Tag Archives: The Global Immersion Project

God at the Wall

It’s been a few weeks since my trip with The Global Immersion Project to the Middle East. I’ve shared some of my initial thoughts about the Lives of Unwarranted Compassion I witnessed, along with the realization that this peace process Starts With Me. Now I’ve moved on to the hard writing–sharing stories.

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If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I’m pretty comfortable (perhaps bordering on too comfortable) writing about myself–my own spiritual highs and lows and faith journey. I find it much harder to write about controversial topics or actually give an opinion about anything. The thought of sharing stories from Israel and Palestine (West Bank?/Occupied Territory–even the name is controversial!) scares me because I don’t know where people stand–how much they know about the conflict, what their religious/political/idealogical/eschatological bent may be. I haven’t even figured out what I think about all of this. And yet I had the incredible opportunity to actually GO to the Middle East. To meet Jews and Muslims and Christians. To hear about the horrors of the Holocaust from survivors, to meet with present-day Palestinian refugees, to learn from peacemakers who see the peace process as something deeper and more challenging than signing a piece of  paper or hammering out a One- or Two-State solution. 

We hear so many stories of violence and despair and centuries old conflict in the Middle East that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Before I joined with The Global Immersion Project, I would have turned off the news and thrown my hands up in futility. What could I do anyways? How could I even begin to understand such a entrenched conflict? It’s all too much. 

When I traveled to the Middle East, I met people fully immersed and affected by the conflict. People who don’t get to turn off the news and ignore it–even if they’d like to. But for me, the immense magnitude of the conflict was not the most salient point I carried home with me, but the immense magnitude of the hope and the joy and the space for transformation and reconciliation that this conflicts opens up. Since joining with TGIP, I’ve come to realize that as followers of Christ we’re actually called to enter in to conflict to transform it, to make peace, to bring the Kingdom in all its wholeness and glory into the world we live in today.

As a staunch conflict avoider, this is terrifying for me.

But I feel so honored that I could spend 10 days with peacemakers who are living this out in the most costly and courageous ways, that I can’t help but share their stories.

I will be writing about issues that may or may not push all the wrong (or right) buttons. At this point I don’t even know what’s controversial anymore. Wherever you stand, please know first and foremost, I want to share where I personally saw God moving in the Middle East.

I want to share the stories that most resonated with my heart. That most pointed to the existence of a God of reconciliation. Whose very heart is to reconcile us to Him. To reconcile us to ourselves, each other. The earth.

Well, this was probably way too long of an introduction to my first story that doesn’t even need a disclaimer, but oh well, some later posts will. Without further ado, here is my first story of where I saw God moving in Israel.  And I hope to be getting back to posting once a week.

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The place: The Western Wall, near the Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem. 

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Women rock to their rhythmic prayers. I sit insecure. Fiddling with my hands. Not sure which prayer to whisper. To open or close my eyes. It’s not my wall. It’s not my tradition.

I rack my brain for Torah scriptures. For some monumental verse that will immediately put God in the right perspective.

“What are you speaking to me?” I ask. “What do you want me to know about the Jewish tradition and what it means for me as a Christian now?”

A teenage girl sits a few feet over. She’s rocking and murmuring prayers obediently. I feel like an impostor.

The rocks of the wall are huge. Not what I had pictured. There are a few rolled prayers tucked into the crevices. But mostly it’s just sandy Jerusalem stone staring back at us. Super-sized bricks stacked to the sky.

People are rocking, but there’s no wailing.

I touch the cold wall. Brace myself for the mystic power. This wall that is closest to the where the Holy of Holies was. This wall is the last remnant of the Jewish Temple that dates back to King Herod. I feel reverence. Awe. Not really for the stone, but for the people who experience God this way. For the people who show up day after day to pray. Who live the reality that sometimes God speaks. And sometimes it feels like you’re talking to a cold wall.IMG_4390

And still they come. The faithful. Like showing up week after week to church. Together. Standing in worship or bowing our heads in prayer even when we don’t feel the rhythm.

