The Choice of Mercy by Mill VP

JNorris.png

We are just a few days away from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jews across the world will celebrate this high holy day and pray for the atonement of their people. This holiday reminds me to reflect on the living sacrifice that covered our sin. It reminds me to reflect on the pain and the suffering of the Messiah. With the “Suffering Servant” as our backdrop, I want us to narrow our focus onto the most vivid example of mercy I can find in our accounts of the crucifixion.

Jesus, hanging on the cross naked, was already beaten, crushed, and bleeding. By this point, his torture had been going on for hours. Below his feet, soldiers started to barter for Jesus’ robe. Earlier in the day, Jesus was given this robe to wear as a tool to mock his claim to kingship.

Imagine, the God of the universe hanging on the cross minutes… moments… away from dying and one of the last scenes he sees are guards mocking him. At the very least, Jesus could have remained silent and simply ignored the guards’ actions. Jesus could have also spoken words of condemnation. Jesus did not do either of those.

Instead, he chose mercy. God the Son used some of the last ounces of energy in his human body to speak mercy. He cried, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 33:34). These men did not deserve any compassion from the Messiah. But Jesus did not only extend compassion, he pardoned them from their error, even while still hanging on the cross.

Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, shows how the Messiah did not see just the guards at his feet. He also saw us. In his mind’s eye, we were standing right alongside the guards who mocked him. Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus did not only cry out “Father, forgive them!” on behalf of the guards. At that moment, He chose to have mercy on us, too.

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). Mercy is a choice. And, often, it is a choice that we have to make while the offense is still going on. Whether we are the one’s receiving the offense, or just onlookers, in that split-second we choose to extend mercy and compassion or choose to be embittered and fill ourselves with hatred. Let us cross the divide, reach out our hands, and embrace the other. Even if that “other” has decided to choose hatred.

So, whether we are marching down the streets of Washington, D.C., in a Jewish café in the Old City, or at the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, we need to be imitators of God. We need to choose to extend mercy. To forgive those who do wrong, even while they are still doing us (or others) wrong. That is how our God chose to reveal himself—as the God of mercy and compassion. May we choose to follow our Messiah likewise.

Father, first, have mercy on us. We are still sinners. Jesus, we thank you that you chose mercy for the whole world while still hanging on the cross. Oh, how unworthy we are. Holy Spirit, work through us so that we can be imitators of our God. Help us to show mercy to all peoples. Amen.

You're Invited to the 2017 Advocacy Summit: Choose Hope by Mill VP

MVP Summit Poster_3.jpg

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is proud to announce its next Advocacy Summit: Choose Hope 2017, co-sponsored by Millennial Voices for Peace (MVP), to be held from November 12th - 14th. The Choose Hope 2017 Advocacy Summit provides a holistic space for millennials, including, college, seminary and graduate students as well as young professionals, who wish to engage in a national campaign for peace and justice in the Holy Land.

Choose Hope 2017 has four objectives, to teach the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, address theological misconceptions about the conflict, organize advocacy for peace and share our hope for the holy land.

Millennial Voices for Peace is a movement of young Christians dedicated to designing and implementing a national campaign for peace and justice in the Holy Land, promoting a holistic understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within U.S communities, advocating for both Israelis and Palestinians pursuing peace and justice in the Holy Land.

Join Us!

Early Bird rates, at $55 for students and $85 for non-students, will be applied until September 16th.

Standard fares stand at $75 for students and $115 for non-students through November 6th.

Registration up until the start of the conference will cost $100 for students and $125 for non-students. Our registration page is now live, and can be found here. Please contact info@cmep.org for more information on student rates.

A Response to Violence by Mill VP

                                                                                                                                       A sunrise over Bethlehem.

                                                                                                                                       A sunrise over Bethlehem.

