Flights of Faith

Monday, July 31, 2006

What's a Christian to do with the Middle East?

A Call to Christians

When I visited Israel last Spring, I was simply blown away by its biblical
splendor. All my life, the pages had whispered their appearance to me, yet
I struggled to put meaningful images together. When I landed, they shouted
out. Often studying scripture twice a day, our church group became immersed in the
experience of the Holy Land. It was an easy thing to do. Traveling through
time, we often had to describe a place using several centuries often
finishing up with a "where is it now?"

Through all this, I had to remember. The land is historic, the country is

Too many times while reading Christian articles, The State of Israel is
referenced as if it is EXACTLY what Israel was a few thousand years ago.
Mind you, this is not a comment on SoI's right to exist. It's simply an
acknowledgement of a difference.

Christians cannot afford to ignore reality simply because they're excited
something they are reading is real. I understand that this makes faith an
easier thing for some people. To read the landscape for prophetic signs of
Jesus' coming and feel relieved that it's all true.

But suffering is true.
And sickness is true.
And injustice is true.

And these are things we know, without a doubt, that Jesus called us to stand
up against whether they¹re happening in Haifa or in Beirut. Whether they're
attached with words of hatred or words of achieving security. If innocent
people* are dying, we have to be the speakers for the dead.

Jesus did not come here to be a politician.
Jesus did not come here to pick earthly sides.

We can't allow ourselves to do the same.

We have to realize this might leave us without a home on Earth.
But if we know where our Home truly is, does that matter?

*Questions, of course, arise here with the definition of "guilty." Small
steps first.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday’s Frequently Asked Questions: The Basics

How are you? Are you safe? Umm…why haven’t you left?

Hey, I’m good. I’m safe in Jerusalem (for now). I haven’t left because I still have research to do here. I also think I have a pretty good pulse on what could happen in my area and my potential responses. That said, I know all the flight times for next week and am trying to push up my interviews because my family really wants me to come back home.

Is it scary where you are? Dangerous?

I was asked this question before the war and my response was completely different. Obviously, violence is more of a reality now then when I first arrived in June. The Middle East rule, sadly, is not if but when. This Spring, I was in Tiberias, Haifa, Galilee, and the Golan Heights. All places that have been bombed in the past two weeks. Jerusalem has not been attacked since the second infitada (“shaking off” in Arabic) died down around 2002. But as I mentioned in ‘Questions of Consequence,' an attempt was foiled last week. Still, I knew all of this could happen when I clicked to book my ticket. I weighed all of these risks and deemed them worthy. I still stand by that decision as this experience has been amazing and invaluable since my first week here.

Wait. So, what are you doing that’s so important to make you stay in that environment?

It’s not so much “importance.” I just want to finish this project and would feel like the summer was incomplete if I didn’t. (I know, I know. Incomplete summer vs. incomplete life.) I have a lot of different projects I’m working on right now, but the one making me stay is my research on Ethiopian immigrants to Israel. The last stage of my research is individual interviews with Ethiopian Jewry using a mix of life history interview tactics and ethnography. These interviews would give me a great bank of information to analyze this fall. I am also considering interviewing some other groups as well.

Ethiopians in Israel?

Yes. In the late 80s and 90s, operations to airlift Ethiopian Jewry out of Ethiopia took place with assistance from America and Sudan. As of 2006, most of them are in Israel and the rest are scheduled to come although the government has been very fuzzy with the details. Their arrival is seen as controversial because they worship differently and have to undergo a conversion course after arriving. In addition, their history includes accepting Christianity, for a time, against their will. This makes the status of “Jew” even harder to be achieved. What they do to become “fully Jewish” is a critical part of my research and will most likely be blogged later.

Can you give me a rundown of who is in the Holy Land?

Sure. European (Ashkenazi) Jews. Sephardic Jews (descending from 15th cent. Spanish rule then the Ottoman era; most Americans would confuse them with Palestinians), Euro/Sephardic Jews (largest Jewish ethnic population), Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Arab Jews (unfortunately, no one talks about this group. They are Jews from surrounding Arab countries) Persian Jews (from Iran), Palestinians (Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem; 1-2% Christian; the rest, Muslim), Israeli-Arabs (these are Arabs that live inside the State of Israel, usually Muslim, not always identifying themselves as Palestinians), Black Hebrews (African-Americans who claim to be a lost tribe; reside near Be’er Sheva) Christians running holy sites/ministries (not given Israeli citizenship), B’hai followers, and the Israeli Druze (a sect of Islam). Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, and the Lebanese border the region.

