Canaries in a Coal Mine

Sunday was a day that answered my ongoing question of, “Why is it important for this place and this conflict to be recognized by Christians and what is our role is supporting the peace process?” The answer came in the form of a mining story dealing with canaries in a coal mine…

Before mines had ventilation systems and we had the technology to detect high levels of carbon monoxide and other gases that can kill a miner, canaries played an important and sacrificial role in alerting miners to the dangers around them. A canary would be brought into the mine in a cage and as they are created to do, would sing. When a canary stopped singing, because they were dead or very close to dying, miners would know that they needed to get out of the mine because of the dangerous levels of CO2. Canaries served as a warning of the impending danger but they also provided songs while miners worked in a very dangerous setting. Stay with me because I am going to connect it all very soon…

Sunday began with a church service at Redeemer Lutheran, which is a church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and is supported by the ELCA. The service was quite full in that there were a number of visiting groups attending worship. It was a traditional Lutheran service and I immediately felt comfortable. But worshipping with folks from all over the world – Australia, Germany, Japan, Norway, the Holy Land – I got a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God looks like and had an emotional response that let me know that the Holy Spirit was indeed active and moving in that place.

After worship, we began our first walking tour of the Old City. There was so much to take in and I’m sure I missed something, but walking the city streets and listening to scripture as it was read by our trip leaders was a surreal experience. I think in that moment it truly hit me that I was standing on Holy Ground, walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before me and experiencing my faith in a tangible way.

There were many things that stood out on our tour but for me, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was the most powerful. The church is built at the site of the crucifixion, Golgotha. It’s a massive structure with numerous chapels that represent various orthodox christian communities. There’s a Syriac chapel, a Greek Orthodox chapel, a Roman Catholic chapel, an Ethiopian orthodox chapel and the list goes one. There are also actual remnants from the time of Jesus. So as we entered the church, we went up the hill to Golgotha and beheld the crucified Jesus with the actual stone from that site. The tomb of Jesus is there along with the slab that was used to anoint his body after he died. There are no words to fully express this experience and the emotions that I felt.

I am someone that is very interested in the various splits of the Christian community. I’ve heard of the priests from the various denominations getting into fights and having a hard time coexisting in this place. Just watch the news around any Christian holy day and you’ll hear of the cleaning wars, or the renovation debates between the priests that at first glance make you laugh. After being in the site, I had a much more sobering thought about how sad it is that we as Christians are so divided that we can barely coexist in the same place…

After the church we toured more of the city and had an amazing time with Danny Seidemann. He’s going to get his own post on this blog because of his role in advising the US about the conflict and the amount of wisdom and knowledge that he shared with us. Our time with him ended overlooking the Old City and talking about how Christians, Muslims and Jews coexist in Jerusalem. As a secular Jew, he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He told us that ten years ago he would have told Christians to leave this place and take their religious dogma with them. However today, he is convinced of the fact that Christians have an important role to play, and it is that of being the canary in the coal mine…

We have the power to not only be peace keepers but also be the people that gathers everyone to the table. Christians, particularly those who are on the side of justice and equality, are the people who have the power to accompany but also signal when the tension is at a breaking place. We have a role and a place and a responsibility, both here and abroad.

As he continued to flesh this out, I realized that being the canary means being willing to walk alongside to the point of death. And then I wondered, are we really willing to be the people that God has called us to be? Am I? Are you?

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