This summer we spent much of our time in the Ramallah area studying Arabic at Birzeit University. By Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders
This summer we spent much of our time in the Ramallah area studying Arabic at Birzeit University. From our summer residence, we were able to travel regularly to Jerusalem and Ramallah, which gave us the chance to taste parts of the Palestinian culture not available to us in the northernmost reaches of the West Bank. Much of our time was spent in Areas C and B, the categories of the West Bank still under Israeli military control. This meant that we saw sides of the current conflict thankfully absent from our home in Zababdeh. From a much closer and more personal vantage point, we saw terror effectively paralyze entire communities, the crippling punishments of an entire people for the actions of a few, the death of innocents, and the targeting of the guilty without trial. From only our last few weeks there, images swirl in our minds of children killed by bombs and rockets, old men and women puking from tear gas fumes, people’s faces gripped by fear and anger and hatred. Add these to a general backdrop of hundreds of deaths (a fifth of them children) and tens of thousands of injuries floating in a sea of demolished homes, uprooted trees, and broken dreams. It has been and continues to be very difficult to make sense, to understand and articulate the feelings they provoke. What we can say with certainty is that our struggle with these feelings, images, and realities has brought us to a new appreciation of sin. There is nothing like a year in the “Holy Land” to restore one’s belief in total depravity.
Sin usually calls to mind moral categories – doing the wrong thing, not doing the right thing – a question of ethics. But the real truth of sin is much deeper. It is the very nature of our existence – broken, imperfect, mortal, confused, reaching for something. It is, in fact, not a moral or ethical question, but is existential to the core – are humans capable of perfection, or are we intrinsically imperfect?
The answer for us has to be “imperfect.” We are flawed, broken, and subject to evil and cruelty. How else can we understand the intentional suffering inflicted upon person after person, family after family, community after community, time after time? As imperfect beings, we often are motivated by our own pain, and convert it into hurtful acts of racism, hatred and revenge. Even when our intentions are “good” (a secure Israel, an independent Palestine), our methods too often deny the sanctity of the other and cause pain and suffering.
There is no solution except conversion: a turning of the self, an opening up to teachability and transformation and, ultimately, grace. Otherwise, we are left to our own devices and doomed to create our own corrupt, cruel reality. Only when we are opened and changed can we begin to understand our place in a reign of peace that no longer sees the innocent as the guilty or the guilty as the condemnable. No longer will we categorize an entire race as unworthy of existence or place. No longer will we grasp for straws of reality, because we will be held by a reality that is far greater and purer and more perfect than anything that our petty, stained, imperfect existence is capable of producing.
This month, a plea. We ask of you what we ask of ourselves, what we ask of those around us. We ask you to free yourselves that you might be converted. Allow yourselves to be part of that grace. Permit yourselves to be opened to it and by it, and turned to it and with it, to be carried by it, enveloped by it, lifted by it, and held by it. And when you are, follow it to the ends of the earth, act on its behalf, and let it help you to shape, mold, and heal this fragile world.