Journal out of the Holy Land
July, 2002
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Monday, 7/1/02:  After visiting the doctor this morning, and some intensive visiting time with our old cat (and our old neighbors), we caught our flight down to Louisville.  As of today, we are employees of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and our work in Zababdeh is now part of the Presbyterian Church's mission program.  We have been in conversation about this for almost three years now, so we are very relieved that this has happened.  As one of the staff people said upon meeting us, "at last!"  As such, we are beginning our mission orientation today.  For a week, we'll be in Louisville along with other Presbyterians, moving back up to Chicago for two weeks of ecumenical training.  Because of the Church's anticipated budget shortfall, there are only eight new mission staff going into the field.  Two are headed to Malaysia, one to Russia, one to Kyrgystan, and two to Vanuatu (where?).  It will be an interesting time hearing the stories of these folks.

Thursday, 7/4/02:  The Fourth of July.  We've been spending the last few days in Louisville learning about PCUSA's mission philosophy and theology.  We have been meeting our bosses and colleagues in the General Assembly offices.  We have also been watching way too much TV (50 channels!  In English!).  We took the afternoon off to have a barbeque and to head to the fireworks display along the river.  It is hard for us to be here on Independence Day, having seen the rampant nationalism of Israel and Palestine.  It's hard not to be cynical when Dairy Queen has Red White and Blue Flurries for sale.  The country band that played the music preceding the fireworks preached the kind of populist nationalism that has been been broadcast on the news all the way across the globe.  The soundtrack of Lee Greenwood and the like underscored it.  But the fireworks were spectacular - loud and bright.  We're still startled by loud noises - a bit of post-traumatic stress - but these pyrotechnics were gorgeous.

Saturday, 7/6/02:  We have finished up our time in Louisville, our sectarian, denominational time, and are now in Chicago after a day of driving.  We stopped for lunch in Lebanon, Indiana (how fitting!), for our lunch break.  We will be spending the next two weeks in Hyde Park, our old Chicago neighborhood, in ecumenical training.  We kicked it off in good style: Chicago-style deep dish pizza.

Sunday, 7/7/02:  We were invited to First Presbyterian Church of La Grange, in the Western suburbs, to share our stories.  Marthame preached and we both took part in worship leadership, a communion service which bound us to those in Zababdeh who celebrated the eucharist earlier this morning.  After worship, at fellowship and coffee time, we shared the video and spent some fruitful time in conversation.  It was amazing to discover that there were a number of Palestinian Christians in our midst - one who was born in Haifa but soon became a refugee in Lebanon, one who was originally from Jerusalem, and one whose father was born in Zababdeh!  Small world.  We look forward to seeing where relationship with this congregation might go.  After lunch with friends who had recently moved to the area, we headed back to Hyde Park to begin our ecumenical orientation.  There are Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Reformed folks going to all parts of the globe.  Somewhat disheartening was the realization that, among this group, only three people are going to the Middle East (and we are two of them).  It is our hope that the mainline churches will discover the need for renewed presence with the Middle Eastern Church.

Monday, 7/8/02:  Our orientation is touching on a number of topics, some of which are old, some of which are new, some of which are brought to us in a new light.  It is really good to be back in Chicago, especially Hyde Park, and we're reconnecting with this city where we spent so many years.  Tonight it was our neighbors and a round of Thai food.  Yum.

Wednesday, 7/10/02:  More orientation, more Chicago.  Tonight it was Second City, the legendary Chicago sketch and improv comedy club.  The title of the revue was "Thank Heaven It Wasn't 7-11", a reference to the commodification of the September 11th attack.  There were some incisive sketches, as always.  One we wished our fellow orienters could've seen, as a multi-racial group of soldiers sought shelter in Afghanistan.  There's something about humor that, when done well, can cut through issues and make deep comment.

