Our recent trip to the Holy Land was with a group of clergy and their wives. There were 28 in our group mostly Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastors and spouses. A couple of clergy were non-denominational, there were several Baptists and Nancy and I were the lone Episcopalians, It was a congenial group. They were open to us and to one another. By the end of our time together we were laughing and talking like old friends. We had formed a community of a sort
We spent time with most everyone on the tour at various meals or on the bus. They were friendly, but Nancy and I never did fully relax. What bothered us was not the denominational or difference in church polity but the judgemental attitude and closed attitudes about those who were non-Christian. This manifested itself in several ways.
Our initial guide for the region of the Galilee was a woman named Marika. She was very knowledgeable about Christianity and the Christian scriptures and she was Jewish. I have never seen a non-Christian enter as deeply or as well into the world of Christianity, Yet rather than being impressed by her ability to enter into our world and beliefs many in our group kept expressing among themselves the desire that we had a ”Christian guide.”
Towards the end of the tour we were in Jerusalem and went to the Western Wall also known as the Wailing Wall. This is an especially sacred place to Jews as it is all that remains of the temple mount that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
It is place where people come 24 hours a day to stand and pray. Some wear street clothes others are in the various clothing styles that are worn by orthodox and Hassidic jews. I always find the wall to be a moving place. I placed papers with prayer intentions from people in our parish and friends in the cracks around the large stones at the wall.
Later, on the bus, I heard a retired pastor say that all he did at the wall was to watch these various Jewish people praying and to say to himself “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!
Our guide in Jordan was a secular Muslim. And several of our group were arguing with him about the faith of Islam, what they believed, and how they practiced it. The questions aimed at him were often grounded in ignorance – or sounded like it came from a pass-it-around opinion piece on Islam from the internet.
On our 2008 sabbatical Canon Lauren Artress (on the adjunct staff of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco) told us that signs of spiritual maturity are increased patience, deepened compassion, lessened judgement, and finding your purpose to share it with the world. In looking at my fellow travellers I find that I am not as mature as I would like. My patience was stretched and my own sense of judgement was heightened as I observed these enthusiastic Christians unable to see in people of different religious persuasions the image of the creator and people who follow a different path to attain access to the divine compassion and love we know.