Earlier this week, Amy and I went to see a presentation at the Germantown Jewish Centre by the organization Roots, which promotes dialogue and understanding between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank. Normally, I dislike these sort of organizations and don’t go to their events. When someone like Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger stands up and talks about how proud he is to be a settler and how being a settler is crucial to his Judaism, I get upset. My ancestors also believed that they were a part of the Biblical story by settling indigenous lands, and my Bible teaches me that the history of people convinced that God is calling them to settle other people’s lands goes back for millennia.
But still, I went. And when the Rabbi began speaking, instead of tuning out, I started listening. At one point in his talk, Hanan said, “Israelis and Palestinians have too much trauma and fear. If our political leaders signed a two-state solution tomorrow, it wouldn’t work on the ground. We have no more faith in our political leaders and we don’t see each other as people.” This rang true of my experience in Palestine – the longer you spend on the ground, the less and less you believe in clear political solutions, and the more intractable the occupation seems.
In the United States, we may not have the same level of politically-induced trauma as Palestine/Israel, but we do have it. We hear this trauma voiced in the demands of Black Lives Matter, the Fight for 15 movement, and even in opposition to so-called “free trade” and the way it has decimated working communities, which has partially found a voice in Donald Trump’s campaign. People are speaking up, naming how politicians and politics have harmed them, and how they don’t trust politicians to save them.
As a Christian, I take heart in this (maybe less so in the downward spiral of hate that this election has become). I take heart because every day I see movements and communities of faith coming together to build lasting relationships and support each other for the long-haul. This past Monday, myself and several others from GMC travelled to Harrisburg as part of the September 12 National Higher Ground Moral Day of Action. In Pennsylvania and 30+ other states around the country, numerous movement organizations stood side-by-side with people of faith, demanding sweeping changes in state policies.
In Harrisburg, I watched as older white folks from churches and synagogues in Philly marched alongside young black folks demanding a $15 minimum wage across the state. I marched between my friend Brenda Harris (who spoke at the rally on behalf of her son who is serving a Life Without Parole sentence) on one side, the drummers from Pittsburgh Fight for 15 dancing and chanting on another side, and a collection of older Rabbis from Philly singing old Civil Rights era songs on my other side. Sure, the groups differed on preferred chants and songs, but together we shared something deeper – a faith in the power of people to make the changes we need to create a world that loves and supports everyone. No doubt, I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!
I recently finished Sarah Jaffe’s book Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt. After detailing the many movements for justice around our country, Jaffe describes how our many movements are inseparable, telling stories of workers and immigrants and students coming together, sharing skills and resources, and building broad movements for justice. She begins with the story of Occupy Wall Street, and mentions a protest sign that I remember seeing when I travelled to Liberty Plaza in the fall of 2011: All the Faith I Lost in the Government I Found in the People.
In the end, that may be it – from Palestine to the United States, people are growing in our faith in each other. This is a crucial time for churches to be listening for the movement of the Spirit. We need to be stretching outside of our cultural boundaries, challenging the walls that we have put up, and reaching out to those grounded movements that are working to concretely improve people’s lives. This will involve building relationships with people we don’t like, or we may find distasteful (like how I initially felt about Rabbi Schlesinger). It will involve working alongside people from very different class backgrounds, who use different words to describe the suffering in their life. But right now, this is where the Spirit of God is headed. I feel the call of Jesus – will we put our hand to the plow, or will we hold back?