Monthly Archives: August 2015

Today would be a good day to walk the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem

I’ve realised that in my Monday travel reflections, I have actually been avoiding writing about some of my very favourite places to visit, because it is so hard to capture in a few words and images why I love them so much. One such place is Jerusalem. Definitely one of my favourite places in the world, I’ve been there on four different trips and I certainly plan to go back again in the future. In particular, today I’m thinking how lovely it would be to walk through the stone streets of the Old City. I won’t be able to capture all I love about it, but I’d like to at least make a start!

Mt Scopus view over Jerusalem

What do I love about the Old City streets?

I love the beautiful Jerusalem sandstones themselves. If stones could talk … what tales they could tell! And yet, silent as they are, they testify to the creativity and ingenuity of those who have come before, and to the inevitable passage of time.

Tower of David

I love the history. Imagining all those who have walked these streets before me. Allowing stories from ancient and more modern times come to life in the place where they actually happened.

Roman Cardo

I love the layers. The remnants of ruined houses from the Roman era frozen in time beneath the pavement.

Burnt House

Walking through the tunnel built by Hezekiah that lies beneath the foundations of the city itself.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

The archaeological excavations of sites where Jesus visited and spoke.
Pool of Bethesda

The jumble of streets with steps and twists and corners and hidden delights.

Old City street

Walking on the rooftops with their paradoxical mix of satellite dishes and ancient stones.

Rooftop Walk

I love the walls. Walking atop the city wall, circumnavigating the city just as David, Nehemiah and so many others have done before.

Walls

The ancient Israelite wall unearthed below the current street.

Hezekiah's Wall

The Western Wall. The remnants of the glorious Temple of Herod, a place for prayer and contemplation every day …

Western Wall

… and for an amazing celebration to welcome in the Sabbath evening.

Western Wall Sabbath

I love the markets. The hustle and bustle of shopkeepers selling artefacts and trinkets and the foods of a number of different cultures.

Old City shop

And getting up early enough to walk through the streets before the shops open and the tourists descend.

Old City shops opening

And I love seeing people’s faith in practice. Orthodox Jews mingling with Israeli soldiers, seeking ways to respect their shared traditions.

Crowds

Muslims gathered to study in the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.

Dome of the Rock study group

Christian pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa, following the footsteps of the crucified Lord Jesus.

Via Dolorosa sign

What have I learned from walking the Old City streets?

There is an incredible richness of tradition and history and faith in this city. A sacred place for the three of the world’s major religions, it has been a place of incredible prayer and devotion.

Old City view

Of course it has also been a place of terrible conflict and strife. As an outsider, the complex combination of historical experiences and current politics makes it hard to see how this can ever truly be a city of peace.

Western Wall Israeli soldiers 1

And yet … in the Old City itself, people of different cultures, languages and faiths work and live side by side. Ordinary people seeking to live their lives, even as the currents of world politics and religion swirl around them. They remind me once again of the common humanity we all share.

Old City Market

While as a Christian I believe that the story of Jerusalem (along with all other stories) ultimately finds its fulfilment in Jesus, I acknowledge that I can learn so much from people of other faiths and practices. I remember my own “good Samaritan story” – when I twisted my ankle quite badly one Friday morning on the uneven steps outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Christian pilgrims swarmed past me oblivious, the Israeli police paid me no heed, and the first Muslim shopkeeper I asked for assistance was afraid of compromising his faith by touching me on his holy day. Another Muslim stall-holder came to my aid, providing me with a cane and helping me hobble up the street to where I was staying. He told me why the first man had been reluctant to help, but that he believed helping someone in need was more important than following religious rules. I shared with him that Jesus told a beautiful story that very much said the same thing.

Mosque and Israeli flags

Psalm 122 calls its readers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Is that because this city more so than any other needs peace? Perhaps. But it is also because this city was for the psalmist the place where the living God had revealed His very presence. The prayer was that His true shalom might be known as it radiated out from Himself and His people. In Jesus, God has revealed Himself once and for all to all people everywhere. No longer do we need to go to Jerusalem to meet with God. But I still pray that this place, so dear to the heart of His people throughout the ages, would continue to be a place where the hope of peace and wholeness that He brings may be experienced more and more.

