Friday, September 21, 2012

A Week of Accompaniment

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Every Sunday morning, Fred begins the introduction to our service by announcing 

"I am called to serve in Accompaniment with the ELCJHL and as part of my responsibilities I serve as pastor of the English-speaking Congregation."  

Accompaniment is at the heart of what we do.  But what is accompaniment?  There are theological statements and lectures by missiologists.  Instead, we thought we would tell you about a typical week in our Jerusalem lives--(we had written this blog a month ago in late August, but waited for a couple photos before posting -- still you will get an idea of a typical week). Accompaniment is not a theoretical concept to be pondered, it is simply what we do, whether intentionally or not, whether consciously or not.

Sunday Morning
We rise out of habit before the alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. 

Fred focuses on reviewing the sermon and today's worship service while Gloria is in the kitchen baking communion bread.  By 7:15  we are heading to the corner to catch public bus  # 75 down the hill and to the old city.  The walk through Damascus Gate offers a less-than-typical experience with the streets nearly empty and the urban sounds muted before the city comes alive.

At Redeemer we are the first to arrive, and begin by opening windows and turning on fans on yet another hot August day. We are our own altar guild and hasten to get the sanctuary ready.  There are no tour groups this time of year, so we take advantage of the lull to sit with Pastor Barhoum of the Arabic Congregation and his family in his office.  Daughter Sally is beaming with stories from her trip to the New Orleans Youth Gathering, while Juji  is anxious about her fall plans to begin university in Germany. We take time  to listen.

Our pianist is late arriving because of a flat tire on her bicycle.  She's not the only one. The 9:00 bells ring, but there are only six persons all in the front pews.  Others trickle in until our numbers increase to 35 for the remainder of the service.

[Our June blog featured a short video about our congregation life which you can view again here.]

Following announcements and welcoming of guests we gather in the courtyard for a cup of tea along with the Arabic congregation who have completed their worship in the main sanctuary next door. 

The Sunday School kids help Gloria clear the altar and carry things back to our office.  Our regulars tend to linger sharing their experiences of the week with one another.   We make time to become acquainted with newly arrived members: a couple with the U.S. Consulate, a young adult volunteer with the Mennonite Church, and a Swedish woman who will help with administrative tasks at the Swedish Theological Institute.  Another couple from the States explains that they have come on their own for a two-week visit to the Northern West Bank and are filled with questions, which we do our best to answer.  It is noon before we lock the office and head out the door.

As Pastor and Associate Minister we find this role fulfilling as accompaniers of those who accompany, equipping and nourishing those who are here to walk alongside the people of this land.

Sunday Afternoon

"We have a dinner invitation,"  Gloria announces as soon as we leave the church.  This is a culture where invitations tend to come on the spur of the moment.  So visiting this Armenian family in Beit Safafa offered a healthy grill of chicken and lamb with garden-grown salads, but also an opportunity to share family news:  theirs about plans for their daughter's upcoming marriage as well as photos of their first grandchildren; ours illustrated by photos of our summer vacation with children and granddaughters now numbering five.

Sunday Evening
Fred begins sermon preparation for next week, studying the texts, to let the ideas roll over in his mind in view of the coming week's encounters.

Gloria answers emails.  A request for a Lenten devotion; An inquiry about an upcoming Holy Land visit; A question about how to get in touch with one of our local pastors.

Monday Morning
We head to the old city for our Monday routine of office work.  Fred has to put finishing touches on a letter of condolences from Bishop Younan following the death of Abuna Paulos, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia.  Our regular tasks include bulletin preparation for next Sunday,  our weekly email newsletter, and our weekly email prayer chain within the congregation.

Morning coffee break with staff-- a time to listen to their joys and their sorrows, not just the routine of work to be done or tasks to be accomplished.

Each week is unique with new experiences and new challenges.  This in particular is not really a typical week.  By virtue of Fred's job description as assistant to the Bishop of the ELCJHL, more office time is normally expected, with a lot of writing and editing.  This week Bishop Younan is attending meetings in Lebanon, so we take advantage of other opportunities.

Monday Afternoon through Wednesday
The Redeemer Arabic Congregation has invited us to go with them on their annual retreat to Nazareth. We catch their chartered bus by 1:00 p.m.  All 54 seats are filled while others follow by car.  It is a time for spiritual renewal.  As the bus departs, we all pray the Lord's Prayer in Arabic and then sing together perhaps a dozen Arabic hymns as the bus makes it way down the highway. 

