lays on a stretcher. His mom, dad and four year old brother remain hospitalized.

Last night, a man stabbed six at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. He was recently released from prison, having served a ten year prison term for attempted murder after stabbing people at the same parade in 2005. Two remain hospitalized. Critically.

Today was already supposed to be a tense day given the clashes of last Sunday near the Dome of the Rock. But then the news out of Duma only made it the anger grow.

The security presence has been overwhelming today in Palestinian neighborhoods. Helicopters overhead, streets shut down, police and security forces everywhere, reports of clashes all over. Are the security forces there because there are clashes, or is it the other way around? Both, I think.

We went on a tour of Jerusalem today. It has been on our schedule for quite some time so that we could see if it was a good tour for our incoming YAGM. It was. It was also hard to be in a different place than our toddler, knowing that the city was gearing up for tension. All was fine. A nine year old American Israeli girl said, “I know why there are problems here, it is because of racism and prejudice.” Amen, sister. And hatred and hurt and so many dreams deferred.

It is tender, today, much more than most days.

Know that we are safe, but also know that there are a lot of hurt people here in this place. It is palpable. Our hearts and prayers and tears continue to go out to and for the victims of violence, for those who are healing, for those who are caught up in this particular mess, for peace with justice.

15 August 2015

Just caught up in the bittersweet beauty of life. J sleeps next to me, her head cemented to my rib cage, hand warming my elbow, breaths rising and falling. Her delight came tonight when we put on headlamps to find grapes that went rolling under the couch. My delight came in her newest word, mommy, a slight change from mama.

Tears fall onto the pillow at news of the death of my friend and former congregant Lois Ramona. I am caught up in a great cloud, so many witnesses have aided and added to my life. J reads a book inscribed by Tracy–don’t get me started because I won’t stop crying. I don’t go a week without thinking of LeRoyce and her hospitality. My grandma Ardis was my great champion and supporter. Grief and love are different sides of the same coin. It’s a gift, all, and I am blown away by the awe and the awful. Annie Dillard writes “Terror and a beauty insoluble are a ribband of blue woven into the fringes of garments of things both great and small.” Maybe she was riffing on Rilke; it’s not a new pairing, not even in 1974, when she wrote it at the age of 27.

27. I was a pup then, not yet married, on internship, in shape. I will turn 35 this week, but it seems like decades between now and then. Could I still recognize that person? I hope so. I have seen a lot of beauty and some amount of terror, mostly the kind we wage on ourselves and those closest to us. My privilege keeps me away from real terrors, but not in my conscience. There are so many living witnesses that keep me open to the human story, as terrible and beautiful as it is. I am grateful, truly. What I see here in Jerusalem, foreign and new, serves as a mirror for my old familiar home. How many black and brown bodies will fall because of a continued rise in white fear? How has my family’s arrival and settlement displaced so many others? How can I speak of the terrors here without considering the terrors there? And what of the terrors that I wreak? The healing of the world begins with the self.

One day this week I had to remind myself to be grateful when I overcooked the eggs. For a minute there, I almost lost my damn mind. I have a wicked perfective streak in me, honed by a need to be accepted. If I do it right, I won’t get in trouble. If I do it well, I will be loved. My super ego is bigger than yours. This knowledge was not uncovered at 27, but brought into light through spiritual direction and counseling. Thank God for those witnesses too. Thank God for our 30s. Thank God for healing and change and forgiveness and new pages.

I think of the great cloud as a bookshelf, with individual lives the bookends. There are volumes I have read and learned from. There are volumes I have and will have lived that J can read from. We will share some volumes. There will be volumes that she lives that I won’t have access to. At least that is the hope. That’s the bittersweet beauty of it. The volumes get thicker and yet draw towards their end with years and experiences. A hello brings a goodbye. The characters increase and then decrease, but not even death can erase them from one’s page or one’s mind or one’s body.

I cut my hair after J was born because at a certain age she started pulling it. Lois Ramona told me about how her son used to twirl her hair in his fingers–pulling it–for comfort. I was then glad that J could still reach up for mine. Though that time, that way of comforting has passed, it isn’t over, it continues in memory and is resurrected into new ways of being mommy.

19 August 2015

J fell asleep in the car tonight. I was the irresponsible parent who kept her out past her bedtime. I was also the responsible one who put her in jammies before we left! I tell you, I haven’t smelled anything sweeter in the world than the top of that girl’s head. I stood there in the street, breathing it in, overhearing the neighborhood boys playing football (soccer) up the alley. I almost crumpled for the wonder of it all. By some miracle I actually got her into her own bed, but it is taking all that I have not to crawl in with her! What a gift, this life. A new Ryan Adams live album and Nina Simone tribute album, a crumble made out of seasonal fruits and friends to enjoy it with, a day to explore the city, that smell. It is oh so good, my, my.

29 August 2015

Someone had to bake up the rest of the bread dough. It was just sitting there after having been baked into a pullman loaf earlier today. Had beautiful rosemary to throw in too. Now we feast on bread with truffle butter and a small glass of wine and I believe again. In beauty. In wholeness. In incarnation. In the truth that all manner of things shall be well.