Psalm 122 sign in three languages

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Some thoughts on racism, listening, and the gospel

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in Australia for the last week or so, you’ve been hearing about Adam Goodes and the issue of racism in sport/society. So much has already been said, I wasn’t sure if I had anything to add. But a few things have really challenged me and got me thinking about racism, listening to the voices of the “other” and how this all connects to the gospel.

The first is how easy it is for white Australians to make simplistic pronouncements about what is and isn’t racist. Here’s what I think: if you are a member of a majority group that has historically been responsible for the mistreatment, oppression and belittling of another group of people, and a member of that group is telling you that your actions are hurting them by perpetuating some of those attitudes and feelings, then you don’t get to tell them that they are “playing the victim card.” You don’t get to decide whether how they feel is valid. You don’t get to define what is going on. Your job is to listen. Not to rush to make statements or excuses or minimisations or give your perspective. To really listen. To hear what they are saying. And then to ask yourself how you are going to respond.

As appalled as I have been by some of the comments I have read and heard from white Australians this week, I’m hopeful that this is a moment in our history when we might finally be starting to listen. Listening to the voices of our indigenous Australians and realising there is something we need to really hear. That we have not yet dealt with the ongoing consequences of our shared history.

And so as well as appreciating the insights and responses of people like Charlie Pickering or Mia Freedman or this incisive outsider view from an ex-pat American, this week I have actively sought out the voices of indigenous Australians who are speaking about this issue. I want to hear what they have to say. I want to listen.

If you haven’t heard these voices, here are some you might want to take some time to listen to.

Stan Grant’s article in the Guardian: “Estranged in the land of our ancestors, living on the fringes of a rich society – parse your words, but we see only race in the attacks on AFL player Adam Goodes.”

Dickie Bedford’s opinion piece in the Australian: “It reinforces our scepticism that while Australia — a country we all love deeply — pretends to embrace us, it fails miserably when it comes to taking real and significant steps towards truly understanding our culture, our lore and our traditions.”

Charlie King’s excellent question to Andrew Bolt: “How would you feel if you sat in that position and looked at the world through the eyes of Aboriginal people?”

Warren Mundine on the Drum sharing his personal experience with racism in Australia: “This week has been a really dreadful week for me because it has brought up so many memories … This is what it [racism] does to people. It actually cripples you within your life and stops you from doing things and being able to function as a human being.”

* And this blog post from an indigenous man which takes the opposite view to the others and made me feel quite uncomfortable, but was an important reminder of the subtle racism I can easily fall into of assuming that all indigenous Australians share the same opinion or a single story: “For an urban blackfella like me, I hate the fact that all of a sudden my opinion is relevant … If someone is genuinely looking for a discussion, they are easy to tell, but most people just want me to be the token black who validates their own feelings on the matter.”

As a Christian, I’ve also been continuing to reflect more widely on how we can better listen to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. The family of churches I am part of recently welcomed an indigenous church into our (overwhelmingly white) association. The pastor spoke to our gathering and his key message was for us to listen. To hear and understand what a big thing it was for them to join us, given our shared history. To hear the questions and fears and concerns they have about maintaining their identity even as they participate as part of our group. To walk a journey of listening to them rather than too quickly jumping in with our “help” or “solutions”.

Then a few weeks ago I had the opportunity at a dinner with some ministry friends to ask an indigenous friend if he would share with the rest of us some of what he thought we needed to hear from indigenous Australian Christians. With some good-natured joking about his role as spokesman for “all Aboriginal people everywhere,” we had a really amazing hour just listening to him. One of the most profound things he said, that has been challenging and inspiring me ever since, was this:

As Christians, we believe that the gospel becomes “enculturated” – that is, as the gospel is lived out in every people group throughout the world and throughout history, we see different aspects of it and we realise more of who Jesus is. So what do you have to learn about the gospel, about Jesus, from your Aboriginal brothers and sisters?

For people who believe that every tribe and tongue is part of God’s incredible vision for the future in Christ, what a great question. And I know that trying to answer it is going to take a lot more listening on my part.

One of a series of paintings by an indigenous Christian artist telling the story of the gospel
One of a series of paintings by an indigenous Christian artist telling the story of the gospel