When I was old enough to enter high school, I chose to go to St. Louis University High, a Jesuit high school. When my mother told this to my pastor at my parish, he responded, “The Jesuits huh? They’re going to send him to Africa.”
My mother always laughed at that story. Somehow the Jesuits were going to turn me into a missionary and I would leave my mother and family to spend my life in Africa. Well, my pastor’s predictions have not come true exactly, but it is in part to the education I received at a Jesuit school which has now put me on plane headed to Africa.
This is my second trip to the Dark Continent, and I cannot express how excited I am to return. There is an old saying which goes something to the effect of “Africa is a riddle, surrounded by a mystery, wrapped inside an enigma.” There are no answers in Africa, especially for a Westerner such as myself. If you go to try to solve a problem, the problem you solve will only bounce back with three more problems, more intense, and more complicated.
I go to Africa to renew my relationship with the deep sanctuary of life that Africa holds. Human life began here (according to the most readied scientific empirical research.) The oldest paintings and artifacts that we have of human history have been found in South Africa, my first stop. To dance with the many cultures of Africa is to reach deeply into the soul of human existence, our instincts, fears, and possibilities.
But before I can say hello to a new place, I must say goodbye to the old. I have spent the last two weeks in Israel, the Holy Land. The experience will forever be one that has opened my eyes to the geographic component that relates to almost every biblical story, but it will also opened my eyes to the more human consequences of failed religious and political ideologies that have used domination and oppression to seek control in the Middle East region for centuries.
I remember back to an evening I had in South Korea. I was discussing with a group after a prayer meeting that I was going to the Holy Land. One of the women said to me, “Make sure you have your prayer warriors lined up before you go there, because Israel is a spiritual battle ground. Anyone there needs to have spiritual back-up”
To which I responded, “Yeah! Especially the people living there.”
Now, reread those last quotes, but make sure that you read my quotation with a great deal of cynicism. If you can do that, and imagine the scene, just imagine that the woman didn’t understand me AT ALL. She just looked at me with an odd quirk as if to say “What do you mean?”
I was irritated with that moment for two reasons. One because I HATE the term “Spiritual Warriors.” I don’t mean to offend any my Protestant brothers and sister who use the word, but I find it a gross misrepresentation of the spiritual mission of Christ. Jesus was one of the most non-violent figures to have effected significant change in human history, and we turn around and represent his mission of love and mercy with images of war and devastation. Says a lot about us, and also about our inability to think about the terms we use to describe our relationship with God. What she meant by “Spiritual Warriors” is that we need people to pray for us, which I did need, and did have, and continue to need. For the prayers offered on my behalf by many I have the most gratitude.
Secondly, her inability to grasp the human situation that lies beneath the individualistic political policies of Israel is exactly the problem with Western intervention in the area. THESE ARE PEOPLE! They are not mere pawns in a political game. They share the same joys and sorrows as all of us. They may act a little different sometimes, and celebrate weddings by launching fireworks and firing semi-automatic rifles into the air, but that is just their culture. You get used to it after two weeks, more or less.
The people who live here are people who have to change diapers, and do laundry, and find jobs, and pay the rent. The majority of them are not the radical nut-jobs that always seem to make the evening news. To think of the Holy Land as a spiritual battleground for our own religious interests, and not see the human beings that are living and suffering there every day, just trying to survive, is a mockery of the values that the religious traditions represent.
But the perpetuation of this insanity is nothing more than a choice that those with power preserve as they continue to seek their own advantage, whether that be religious, political, or economic.
I am sure my reports on the situation in Israel could go on and on. You may have noticed that my blogs the last several days have picked up their intensity and their length. I cannot fix the problems there and have no solutions other than to reinforce what I was told by the citizens there, they need CONTACT with outsiders, they need RELATIONSHIP, and though the wealthier Christian world can do a lot of good by helping financially, our prayers and encouragement are a priori to any substantial change of the situation.
As a final goodbye to an incredible visit, a visit that was inspirational in spite of myself, I have created one final pictorial of the Israeli churches that I visited. If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view the pictorial of the 17 churches I visited in Israel by clicking here.
Also, since I am not only leaving Israel, but leaving the Middle East, I have created a Google Earth pictorial of the 34 churches I have visited since first entering Turkey. To view the pictorial click here.
Goodbye Middle East. Goodbye Europe.
Three continents done, two to go. I think I’m ready as ever for the next step.
Hello Africa! (even if the Jesuits aren’t the one’s sending me.)