Each evening we have devotions and hymn singing, and the mornings are taken up with Bible study. 

Fred has been asked to present lectures and small group discussions on a "Lutheran Approach to the Book of Revelation."  With rumors of impending war, radio preachers of doom and gloom have flooded the airwaves with end-of-the world "prophesies."  So the room is filled with questions, "Is this really what the Bible teaches?" They understand Luther's Gospel focus, but need a reassuring, comforting word of hope.

For the children this is the equivalent of summer camp with games, and crafts, and lessons.

St. Margaret's Guest House is a century-old complex high up the Nazareth hill from the Church of the Annuciation.  Its courtyard is perfect for the kids to run and play and for aftenoon and long night conversations among the adults. 

Wednesday Evening
We return to Jerusalem by bus at 6:00 p.m. just in time for our  congregational social evening--two hours of volleyball, then potluck dinner and good portions of conversation.

Thursday Morning.
Gloria heads to Bethlehem to meet with one of our members who has just had a baby, while Fred spends the morning in the office.
  •  A Finnish magazine has requested  a sermon from the Bishop for publication--so there is editing work to be done.
  •  A West Jerusalem Rabbi and dialogue partner has requested an article for an upcoming book.  The deadline is just one week away, though the email request seems to have arrived several months ago. 
  • The German Church in the Rhineland has also written requesting logistical assistance with a November Jewish-Christian Seminar to be hosted by the ELCJHL at Redeemer.  So phone calls are made and emails sent.
Later in the morning, Gloria heads to Beit Sahour for her monthly visit with Shadia.  Their "excuse" for getting together is for Gloria to learn Palestinian cooking. 
 But it's an opportunity to share life's stories, for Gloria to listen as Shadia talks about the challenges with her young adult children in career and in school, with her husband working far from home in Baghdad, with the daily routine in this West Bank town.

At noon Fred heads to the Sabeel offices in North Jerusalem to lead their weekly Eucharist, filling in for Rev. Naim Ateek, who is on Sabbatical in the States. 

Thursday Afternoon
Fred walks home to pick up the car from Gloria just back from Beit Sahour for him to drive to Beit Sahour for a late afternoon funeral/ memorial service for the father of one of our retired clergy.

A text-message comes across the phone that a leading rabbi has died in Mea-Shearim, the Orthodox Jewish section of West Jerusalem.  "Be aware of traffic congestion with burial on the Mount of Olives [in East Jerusalem]."  Rush hour traffic is already heavy.  Reaching the Northeast corner of the old city near the Rockefeller Museum, it suddenly comes to a stop.  On a typical day, there would be a chorus of car horns.  Today there is quiet--seeminly in a show of respect.  A wave of Hasidic Jewish men-- all dressed in their usual white shirts, black suits, and hats, with side-curl sideburns swinging in the air, and fringes of tallits dangling--march down the eastbound lane as far as the eye can see.  And the traffic inches slowly forward.  One never knows what to expect, what delays to encounter.  No trip is ever routine.

Then there are checkpoints to navigate whenever we come and go to the West Bank.  Bethlehem check point "300." is surprisingly not so crowded this afternoon. Driving through the winding streets, the car pulls up at the church at three minutes to five o'clock.  Fred fastens the top button of his clergy shirt to slip the white plastic tab into place, while falling into rank in the procession to the front of the church. 

On occasions like this, clergy all sit in front facing the congregation, today there are five of us from the ELCJHL.  Fifteen minutes into the service a local Catholic priest joins us.  Then half-way through the service an {Arab} Greek Orthodox Bishop and a Roman Catholic Bishop walk in together in a display of Ecumenical support. Following the service, there is a long receiving line for condolences, then a gathering in the church hall of the Greek Orthodox Church across the street (large enough to fill the crowd of mourners) where we sit a while to accompany the mourners in breaking their fast, eating together a piece of bread while drinking chocolate milk (a Beit Sahour custom), then the obligatory small cup of coffee-- "Saada"  (without sugar).  Then yet another round of handshakes and farewells.

"Can I catch a ride?" asks Ashraf Tannous, our newly ordained pastor from Ramallah.