How do I make a comment?

Press the pencil button on the bottom right. You do not have to be a blogspot member to comment. Post questions there for the next F’s FAQ or just ask me by the usual means. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thinking Pedestrian

Foreigners usually develop signature acts after staying in an area for awhile. Some behavior that is unique to you that wasn’t before. While I haven’t discovered all of these actions, one has been quite startling.

Breaking traffic laws. I regularly jaywalk and walk without the green stamp of approval. It’s not that I’m super busy. I just don’t like following a computerized being when I can see the road clearly for myself, often openly waiting for people to defy the traffic light with their steps and common sense.

Now, I can understand Jerusalemites’ concerns. This is a city, despite the stereotype, where you’re more likely to die from a traffic accident than a terrorist attack. But this isn’t just some run of the mill, crunch the numbers, tourist friendly statistic (though, it operates that way too.) The ministry of transportation has said that the tremendous number of traffic accidents makes them an embarrassment to the world.

I believe it’s a mix of fear and respect for order that keeps Jerusalemites waiting for something to tell them to act when they can already see the situation for themselves.

But when someone takes that first step into revolution braving the potential crash, people follow. It happens all the time when I’m out on the streets. I walk up to a huddled crowd, make my way to the front, observe the current situation, and walk when it’s safe. After I hit the third white line on the crosswalk, both groups cautiously step onto the street. Exchanging places, the sides usually have completed their journey before the little green man says go.

Of course, I don’t think my flashy kicks or cool persona pressured them to walk with me (although it’s a possibility). The crosswalk phenomenon is a classic sociology study that finds when one braves the danger of acting (and thinking) differently, others follow similarly despite the risks not decreasing for the first few followers. Ultimately though, the movement creates its own street with walkers able to stand up to the more powerful cars with little risk.

So, will you walk with me?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ramla Episodes: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Never say yes to one question as screaming Ethiopian children are asking a million more.

Entering the school, I was surprised to hear the same nonsensical lyrics that America made a #1 hit: Hips Don’t Lie.

A note to Shakira: Asking for your name, saying pretty, then asking whether to go to his place or yours should make you go mad in only one way. Clean it up, chica.

Watching six year olds trying to dance to the yodeling wasn’t a pretty sight, but I didn’t have to worry about that for long. As if the theme for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ cued up with my every step, the kids looked at me towering over them and were completely silent. Now, I’ve had people confuse me for an Ethiopian, including Ethiopians themselves, but this time everyone seemed to sense I was an outsider. Shakira sill professing her hips don’t break at least one commandment, I began looking for someone in charge while being approached by the children. Saved by a man named Yacov, I was whisked away into a private classroom. As the song changed to Sean Paul’s Temperature, the kids went back to dancing.

After choosing a classroom for me and giving me minimal instructions in English, I found myself in a room with about 18 kids: 12 Ethiopians and 6 Euro/Sephardic.

Instead of first asking my name, I was presented with this shocker.

“Do you know 50 Cent? Candyshooop?”

The list of artists continued. Each one louder than the last. Repeatedly saying yes, I was growing tired of the monotony until Moshe, the resident troublemaker, started screaming and running out of the classroom.

Must have had to go to the bathroom, I thought.

Or he just asked me if I was 50 Cent’s cousin, heard me say yes, and is telling the whole school that I am Joshua Cent.


Although I was already fielding autograph requests before, I was mobbed after Moshe’s outburst. Soon, kids from other classrooms burst into the room screaming 50 Cent and a number of his hits. I just kept signing away not knowing any of the Hebrew they were saying. The 50 Cent tattoo requests didn’t phase me and I obliged knowing this would pass. Right?

The celebrity status continued until we switched classrooms about an hour later. Seeing the Ethiopian version of Tatyana Ali and becoming immediately smitten, I tried to exchange pleasantries in my broken Hebrew. She quickly interrupted me in English.

