One of the things about coming to this place is that we are so familiar with the stories of faith that we think we have some sense of what the place will be like. For those of us who have gone deeper in our biblical education, we have studied maps, seen pictures of the surroundings, and have some sense of the terrain. But the fact is that any knowledge we think we have of this place is an illusion. We know a lot of facts, but one never truly knows a place until one walks on the ground there, and that is certainly true of the Holy Lands.
Yet, even visiting has its limits, for although we are walking on the shore, seeing the rocks and the wild parrots flying over, we are still tourists, strangers in a land that is vaguely familiar but not our own. We don’t truly live here, having to make a living in a land that does not easily want to be lived in. We know that the availablity of water must be an issue, but until we see the water pipes and the pillbox and razor wire guarding the pumping station on the hill behind our hotel, we really don’t get it.
This is a land filled with tourists, and the locals (mainly Palestinians) make their living from our desire to connect with their land. But even though they are friendly and welcoming, there is always a sense of separation for they know that we will soon leave and another wild eyed tourist will take our place.
The fact is, with all of our supposed understanding about the dynamics of this place, we don’t fully know the tensions that remain. What does it mean to drive through Tiberias with the knowledge that all Arabs were cast out of the city in 1948 so that it could be made into a Jewish vacation spot? How are we to understand the division of towns into Jew, Bedouin, Druze, and Muslim? We sit at our table, laughing over the fish that stares back at us while the drivers and guides sit apart, casting knowing glances our way as if we are a bunch of hopeless teens who think we know everything but really know nothing at all.
This trip is an amazing gift, for therer is no way that I could have considered coming to this place without the largesse of the Cousin’s family (the founders of the foundation that paid for my trip). Yet, I long for more. I want to walk on the streets, sip coffee in a cafe, and most of all listen to those who live in this place. I want to live out the reality that the people are as holy as any of the places we might see. That requires an investment in time and resources that I don’t have, but I long to be immersed in a people who see this land not as holy and much more as the place in which they live.