Friday, 7/12/02:  Our evening session last night was on interfaith dialogue, prepping us for today.  We broke into groups, visiting Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim communities in Chicago.  Elizabeth went to the American Islamic College (where we had studied Arabic prior to departing to Zababdeh) for Friday worship, while Marthame did the same at the Muslim Community Center (audio - 25 sec.).  The two experiences were quite different.  Our evening session had been fruitful, setting out guidelines for interfaith conversation that could prove helpful - but, as we learned, only if both partners are willing to accept the guidelines.  We went with a group of the orienters up to the North Side, eating Ethiopian food, and spending the evening at the ImprovOlympic (kind of a feeder club for Second City).  Most of the group went to the improv section, where the improv team builds a skit around somebody in the audience's day.  One of our group volunteered, highlighting their day: Missionary training!  Bible Study!  Visiting a mosque!  De-briefing!  Rich comedy fodder.  The skit was her nightmare - she woke up with the clock blinking "3:16" over and over again.  Very funny.  The two of us, meanwhile, went upstairs to see Cannibal!  The Musical, an irreverent comedy based on the story of Alferd Packer.  Very surreal.

Saturday, 7/13/02:  We spent the day in West Chicago, a town (not surprisingly) to the west of Chicago. Two of Marthame's seminary classmates have been there for a while, living and serving and raising their family.  We re-met their older daughter and met their brand new baby daughter.  Other friends came out to join us for a cookout with their two kids, so we got to meet the next generation of the old knitting group.  A long day of good reconnecting with our old peer support, something we've all missed.

Sunday, 7/14/02:  We went to Park Ridge Presbyterian Church this morning, a community we had been part of for two years while we were living here.  At the time, the church was in turmoil, a turmoil which grew in the time we were there.  We left as the congregation continued to struggle with conflict.  This was four years ago.  Since then, we have reconnected with folks in the congregation and have gotten to know the new pastoral staff through emails.  The church has also generously supported our ministry in Zababdeh, for which we have been most grateful.  It was good to come back, a chance to reconnect with a place and some dear people with whom we had disconnected.  Marthame preached, and we both led worship, before sharing in a time of lecturing and conversation.  The Sunday School children had drawn a mural for us, which we hope to share with our friends back in Zababdeh.  In the evening, we took a bunch of our fellow orientees out to taste the magnificent Gertie's ice cream, a Chicago South-Side legend with extra butter fat (just in case you weren't geting enough).  One of our number decided it wasn't enough and decided to go for the "tummy buster" soda, 32 oz. of rootbeer with seven scoops of ice cream, topped with whipped cream.  Marthame had done this a few years ago - watching someone else demonstrate their hubris simply brought back bad memories.

Monday, 7/15/02:  We were invited to Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.  Through our relationship with their new co-pastor Joanna Adams, as well as our connection with this part of the world (having been here for seven years), it was natural for us to visit this large downtown church.  We were surprised to find that all the tables set out were filled, especially this being a summer evening in Chicago with many other things competing for attention.  Our program was well-received, and we were able to introduce a couple of other folks with shared passions for the area.  One had just returned from Ramallah where she had been teaching violin to young children and had been living under curfew, watching homes being shelled as families ran for safety.  It was a reminder of how fortunate we've been to live in Zababdeh, given the absolute chaos of other parts of the West Bank.  Small reasons for thanks...We have not been able to check our email for the last few days, which we've learn was a result of the Israeli army's invasion of our internet service provider's offices in Ramallah.  Seems like a strange target.

Wednesday, 7/17/02:  Today we were sent out to what were titled "community visits", a parallel to the interfaith visits we did earlier during orientation.  We went to different community and church organizations to see their ministries, particularly in the inner-city.  Marthame's group visited several programs of Chase House, one of the old settlement houses originally founded in the wake of Jane Addams' Hull House ideals.  Chase House has programs throughout the city, and the employee who took the group around was a Gulf War veteran.  He and Marthame reflected on very different "visits" to Iraq.  The group saw one of their HeadStart centers, where kids - most of them being bilingual or primarily Spanish-speaking - learn by playing.  We spent much of the time getting to play with the kids.  The second stop was a Respite Center, where children affected by HIV (either having it themselves or in their families) are cared for.  We ran into a group of pre-schoolers headed to the park, and went along to play with them.  After a lunch of Chicago-style pizza (where the parking attendant was a Syrian Christian), we went to a job training center.  Clinton's welfare reform of five-year limits is kicking in right now, so people with limited education are having to find jobs that will support them.  The center offers job-training for Certified Nursing Assistants, but found that much of their clientele could not pass the seventh grade reading test.  At that point, they began offering basic education classes.  It's a busy time for folks in the social work field.  We met up with friends for dinner at Hyde Park's famous (and surly) Medici.  We are feeling wiped out - orientation has involved long days, and arranging all of the logistics for the remainder of our time in the States takes a lot of time and energy.  A good night's rest is needed.

