During Lent, I will be posting weekly on A Lenten Geography, meditations on the texts for Lent reflecting on the people I've met on my five visits to Israel/Palestine these past five years.
March 9, 2011
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion…(Is. 58.1)
What is the worship God desires from us?
Is it the Bach cantata, or the praise band? The old familiar hymns, or some new ones? Does The red book, or the green, or the “cranberry”?
Isaiah is very clear here: what God desires is not our “fasting.” God is not impressed when we wear “sackcloth and ashes.” God is not moved by our rituals. God wants us to “loose the bonds of injustice.”
When I close my eyes and hear these words of Isaiah, I see the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, as they shouted out an end to tyranny, an end to oppression, an end to the misery of the poor, who cannot afford to buy food for their families. They stood their ground, occupying the square, until their demands were heard. Mubarak stepped down—his ruthless and cruel suppression of dissent finally overcome by the sheer numbers and persistence of the demonstrators.
Like Isaiah, these demonstrators protest hypocrisy. Isaiah saw the hypocrisy of the people who worshipped God by wearing sackcloth and ashes, but did nothing to care for God’s people. The demonstrators shouted out the hypocrisy of a president who amassed a large fortune while the people were going hungry. They shouted out the hypocrisy of a United States that talks democracy and freedom, but provides $1.5b for “security,” which tortures and silences those who question the government.
Ironically, many of the demonstrators were inspired by President Obama’s speech in Cairo shortly after he became president, in June of 2009. They were listening when he called for democracy, and they took him seriously when he announced his commitment to “governments that reflect the will of the people.”
Each Friday afternoon in Sheikh Jarrah, as Jerusalem prepares for the Sabbath, a crowd gathers; drummers march through the streets, past the house that used to belong to the Gawi family. These demonstrators, primarily Jewish Israelis, call on the government of Israel to end its hypocrisy, to match its deeds with its words—they hold placards saying “Not in my Name!” and “Free East Jerusalem” and “End the Occupation!” This is their worship…..their Shabbat.
On Fridays in Al-Walaja, Bil’in, Ni’lin, al-Ma’sara, Beit Ommar, Nabi Saleh, Bethlehem, and other villages throughout the West Bank, protesters leave the mosques after Friday prayers and march in non-violent action against the Israeli wall, still being built on Palestinian land. The wall continues to isolate these villages, cutting them off from families, schools, commerce and health care, forcing them to go through several checkpoints to get from one village in the West Bank to another.
Is not this the fast that I choose:
To loose the bonds of injustice,
To undo the thongs of the yoke,
To let the oppressed go free,
And to break every yoke? (Is. 58.6)
God of all hope, your prophets called your people to actions of justice and reconciliation. Help those of us who live in the land of opportunity and freedom to break the yoke of oppression where we see it, to feed your hungry people and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, so that the world may see your light “break forth like the dawn.” Amen.