In the fall of 2015, I visited Israel/Palestine as part of a study abroad trip. This was not my first or my last time visiting the land, but it was perhaps the most impactful. My classmates and I were there for two weeks to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our trip coincided with a flare-up of violence. Several of the speakers we heard at the time referred to it as the beginning of a third intifada. While on the trip, we visited famous Biblical and historical sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Way of the Patriarchs, and the Western Wall. We also enjoyed traditional Arab hospitality by staying with Palestinian families in and around Bethlehem. Following days filled with speakers and site visits, we would return to a giant home-cooked meal followed by tea and fruit. Usually by the end of the night we could not move from exhaustion and being completely stuffed with food. These aspects of the trip remind me why and how much I love the land.

However, much of the rest of the trip showed me the many injustices and violence of the conflict. During one speaker’s talk, I could hear water cannons and shock grenades going off in the background. On several occasions, we had to reroute our day to avoid demonstrations. At night with my host family, I watched videos on the news and the internet of young Palestinians being shot and killed or their wounded bodies being kicked at and sworn at by Israeli soldiers. Many of our speakers, both Israeli and Palestinian shared about loved ones being taken by the conflict. During a discussion with a group of Israeli Jews, one woman shared about how a classmate at her university had been stabbed. Perhaps the most troubling incident happened during my Palestinian homestay. The grandson of my host parents rushed into the house overjoyed that school was cancelled for the next day. The reason why: a boy his age had been killed by Israeli soldiers and the funeral was the next day. This violence had become so commonplace that this boy was rejoicing over a lack of school instead of mourning a community member.

                Following the two-week trip, my classmates and I returned to our studies in Jordan emotionally bankrupt and not knowing how to respond. The next day we were asked to spend about an hour trying to come up with a solution for the conflict based on what we had learned. This was a laughable task on a couple of accounts. Surely a group of seventeen college kids would not be able to solve a decades old conflict in a matter of an hour. However, as we engaged in this task, I also realized that the impossibility of the situation comes from the many different narratives present on the subject. During our trip, we heard from dozens of speakers each with a different viewpoint. Even the language differed from person to person. Below I have included some pictures I took on the trip, each labeled as politically neutral as possible. I soon discovered that my picture of “A sunrise over Bethlehem” might be labeled by one person as “Occupied Territory,” but by another as “liberated territory.” “The Way of the Patriarchs” was either taken in Judea and Samaria or the West Bank. Similarly, the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock either both belong to Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Temple Mount. And finally, the pictures taken in or near Bethlehem depict either the security barrier or the border wall. The difference of language only begins to hint at the depth of differences between each narrative. With these deeply rooted opposing perspectives, how then can the conflict be solved?

                Over the next week, I struggled with this question and the question of how to respond to all the violence I had witnessed and heard about. One source of comfort came from a quote by former President of World Vision, Robert Seiple: 

For those of us who believe in a sovereign God, intractability is not an option. Indeed intractability must be an offense to God’s very being. In Scripture we see the rhetorical question asked over and over again: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The answer, which is obvious to the biblical writers, is a resounding no. Our Lord is the One who has the ability to change the course of rivers and the hearts of kings (see Proverbs 21:2). All power and authority are his![1]

While my earthly perspective sees a conflict with no possible solution, God has another vision. He may not share that vision with me, just as God did not give Job an explanation to his pain, but instead asked him “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?”[2] God provided a reminder of his power and the need to trust him. In times of overwhelming despair, this truth can be a source of hope.

                However, it is not enough to simply trust God. That trust needs to be followed by actions. After the trip to Israel/Palestine, I returned to my study abroad apartment which I shared with the other twelve girls on my semester. Thirteen girls in one apartment inevitably led to conflict, especially after such an intense trip. As I examined my angered responses to my living situation, I realized I could not escape the judgement I was casting on the perpetrators of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If I want to see the truths taught to us by Jesus, such as kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and love, lived out in the conflict, then I need to first embody these principles in my own life. Only then can I begin to see the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom of God I hope to see brought to the conflict.

[1] Robert A. Seiple, Ambassadors of Hope: How Christians Can Respond to the World’s Toughest Problems (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 35.

[2] Job 38:4 (New International Version).

                                                                                                                  View from the Way of the Patriarchs.

                                                                                                                  View from the Way of the Patriarchs.