"Only if you agree to first come for pizza," I insist.  Gloria and Susanne are back at the Mount of Olives getting ready to welcome our newly arrive, jet-lagged YAGMs.  

Ashraf is more than willing, "Someone should be there from the ELCJHL to welcome them.  I must come."

First the checkpoint.  Ashraf explains that his permit only allows him to walk through the maze often dubbed the cattle stalls.

"Let's see if they'll let you ride through with me in the car."  

As we get closer, Ashraf suggests that maybe it would be better for him to get out now and walk through.  "It's better you not get in trouble."  

"Me get in trouble?  Do I look like a Palestinian?"  That draws a smile from Ashraf as he remembers how it took him three hours this morning going through Qalandia Checkpoint.  I then assure him, "You're a pastor now.  The least they can do is offer you a little respect."

I turn on the overhead light in the car so that the guard can see clearly.  He's talking on his cell phone as it's our turn in the queue.  He finishes his conversation while we sit waiting.  When I offer my passport, he barely offers a glance and waves me through. 

Ashraf looks at me in disbelief, "He didn't even look at me!" 

"You're a pastor now!"

We stop by the Pizza Palace on Saladin Street to pick up our order, arriving at the Mount of Olives just as the YAGMs cross the street from the Guest House. 

Ashraf offers an enthusiastic and sincere welcome, letting them know how much it means to have young people like them giving up a year of their lives to accompany the Palestinian Christians.  The newcomers are a bit subdued, tired from their journey, but likely overwhelmed by the world they have embraced.  The familiar taste of pizza is reassuring, but it's Ashraf's invitation that breaks the ice.  "How about a game of volleyball."  

Then it was Fred who had to drag Ashraf away after 45 minutes of volleyball, with a ride down to the bus station to catch the last bus to Ramallah as it pulled away at 10:00 p.m.

"You and Gloria are coming to the baptism tomorrow?" he asked as we said good night.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world."

Friday morning
Friday morning we were back in the Redeemer office. 
  • Fred meeting with the Bishop to go over a proposal for a two-year education program to train lay preachers. 
  • Gloria preparing photos of new members for our congregation bulletin board.

Friday afternoon
Early Friday afternoon we're back in the car, this time driving north to Ramallah for the Tannous family baptism service.

Marcel and Layan, Ashraf's twin niece and nephew are to be baptized on their first birthdays.



And this is also Ashraf's first baptisms following  his ordination.  So our presence offers a little support.  Then spontaneously Fred is asked to deliver an impromptu baptism homily

Following the baptism Gloria and Fred split up for the evening with our calendars overbooked.  Gloria heads to a six-hour baptism celebration at the  Tannous home.                                                                 The men have the task of preparing the kebabs

The twins celebrate by cutting their birthday/ baptism cake.  We're reminded once again how children are the same all over the world.

Fred, in turn, is attending the College  ceremonies at Dar Alkalima College in Bethlehem.
This entails crossing two checkpoints and a drive across the length of Jerusalem. 

Qalandia checkpoint is backed up with traffic, and cars are barely inching forward. It would take an hour to get through.  Fred has the luxury of driving instead to Hizmeh, about five miles east, where the checkpoint is open only for West Bank settlers and Palestinians with yellow Jerusalem license plates and Jerusalem I.D.s and also expatriates like us.

It was the right choice.  The M-16 carrying soldier responsible for checking Fred's lane is distracted by a young blonde-haired soldier, standing back-up, and flirting as young people often do.  So much for security.  The cars fly through hardly slowing down, increasing the odds that Fred will be on time.

Fred arrives at the Dar Annadwa auditorium  just in time for photos.
48 students are graduating tonight with degrees in
  • film
  • music
  • art  (Pottery, Painting, Jewelry-design)
  • tourist guiding
The ceremony is impressive with proud families gathered.  The program starts late and lasts several hours.  Fred offers quick congratulations and offers apologies for leaving early.

Gloria sends a text message that she will be at Qalandia at 10:00 p.m. 

The Bethlehem check-point is backed-up so Fred pulls out his Kindle and reads several chapters of Anna Karina while pausing to pull forward and stop, to pull forward and stop, twenty times over.