Less than ideal week in this holy land. Holiness seems to be a magnet for conflict. Nothing goes according to plan. It is easy to get it wrong. The joy we had been waiting these many months to receive — our 6 YAGM — was deferred. Instead of seeing them face-to-face, we see them through the din of our computer screen for 90 minutes a day. We manage mostly because they are so wonderful.

All of the stress and disappointment took a break as soon as we arrived Friday evening at our friend Abeer Fadi’s house. A feast not only of food but of friendship. Yes, there was Makloubeh, yes there was a birthday cake for Josephy (ran out of room for the rest), but there was so much more: a hospitality that caught us like a net, laughter that raised us up, and love that is so undeserved but certainly mutual. They dug out their children’s old toys and cleaned them up just so J could play. She was in her joy. And me.

And today our Muslim neighbors invited us for a bbq. I shouldn’t be eating bread because we ate enough for three lifetimes. Lamb, chicken and sheep–oh my lans the sheep burgers; I shouldn’t eat. But fresh bread is a temptation that not even God forbade our ancestors. I’m grateful I had the time to let it rise.

When the Passover happened, our ancestors did not have time to let their dough rise. Out they went. We call it an exodus, but we need to see God’s people as refugees. Though God provided manna then, can the world offer it now? Can I somehow? I think of the pictures of Syrian fathers holding their Syrian daughters and crying and crying and crying because they made a way not only from a war but also through the perils at sea. Syria is so close and so far. Can all be well there too? And Gaza too? And Houston? And Roanoke?

New Orleans tells us yes, yes. The calm can come after the storm. Homes and lives can be rebuilt. May it be so in all of the broken places in the world and in all of our broken bodies too.

Jesus says, this is my body, this is what will become of my body. It will be broken. For you. In the breaking, a healing. In the pieces, a wholeness. Taste and see. All shall be well. Until then, find me in the broken places with the broken people, raising, ever raising the world to myself.

9 September 2015

J has a doll that has become her baby. It is quite comical at times — like when she wants me to see she is nursing “hey, my booby!” It is interesting to see her do things she never connected to because the baby does it — like put the baby’s pacifier in her mouth or try to suck the baby’s thumb. But I melt when she picks the baby up and holds her close and says, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay baby.”

I want all the world to feel that love, care and affection. I want it all to be okay.

It is not.

On Sunday we were with friends in Ramallah for church and some of the best BBQ I have tasted. We had such a good time that we stayed later than we should have (read: 4pm).

Already the back up at Qalandia — the checkpoint — stretched for miles. I was afforded the chance to take in some of the artwork and murals on different walls in the town. One was simple but so complex: a key held in hand, people displaced, young men in keffiyeh throwing stones, resistance being passed on from one generation to another, women crying, death. Ramallah is a large city where many refugees landed in 1948. It means the Hill of God.

We made it to the checkpoint and were met by people begging. We usually drive on by. But there was a woman and her baby (a toddler like J) and this heart couldn’t pass. To see her is to see the millions of other refugees. Those I cannot help. Those I cannot pat on the back in a hospitable embrace. Those for whom it is not okay and hasn’t been for quite some time.

We made it to the soldiers who usually see our skin color and let us pass through with no further inspection. We benefit from racism everyday. It is not okay. On that day they stopped us and asked for all of our passports and then proceeded to look into the van, opening doors–including J’s door.

Here is the scene: a boy with a gun (probably 19 or 20 years old), my baby, and then me. That is to say, I couldn’t stand between my baby and the soldier. She panicked a bit and looked at me. I leaned over and shielded her, holding her face, telling her she was safe, and telling the soldier that he was scaring her. He just smiled in a dopey way. He couldn’t understand me at first but then the shame set in and he quickly sent us on our way shortly before I began sobbing.

This is normal here. This is normal. But it’s not okay. No child should have to grow up next to a gun. My neighbor sat with me as I told her my story — she has to face this every time she goes to Bethlehem and back. It is normal. It isn’t good. Or right. Or fair.

Coping here is often an exercise meted out by security and distraction. I must protect myself and my family as best as I can. My privilege allows me to escape the situation as often as I would like. In truth, it is not enough.

What is enough is the community of saints here, Christian and Muslim, who look after us, take us in, share their lives with us. What is enough is the gift of being uncomfortable and beyond boundaries. What is enough is the affection a toddler shows for her baby and the hope that more such things can be transmitted, one to another.

I am okay, I am okay, I am okay.

13 September 2015

Happy New Year! Shana Tovah! Tonight kicks off some major Holy-days for Jewish people around the world and that is nowhere more evident than here in Jerusalem.

We are fixin’ to welcome our YAGM [finally!] and running hither and yon to get the last minute things. Today we had to hit up places that will be closed during these high holy days. Naturally, the Mahane Yehuda and Ikea.

People wove shoulder to shoulder through the crowds, trying to get their last minute foods for their gatherings. Except, people were in a good mood. There wasn’t the usual pushing or queue-jumping that is so present at the Mahane Yehuda. People weren’t trying to zip around me, carts bouncing behind; they had a bounce in their step, a lightness to their being. And the shops each played their favorite music at high volumes.