Thursday, 7/18/02:  Following today's training session, we got the chance to head out to the Western suburbs for dinner with one of Marthame's Divinity School professors, the widely-respected Martin Marty.  Several friends of ours from our Div. School days also joined us, and it was a real treat - catching up on each other's news, sharing stories of our time in the Middle East, generally wonderful fellowship.  One of our friends, who is now a professor of church history, shared that she will be making our journal required reading for her students since we are seeing a lot of the historical churches alive in this area, worshiping now.

Friday, 7/19/02:  Today was the last day of our training, rounded out by a wonderful worship service of song and communion.  Even with the divisions in the church, we were able to agree enough to celebrate.  Marthame brought the Melkite altar cloth that the bishop in Damascus had given him to symbolize our union through the mysteries of the eucharist.  The evening was rounded out by a talent show, although some were questionable as talents.  One that certainly qualified, though, was a family that had written a song particularly in honor of orientation (audio - 6 sec.).  That night, we headed downtown to the Hancock Tower to meet up with some friends and Marthame's sister who was in town for a conference, a nice treat.  We had a wonderful time visiting and chatting, looking out over the incredible lights of night-time Chicago.  We miss this place...

Saturday, 7/20/02:  Another day of travel, this time down to Atlanta, to meet up with Marthame's parents and sister (who's doing a bit of her own traveling these days!).  The last time we saw them was over a year ago, so reconnecting time is needed.  We just hope we'll have enough down time to do that.

Sunday, 7/21/02:  The day of three presentations.  This morning, we went down to First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, where Marthame was a third-generation member growing up.  There were over one hundred people at Sunday School (times like this we remember that we are in the South), a wonderful crowd.  There were many people there who knew Marthame when he was just a child, as well as many new faces. The variety of opinions and understanding among those in attendance was wide.  As one person asked, "What would you do if you were prime minister of Israel?"  We answered it, but should've followed it with what would we do if we were President of the Palestinian National Authority.  Another question: "What would you tell George Bush if you had an audience with him?"  "Listen to your brothers and sisters in Christ in Palestine."  Following worship and fellowship, we drove downtown to Central Presbyterian Church, a congregation we had not had the chance to visit before, but who had become gradually more interested in our work over the past year.  Today also happened to be the day of their congregational meeting to accept the resignation of their pastor, Ted Wardlaw.  It seemed fitting on such a day that they should have speakers to bring good news from the good news capital of the world, the Middle East.  Even with a marathon day behind them already, many people stayed for our talk and asked good questions.  There is clearly a lot of knowledge in this congregation, and a desire to "get their hands dirty".  As we are trying to do at each of our church stops along the way, we presented them with a Palestinian-embroidered communion cloth, a sign of our unity at the feast.  We had a rest of a few hours, then went off to North Decatur Presbyterian Church to meet with a small group of folks from other churches in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.  Some of them we had gotten to know when they visited Jerusalem last year, and it is clear that the denomination's new Moderator's leadership, Fahed Abu-Akel, in the Presbytery has brought wider understanding to a lot of people in this area.