                                                                            The Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

                                                                            The Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

Love and Unfortunately, Suffering. by Mill VP


I remember my first trip to Israel and Palestine. Our intention was to get to know the “Living Stones” of the land and to build a deeper understanding of the conflict through the eyes of those personally affected. But of course, you can’t go to the Holy Land without visiting at least some of the historic Biblical sites. 


We visited the Temple Mount, The Western Wall, the Upper Room and many more. For some reason, I was just not experiencing a connection or that “Bible-coming-to-life” moment quite like I was expecting. I left frustrated. I guess in the back of my mind I thought that I would get to know Jesus deeper by walking the steps that he walked, but I left that trip without strongly connecting in Jesus’ stomping grounds. 


A few months later, I made the decision to go live in the land for a 6-month period. Little did I know, one week after arriving, the 2014 war between Israel and Palestine would erupt. Every day was one horrific event after another. Too many unfortunate deaths and so much unnecessary suffering was occurring. A friend and I needed to find a resting place to meditate. On a long walk through Jerusalem, we came to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was after normal touring hours, but a kind man working on the grounds in the garden allowed us to come through the gate, and then went on about his business. 


We sat down in a shady spot marveling at the olive trees, considering their longevity and imagining the stories they could tell if only they could speak. Naturally, we opened our travel-sized Bible to better visualize the story in the Garden. 


Instantaneously, the visualization became overwhelming.

He told His disciples to wait while He stepped aside to pray, we imagined Him as He got up, feeling “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (38) then fell to the ground, and for the first moment, the Savior that so obediently served His Father, was weak. He cried out, asking that the cup, his destiny, the cup that contained the world’s suffering, could be taken from him. He asked His Father this two more times. All of this happened, somewhere on the grounds inside that Garden. 


But still so perfectly obedient, He asked that God’s will be done, knowing fully what that meant. 


And then the hour came, the hour of a close friend’s ultimate betrayal, the hour to be captured, disowned, deserted and blasphemed against. Jesus, our Savior, the one who came to befriend the world and stop at literally nothing to love humanity was left abandoned and alone, to die for us.


Sitting in that Garden we couldn’t help but hear the echoes of the desperate cries coming from our King Jesus. The sting of His prayers in His final moments haunted us as we sat there listening intently. What suffering He must have experienced, what suffering… 


But at the same time, what an act of love? We saw clearly in scripture that this was God’s will, there was no denying His intent in His son’s suffering. While Jesus experienced the darkest hours in history, humanity experienced the greatest gift of love, the ultimate sacrifice that led to our redemption and reconciling relationship with our Father. 


And suddenly the seeming dichotomy between love and suffering revealed itself as an interdependent relationship. While sitting in the Garden, pondering this, I muttered the words, “Love has never existed without suffering.” The greatest act of love was met with the greatest suffering known to man. And the gift of love we have been given could have never been realized without suffering. This was the Father’s will all along.


I began to think of the war that was happening at the time, all the suffering people were experiencing and how hard it was to continue to serve God in the midst of experiencing some of the worst sides of humanity. 


Suffering is the ugly side of life that we are not immune to, especially if our perfect savior was not immune from it. But just because suffering exists, does not mean love is gone. And just because we have love does not mean there will not be suffering. 


I hesitate to speak of love that can come from suffering, because I know how agitating that thought can be to someone experience such pain, but I do fully believe in the power of love and how healing it can be. 


There is still too much suffering going on in Israel and Palestine in a conflict that seems to never cease. Within our own nation, people are experiencing depths of frustration, loss and grief in many capacities that seem unfair and unnecessary. 


In a perfect world, suffering would just not exist. But the truth is, this is not a perfect world and therefore, an amount of suffering is inevitable. But because of Jesus’ death, we are left with the good news that even though suffering exists in our world, we have been given full access to the love, life and promise of a perfect eternity that our good savior suffered to give us. 

