Beliefs, Bible, Spiritual

charlottesville and revelation

My church’s Pub Theology crew wanted to discuss the doctrine of Revelation. As is my custom, I created a worksheet to help start our conversation:

Working Definition: Revelation unveils the Unknown. 

What is it:
An experience, an event, an inspiration that moves one beyond the vision of the ordinary. 
Transcendent 
Transformative 

What is it not
Revelation does not provide us with all that there is to know about God. 
It does not speak against Biblical theology, i.e. it will never tell you to hate your neighbor.
It is not new information.

Sources and Sites of Revelation:
Scripture
Jesus Christ
Preaching
People
Music
Animals
Campfires
Creation
Protests
Soup Kitchens

Thomas Merton Plaque

A plaque of Thomas Merton’s famous Revelation

The Intersection of Revelation and Charlottesville 

“Flannery O’Connor depicts an event of “revelation” in a way that points to the deeper theological meaning of the term. She tells of the story of Mrs. Turpin, a hard-working, upright, church-going farmer’s wife, who is unexpectedly accosted by a mentally disturbed teenage girl in a doctor’s office. After bearing Mrs. Turpin’s superior attitude and demanding remarks about white trash and black people as long as she can, the girl suddenly throws a heavy book at Mrs. Turpin, begins to strangle her, and calls her a “warthog from hell.” When Mrs. Turpin returns to her farm, she cannot get the girl’s words out of her mind. Standing beside her pigpen, she is outraged by being called a warthog. She knows she is a good person, certainly far superior to white trash and black people. She reminds God of that, as well as of all the work she does for the church, “What did you send me a message like that for?” She angrily asks God. But as she stared into the pigpen, she has a glimpse of “the very heart of mystery,” and begins to absorb some “abysmal life-giving knowledge.” She has a vision of a parade of souls marching to heaven, with white trash, black people, lunatics, and other social outcasts up front, and respectable people like herself at the rear of the procession, the shocked expressions on their faces showing that all their virtues are being burned away. Mrs. Turpin returns to her house with shouts of hallelujah from the heaven-bound saints in her ears.”

“Revelation is an event that shakes us to the core.”

“Revelation compels momentous decisions about who God is and how we are to understand the world and ourselves.”

The previous quotes are from the tremendous book Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore (p. 22)


Our conversation was complicated by the group constantly arguing for what I deemed as little “r” revelation. They described events that shaped new ways of visioning the world, but not necessarily with the consequences of material change. For example, someone mentioned walking in the park, feeling awestruck, and not being able to see a leaf again without thinking of God’s handiwork. This is lovely, for sure, but is not capital “R” Revelation. 

When Biblical Revelations occur, which seem to only happen to men, the recipient’s  lives are transformed. After Moses encounters God in a burning bush, he changes his path, goes back to Egypt, and joins in the liberation of the Hebrew People. Paul’s revelation of God knocks his life out of control, no longer does he kill Christians, but now he preaches a Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles. According to these Biblical Revelations, they happen when they’re least expected and one is persuaded towards a way of life-giving love. 

And oh how I pray for Revelations for politicians, CEOs, & white supremacists that they may change their ways. Often I think that people could help foster acts of Revelation. Like the teenage girl in the Flannery O’Connor tale and help others to see that their vision of the world is destructive.

I ended the conversation at Pub Theology saying that if a Revelation does not create a material change, not just a spiritual one, then you should’ve been paying closer attention.

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anti-war, Liberation Theology

our politics are still boring

At the turn of the millennium, Crimethinc produced a great and still relevant piece,Your Politics Are Boring As F*ck.” They describe how practitioners of radical political ideologies are going about things the wrong way. One delightful example posited spending the afternoon collecting food from businesses, who were going to throw it away anyway, to share it with the hungry comparing it with writing an editorial to a leftist paper about their improper use of “anarcho-syndicalism.” The article ends with a delightful list of how not to make politics boring:

  • Make politics relevant to our everyday experience of life again. The farther away the object of our political concern, the less it will mean to us, the less real and pressing it will seem to us, and the more wearisome politics will be.
  • All political activity must be joyous and exciting in itself. You cannot escape from dreariness with more dreariness.
  • To accomplish those first two steps, entirely new political approaches and methods must be created. The old ones are outdated, outmoded. Perhaps they were NEVER any good, and that’s why our world is the way it is now.
  • Enjoy yourselves! There is never any excuse for being bored… or boring!