Monday, 7/22/02:  After having lunch with Marthame's grandmother (92 years young now), we gave a presentation at the continuing care center where she lives, Lenbrook Square.  It was quite an educated and interested group, who asked wonderful, open-ended questions: "Could you say something about Arafat?"  "Could you say something about suicide bombings?"  A few non-residents were in attendance as well, including a friend of Marthame's from summer geek camp a million years ago, and a teacher who will be working at the Arab-American University of Jenin this fall who wanted to learn more about the village.  It was interesting in that we gave the same presentation that we would give at a church, and were encouraged to do so, that no one would bat an eye at praying before starting or constant references to Jesus.  We are in the South, aren't we?

Tuesday, 7/23/02:  We drove downtown to meet up with the religion writer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for an interview.  She is interested in doing a piece on our work, particularly on the life of the Christians of Palestine, and wanted to meet with us before she headed up to Toronto to the Catholic Youth Conference later this week (where Father Aktham will be bringing some 250 youth from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem).  We talked for a good few hours, and are looking forward to seeing the result of it soon.  We then dropped in at North Avenue Presbyterian Church, which has been one of our supporting congregations almost since the beginning.  The Senior Pastor, Scott Weimer, has been a great support to us for the last few years, and we joined with him and several other interested folks for lunch.  Sitting in the heat of downtown Atlanta, we found some shade and sipped on ice tea for several hours.  A good Atlanta day.

Wednesday, 7/24/02:  We went back downtown, this time to US Representative John Lewis' office (he's in Washington while we're in Atlanta, and vice versa).  He is someone we have come to respect, both through his reputation and through personal connections.  His history as a student leader in the Civil Rights Movement is impressive, and his continuing commitment to non-violence is surely commendable.  We wanted to speak with him about this, and to encourage him to connect with those who are engaging in non-violent civil disobedience (his deep passion) here: Jews, Muslims, Christians, who are putting their lives on the line in the service of justice and peace.  His staff person who met with us was quite generous with his time, and quite surprised to discover that there was a non-violent resistance movement here.  It gets no attention, despite their many activities and attention to the media.  In the end, he gave us advice on "how to lobby" (it seems that is what we are doing), which indicated that we didn't do such a good job.  Well, it ain't our hope to seek out such work.  But the Middle East has a way of becoming necessarily political.  In the evening, Marthame's sister finally prevailed, and we went together to the Stone Mountain Laser Show.  It's a touch of Georgia nostalgic kitsch - which usually isn't a problem, except that Georgia's past includes a big dose of slavery and racism.  There were cool parts, kind of laser spyrographs to Tangerine Dream-ish instrumentals; cheesier parts, the Six Flags-esque muses of Charlie Daniels and Kenny Loggins (audio - 3 sec.); then, what can only be described as patriotism done with lasers.  It begins safely enough, with Ray Charles singing "Georgia" (audio - 3 sec.), as various scenes of the state appear on the mountain side.  Then, the place goes dark, and the outlines of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and "Stonewall" Jackson (in laser) take full form, riding off into battle, to the strains of Elvis singing "Dixie" (audio - 3 sec.).  The climax comes when Robert  E. Lee, recognizing defeat in battle, raises his sword and breaks it over his knee.  As the two pieces fall to the ground, they rotate to reveal the two parts of the nation, the North and South, reunited once again.  It is at this point that Lee Greenwood is brought into the discussion belting out, "I'm proud to be an American" (audio - 3 sec.) - note, this hasn't changed in at least fifteen years, so this isn't a post-9/11 display.  God bless the USA.

Thursday, 7/25/02:  In the afternoon we headed out to St. Philip's, the Episcopal cathedral of Atlanta.  We had made a connection with them through quite secular means (our accountant), but his passion for the issues of justice around the world - and particularly in the Middle East - brought us to visit them today.  We had an small, committed, interesting group, with wonderful time for conversation and questions.  Our first non-Presbyterian church forum (we are being ecumenical, aren't we?).  We then went downtown to celebrate Marthame's parents anniversary.  Hard to believe it's been 108 years that they've been married!  We went to Nikolai's Roof, a very fancy Russian restaurant with a magnificent view of Atlanta's still vaguely forested metropolis.  Everything was garnished with "micro-greens", which we soon learned was code for "alfalfa sprouts".  But they taste much better when you call them "micro-greens".  Not bad to be slumming it like this...