Naturally, I was on the lookout for cheese. Good cheese. My cheesemonger is a Palestinian named Amir who encourages me to learn Hebrew. In the Jewish market, it serves him well. I recite the Hebrew alphabet (alef-bet) but then tell him that I am trying to learn Arabic. He tells me that Hebrew is easier. We talk about kids over samples of (and gentle pushes to) cheeses. He lives between two stories and is writing his own.

I ask where to find the good pastries and get no fewer than three recommendations. My job was to secure breakfast during our road trip to Ikea (we wanted to get some matching plates to complete the set to feed these mighty Young Adults). When I find the right shop I get three pastries because the toddler wants her own. We all end up sharing a Cheese Danish, Almond and Pistachio Croissant.

A Pistachio Croissant.

(I won’t mention the macaroons: Vanilla, Coffee, Raspberry, and, PISTACHIO). Those were our “we made it through Ikea alive and still married” reward.

It is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur. Who will live, who will die. It’s a different way to mark a new year, which will be number 5776. Where my culture turns to resolutions, the Jewish tradition turns toward God. It is a time marked with repentance, turning. But not just yet, repentance will build and then burst on Yom Kippur — the Day of Atonement — in 10 days’ time.

A New Year offers a new possibility, a new way of being, a new way of living. Can there be anything new? In this old world? Under the sun? Is a new year like a newly laundered shirt, refreshed in order to get soiled and stained again?

James writes that true religion is one that cares for the widows and orphans in their distress and one that is unstained by the world. I can’t see how the former can keep one from the latter. A faith that is alive (at work?) is a faith that is bound up in the hot mess (or the shit show, as I call it). Being new creation is not about staying clean.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur teach us that what’s new isn’t shiny. What’s new is born in turning toward God. What’s new is the old saga of healing the world by healing the self, facing the neighbor by facing the self. This is one of many places where that need is oh so evident. Repentance. Forgiveness. New.

But maybe we could all use macaroons as rewards as well.

7 October 2015

“Close your eyes and lie here quietly,” I said to J. “Let’s imagine the world beyond our roof: Moon shining brightly. Stars flickering down amongst us. Clouds breaking up the sky. Wind soaring, making a cavern of sound. Dogs barking. Street lights lit. People driving, making their way home to their families.”

“No mama.” [Instead, she belly flops onto the bed, intent on not sleeping. In the end, sleep wins out at least for a little while.]

Rain fell today; the first of the season. Washing dust, watering my plants, slickening the always slippery stone. The land needed it. The crops needed it. With the rain brought cooler temperatures, thick socks, closed windows, pot roast. NB: thou shalt start thy pot roast earlier. It will make good for a good meal tomorrow.

What else will tomorrow bring? If it’s more of the same, I think I’ll keep doing the same: stay home and watch and wait. To say that the situation here is complex doesn’t even scratch the surface.

The rhetoric is the most dangerous, I think. It incites fear and creates more violence. It is fuel to a burning fire. If a Palestinian perpetrates violence against an Israeli Jew, they are a terrorist, no matter what. It can even be shouted when it isn’t true and incite a police officer to shoot and kill a Palestinian victim fleeing his Israeli attackers. According to the powers that are, there is a new wave of terror: four people have died. That is no small thing. These deaths are tragic; these lives were cut short. A nine-year-old Jewish boy was left to say Kaddish at his parents’ funeral (note the placement of the apostrophe). He and his 3 siblings are now orphans. May there be abundant peace from Heaven.

When the shoe is on the other foot, however, when an Israeli Jew perpetrates violence against a Palestinian, they are called far-right, extremists, as if they are some grand and unexpected anomaly. They are also surrounded with impunity, rarely brought to justice. See the sad case of the arson/fire bomb attack this summer that killed 18-month-old Al Dawabsha and eventually his parents. His older brother, four or five years old, was unable to attend any of the funerals. He is still in the hospital. See also the case of the 13-year-old Palestinian refugee boy shot just miles from our home this week. The soldiers have just been given license to shoot stone throwers. They missed their target but hit Abed in the heart.

In the news, we do not see pictures of police or soldiers in their full gear: faces covered with fabric and hard plastic, helmets and flak enclosing their fragile and human bodies, batons, shields, large guns that shoot rubber or real bullets. Instead we see the chaos and rage of young people wearing masks, their fragile human bodies exposed. Their faces masked to protect from tear gas and smoke. Their muscles tensing as if stone to fight back and fight for whatever land is left to stand on before it is taken from beneath their feet.

We have seen though. We have seen soldiers fill a street, shoulder to shoulder. We have seen police on horses. We have seen the militarized vehicles, the guns, the gas masks. We know it is true; the rage is against the machine of oppression, the systematic and brutal expression of democracy in this land.

Is it possible to see, clearly, through the haze, the smoke, the violence that so clouds the present reality? Can we see the many facets of the story? Can we see through our prejudices and pain, beyond what we expect? Can we see that we are all humans, fragile and imperfect? Can we see that we do belong to one another, that, try as we might, we can’t get rid of the other, that, we need each other? Perhaps in seeing the other we can see ourselves — all together — the face of God.