Yet, while I thoroughly enjoy and agree with the article I think it needs to emphasize even more so: EVERY ACT WE COMMIT IS POLITICAL, whether or not we see it as such. Who one hangs out with, the city one lives in, what you buy or not buy for groceries, what you’re watching on TV, etc. etc. IT’S ALL POLITICAL! And so it seems to think that political action happens every four years is an utter and complete farce.

For me though, political discourse can be oh so boring because US politics is extremely circular. The US must always have an enemy, who appears evil and hurts their citizens. The US must threaten and at least appear to defeat such enemy for the sake of democracy. The problem though is that the US oligarchy controls our political discourse. Even in my circles, questions do not arise as to whether or not the enemy of the US government is actually the enemy of the US people. I, for sure, do not have qualms with Afghanis, Yemenis, Iraqis, North Korean citizens, and so on. Rather, those whom I disagree with and challenge are already in my community: police and local politicians.

We must move away from imperial discourse and move towards local discourse! 

Of course, this is not going to end the Tr*mp drama, but it will grant us the energy to move towards what is important: the marginalized, poor, and sick among us. In a few weeks, I’m preaching on the “Good Samaritan.”* I gather from this ancient story that your neighbor is the person spatially closest to you. In other words, it can be good to have an interest in the Middle East or Latin America, but what are you doing for your neighbors within reach. I find Jesus’ parable compelling in the fact that the Samaritan touched and bandaged the beat up, bloodied man. I often do not have the courage to act in such a way.

Our politics are boring because we’d rather spend our time and energy with those who share similar ideologies. I too am guilty of this. And it’s difficult to share with my moderate/liberal friends an anarcho-communist vision of the world. Don’t get me started on reactions to Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism! Because honestly, who cares? Who cares if I can quote Marx, the EZLN, and obscure theologians in the same sentence? I do, certainly! But how am I going to show compassion to those who sleep on the church steps or foster relationships with people I encounter every day because if I am not doing that then my politics should be boring.

The Good Samaritan by Christopher Ruane

The Good Samaritan by Christopher Ruane

*Luke 10:25-37
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;
and your neighbor as yourself.”
And he said to him,
“You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself,
he asked Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied,
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell into the hands of robbers,
who stripped him, beat him, and went away,
leaving him half dead.
Now by chance a priest was going down that road;
and when he saw him,
he passed by on the other side.
So likewise a Levite,
when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side.
But a Samaritan while traveling came near him;
and when he saw him,
he was moved with pity.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds,
having poured oil and wine on them.
Then he put him on his own animal,
brought him to an inn,
and took care of him.
The next day he took out two denarii,
gave them to the innkeeper, and said,
‘Take care of him; and when I come back,
I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Which of these three,
do you think,
was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.””

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Justice, Liturgy

the nicene creed: radically revised

I was asked to write a statement of faith and because of my trust in a loving and creative Triune God, I re-wrote the ancient faith text, the Nicene Creed, to represent my ever-Reforming faith.

I believe in one God, Creator, Intruder, and Agitator Almighty,
maker of heaven and Earth,
creating and imagining still,
      of all things, visible and invisible,
diverse and expanding.
And in my Savior Jesus Christ,
      the Beloved Child of God,
    eternally begotten by God before the planets whirled,
           Divinity from Divinity,
           Love from Love,
           true God from true God,
     begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as God.
      Through Christ all things were made.
For humanity, the universe, and our salvation
Christ broke into the chaos of creation
           becoming incarnate by God’s Spirit and the young, poor Mary,
           and was made flesh.
Christ taught and lived a life of peace and justice,
dined with prostitutes, outcasts, and fools;
denounced religiosity as the way to God’s heart, instead of loving one’s neighbor;
and gave up all power for the sake of loving the world.
           Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
           suffered, and was buried.
 On the third day God raised Christ from the dead, according to the Scriptures,
           he ascended into heaven
           and is extoled to God’s right hand.
         Christ comes again and again
and one day will come in glory
           to judge the living and the dead.
           God’s Realm has already begun and will never end.
I believe in God’s Spirit,
     active and moving, the giver of life and breath.
      God’s Spirit dances with Christ and God in eternity,
      and with God and Christ should be worshiped and glorified.
      God’s Spirit has spoken through the prophets, past and present;
convicts the unjust, heals the wounded, and moves among the unloved.
      I believe God’s Spirit hovers over the one holy catholic and apostolic church.
      I affirm baptism and communion as sacred moments in the Beloved Community.
      I look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
      and to life in the world to come. Amen.

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Chicago Climate March (April 29, 2017)  God’s Spirit moved among us.

