Israel is an interesting place. Israel can also be a very confusing place. I don’t really like to tell people here that I’m a “Christian.” Now before you all fall off your chairs in shock and horror and become alarmed for the state of my soul, let me explain. In Israel there is what I have come to think of as the Big Three– Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Now that sounds simple enough, but unfortunately those words don’t always have the same connotations in a place like this that they might have back in the Shire (i.e. Goshen, Lancaster, etc.). In the Shire if you say, “I’m a Christian,” people automatically start trying to label what denomination you might be, or they might ask where you attend church, but the general knowledge is that Christianity is your religion, not your ethnicity, and doesn’t automatically make you Catholic. Here, things aren’t always so simple. I talked with a Jewish lady who had moved here from New York, and she didn’t even really know what being a Christian meant, it was almost like it was simply a word she had heard people use to say they weren’t Jewish. I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that the best way to explain myself is to say that I love Jesus and believe He is the Jewish Messiah.
While the Big Three are definitely religions, when you identify with one, you are really just identifying who or what you are as a nationality or an ethnicity–not a specific heart belief. The Old City of Jerusalem literally has sections called the Jewish Quarter, The Muslim Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. Unfortunately, the divisions run so much deeper than the streets of a city. Someone might refer to a family of “Christian Arabs,” which probably means simply that they are Arabs, but they aren’t Muslims. However, they may or may not be actually born again. We all know that being born into a “Christian family” doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being born in a garage makes you a car. When you tell a person you are a Christian, they automatically think of a Western Institution, and if you tell it to a Jewish person, there is a whole load of baggage that often comes along with that. The Jews–and Muslims as well–have suffered immense persecution at the hands of the Institution of “The Church.” If you don’t know much about the Crusades, I encourage you to look deeply into it. So many people have been killed under the symbol of the Cross by men who claimed to follow Christ but knew nothing of the real Jesus. And don’t even get me started on some of the terribly anti-Semitic writings of people such as Martin Luther, to name just one.
All of this division and tension can bring a lot of confusion…and I have found myself being wrenched in several different directions and needing to watch my attitude. In Israel it is very easy to get caught up in politics. Everything is so political and everything is so intertwined between culture, religion, and politics. I play with a mainly Jewish/Israeli/Hebrew speaking orchestra, but I sing with a mainly Catholic/Arab/pro-Palestinian/Arabic speaking choir. We have sung at Masses and ordinations of Catholic priests. While I used to find a certain amount of beauty in Catholic traditions, the songs of the mass, and the impressive cathedrals, I find myself increasingly annoyed and bothered by all of it. Sometimes it seems like every significant spot from the Bible the Catholics have barged into and built a church on top. Knowing the history that I know, I’m finding it hard to see much beauty in those things anymore. It’s not the Jesus I know.
I’ll be honest, I can get very political. I live in West Jerusalem in a very Jewish part of the city, and that is where my heart is. All I have to do is walk down to Damascus gate and the world becomes Arab–it looks totally different. I find myself not liking it. I find myself getting a bad attitude towards those people. I find myself just wanting to go back to my little corner of the world in Nachalot where there are synagogues on every corner, the majority of people I see are Jewish, and the language I hear is Hebrew and not Arabic. I forget that each person has a story. I forget that neither side is perfect. I forget that both sides have had their hearts broken and their families ripped apart, and I forget that I am not called to politics or to taking sides. I am called to show the love of Jesus to everyone. If I cannot or will not do that, than I am useless. If I pick and choose the people I want to love, than I am not really filled with the love of Yeshua.
I think that one of the beautiful things about Heaven will be the fact that all of this tension will end. There won’t be these divisions. Any person of any nationality that has accepted Jesus as the only way will be united in HIM! No more Palestinians vs. Israelis. No more cultural divisions causing misunderstandings. Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality now. The reality of now is people who throw rocks, shoot each other, and drive cars into crowds at train stations. But I think that as followers of Jesus we are called to live above these tensions, and I believe that by His power we can. I’m praying for eyes that see people like Jesus does and a heart that loves like Him.