Once past the check-point, it's a breeze.  It is Friday night, Shabbat, with no traffic on Jerusalem streets.  Now Fred sends a text message coordinating our meeting.  By the time Fred reaches Qalandia, Ashraf's cousin has dropped Gloria off on the Ramallah side, and she walks through the relatively empty cattle stalls--still the guards take their time, allowing only one to pass through before the next person enters.  When Fred arrives, Gloria is standing by the side of the road.

Ashraf's mother has sent Fred a plate piled high with grilled chicken and kebabs, and only then do we remember that we had not taken time for lunch.

Saturday Morning

The new YAGM orientation will shift from Jerusalem to Beit Jala tomorrow, so we help Julie and Jeff transport luggage in our vehicle to one of the YAGM apartments in Beit Jala.

Then we have a stop to make in Bethlehem.  One of the families from the retreat earlier in the week asked to borrow one of Fred's books, so we drive by their house.  There is never a quick stop.  We do decline the invitation for coffee, but we can't just passby without offering full greetings.

Pastor Imad in Beit Sahour, has been reassigned by the ELCJHL to serve at the Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah.  So we stop in Beit Sahour to help Imad and Rula with their packing.  A truck will come for their furniture next week, but we can load breakable items in the back of our car.

When the back of our vehicle is full of boxes, we realize that we have made a critical mistake.             

"We don't yet have a key to the Ramallah parsonage," Imad informs us.                   

Our plans had been to drive the Wadi Nar road East of Jerusalem, entirely in the West Bank.  Now we realize we will have to pick up a key in Jerusalem.  

The problem: we are not allowed to bring cargo from the West Bank into Jerusalem, just a few groceries which we usually place in an inconspicuous location on the floor of the back seat.  The guards are supposed to open the trunks of all vehicles to be sure nothing "Dangerous" is transported.  Often they wave us through without looking when they see our American Passports and our Caucasian features.  But today the car is full--both the back seat and the cargo area in back.                                                

"I won't go through the Bethlehem check-point," Fred announces.  "We can take the settlers check point by Har Homa."  This is a restricted checkpoint like Hizme, where they always pass us through quickly, often not checking at all.  Only today Fred is not wearing a clerical.

The check-point is totally empty of cars.  Fred reaches his hand out the window with his passport, and a "Shabbat Shalom" greeting. 

A young woman soldier starts to take the passport, touching it lightly, then with the same hand waves us through.  But then she calls out, "Wait!  Ma na!"   

"What is this?" Fred responds repeating her Hebrew question.  "Just Kitchen things, dishes and glasses."  She looks like she doesn't understand, so Fred clarifies, "It's for the church.  For the kitchen."

She turns to holler in Hebrew to a guard a little bit older, clearly her superior, who is sitting in the shade, checking his text-messages with his M-16 draped across his knees.  He walks over, seemingly unhappy about the interruption.  He speaks only in Hebrew.

"Do you speak English?" Fred asks, while the guard responds more loudly, still in Hebrew. 

"L'Kenneset Lutheri."  Fred offers, trying to make sense with minimal Hebrew.  "It's for the church." 

The guard shakes his head and mutters something.

The young woman directs us to drive ahead, where there's space to park the car.  We anticipate that we will soon be unpacking all of the boxes in front of them.  Five, ten minutes pass while the older guard is talking on the phone, reading out Fred's passport number and the spelling of his name.

Eventually he approaches, again asking what was in the boxes.  They are all carefully packed and taped shut, but we show him the contents of one.  He continues to talk loudly and ask in Hebrew, "What is it?"

Fred continues to respond, "L'Kenneset Lutheri."

Another guard, an Ethiopian, is sitting seemingly unconcerned, until he is called over.  He asks in English, "What's in the boxes?" 

"They're for the church.  For the priest's kitchen.  Just dishes and cups."  Fred also turns to the visa page of the passport and points. "Ish Dat.  Clergyman visa."

We are half expecting that we will be sent back to Beit Sahour to unload, when the older soldier gives a look of disgust and a hand gesture, "Go on.  Get out of here.  But don't do this again."

"Mish Muskele.  Not a problem!" 

We get in the car, driving through Jerusalem from south to north, through Qalandia checkpoint into Ramallah, unpack the boxes at the parsonage, and back through Hizme checkpoint --so how many checkpoints does that make this week? --and home to the Mount of Olives.