“Are you really the cousin of 50 Cent?” A curious smile curled upwards as she moved closer to me.
Reacting out of shock and forgetting the allure of quasi-celebrity, I let out a surprised denial.
The smile turned into a full laugh pulling her away from me. “Oh, that’s what the kids are saying.” Looking at the kids, she began to walk towards them.
“Oh. Oops.” My sheepish grin appeared.
She looked back at me, smiled once more, then started giving instructions in Hebrew to the kids.

Wishing I knew Hebrew, I opened my dictionary and looked up the phrases for what’s your name, pretty, and my house, your house. Hey, if it worked for Wyclef…

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sign of the Times



The messages are everywhere. They start at the edge of the walkway to Jaffa Gate and end at its doorway. The gate is in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. Besides the caretakers of holy sites, most of the residents are Palestinian Christians. The gate also leads to the only walking path to the Western Wall, the holiest site for the Jewish people.

It’s the most integrated place in Jerusalem, a town ruled by unofficial segregation. Still, the Old City itself is divided into four quarters: Christian, Moslem, Armenian, and Jewish. All but one are obvious in terms of which ethnicity resides there. I still get a laugh from the look on the faces of white Christians when they realize the Christian quarter does not look like them.

Serving as a geographic and political crossroads, the area is always an odd scene. Palestinian kids playing on bicycles outside the gate. Israeli soldiers walking stridently. They pass Orthodox Jews, footwork identical. Tourists extend their giraffe necks making sure safety is assured at every turn. Palestinian teens quietly argue with each other as they decide which one will invite the tourists into their shops.

“Excuse me? Excuse me? Would you like to shop today? Got a wife?”
“A girlfriend.”
“A sister? C’mon…I know you have a mother!”
“Please please. Come to my shop!”

I watch from afar careful to act busy. Loitering brings similar offers and while I always respond back knowing how others brush them off, I simply don’t have enough money to go souvenir shopping every time I visit the Old City. It’s an easy place to be misunderstood and resentment has made a home in the streets’ ancient cracks.

Like the signs, the hatred here is silent but worn loudly. Whether it’s Palestinians frustrated at Americans ignoring them while clutching their bags or Jews eyeing the undeniably beautiful Dome of the Rock on what they claim to be their sacred ground, I feel it. We all can. No one talks about it though. We just write the sentiments in our hearts. Sometimes, on the walls.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Beginning of Things

We often start and stop a lot in life. If we're lucky, we get feelings about when to do either. Sometime in high school, I got a feeling that I would love the movie Unbreakable. I don't think Signs had come out yet and to this day I still have never seen The Sixth Sense (don't worry, I know the twist). I have no idea as to what drew me to the movie. The title isn't that catchy. I'm not a Bruce Willis fan or a Sam Jackson one. But, I rented it from the library anyway. After a few minutes, I decided I was bored with it. Instead of just ejecting the disc though, I proceeded to fast forward through the entire movie. I remember nothing except for the final conversation at the end. Recently, I decided to download the movie convinced it would become one of my favorites now that I'm older. I was right. As I watched, I could not imagine a place where I would have even been bored. I devoured it. Then, the end came. It was different. I invented a memory. The ending from my memory was longer and more dramatic. I still remember some of the dialogue. It did not have any specifics like the postings on Sam's bullentin board. It did not have end titles telling the audience their fates. Minimal visuals, more exposition. I prefer my ending and a part of me still thinks it was real. Somehow.

I feel a bit more complete having watched the whole thing. It makes me wonder about hunches and gut instincts. They brought me here, to Israel. I wonder they it will take me out. As the violence escalates, I wonder if paying attention to this uncanny voice will do any good. I hate knowing that I have this choice to leave. Partly, because it could come back to haunt me but mostly because others do not have that choice. I have written before about my title in Israel. Pilgrim, tourist, traveler, to name a few. Now, I realize it is most assuredly a visitor. Visitors have few limits on their stay, but they have to claim the land to become something more. I do not claim Olmert's State of Israel. However, I am afraid it will find ways to claim me.