 

Scripture from Matthew 26: 36-75

 

The Prince of Hard Things by Mill VP

As Millennial Voices for Peace has been planning and promoting our summer trip to the Holy Land http://millennialvoicesforpeace.com/new-page/, we have entered the liturgical season of Lent: forty days of reflection, repentance and preparation before Easter. These are days when we remember Christ's words and acts preceding his betrayal, death, and resurrection. It's when we step back and get a wide-lens view of redemption. It's when some adopt fasts or disciplines to better attend to that view and to God's voice here and now.

Moving through Lent can be a challenge--there's an emotional heaviness, not to mention those fasts and some difficult Scripture passages, to boot. Re-reading these passages and imagining Jesus' final days, I encounter yet another hard thing. A disturbing thing. I realize that, had I been part of these stories in first-century Palestine, Jesus would have utterly confused me. All his parables and miracles would have tied my mind in knots, probably angered me to the point of throwing a rock or two, even plotting to kill him with the religious leaders of his day. In the dark interim between Passover and the first Resurrection Day, I would have cowered behind a locked door with the disciples: frightened, abandoned, ashamed. Meditating on the Gospels reminds us that, at the time, there didn't appear to be a "happy ending" to any of Good Friday's chaos, much less a plan. It was a mystery, a miserable mystery...until Sunday dawned with unexpected joy. What had been dark and senseless was suddenly alight. Things that were nonsensical or hurtful fit together into a story of hope that continues to this day.

I say all this because I'm supposed to be writing about peace: how it's a quality of God's character, how Jesus is the Prince of Peace, how peace is what we're committed to promoting in Israel/Palestine. And it is, and he is, and we are. But true peace doesn't come easily, and it certainly doesn't come on our timeline.  The same world that resisted the Prince of Peace while he walked among us still rebels against efforts toward reconciliation, forgiveness, or truth-telling. The same confusion and fear that plagued the disciples live in our hearts as we look for a plan amidst violent chaos. Much of the time, it feels like we're flying blind with little to no evidence of hope. In the face of a protracted, complicated conflict like that between Israelis and Palestinians, it's tempting to give in to apathy or despair. We may want to throw in the towel or hide behind locked doors, waiting for the worst to pass by.

Nevertheless, the lesson we learn from Lent--from Easter--is that hope is always working behind the scenes, weaving together events and stories that would otherwise make no sense. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, which makes him the prince of what's hard, what's long and wearisome and all but impossible. When we advocate for peace in Israel/Palestine, we don't do so out of blind optimism but out of belief in God's ability to bring resurrection out of death and light out of darkness. In the times we are discouraged or doubtful, we remember that Sunday morning, in all its unpredictable glory, is coming. We believe working for peace is the occupation of those who follow Jesus, the Prince who walked through it all. 

 

Living Stones Tour 2017 by Mill VP

3_.png

Join Millennial Voices for Peace for the

LIVING STONES TOUR

2017

We live in a world defined more and more by opinions and headlines, less and less by shared experience and expertise. We make assumptions about each other based on what we hear, what we read, or what others like us believe. It's hard to break this cycle: to step into a new place, among unfamiliar voices, and listen.

Millennial Voices for Peace wants to make this step available to you.

It's more important than ever for Americans to be familiar with the world of Palestinians and Israelis, not through news headlines, but through personal connections and shared stories.

Americans have engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through decades of diplomacy, financial support and political battles. However, few Americans have ventured to the "Holy Land" to understand the struggles of those living with violence and fear. American churches frequently refer to Israel in a symbolic or historic sense, embracing the "stones" of a land where our faith was born. We are called, however, to embrace the "living stones" of the land: people whose lives are defined by the struggle for dignity and peace.

This summer, Millennial Voices for Peace is partnering with Churches for Middle East Peace and MEJDI Tours, offering you the opportunity to meet these "living stones" and hear their stories of perseverance and peacemaking. We'll learn from communities that seek to "love their enemies" and visit sites like the Mount of the Beatitudes. We'll engage with both Palestinians and Israelis, listening to histories of the conflict from multiple perspectives. We’ll reflect together on our role as peacemakers and servants of the Prince of Peace.

We invite you to take this step with us towards becoming advocates for peace and understanding in an increasingly divisive world. Mark your calendars for June 17-24 and SIGN UP HERE!