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Politics, Prayer, Spiritual

we are not our government: an apology 

“I’ve met many peace activists before and
I know that you are not the US government.”
– a Salvadoran community leader

Whether it was in Iraqi-Kurdistan, the Borderlands of Mexico and Arizona, or Palestine, I constantly heard this sentiment in some form. This was said in spite of the US providing chemical weapons to bomb Halabja, Iraq; in spite of the US aiding in the killing of thousands of Salvadorans; in spite of the US sending a million dollars a day to Israel for weapons to be used against Palestinians. Now that this current administration has been upping the ante by aggressively bombing Syria and Afghanistan, using drone warfare more frequently, and causing trouble where trouble was not there before, I’ve become sorrowful. As someone who believes in repentance, of changing one’s actions and thoughts, I plead with this administration to think about the consequences and effects of habitual violence the US military commits around the world and also how it affects US citizens. But it’s difficult to imagine Tr*mp or anyone from his administration be humble in any way, unless it’s at a tee-off. In light of this, I feel compelled to apologize for the recent US’ heinous acts.

syrian

To the Syrian people: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that we have ignored Assad as a threat to you for years, when he did not represent a threat to us. I’m sorry the US does not have a commitment to nonviolent acts as diplomacy and divestment strategies, but bomb without questions. I too am ashamed that we can call bombing an airfield and military airbase a human rights campaign when we cannot provide any rights to refugees and immigrants in the US.

You’re in my prayers and marches, Syria.
May violence cease and peace with justice reign.

To the Afghani people: I’m sorry. It’s been too long that our weapons and military have invaded your country. I’m sorry for our continued presence, our constant violence, and that we do not have a plan to leave your country. And still the Mother of All Bombs which landed in the eastern part of Afghanistan, not only disrupted Daesh’s tunnels, but killed children, women, and men. My heart weeps.

You’re in my prayers and marches, Afghanistan.
May violence cease and peace with justice reign.

To those in North Korea: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the infringement of our government and its threats on your country. I know that you are not your government. I pray that you do not assume the same about the US. I will continue to pray for your safety, please pray for ours as well.

You’re in my prayers and marches, North Korea.
May violence cease and peace with justice reign

For the peoples of Yemen, Russia, and Turkey: You are not forgotten. I’m sorry for our perpetual use of drone strikes in Yemen; for putting the Putin circus before the people of Russia; and for the US President praising Turkey’s President, soon to be dictator, instead listening to the cries of the Turkish people. So much violence, too little peace.

You’re in my prayers and marches, Yemen, Russia, and Turkey.
May violence cease and peace with justice reign

Mark Twain’s old adage, “Loyalty to the country always, loyalty to the government when it deserves it” continues to be true today. Anywhere I go in the US or around the world, I encounter compassion and love, which is absent in the US administration.

May we forgive ourselves, commit to peace with justice in our daily lives, and be faithful to the struggle with the guidance of the marginalized.

organize

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Sermon, Spiritual

thirsting for dangerous memory: a good friday sermon

I was invited to be one of the preachers for the Last Seven Words Service at Church on the Hill AME Zion Church, NYC. I took the fifth phrase: “I am thirsty.” 

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Crucifixion by an unknown Ethiopian Artist

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. (John 19:28-29)

I can remember a time when it was popular for pastors to preach a sermon series on the “I am” statements found in John’s Gospel. To name a few of the “I am” statements in John:
I am the bread of life
I am the light of the world
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life

These statements point to the divinity to Christ, since in the book of Exodus when Moses asked for God’s name, the response from the burning bush was “I am that I am.” And so every time Jesus says. “I am,” we are to recall the God of Exodus. The God who liberated a people out of slavery. A God who guides through the wilderness.

And yet, the same one who said “I am the bread of life” also said “I am thirsty.” Though “I am thirsty” as an “I am” statement has been overlooked. Perhaps because of how concrete it is.

Jesus is dying, bleeding, gasping for breath, and has the most essential human need: thirst.

This is such a potent moment in John’s Gospel. This is the first-time Jesus eats or drinks anything in John. While in the other Gospels, Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors, the unclean, and sex workers, John’s Gospel saves this moment while Christ is on the cross. In a way, John’s Gospel is making these words have so much more depth.

 

It takes nearly the entire book of John for Jesus to show his humanity. But better late than never.

And in this moment of suffering and thirst, I think it’s important to incorporate what is called Dangerous Memory.

This idea was created around the time of the Holocaust by Jewish cultural critic and theologian Walter Benjamin, who wrote “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognize “how it really was.” It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” In other words, history is the story we tell ourselves, but then we must be intentional to ask “Who’s story is being told?” Walter Benjamin focused on the underclasses of society and told it from their perspective.