Then I hear God speak.

“I love you. You are all my children.”

I fumble in my bag for my notebook and pen, rushing to capture His words.

The girl next to me casts me a sidelong glance, intrigued or offended by my non-Jewishness, I cannot tell. I finally dig out my notebook and pen. I start to write His words, what I felt/knew I heard. As I take the cap off my pen, turquoise ink spills everywhere. Dying my page, my hands. The girl looks over again. I blush, feeling more irreverent than ever. It’s not even a dignified black ink or even a Jesus-red, but bright blue. My hands are stained, like I’ve come to finger paint at the Wailing Wall. At this spot closest to the Holy of Holies.

The girl is staring now. I give an embarrassed shrug and angle my chair away from her. I bow my head and pray into my turquoise hands. I barely get out a, “God…help.” when I feel a tap on my shoulder.  The Jewish girl is asking for my attention. Our eyes lock. She hands me a tissue. I gladly receive the tissue along with her understanding smile. She turns back to her rhythmic prayers. I blot off the ink. Grab a new pen and write the words,

“I love you. You are all my children.”

 

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It Starts With Me

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Our team at the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

I can’t even begin to tell all of the stories of hope and change and self-sacrifice that I had the immense honor of listening to and immersing into while I was in Israel/Palestine with The Global Immersion Project.

As we sat overlooking the shore of the Sea of  Galilee towards the end of our trip, which had been filled with meeting peacemakers, learning from people of different faiths and ethnicities and backgrounds, and traveling around Israel and Palestine, we were posed the question:

What is God calling you into that doesn’t make sense?

The answer for me was an overwhelming and freeing call to DEEP PEACE within myself. To be reconciled. To grow in my worship and discipleship of the Prince of Peace. 

As one who’s been particularly gung-ho about ACTING in the face of injustice, this call to deep peace WITHIN myself didn’t make sense. When I learn about a new social issue, I want to immediately change my shopping habits, join some kind of club or group and do what I can to volunteer my time and money and skills to help the cause.

I know this about myself.

In fact, God’s been subtly and not-so-subtly been calling me to stop and sit at His feet, especially in the moments when I most want to run out and change the world.

He’s said it before.

Bask. 

Come to me. 

Be loved.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise as I sat overlooking the choppy, wind blown Sea of Galilee, that Jesus once again called me to step out on the waves on a journey to be loved, to find peace–with myself. But it did.

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I didn’t know any Hebrew or Arabic going into the trip. I found it wonderfully poetic that the first two words we learned on this peacemaking endeavor were words that mean peace: Shalom in Hebrew and Salaam in Arabic. These words  are used as common greetings and can be heard throughout the bustling streets of Jerusalem.

Peace. Shalom. Salaam.

My understanding of shalom from Sunday School days reminds me that peace doesn’t just mean the absence of violence, but something more. Shalom implies wholeness, completeness, a life, a heart, a world undivided.

Integrity.

And this peacemaking starts at home. Yes, in our homes–with our spouses, roommates, children–but even closer to home. In our own hearts.

Our leader and fellow peacemaker, Jon Huckins, explained it like this in his recent reflections on the trip:

As our participants see and experience the pain and injustice that exists in this region, there is a natural pull to pick sides and get really pissed off. The opposite extreme is to see the conflict, be so overwhelmed with its complexities and want to simply walk away. Neither option is the work of peacemaking and my (and my partner, Jer Swigart) work is to walk with people towards a more constructive place in their formation, which usually means confronting the evil within ourselves before confronting the evil around us. It is ridiculously difficult!!

Before I confront the evil around me, I must reconcile the evil, the selfishness and greed and obsession with self- and image-preservation in my own heart.

I must first be reconciled by the Prince of Peace.