Friday, 7/26/02:  We got to spend some time with the extended family - aunts and uncles, cousins, even a cousin-in-law and a first cousin once-removed (we removed him twice, but he came back). The Sanders' side, Marthame's Dad's side, all came over to visit.  Marthame's sister cooked a dramatic meal for us (if you want to know what we ate, and how to cook it, send her an email) of all kinds of tasties, and we watched the short video of the Zababdeh priests speaking and talked a lot about the situation.  They all bring interesting questions and theologies - comparisons between the Palestinians and the Native Americans, questions about the place of women in Arab society (not an easy question to answer - it's far more varied than we thought before we first arrived), the role of the American government in it intellectual slouches in this audience.

Sunday, 7/28/02:  We made a repeat appearance at Roswell Presbyterian Church, one of our early supporting churches, for their marathon day of three worship services and an adult education hour.  The early service, in their very old historic sanctuary, is quite cosy.  Like last year, their Senior Pastor Lane Alderman interviewed us - a slight variation on the classic "Minute for Mission" theme of many churches.  We then lectured to their combined adult Sunday School classes, a full sanctuary.  So far, this is the most challenge we've received from one of our "audiences" - one person suggested that we were being one-sided, anti-Israel, raising awareness about things like ongoing boycotts of Israeli-made products.  The issues behind the issue we're presenting - the situation of the Palestinian church - are so convoluted, it is difficult to unravel it all cleanly.  The important thing for us is to stand by principles which are Biblical and theological - if we appear one-sided at times, no matter which side that may be, so be it.  It is interesting the variety of opinions that will be in one audience, so while one person might challenge our assertions, another will back them whole-heartedly.  Such is the richness of humanity.  We went out to lunch with Marthame's cousins who live out in Roswell before we delivered Marthame's sister to the airport and picked up our rental car for the rest of our journey through the States.

Monday, 7/29/02:  A funny thing happened on our way out of town - at least, it's funny now.  Marthame, the Atlanta boy, the home-grown wunderkind, took the wheel and headed us out on the highway.  About an hour out of town, he suddenly realized that we should be on I-75, not I-85.  At that point, no matter what we did, we had lost at least two more hours.  We headed on through the Blue Ridge Mountains, a beautiful - but slow - drive.  We still managed to arrive in time - barely - to meet with some folks for dinner before our talk at University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  One of their members had contacted us through our friend Fahed Abu-Akel, interested in learning more about the situation of the Palestinian church.  Chapel Hill happened to be on our way north, and so we stopped through for the night.  It was a good crowd, engaged, but there was one man who appeared to come by himself and spent most of the time just taking notes.  Our Middle East-influenced paranoia convinced us that he was with the Mossad (Israel's CIA), and that we won't be able to return in August (perhaps we've been in the Middle East a little too long...).

Tuesday, 7/30/02:  Another day of travel, this time up to DC.  Along the way we stopped in Virginia for some super discount shopping (we're doing our patriotic duty to strengthen the economy).  We're staying with friends in the area whom we met by chance at the Sabeel Conference last year as we stood at a checkpoint to Ramallah.  It's a great way to meet people in the Middle East.

Wednesday, 7/31/02:  Originally, we were scheduled to speak at National Presbyterian Church this weekend.  We got a call from the Director of Christian Education, who informed us that we would need to switch, due to last Sunday's speaker's demands.  Given our schedule, that was impossible, and so we were indignant.  "And just who is this usurper?"  Dr. Condoleeza Rice.  Oh...Not much we can say to that, except OK.  Also, it seems fitting that she would bump us, given the Bush Administration's role in the Palestinian/Israeli crisis.  Late today we were notified that National's Wednesday supper speaker cancelled, so we jumped in to fill that spot.  It was a good crowd, but they were coming to hear a different speaker.  Interesting questions, interesting conversation.  One of our old friends from college showed up in the audience, someone we had lost touch with a billion years ago - that seems to be a pattern with our very public work Stateside, a good side-benefit of it.

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