Saturday evening

One last event for the week.  We've been invited by the Beit Sahour congregation to help them say farewell to Pastor Imad and Rula.  There are the customary speeches, the Dabke dancing, and the school choir.  We retreat to the schoolyard for juice and cookies.
It is a time for sharing in appreciation for the gifts offered by this young couple.  It is a time for sharing the sadness of life's transitions.  It is a time for sharing best wishes for what God may bring, Inshallah.

This is accompaniment.

by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Difficulty of Crossing Boundaries
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

In the Gospel for September 9, when Jesus crosses a boundary into what is now Lebanon, he finds himself offering the classic snub to a foreigner.  "You and your daughter are just dogs," is basically what he says.  (Mark 7:24-30 = Matthew 15:21-28)

I (Fred) have no trouble relating to this Gospel reading.  I remember well the time when I was extremely rude:  May 12, 1990 in Bethlehem.  I still have the Sunday Jerusalem Post with the front page story of the 12-year old boy shot and killed that Saturday in the Bethlehem market in the pre-Oslo days.  Pastor Mitri Raheb, then a relatively new pastor had invited me to bring a group for an extended visit, meeting with young people and worshipping with the congregation on Sunday morning, as well as visiting other programs.  It was my first time staying in Bethlehem, there at the newly renovated Casa Nova guest house next to the Church of the Nativity—and I should add, the first of many wonderful experiences in Bethlehem, but that first time was out of the ordinary.

I still remember that moment on that Saturday afternoon when touring the Children’s Orthodopedic Hospital (later closed), and shots rang out and smoke from burning tires filled the sky and our hospital administrator told us of trouble in the market.  Already word quickly had filtered back that at least one youth had been shot and a full scale riot had broken out.  “At least all of your students are safe here with us,” said the administrator. 

 “Not exactly.  Several failed to show up.”

And one of my students chimed in.  “They were going to the market.”  

 And so the worried look on the administrator’s face.  And a brisk walk back to the guest house to find the missing students.

But there outside the guest house where a crowd had gathered to watch the developments from a distance, a strange voice called to me in broken English, “Professor, Professor.”  I walked by ignoring him. 

But persistently he called out, “Your students.” 

“Not now, I’m busy.” 
Now it wasn’t the first time I had encountered this aggressive shopkeeper.  Earlier that morning while walking across Manger Square, he had called out to me, “You must come visit my shop.”  He was leading a couple of my students in that direction. 

 “No we have an appointment at the Women’s Cultural Center.  No time for shopping.” And I emphasized the ‘we” and walked on not giving him the time of day. 

 “No please, it will just take a minute.”  And I gave him the cold shoulder.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I know I was extremely rude to him.
And so there outside the guest house that afternoon he was pestering me once again.  And you want to see rudeness, I turned on a double dose. “Out of my way. I have to find my students. I don’t have time for you.” 

And calmly he pointed out, “your students are okay.  They’re safe in my shop.”
“Then I need to go get them.”

 “No, it’s too dangerous, you stay here, and send the rest inside,” he instructed me.  “I’ll bring the others to you.” And one by one he led the others back to the guest house, in spite of the way I had treated him.  And then he facilitated a transfer to the Jerusalem Casa Nova up by New Gate, and arranged for three taxis, explaining, “They’ll be soon announcing a curfew and you don’t want to be stuck inside for three days or longer.”
And only later while driving off in the taxis did I get the full story how he had remembered seeing the students in the market and when the commotion broke out, he had gone out into the streets to bring them to safety in his shop, and then when realizing that several had been overcome by tear gas, he went down the street to purchase onions and then cut them up for them to make their eyes water to cleanse away the irritation.

It was an amazing example of Arab hospitality, undeserved hospitality, in the face of close-minded rude behavior.
So why was it that I was unwilling to give him the time of day to his open welcome?  As I look back I guess it’s merely an example of the difficulty we have crossing boundaries, moving beyond our comfort zones.  In our heads, we recognize a certain reality, but deep down it’s more difficult to embrace the stranger.  I had been able to move physically to Palestinian turf.  But embrace the stranger?  That was a bit too much. In this case, a Palestinian, a Muslim, and a shopkeeper—a stereotypical outgoing shopkeeper, overly friendly, aggressive.  Perhaps one of those boundaries could be easily crossed.  But three?  Three strikes and you’re out.  And yet grace comes when it’s the other who crosses the boundaries in our direction.  Grace comes when the other reaches out and accepts us the way we are, rudeness and all.

