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Witnessing for Peace--The Cross Contextualized

One of the joys of this past Spring Semester has been the number of professors and courses that have invited us to reflect upon past and anticipated experiences in light of the cross. Below is what I wrote regarding Palestinian liberation theology and the cross, especially from Bishop Munib Younan's book, Witnessing in Jerusalem, as well as in the light of my own experiences in the Holy Land.
Introduction
The situation in the Holy Land seems bleak at best these days. For the residents on all sides, life is a daily roller coaster ride. Hopes for peace rise at the prospect of each negotiation and are then crushed by violence. The people want to have hope. It is a land that should be a place of hope considering the biblical events that unfolded there. Luther’s words in the Heidelberg Disputation still speak today to those who are willing to hear in that volatile place:

20. He deserves to be called a theologian… who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (Luther 2005, 49)

As a Christian witness, Bishop Munib Younan’s liberation theology has the theology of the cross at its heart, that of witness, of martyria.
Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World
A History Lesson
Most tourists in the Holy Land do not know of, let alone appreciate the legacy of 2,000 years of Christian history in this land, particularly in Jerusalem. Bishop Munib Younan, the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), is often asked when he and his family became Christians. The assumption is that they had to have been either Jewish or Muslim. The first part of his book is educates us about those who have been a continual presence in the Jerusalem and elsewhere as the living stones. As James Bailey noted, “[Younan] shares his own family story as part of a larger focus on the church as ‘witnesses’ (martyrs) for peace, both past and present (Bailey 2004, 406).
Martyria: Key Dimension of a Theology of the Cross
The concept of witness/martyria is the driving force of Younan’s liberation theology of the cross. Martyria, being a witness is from the Greek. BDAG fleshes this out as, “attestation of character or behavior, testimony…which the Christians, or certain Christians (Christian martyrs, prophets) possess” (BDAG, Bible Works 8). This is also the root of the English word, martyr. Giving truthful, loving witness can lead to martyrdom. One’s obedience to God may lead to death, as it did with Christ.

Witness is central to the theology of the cross. One witnesses to the truth as seen through the lens of the cross. In a theology of the cross type witness, we “call the thing what it actually is” (Luther, 49). This enables us to name injustice no matter who is the perpetrator or victim. We can name the oppression of peoples. We may name the Israeli occupation as occupation and at the same time condemn violent responses to it. The theology of the cross invites us to own and name our demonization of “the other.”
Trialogue
Trialogue is a word that Bishop Younan has coined. Dialogue is not enough given the participants involved. Christian Arabs, Muslim Arabs, and Israelis all need to be involved as equal participants. Each has different expectations of the other. Each has different customs and beliefs. There is economic and power disparity as well. To put all of this aside to talk, listen, and really hear one another is a powerful process.
Ministry Situation Where Theme Informs Ministry
Holy Land
Ministry in the Holy Land looked very different from any other type of ministry in which I had participated. Much of what I learned there still informs my vision of ministry. I am grateful that these lessons and that time in my life have been affirmed by the church.

There is an additional challenge to the ministry of witness in Palestine compared with that of Latin America or South Africa. Three world religions are involved in the conflict. There are layers of culture, language, customs that are indigenous to each. Given the varying contexts in that place, you are bound to offend someone somewhere, no matter how unintentional.

The witness of the presence of Christians in the Land is tremendous. As I lived and worked there, our very presence made a difference. We could provide a safe haven for those needing to have some quiet away from the storms that beat down upon them. I would like to make a shameless plug for a recent book by my friend and team leader in Bethlehem, David Teeter. The book is A Stone’s Throw from Bethlehem. It is the story not only of him and his wife Willow, but our (my former husband, children, and myself) story as well. I will happily tell you sometime the story of my son’s lunch box being blown up by the Israelis.
The witness of Christians tends to be either conversion or conversation. Younan suggests that the ministry of presence is a “third way” of bearing witness. This is not passive, but active. Its very motivation is to witness to the truth. While speaking at Luther Seminary, Younan said:

Christians live for others and live without fear. Christians bring a different ethos…informed by a theology of grace and a theology of the cross.