When asked how he can love and live as he does, one of the peacemakers we met replied that he can reconcile others because he is reconciled. The growth started within and the fruit is abundant in his life, in his family, in his community. (I’ll share more of his story later.)

So before I start sharing these stories of people carrying out lives of unwarranted compassion, I wanted to reiterate the need to seek Him first, to seek to be reconciled in our own hearts and souls.

And this being reconciled is not a one time thing.  The call is to grow into this new, reconciled self. Not as a means to our own happy ends, but as a peacemaking practice. As a spiritual discipline. As the first step in bringing shalom, salaam, wholeness to the world.

If you, too, want to go deeper in your journey of cultivating inner peace, here are a few suggestions that I’ve either found helpful in the past or am committed to trying as I move forward. Feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions, and peacemaking practices. Thanks!

Some inner peace cultivating practices: 

  • Practice the Prayer of Examen: Developed by St. Ignatius, the prayer of examen is a daily ritual of checking in with God, focusing your eyes and your heart on where He is moving, and praying into the areas of your life where you struggle to put Him first. Find out more here.
  • Read the Sermon on the Mount every day for 1 month and reflect on the call of Jesus. (I’ve never done this, but I’m starting now. We’ll see where it takes me!) IMG_4770
  • Spend time in nature or another favorite place with God. This has long been my favorite inner peace making activity. Just sitting and listening to the waves of the ocean or breathing in the fresh forest air in a grove of pine trees is where I am most strongly reminded of God’s overpowering, irrational love for me with all of my faults and weaknesses.
  • Pray for the enemies within you. I’ve always thought of myself as a peaceful person because of my excellent conflict avoidance and appeaser skills, but I have been struck by the idea that being a peacemaker actually requires us to move TOWARD conflict. I’ve been specifically challenged to look at the areas of conflict within myself that I’ve been avoiding and God may be calling me to enter into. If I can’t even face my own conflict and pain, how can I expect to bring peace to other people? This idea paired up nicely with a book I’m reading called When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd. She wrote, “to be spiritual is to confront our pain, rather than make an enemy out of it. When Jesus told us to love our enemies, I suspect that he was talking about our inner enemies too. He knew that love was the only means by which to transform them.” Our own inner work of restoration and reconciliation can parallel our actions as peacemakers in our spheres of influence. 
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Lives of Unwarranted Compassion

IMG_4557Years ago I had an experience with the God of Compassion that changed the course of my life.  In the aftermath of anger, depression, and outrage at injustice in the world, He wooed me with His surprising, redemptive, and mischievous face. With what I called fits of unwarranted compassion. 

Yesterday I returned from a 10 days of traveling through Israel and Palestine with The Global Immersion Project to learn about the conflict in the Middle East and between Israel and Palestine in particular (a daunting task I know).

Again, God showed up in the midst of anger, depression, and my own outrage at injustice. Although this time, God took the form of everyday people, of everyday peacemakers. 

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It was an incredible way to learn about a people and a conflict and cultures that I’ve never really known much about. I learned from and was welcomed by Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I was encouraged and convicted by the creative seeds of hope and peace they plant daily in the most contentious soil in the world.

I haven’t even begun to wrap my head and my heart around what I’ve learned and seen. How I’ve been challenged and convicted. Called out to contend for the common humanity of the people around me. The people I often choose to ignore. Not to see.

Over the next weeks and months I hope to share with you the stories of peace and hope and brokenness and life that I was invited into. Once a week I will be blogging about these everyday peacemakers.

These people who live out LIVES OF UNWARRANTED COMPASSION. Not just fits and bursts, but entire lives dedicated to the costly work of peacemaking. Of choosing compassion and understanding when it would be so easy to choose hatred, bitterness, self-protection.

One of our peacemakers that we met at The Tent of Nations, Daoud Nassar, told us,

“The moment you open your heart to another, you are more powerful than your enemy–even if they have a gun.”