And that seems to be the case in today’s Gospel with the encounter of Jesus and his disciples with the Canaanite woman, after crossing the geographical boundary into the region of Lebanon.  A woman confronting Jesus in a world where men and women do not interact in public.  A foreigner, described in Mark as Syro-Phoenecian, or in Matthew as Canaanite, the ancient inhabitants of Palestine.  A Gentile in a world where Jews simply did not associate with non-Jews.  And in Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus makes that clear, “I have come only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Gender, ethnicity, religion.  Three strikes and you’re out.
 And so we have one of the most difficult episodes in the gospels with Jesus and the disciples giving her the cold shoulder or worse.  "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 

And this language about dogs seems overly offensive in a world where the other is portrayed as less than human, and especially the wild dogs, not the clean well groomed house-hold pets. 
I’m reminded of the line in the novel Mornings in Jenin at the patriarch’s funeral in 1953 when family members finally realized a return to their home village near Haifa would never again be possible:  “We are refugees,” Hasan said.  “Even our Palestinian countrymen from the towns look down on us.  If we must be refugees we will not live like dogs.”
There is a            custom among Pales-tinians today, that bread is never thrown away.  If there is a left-over piece, place it on a wall, a place free from dirt, so that a hungry passerby can benefit from the crums falling from another's table.
With the Gospel encounter coming so soon after the feeding of the 5,000, where the last lines emphasized the abundance of bread and the inclusion of women and children, we can only ask why this abundance couldn’t cross over the boundary.  But in the end it did.
But again, it’s the other who crosses over, adapting to Jesus’ own religious terminology. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy,” the woman says in Matthew’s Gospel, using acceptable Jewish titles, and humiliating herself in begging, and being uncharacteristically  assertive and quick witted.  "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 

And God’s mercy falls down upon her and her daughter.  And God’s mercy falls down upon us as this encounter becomes a turning point in salvation history as the gospel is extended beyond the boundaries of ethnicity and religion, the door to the gentiles is open.  In the end, Jesus and the woman have both crossed boundaries to accept each other. 

Crossing boundaries is not easy, but the result is often surprising and full of grace.

So we can only respond with smiles and appreciation for what this woman accomplished in breaking down these boundaries.

And as we reflect on the story today, we can only be amazed at the generosity and unrestricted abundance that is prepared at the Master’s table for us. 
Whether we identify with the child in the story, coming to the table with our burdens and pains, coming in need of God’s mercy,

or whether we see ourelves as this determined woman, the advocate, frustrated by a world deaf to our pleas for openness or concern,

or whether we are like the disciples, as Matthew describes them, acting as gatekeepers and restricted by policies and procedures,

or whether we are the decision makers who are called to break with tradition and norm, who hear the cries of those in need,

there is room at the Master’s table for all of us.  For the words are spoken with the sharing of the bread, “All are welcome.  There is room at the table for all.”


by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Ministry of Listening
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

This last Thursday I (Fred)  had the opportunity to lead the regular Thursday noon Eucharist service at Sabeel, something I’ve been invited to do occasionally when Anglican priest Naim Ateek is traveling out of the country.  It’s a good opportunity to go over the Sunday texts in advance  with a small group of individuals committed to peace and justice issues. 
Now it is the custom at Sabeel that following the sermon, we pause for a few moments for those dozen or so persons present to discuss the sermon.   Sometimes this elicits a long moment of silence.  Sometimes a few short comments.  But this week was different, my words on the Gospel from Mark 7 about the law, its misuse, and the contrast between externals and what comes from heart, had struck a chord with an older Palestinian woman, who began to express her concerns about many current events that reflected how the law today is used against the powerless while protecting the powerful.  And you can easily imagine some of the things she mentioned. 
And perhaps you’ve been in situations like this where you can only listen and nod your head in agreement.  "Yes I understand" —but you feel helpless, powerless about what can be done to change things.  What words can I say to help her feel better, or more hopeful—Except, “I understand.” 