Bridge Over Troubled Waters by Mill VP

As a DC resident, I’ve seen visible signs that Inauguration Day is rapidly approaching. I’ve been notified of closed streets, closed train stations, revised metro schedules, and my grocery store’s supply of frozen pizza is just about gone (a clear statement of intent from my neighborhood). 


As inconvenient (and personally disheartening) as it might be, Trump will become the next President of the United States today and the road ahead is unclear, especially when it comes to foreign policy and most especially when it comes to Israel and Palestine. 


For those watching Congress, the House and Senate have likewise indicated a new and uncharted path on I/P; casting doubt on a two-state solution and acquiescing to settlement construction. As US political discourse on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters these new waters, it will continue to grow more partisan. 


This partisan divide didn’t begin with the Trump Presidency, the UNSC resolution on settlements or even the Iran deal, but has steadily grown since the beginning of Obama Administration. As the GOP takes control of the White House, House, and Senate, we will witness a reorientation that will accelerate and intensify this divide.  


Now, if I hear another banal sermon transition or passing comment about how divided this nation is, I’m going to pull my hair out. Not because it’s untrue, but because there are actual consequences. This President and this Congress are going to make real decisions that impact people’s lives domestically and internationally; concrete policy changes are coming down the pipeline. 


As uncharted, divided, unclear, etc. as the waters might be, this is where we swim now. If you’re wading at the knees because going much deeper is cold and uncomfortable, then it’s time to jump in and get going. 


MVP purpose to be bipartisan—we want to build bridges of understanding, and we aim to influence policy. However, we cannot do any of these things without a firm grounding. You can’t build a bridge if you have no substance, beliefs, or principles. As a population engaged in this debate, we rely on our Statement of Principles more than ever. This is the only way we can build bridges and advocate for peace and justice in uncertain times.


Over the coming weeks, we will continue to explore our Statement of Principles and break it down piece by piece. We hope this will paint a picture of where we are headed and highlight the opportunities and challenges ahead.  

 

Emmanuel by Mill VP

On the Thursday before Christmas, a few of my friends gathered together to discuss Athanasius’s On the Incarnation As we pondered the mystery of God coming to earth to inhabit a human body in order to reconcile His creation to Himself, we couldn’t help but look at each other and whisper in awe, “Hallelujah.” The more I’m reminded of what the incarnation means, the more my eyes widen, my soul bows down, and my entire being wants to cry out in praise.

And now it’s December 29th. What do we do with our joyful cries at Advent and awestruck whispers at the manger after Christmas Day has come and gone? Does the Incarnation impact our daily practices and habits on January 1st as much as it does on December 25th?

God with us – Emmanuel – forever changes our lives and all lives. But we still must answer the question, how then do we live? As I scroll through headlines and read of renewed violence or plans for further entrenchment in misguided and inflammatory policies...what do I do?

Two and half years ago, I found myself struggling to wrap my mind and my heart around the appropriate response when faced with the injustices, complexities, and the great weight of the ongoing cycle of pain and conflict in the Holy Land. Should I give funds to help development work in the West Bank? Should I volunteer with an advocacy organization back in the States? Many options emerged. But there was never a shred of doubt that I was called by my God to be a peacemaker—in the Holy Land and everywhere.

2 Corinthians 5: 18-20 clearly states that Christ’s ministry of reconciliation – manifested in the ultimate act of love through dying on the cross for our sins – has been passed on to us. He has “entrusted us the message of reconciliation,” making us “ambassadors” of peace and reconciliation to all the world.

There are countless Palestinians and Israelis who defy stereotypes and refuse to be enemies. Instead of turning their back on the other, they choose to follow the footsteps of Emmanuel when He walked the same streets that they walk today. From Tent of Nations to Jewish Voice for Peace to Musalaha, and others, the ministry of reconciliation is being done in the Holy Land.

I believe it is my role as a Christian to stand with these peacemakers. When confronted with an all-powerful God who endured the Incarnation and death to bring reconciliation between Himself and me and between myself and others, I cannot do otherwise.