(Check out an interview with Daoud on Relevant Magazine here if you want to get a sneak peak of the incredible stories and sacrifices these peacemakers live.)

I pray that together, through these stories I am so humbled to share, we can open our hearts to new stories, to the those we do not understand, and to those we may even want to call our enemies.
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Send me on a Global Immersion

Hello! I’ve missed you. Missed this.

Today I am posting for the first time since coming back to the States to tell you that I’m leaving again. No, I’m not moving again. My heart and my feet are planted firmly back here in San Diego.

But I am excited to tell you that I’ll be traveling to the Holy Land for two weeks at the end of February. 

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I don’t know much the about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the politics or the history–besides the colorful maps that accompanied the pink Precious Moments Bible I had as a kid. I do know it is a region of great hope and expectation as well as a place of injustice and pain for Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide. I don’t know much, but I want to learn more.

Israel is a far cry from salsa dancing and mangos, but my desire to go stems from the same goals that led me to Central America. I’m excited to search for the bright spots. To learn from men and women who are seeking third ways and actively working toward peace. To open my heart to yet another region of the world in order to more thoughtfully and intentionally care for those in my immediate world.

When I was in Guatemala last year I was very lucky to live with a family that taught me so much about how to engage thoughtfully in really complex and overwhelming problems—poverty, civil war, genocide. They introduced me to the idea of choosing a third way in a conflict, not taking sides, but being pro-peace. Throughout my year in Guatemala, I met some courageous and creative men and women who are working to bring hope and peace to their communities.

I’ll be joining with a unique learning community made up of men and women who span the spectrum of society to learn and travel together to the Holy Land. The experience is being guided by The Global Immersion Project (TGIP), a humanitarian organization that seeks to cultivate peacemakers through immersion in global conflict. TGIP has carefully developed a network of Israeli & Palestinian leaders and friends who will help train us for the work of local and global peacemaking.


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Our cultivation will take place in three phases: (1) Understanding; (2) Exposure; and (3) Integration. The Understanding phase has already begun as our learning community is exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as developing a practical grid for everyday peacemaking. The Exposure phase will occur from February 28-March 9 on the ground in the Holy Land and will involve shared tables & friendship-making with the everyday peacemakers embedded within the conflict. The Integration phase will help us to process and learn from our journey as a whole while gaining the necessary resources to live as everyday peacemakers within the familiar soil of our North American contexts.

I’ve had the opportunity to do some grant writing for TGIP this past year, and I have been struck again and again by their thoughtfulness, integrity, optimism, and commitment to peace. There’s no one else I’d rather learn from or journey with to the Holy Land. Plus, one of my bestest friends and favorite processing pal—the daughter of the couple I lived with in Guatemala—is going too. Icing on the cake.

As you know, I am someone who longs to participate, locally and globally, with God in His work of restoration & reconciliation. I view this experience as an environment where God’s cultivation of me will further focus and fuel His just and compassionate reach to others through me. Would you prayerfully consider financially investing in my growth in this way?

The entire cost of the experience is $3000 + flight. All donations are tax- deductible and will be processed through TGIP’s organizational sponsor: a registered nonprofit called Thresholds.

To contribute financially to TGIP via Thresholds’ secure website:

1. Please go to: www.thresholdscommunity.org/, click “Contribute”, then choose the “Give Online” option. From there, select my name (the first one–woohoo!) from the pull down list of people and projects. (To reach this page directly, click here.) You will receive an email confirmation of your gift that can also be used for tax purposes.

2. To give by check, please go to the “Contribute” page on Threshold’s web site. From this page, under the “Give by Mail” section, you will be able to print out a pledge card and return it with a check made payable to “Thresholds” at the address given. You will receive a printed receipt from Thresholds for tax purposes.

I also welcome your prayers and encouragement, questions and feedback. I’ll be posting updates and musings here and would love you to journey with me here on my blog or over coffee or chai tea lattes or Skype dates.

Thanks for your love and support,

Aly

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