On this Good Friday, how can we not, but stand back and ask who else in our world thirsts? And I do not mean this in an abstract way, but actually who is parched, looking for water.

It has been 1085 days since there’s been clean water in Flint, MI.
1085 days of children not being able to drink out of school water fountains.
1085 days of pregnant women using bottled water to clean themselves.
1085 days in a city of almost 100,000 people trying to survive.
And still. And still. And still. The people of Flint thirst just as Christ did on the cross.

Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts.

US-POLITICS-OBAMA

Placards posted above water fountains warn against against drinking the water at Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan, in May, 2016. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Last year, I went on a peace delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. We met with villages where oil companies had come in and started extracting oil. The extraction had destroyed their land and water source. At each of these villages, they showed us where they had wells and how they’re now full of extraction chemicals unworthy to consume the water. Some of these villages had kind neighbors let them use their water source, but many of them have to go into the cities and buy bottled water. My group visited a merely 3 villages out of 800 who are the affected. The villagers of Iraqi Kurdistan thirst just as Christ did on the cross.

Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts.

In the desert that connects Arizona and Mexico many migrants die in hopes of a better life. They die of starvation and thirst. In the 90’s, an organization was created called No More Deaths, which sets out gallons of water for these travelers. Yet, they cannot get to every desert hopeful. The migrants from Latin and South America thirst just as Christ did on the cross.

Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts.

After listening to moments of current thirsts, here’s what I propose: “I am thirsty” should be included in canon of “I am” statements. We must not disconnect Christ’s reality on the cross to those who thirst in our world. But this also means that we cannot sit idly by while others thirst.

I too find it peculiar that it in our reading it says “they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth..” It doesn’t say that it was the soldiers or the women who quenched Jesus’ thirst. Its ambiguity almost seems to say that it could be anyone close enough to Christ who could have aided Jesus in his despair. And maybe just maybe we are called to be the “they.” Was it not Jesus who said in Matthew’s Gospel:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

So let us continue to thirst after justice. For justice in all those places who have been forgotten and oppressed: Flint, Iraq, Mexico, and Arizona. Christ thirsts, Justice thirsts. Amen.

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Anarchism, Liberation Theology, Prayer

antifa, an ass, and a prayer

On this Palm Sunday morning, I have a few non-related thoughts:

I listened to an insightful interview with Mark Bray on WYNC titled, “For Antifa, Not All Speech Should Be Free.” Basically the anti-fascist approach is to shut down, hinder, and disrupt racist, sexist, Islamophobic, transphobic, and other oppressive and hate-filled speech before it leads to more holocausts and genocides. What I find attractive about the antifa movement is the large net it casts in leftist ideologies, from marxists to anarchists to Democratic Socialists. Educating the ignorant, interrupting hate speech, and unsettling the status quo is not easy work, but necessary.

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Artist He Qi

Today in the Christian liturgical calendar, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a never-ridden-before ass, that practically the disciples steal for the Lord’s sake. Plenty of other commentators have added their voices noting the subversiveness of this political parade. That simultaneously as Jesus was riding into one area of Jerusalem, Pilate would’ve have been riding in on a war horse in another section of the city. In The Last WeekJohn Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg (RIP) do a fine job explaining this idea. What’s struck at me this year is the crowd yelling “Hosanna,” which literally means “Save now!” The peasants of Jerusalem were calling for a political revolution, to be rescued from their constant mode of being in crisis. In my experience, all protests have a similar mode: the current political structure needs to be rearranged, burnt to the ground, etc. for a fuller political imagination, one where everyone is fed, housed, can work (if desired), and loved. And perhaps Jesus started the new order since the first thing he did was to turn over the tables of capitalists in the Temple (Matt. 21:12). Let’s continue in the way of Jesus, towards revolution and hope.

A prayer for the three Coptic Churches bombed during their Palm Sunday Service.
Oh God of this world
We pray for the Coptic families
of those killed and injured today
We pray that those who commit
such acts to repent of their ways
We pray too for the Syrian people
for all the bombings they have suffered
We pray that the US may repent of its
continued use of violence here and around the world
May we live in peace
Hosanna, Oh God!
Save now, Oh Christ!
Liberate us, Oh Spirit!
Amen

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Palestine, Peace, Politics

a funny thing happened on the way to hebron

(This was originally published on Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s blog)

I attended the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Board Meeting as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship representative, not expecting anything life-altering, but transformation waits for no one.

