I’ll be honest, I’m not a super spiritual person. I often wish I was more spiritual but it doesn’t come to me naturally. Generally I am moved into action by events taking place around me instead of an internal desire to be better. I often wish that I was more spiritual, and for that reason I’m always thankful when I come into contact with people who are. I like the push to be more reliant on God and less reliant on myself, and while that’s something often preached, even something I’ve preached, it’s not natural for me. It’s hard for a variety of reasons, maybe lack of trust, maybe the belief that the things happening in my life aren’t important enough, but mainly because normally it’s not a requirement.
Having grown up in America, I know the push to be self-made, and to be individually reliant. The American gospel is one that says everyone starts out at the same spot and therefore wherever they end up is by their own doing. The American identity is wrapped up in self, and has little room for anything else. And while that’s my American identity, the one the world has handed me, I strive to be more concerned with what my Christian identity is.
Here in Israel the question of identity is a big one. Living in Nazareth means living in a predominately Arab culture. Those I’ve spent the most time with struggle with who they are exactly, are they Israeli, or are they Palestinian. As one friend explained it, it depends on the context, they may say Israeli if they are in the west because people will know they mean from Israel. But if they were to say they are Israeli to another Arab in the Middle East they could easily be branded a traitor, therefore they would claim Palestinian. Since most of the Jewish culture only views Jews as being Israeli it adds another level of confusion to everyone involved. And as for the Jews, they are largely a mixing pot of people from all around the world, coming together to rebuild the Jewish state.
Beyond that comes the question of religion. Again for the Arabs they are either Muslim or Christian, and while Nazareth is a peaceful city housing both Muslims and Christians it’s still mostly Muslim (some of whom are my friends.) Thus for the Christian Arab they find no true middle ground living in Israel, they are treated less for being Arab in a Jewish country and less for being Christian in a Muslim culture. If you are a bit confused reading this, then imagine the confusion that plagues those living it. Add war to the mix of people trying to find where they belong and you can start to see a problem.
From what I’ve witnessed with both the Christian Arabs, and the Messianic Jews, they have to try and find their identity in Christ, because it’s the only one that unites them. Because of this, the decisions they make, and the actions they take do not only affect them as an individual but effects how others perceive them as a whole. Since coming to Israel I’ve heard at least four sermons on loving your enemy and turning the other cheek. In a culture that is at war on its borders, and is divided on issues of race and religion it carries a special impact. As one Arab pastor put it “Darkness cannot defeat darkness, only light can do that. In the same way war cannot defeat war, only peace can do that.” Peace here is a chosen action that the Christian’s are known by.
Therefore, the identity of a peaceful Christian is not a passive identity; it’s one that people recognize. When I first got here I was talking with a girl who was frustrated because she wanted to work at the Mall in Nazareth Illit, which is literally “Upper Nazareth,” a separate city that is mostly Jewish. She was frustrated because some of the stores won’t hire Arab’s, and she was told by one shop to reapply after she’s served in the military. This is a bit of a joke to those living here, since all Jews male and female have to serve in the military for a few years they often do not look for work until their service is done. For the Arabs, however, there is no requirement to serve and most don’t because for one they would most likely be mistreated in the army and two they may be faced with firing on other Arabs someday. Despite this, store owners are often more likely to hire a Christian since by their identity, they are known for turning the other cheek, but in the case above it just added a little more insult to the claim since it was another reason she wouldn’t be serving the army.
Of course, I’m simplifying things a bit, and making some general statements about the cultures that aren’t true everywhere, but it shed’s some light on what those living in Israel may face day to day. I’m continually grounded to the fact that I’m an outsider looking in, but when I’m with other Christian’s I’m with fellow citizens. And I’m thankful that we share an identity that is not dependant on race or borders but finds itself in a Kingdom that is so much bigger.
Well, I hope that wasn’t as confusing for you as it was for me trying to explain it. Beyond all of that the last few weeks have been great. I feel like this week I’ve finally hit my stride with the students that I’m teaching, they are a great group of men and I hope to write more about them soon. I’ve had a good couple weeks of travel going to Eliaboun for a pastor’s dinner, Mt. Tabor where I visited the Church of the Transfiguration, Haifa where I visited another small church but also saw the Bahá’í Garden that goes all the way up Mt. Carmel, and I finally visited the Church of the Annunciation which is just down the street and is also the biggest church in the Middle East where I was somewhat trapped into a 3 hour Mass. I also finally got a SD card reader and will be uploading pictures later this week. And last but not least, I learned a valuable lesson the other day after I had an entire meal stolen by cats.