Later. on the way back to the Old City, it dawned on me.  While my sermon focused on Mark 7, in reality, we had been acting out the James 1 text assigned as the epistle for Pentecost 14. 
“Be quick to listen, slow to talk, slow to anger.”  (James 1:19)

 Listening can be the most difficult thing to do. 
Listening is difficult, because we feel like we should be able to say something to make things better. 
Listening is difficult because we would prefer to be in control, and if we can monopolize the talking, we may keep our place of power. 
Listening is  difficult because so often we are so occupied by our own concerns.   We have our own issues, so do we want to surrender our place at center stage to give way to another?
Listening is difficult because when we are silently listening, we often find ourselves feeling vulnerable and powerless, no different from the person speaking to us.

Yet note how James holds up listening as a very important ministry that all of us can offer.

“Every generous act of giving is from above,” James begins this passage (James 1:17). The faith that God creates in us,  faith in a God who gives of himself through his Son, generates every act of giving.  That word Every should capture our attention-- 
It’s not just the heroic actions—like a Rachel Corrie giving her life for what she believed, or a Mitri Raheb, risking his reputation for his courageous prophetic speech. 
Every act of giving is from above.  And in our acts of accompaniment, James would place listening right there among the most needed.

At the end of this section, James explains the essence of religion, "To care for widows and orphans in their distress" (James 1:27),  (the powerless of our societies, those forgotten by our politics and our ecclesiastical smugness).  And here listening fits right in because listening offers them dignity, listening recognizes their humanity, listening gives them voice when no one else hears their cry for help. 
And when we feel vulnerable and powerless in those situations of listening, then we find ourselves on the same level, we really understand what accompaniment is all about.  It may be the greatest gift of all.


Early in the week, when meeting with our new YAGMs, one asked the question how they could keep from becoming a burden to the people they befriend.  They had all heard about the generosity of Palestinians, and their hospitality especially when it comes to meals and visits to their homes.  It’s difficult for those of us from privileged backgrounds, from comfortable lifestyles, with more pocket money than some people’s monthly salaries.  How not to become a burden? 
Be slow to talk, be slow to anger, but quick to listen. 
Listening can be to most generous gift you can offer,
to the teenagers whose young mother  has just been diagnosed with cancer.
to a mother whose children have never seen the Mediterranean or Galilee,

to the husband and father who has been out of work for longer than he can remember,
to the child whose uncle is in prison,
to one of our pastors delayed at the checkpoint for three and a half hours,
to the family that has received demolition orders for their home and confiscation orders for their land,

 to the young grandmother whose daughter has married a husband from Jerusalem and now The Wall separates her from seeing her new granddaughter,
to one who simply can’t understand how life could have dealt them such a bad hand of cards.
Be Quick to Listen. 
 This is accompaniment. 
Sometimes a passage like this one from James 1, gives us new eyes to understand more familiar Bible stories.  Such is the case with Luke 10's story of Mary and Martha.
"Martha had a sister, Mary,
who sat at the Lord's feet, listening. . . ." Luke 10:39

Traditionally we have assumed that Jesus has been giving her private biblical tutoring sessions.  But just maybe it's another kind of listening.  Perhaps Jesus was confiding in her  his frustrations over the fading crowds, or his fears over what might befall him in Jerusalem, or his concern about one wayward disciple, or about Jesus’s own good friend Lazarus, her brother, who hasn’t been looking well lately, and about Martha who seems so preoccupied in doing something, that she can’t just sit there and listen.  “You have chosen the better part.” says Jesus.

 Every generous gift comes from above, and that includes listening.

 And so last Thursday, after returning to the Old City, I had to make a stop at the money changer on Christian Quarter Road, and after responding with a "Next time" to his last forty invitations for a cold drink, I finally sat down and learned that his son was just returning from Germany to begin his residency in cardiac care.  And, even though I had plenty of things I needed to do,  I paused to chat with Rami at his  jewelry shop to hear about his new born daughter Pearla, born just last Sunday--mother and daughter are doing just fine   Then a final stop at Shawar’s Bakery and Coffee Shop, where I felt a bit of an obligation to give him business on this slow day, even though I had plenty of coffee already at the office.
Only then did I realize that slow business never bothered him and that his selling coffee was just an excuse for him to listen to people like me.  And as he listened to me describing my day, I understood James’ words.
Every generous gift comes from above.
by Fred & Gloria Strickert