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CPT planned their Board Meeting in Hebron, Palestine during the week of March 13th. They sandwiched it between a Sabeel Conference and a delegation, in case people could take off work longer than a week. It just so happened to coincide with my Spring Break and I decided to travel halfway around the world, instead of resting from my other part-time jobs.

My adventure began at 11:30pm on Saturday, March 11th when I boarded Turkish Airlines at JFK. I had a layover in Istanbul and arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, March 12th at 11:30pm. I prepared for the flights and layover by downloading enough content in terms of TV shows and e-books. I would’ve had the biggest case of ennui if I didn’t.

When we landed in Tel Aviv, I prepared to be questioned. My first encounter was with an Israeli soldier who picked me out of the arrivees. He asked me the standard questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why of my time in Israel. I passed the test and finally made it to Passport Control. There, I was asked the same basic questions, but was asked more directly about my time in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which was actually my first delegation with CPT last May.

Unimpressed with my answer, they sent me to a separate room with a few others who apparently had red flags about their passports as well. Let me add, too, that most of the CPT Board had already arrived in Jerusalem without any kind of trouble.

About 10 minutes in, I was called out by an Israeli Security Force agent for questioning. She first handed me a sheet that looked like this:

security sheet.jpg

I filled it out and was asked about where I worked, organizations I financially support, if I have ever protested, if I give to organizations who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and other pointed questions about where I was staying on my visit. Finally, she asked to see my phone, searched through my emails, contacts, Facebook, and text messages, and asked if I knew Arabic. Feeling exposed, vulnerable, and panicky, I asked if she needed anything else and requested to be excused. After all, I had just spent an hour and a half with her.

When I got back to the holding room, I texted a CPTer to let them know that I was okay, but that I was detained and would keep them up to date. After another hour of waiting, the same security patrol person sent me to another room, Border Control. For several more hours I waited. With my anxiety heightened, I paced around the room. When the room emptied around 7:45 AM, I was called in. I was asked if I was going to Palestine and if I supported BDS, both of which I denied, hoping that they wouldn’t go through my Facebook again to see all my “likes” of BDS related pages. Eventually they handed me back my passport and I left at 8am.

I travelled by shared taxi to the Old City in Jerusalem, zombie shuffled to the hostel, and slept for 10 hours. Thankfully, I was still able to fall asleep at midnight and left the next day with a few other Board members to Hebron.

The rest of the days were split in two. We spent every morning with the CPT Palestine Team patrolling several checkpoints in Hebron. We high-fived kindergarteners going to school in an attempt to bring some kind of hope, in spite of the apartheid state. These children are among the Palestinian people who are designated as “other” by a green passport, as opposed to the blue passports held by Israeli citizens. Those with blue passports are allowed to breeze past these checkpoints while the others are held and interrogated; there’s a similar system for license plates, though obviously none of our new kid friends were driving. I noticed that despite this repression, kids will always go to corner stores to pick up chips and candies, and the latest sneakers and fashions will always be a priority for high school students. Our afternoons were spent at the Hebron Hotel listening to reports from the director, committees, and having lively discussions about what it means to be a Christian organization even when many of our team members practice different faiths.

We adjourned on Friday afternoon and leaving Israel was much easier than arriving. Sure, I went through extra security, but wasn’t harassed, nor was my phone taken away.

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I come away from the whole experience with a few fractured thoughts.

  • I am more convinced than ever that Israel is an apartheid state. The segregation found with different color passports and license plates to identify who should be targeted is a disgrace. As well as after hearing the history of these checkpoints, from once being a table and some guards to concrete and metal, it shows the certainty of how severe and long lasting Israel wants this oppression to be.=
  • CPT’s work on the ground in Palestine, Canada, Colombia, Iraqi-Kurdistan, and Lesbos is crucial in our global political climate with more right-wing fascists spewing their hate-filled rhetoric and creating racist and discriminatory laws without caution or pause. I am thankful for their endurance and courage, and honored to be a part of it.
  • Peacemakers and truth tellers are politically dangerous. To call out oppression and imperial nonsense startles the mighty.
  • I could not do any of this work without the love and support of this community of peacemakers, creative folk, and rabble rousers.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that what I experienced was not even a fraction of what thousands experience every day. From Iraqi-Kurds denied entry into Turkey, to Black Americans unsafe in their own neighborhoods, or to migrants who attempt to find safe passage through dangerous desert terrain. This week altered my perspective: it’s not that I think that I’ve walked in the shoes of a Palestinian, but that I have seen with my own eyes a sliver of the harsh reality imposed by a seemingly outdated system of oppression. It only then makes sense, to me, to find hope in a God who calls us to act peacefully and justly.

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