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Sabbath Day – Lebanon

September 10, 2015

A long, very rainy day in White Plains.

My son started riding the bus to school this week, which has meant either an earlier arrival at my office or a chance to have a quiet cup of coffee before walking to the church. It is a welcome change in our family routine.

Most of today was spent reading and doing laundry. The light rain and cooler weather this morning was ideal for reading on our balcony (it has been otherwise too hot all week). I spent the first part of the day reading David Hollinger’s After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History. This is a highly readable, if academic, history of my tradition. Protestant Liberalism is a self-interrogating tradition (at our best, ecclesia semper reformanda est), which has served as a bridge for several generations coming to terms with the enlightenment and science as well as the experience of cultural/religious diversity. While willing to shed parts of the tradition deemed to be ‘racist, sexist, imperialist, homophobic, unscientific, and excessively nationalistic,’ and profoundly shaping our secular culture, we ceded symbolic capital to (or it was captured by) evangelicals (who are now largely the face of protestantism in America.) The author argues that the world today looks more like the one dreamt of by the liberal ecumenist than the conservative evangelicals, and there is much in that trajectory to celebrate.

And yet…

For perspective I also read a chapter in Marc Ellis’ Future of the Prophetic: Israel’s Ancient Wisdom Re-Presented (2014) as a reminder of the Jewish-Christian “ecumenical deal” that shaped this period in which discussion of Israel was off the table as a condition of interfaith relations. I also read this today as a prayer for sanity in the midst of all the Republican and Tea-Party rhetoric (and much Democratic, as well) about Israel, security and American interests which is being thrown around as congress debates the Iran Peace deal. As I prepare to offer an invocation at our city’s local 9/11 Memorial tomorrow, I think about just how much we have to repent of. Not just the provocation and perpetuation of injustice during these past fourteen years, but from the very beginning our civic and religious traditions.

My project of reading multi-national literature brought me this week to LEBANON. I do not think I have read a book about Lebanon since Jacobo Timerman’s searing first-hand account of Israel’s 1982 invasion and occupation of Southern Lebanon in The Longest War. (Timerman also spoke about his anger at what the occupation of Palestinian territory was doing to the Jewish moral tradition). But members of my congregation who were visiting family in Marjayoun this summer brought me a copy of House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. The author, Anthony Shadid, won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Iraq for the Washington Post and for his work as Middle East correspondent for the New York Times. He died in 2012 while on assignment in Syria.

Anthony Shadid

The book is a deeply moving reflection on place, interweaving Shadid’s year long sabbatical (during which he restores the home his grandfather built in Marjayoun) with his genealogical reconstruction of his family’s story in Lebanon and the United States. It reminded me again and again of the work I am doing on my own political/cultural/theological/geographical/ancestral story. From the fall of the Ottomans to the creation of Israel and the several middle eastern states and the disruption of ancient communities, it is tragic account of a tragic place – meaning no more than the normal working out of the world that has been created there.

I am very grateful for this gift, and can now imagine my friends at home in Lebanon gazing upon Mt. Hermon at the end of a summer’s day, and I pray for peace. With justice. For all.



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