Living and speaking grace in a world of retribution is a radical act. So is witness under the cross, witness done for the sake of God and neighbor, not for the sake of reward. This ethos, marked by both the death of Jesus and his resurrection, will produce solidarity with the victims of injustice while, at the same time, giving power to speak and work against the same injustice. (Gaiser 2002)

Principles for Ministry Today
The principles outlined for communication and reconciliation in Bishop Younan’s book are applicable to every context. We experience encounters with those we consider “the other.” To live the life of a theologian of the cross means that we call a thing what it is: prejudice, suspicion, annoyance, and then live the cruciform life of service to “the other.” Applications of trialogue can be brought to bear upon such relationships.

An example in a future ministry context could be a church council meeting. It seems there is often at least one person that is negative, difficult, not on board with God’s leading. Here we can bear witness to God’s truth, engage the one in dialogue, and work for reconciliation. I have been a part of some very contentious church council meetings because someone was so adamant on getting their way.

There is plenty of conflict within the ELCA today. Demonized caricatures of inhospitality and homophobia come from one side while the other lobs accusations of heresy and apostasy. As in one of the closing sessions of the 2009 Churchwide, Assembly Bishop Hanson urged us to gather at the foot of the cross with those we disagree with. It is through the lens of the cross we can view and engage one another, realizing we are all saints and sinners in need of God’s grace.
Conclusion
The situation in the Holy Land seems bleak at best these days. For the residents on all sides, life is a daily roller coaster ride. Hopes for peace rise at the prospect of each negotiation and are then crushed by violence. The people want to have hope. Luther’s words in the Heidelberg Disputation still speak today to those who are willing to hear in that volatile place:

20. He deserves to be called a theologian… who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (Luther 2005, 49)

We may wonder, “…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross?” (Luther, 49). Who will be a theologian of the cross rather than “A theologian of glory [who] calls evil good and good evil?” (Luther, 49). God calls each of us to this prophetic ministry in our various contexts. For the Holy Land, that witness or martyria is the first step. This must be followed by trialogue and peace education that may lead to reconciliation. Younan summarizes the situation thus, “… the process of reconciliation may be long and painful…but it is feasible, if we believe in a living, reconciling God who can make the seemingly impossible possible” (Younan, Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World 2003, 124-125).

Bibliography

Awad, Sami. God's Politics. May 5, 2010. http://blog.sojo.net/ (accessed May 6, 2010).

Bailey, James L. "Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World." Currents in Theology and Mission, no. 5 (2004): 406-407.

Beiler, Ryan Rodrick. Culture Watch. April 14, 2010. http://blog.sojo.net/category/culture-watch/ (accessed April 14, 2010).

Gaiser, Frederick J. "Learning from Bishop Younan." Word and World, June 2002: 219-220.

Luther, Martin. Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings. Second. Edited by William R. Russell. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.

Matzat, Don. "A Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross." Issues, Etc. issuesetc.org (accessed April 22, 2010).

Sabbab, Patriarch Michel, Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, and Bishop Munib Younan. "Palestinian Church Leaders' Statement on Christian Zionism." Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh Universtiy Press) 5, no. 2 (November 2006): 211-215.

Trueman, Carl R. "Luther's Theology of the Cross." New Horizons, October 2005.

Waskow, Rabbi Arthur. "Enough Jawboning: A Bold but Hopeful Proposal for Middle East Peace." 04/12/10. Washington, District of Columbia: Sojourner, April 12, 2010.

Younan, Munib. "The Future of Palestinian Christianity and Prospects for Justice, Peace, and Reconciliation." Currents in Theology and Mission, no. 5 (2007): 338-350.

—. Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World. Edited by Fred Strickert. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.


Pictures from Google Images.

Comments

Steve said…
As long as one side does not truly want peace, but the eradication of the other side...there cannot ever be peace (until the Lord returns).

Here's a catchy little ditty that illustrates my point:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=illF1vt5g1Q

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